Donavon Frankenreiter’s got some heavy-duty guardian angels. How else do you explain a dual career as a pro surfer and a touring musician; landing gigs opening for the Dave Matthews Band and String Cheese Incident before he even released a record; then, when he did put out his debut album, having Jack Johnson and G. Love put in guest appearances on it?But while Frankenreiter is suitably grateful for his good friends and fortune, he knows he has his end of the bargain to hold up. “At the end of the day, though, it comes down to the music,” said the 31-year-old singer-songwriter.
The music on “Donavon Frankenreiter” is almost sure to appeal to the audience attracted to Johnson and Love. True to the surfer lifestyle, the feel of songs like “Our Love” and “Day Dreamer” is laid-back. The emphasis on acoustic guitar – and even ukelele, played by Johnson on the catchy single “Free” – speaks of evenings spent strumming on beaches in Southern California, where Frankenreiter was raised, and Hawaii, where he spends two months every winter. Frankenreiter’s voice, full of warmth and soul, reflects the good life.”My music is influenced by the life I live – being married, having a son,” he said. “And also being close to nature, being close to something I love, surfing. The songs are a reflection of my life the last three years, which includes a lot of surfing.”Frankenreiter’s association with Johnson began with surfing. A pro surfer from the his teens, he rented a room from Johnson’s family, on the famed North Shore of Oahu some 15 years ago. Frankenreiter was already with familiar with Johnson’s reputation as a surfer, and was pleased to discover that his new beachmate shared another interest.”I brought over an acoustic guitar, and he said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you played, too,'” recalled Frankenreiter. “So we sat down and he taught me a Cat Stevens song and we played some Metallica songs.” That winter was the picture of an idyllic teen existence: “We were either in the water or sitting on the beach playing music.”A decade and a half later, Frankenreiter and Johnson reconvened on the North Shore, this time with a more serious purpose. Frankenreiter had been signed to Johnson’s Brushfire label, and the two, with producer Mario Caldato, were set to record Frankenreiter’s debut album in Johnson’s Mango Tree studio, adjacent to the Johnson family house. For Frankenreiter, it couldn’t have been a more comfortable setting.
“It was so easy for me to go back to that space to make this album,” he said. “That was a good experience for a first record. Being in Jack’s element in Hawaii, that was a laid-back vibe.”There is the issue of whether Frankenreiter has aligned his star too closely with Johnson’s. To Frankenreiter, it’s not an issue. For one, any feelings of pressure that come with his tight connections are swamped by his appreciation, and the comfort level he feels with Johnson. The music on “Donavon Frankenreiter” stands on its own, more upbeat than Johnson’s. Johnson says of Frankenreiter, “He could have easily put out his album first, and everyone would say I sound just like him.” And Frankenreiter says that when listeners move past the surface similarities, they will see differences between him and Johnson.”If you really listen to his album and mine, the music’s different, the writing’s different,” he said. “We’re coming from the same background. And he co-produced my album and plays on most of the tracks. But I’m such a different person than Jack. People understand that when they see us.”He would never sign someone to his label and say, ‘Okay, be just like me.'”
In time, Frankenreiter expects to open up more daylight between himself and his friend and boss. “My band, being out on the road and recording, we’re developing our own thing,” said Frankenreiter, whose four-piece band includes drummer Jose Mendeles of the Breeders, bassist Matt Grundy, and keyboardist Money Mark, who has worked extensively with the Beastie Boys. “I can’t wait to get into the studio to make the next record and see what happens.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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