Following on from a series of packed shows early last year, surfing troubadour Donovan Frankenreiter returns to Australia to play is favourite tour on his annual calendar. With his wife and kids in tow, Frankenreiter has been kicking back at the Gold Coast, travelling down the coast for a surf and packing his gigs into just three days a week.
‘It’s pretty intense being on the road for eight months of the year, so this is the one tour I really look forward to… it’s a crazy life; I have been doing it so long. Before the music I was doing it with surfing and travelling around the world, but then I wasn’t married and didn’t have any kids!’
Frankenreiter’s approach to his music is a bit like the approach that made his surfing legendary: he’s relaxed, not one to conquer the wave, but to become one with it. His latest album Start Livin’ has the same approach. It’s a celebration of everyday themes, and was recorded holed up in a southern California studio for seven days with his longtime bassist Matt Grundy – and no one else.
‘It was kind of interesting,’ admits Frankenreiter. ‘I didn’t know what to expect from day one. First day when you are in there, you hope the decisions you make are on the path that puts you where you want to be. There was a new guy engineering; Matt didn’t know the songs, but we recorded Shine first. From the beginning we got a formula: I’d sing and he’d pick up an instrument and sing. Just two vocals and two main instruments, then we’d build up from the track. I felt like I was really part of the track. It was a live take; we did the song three times, and we always used the first or second take because I always felt they were the freshest.’
Frankenreiter enjoyed the autonomy of being at the helm and making decisions in a fuss free environment.
‘It was fun not having anyone else in there saying: I think you should do this or think you should do that. We were doing two or three songs a day; I had never done anything like that – it felt good. I remember once I spent months on a record; by the time I sang the song I was sick of it… after 20 takes!’
Start Livin’ is a love album. ‘Most of the songs are about my wife and our two boys, and the life that we’ve built together in Hawaii.’ Thanks to Frankenreiter’s infectious warmth and finely honed pop sensibilities, each of those songs has the singular effect of drawing the listener into that bright and breezy world for a blissed out moment.
‘It was fun recording them. I didn’t play them during the two years since I wrote them – I wanted to keep them fresh. Writing songs for me doesn’t come easily; it usually takes me a couple of years to write an album. Songwriting is a particular thing. I couldn’t sing about anything; I have a good groove but I couldn’t just sing about apples and oranges.
I think about the story and about what has to be said – but then you never want it to be too literal either…’
For Frankenreiter, the essence of Start Livin’ is most fully captured in its opening title track. Accented by handclaps and stick in your head harmonies, Start Livin’ is a feelgood, uptempo call to ‘celebrate tonight’. To me the most beautiful thing about this record is it really reflects who I am today,’ says Frankenreiter. Start Livin’ means stop worrying about where you’ve been, where you’re going; just start embracing what you have around you. Start loving what you have right now.
‘When I write songs I want to keep them direct and open and when I play the music I am really, really happy.’
Drop in on Donovan Frankenreiter when he plays two free Byron Shire shows this Sunday – 3pm at the Hotel Brunswick and then 7.30pm at the Beach Hotel.