Before Donavon Frankenreiter was a folk singer/songwriter, he was a surfer who carried around a guitar that he barely knew how to use, full of too much self doubt to write or perform his own songs. He was sponsored by Billabong and appeared in legendary surf flicks and classic video games. He learned to play guitar on the road and after performing in cover bands for years, he found the courage to write his own stuff after his now-wife made him realize he had no reason not to. Now, no longer playing cover songs for the same handful of local dive bars, he still tries to get in the water as much as possible but a grueling tour schedule means he has to get creative with how he does it.
We had the chance to catch up with Frankenreiter over the phone because he’s coming to town for two shows on the latest leg of his Start Livin’ tour. He’ll be at the Belly Up in Solana Beach on June 21 and 22 and we have two tickets to give away! Here’s how it will work: read this interview and find out in what country the Frankenreiter clan spent seven weeks together. When you know the answer, send it to us in an email with the subject line “Donavon Tickets.” First one that comes through to info
Are you on the road already?
Kind of, I’m at home right now, but I went to Japan over the weekend for a couple shows. And then I’m getting ready, I leave on Tuesday for New York.
Have you been touring a lot lately, or is this a new one for you?
I feel like I’m constantly touring. I’m on the road 8 months out of the year. The last 10 years I feel like I’ve just been going non-stop. But this is another part of the Start Livin’ tour. We’re going to do all the US, Europe, Australia, and then we go back to Japan in July and then we’re going to go to Brazil. We’re going to do some great touring this year, it’s going to be fun.
How come it is that it’s the Start Livin’ tour when the album came out a year ago?
You know, the album’s been out a year, last week, and when I put a record out I usually tour off that album for a couple years. It’s hard for me to get everywhere that I really want to be for the album. I try to get everywhere I can, but a lot of places work out better in the summertime, and it’s hard to get every spot, you know, to make it work. But I feel fortunate enough that I’m able to extend the tour for a couple years like that. It also lets me take time with the next record.
Are you working on a new record?
Yeah, I’m just continually trying to write. I’m trying to get enough songs together that I feel are great, that I like, that I can record at the end of the year. I’m hoping to get a new record out by summertime of next year.
A friend of mine said you were in surf videos back in the day, but I couldn’t find any proof of that on the internet. Is it true?
If you look up “Kelly Slater, pro surfer” it’s on that. Kelly came out with a game with Activision back in the day and it was really cool, it’s a great surfing game. And he called me up and asked if I wanted to be a character. It was pretty fun, it was cool.
That’s so great. So there’s like a little animated you?
Haha yeah, you can pick me as one of the surfers and make me ride waves.
So how does surfing influence your music?
It has in so many ways. I started surfing first and then I picked up a guitar and brought that with me on all my surf journeys. And then it’s just been one of those things—that’s really where I met all my friends that have helped me out with music throughout the years. It’s where I really learned how to play music too. I’d see people on the road and they’d be like “oh, you got a guitar? Here, learn this chord, learn that chord.” So that’s how I learned how to play music, while I was on the road surfing.
You didn’t start making music until you were something like 30?
Well when I was 16 I picked up the guitar and I played in a bunch of high school bands. But throughout that whole creation, I never wrote songs or sang. And then when I met my wife I was telling her that I was so sick of playing cover songs. And then she was like “write your own songs and sing” and I was like “oh, I could never do that.” But then one thing lead to another and I did because I kind of felt like whether I fail or succeed at this, at least I’m playing my own shit. You know, I didn’t really care at that point. I just wanted to have fun and I wanted to have a challenge. I felt like I kind of reached the point where I was spinning my wheels. I played all the little bars in town.
And what town was that? In San Clemente?
That was like, you know, all through kind of Southern Cailfornia. I was doing that was with the high school band. And then when I went and wrote my own songs I did that for about a year and went back to all the same bars. I played a lot in Laguna every Wednesday at this one spot. Learned how to sing on a mic. And about a year later Jack [Johnson] started his own label and I sent him all those tunes and one thing lead to another and I signed a good deal. It never really became a thing that I thought would ultimately work until the record came out on Jack’s label and he took me out around the world and I opened up for him. We cruised for two years and that’s when I thought “whoa, I should really see if this might work.” This is a great chance, an opportunity to really do something, so that was when it really kind of opened up for me.
And now it’s something like five albums later?
Yeah, five records, a couple EPs. I love the process of music, you know, writing music, recording it and going out and playing live. There’s nothing else in the world. I feel like between that and surfing and being a husband and having two kids, I’m like constantly busy and things are constantly, always changing. I never get bored doing any of those four things.
What’s life like on the road?
It’s pretty wild. I try to get home as much as I can, and when I’m not home enough my family comes out with me. It’s something that’s really great for them to be able to come out with me. And they’re getting older, and my young sons and my wife’s been to these places with me more than once so it’s kinda like “where are you going? Oh, I’ve already been there. I don’t want to do the Europe tour again and not shower for two weeks.” So there are certain tours that are really fun to go on the first time to see it all and then there’s ones that you just kind of pick and choose. You know, it’s just, it’s one of those things, you try to make it work. I’ve talked to people about it, everybody from giant bands to people who are just starting out and it’s difficult if you have a family because you don’t want to be away from them and if they come you want them to be comfortable and enjoy it. You know, it’s an interesting sort of life on the road. Everybody thinks its…I mean, it is beautiful and I love it but a lot of work goes into playing for an hour and a half.
And are you roughing it? Are you living in a van?
Well, we have a tour bus. It’s really beautiful, you sleep all night, wake up the next day. It’s sort of like…the best way to explain it…you try to make the most out of it as you can, obviously, but it’s like Groundhog’s Day. You go to bed, you wake up you’re at the next venue. You play, you go to sleep, you wake up in that next parking lot that looks like the one you were in the night before. The venue looks different. It’s just like, one of those things. You’re like a traveling circus, you know? You try to change the songs up and make things happen. But, you know, I don’t know, at the end of the day, I’m so excited that people are coming out to see us. It’s always so exciting, it’s so fun, to play your songs. And there’s days when the family comes with me, and as long as we have water we can surf. Like, we spent seven weeks in Australia and we surfed a lot there. There’s those moments when it’s great, it’s sort of like the best thing in the world, for us because we love to travel and see different countries, cultures, and just be a part of that, I think it’s rewarding for the family.
Do you have any routines that you do to break up the monotony?
Not really. I try to surf as much as I can when I’m on the road. Whether that be behind a boat…like in Florida a lot of times, if the waves are small I have a guy that runs Master Craft and he has this boat that creates this wave behind their boat, it’s insane. So I call them up when the waves are flat and surf behind a boat. I just try to do whatever I can, as much as I can around the water. Whether I’m swimming in the ocean, fishing, riding waves, I don’t care if they’re small or big or whatever. I just love to ride waves or Stand Up Paddle somewhere. I just feel like if I’m somehow connected to the water it just makes the rest of my day seem glorious in some way or another. Like, I love just being immersed in the water in some way or another, be it bodysurfing, whatever it is. There’s nothing like riding a wave. It changes my whole outlook. So I like to do that as much as I can while I’m on the road.
What boards do you bring with you?
Sometimes I just call people up. I usually just ride whatever’s available, whether it be longboard, short board, an old single fin, whatever somebody found under their house. You know, if I’m going on a proper surf trip, though, I got all these really incredible Hobey surfboards. But when I go on a music tour we’ve got a bunch of gear and there’s not really room for boards. But it’s not hard to find rides and boards from people. I just put a little message up on Instagram and Facebook like “hey does anybody want to come surf with us? We’re at the corner of this and this.” And it’s fun to go out that way with locals who know where to go and what to do.
Has there ever been a case where you’ve been bombarded with people on a beach?
Uh, not too bad. You know, we’re kind of in and out, but it’s fun if people recognize you and stuff happens it’s good. But people are usually pretty mellow and tame. You know, everyone is out there wanting to ride. They want to surf, they don’t really care who’s around, as long as they get waves.
Well, that’s it for me. Is there anything else you wanted to be sure to get in?
I love the Belly Up. We’re playing it in San Diego so I can’t wait for these two shows. Hopefully everybody, if they can, makes it out.
QUESTION: IN WHAT COUNTRY DID THE FRANKENREITER CLAN STAY FOR SEVEN WEEKS TOGETHER?
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