At age 16, Donavon Frankenreiter fulfilled every teenaged fantasy by moving to Hawaii and becoming a professional surfer. Then a decade ago, he one-upped that fantasy by signing to a childhood friend's record label and becoming a rock star.
Five albums into his second career and a day before he embarked to Japan for his latest tour, which will bring him to the Culture Room on June 15, Frankenreiter spoke with New Times. He did not disappoint. He was every bit as laid-back and mellow as you would expect a surfing troubadour to be.
New Times: This summer you're touring Japan, the U.S., and Europe. Where is your most devoted following?
Donavon Frankenreiter: Brazil is really good. Japan has a great following. We're just really lucky to tour all over the country, Australia, New Zealand. Wherever we go, I feel fortunate to play.
As a former pro surfer, have you found any surfing spots you enjoy in Florida?
Yeah, there's tons. All through Jacksonville. Down by where Kelly Slater lives by Cocoa Beach and a lot of places in-between.
How has surfing influenced your music?
I've learned a lot through all my surfing experiences. I really learned how to play music through bringing my guitar on all my surf travels. The first song I ever wrote was "Free." That was done on a surf trip, and I brought the song to Jack [Johnson], and he helped me finish it and rewrite it. That was about being on the water and being close to the beach, for sure.
How did you begin those collaborations with Jack Johnson?
I met him when I was 16 — he was I think 14 at the time — on the North Shore of Hawaii. We were part of a group of guys that went surfing. Then about ten years ago, I got a record deal with his label. Jack produced it and cowrote songs with me. Once the record came out, I went on tour with him for a couple of years and opened up for him all around the world. Our friendship was incredible right from the start from meeting him 20-odd years ago.
Is there any music you turned Jack on to or Jack got you into?
Through Jack, I got to meet G. Love, which was really great. When I first got my record, he played on it, and I got to open up for him as well. I got to meet Ben Harper and all these other guys who got to be in the same company as Jack.
Before you and Jack made it big, surf music had a different connotation, one of Dick Dale and the Beach Boys. Were you guys rebelling against that sound?
People think since I surf, I listen to a certain kind of music. Surfers listen to all different kinds of music. Some listen to hip-hop, rap, others listen to rock 'n' roll, reggae. The surfing culture is so widespread. Jack really did restart something when he started making those surf movies, and the soundtracks on those movies were his music. So people started taking that to mean that his music is surf music. Not that there's anything wrong with Dick Dale. He's still out there touring and ripping, and I still enjoy him.
Can you share what you're working on now?
I'm just getting ready to go on this tour and write songs for the rest of the year. We can then record in the early part of next year. That's the goal, but I'll be on the road for the next five months, so the main thing is to enjoy the journey.
One final question. It might be one you're tired of talking about. Your mustache has gained a lot of notoriety. Do you have any mustache grooming or sculpting tips for our readers?
None. You just got to let it grow. That's my one tip.