Lifestyle Envy: Donavon Frankenreiter Lives Large and Not-So-in-Charge in Hawaii


Looking like a young Jim Croce with a dash of Owen Wilson if he were a Williamsburg hipster, Donavon Frankenreiter’s brand of positive mellow-pop clearly evinces his roots. Which, of course, are West Coast. Way West, as in Hawaii, six hours and a lifetime away from the high-rise, high-noise delirium of New York City.

That said, definitively urban gigs don’t generally affect the singer-songwriter’s mellow mindset, though he says, “I’ve had some great sessions surfing around New York before shows, and that always helps out for an amazing day and a way to ease into any show.”

Donavon Frankenreiter plays the Brooklyn Bowl Wed., August 14.

The Cali-born Frankenreiter is currently on tour behind his fifth full-length album, Start Livin’, which comprises nine songs as poignantly simple and sunny as the title suggests, though not without pathos. Thank dog. With a beautiful wife, two adorable kids named Ozzy and Hendrix and a life of professional surfing and music-making (the latter kick-started with help from his fellow surfer-musician pal and Hawaii neighbor Jack Johnson), well, it might be easy to be envious of Frankenreiter. As he says of his latest aural output, “Start Livin’ is basically 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.”

While he adores his sons, the musicians they’re named after aren’t in evidence as an influence, not even on Frankenreiter’s 2007 covers EP, Recycled Recipes (a second volume followed in 2011), which features tunes originally done by Bob Dylan, Dr. John and Creedence Clearwater Revival. However, Frankenreiter, who remembers his first-ever concert as either Oingo Boingo–or was it INXS?–(he turned 40 last year) says of icons Osbourne and Jimi, “I love both of their stuff so much,” and in seeking to name his progeny, he wanted “pretty tough and different.”

Those adjectives don’t describe Frankenreiter’s music, and likely thanks in no small part to living “da kine” life, Start Livin’ is so sweetly infectious. It’s like cheap aural therapy, a sun lamp that cures SAD or a fluffy towel fresh from the dryer. When the folky Frankenreiter sings “Never give up on what you’ve been given … start living’ stop denying it,” the words are gently inspirational and hopelessly romantic rather than saccharine.

Non-traditional instrumentation adds to the low-fi yet high-impact feel of his latest. Handclaps and pots and pans served as percussion, while Zippo lighters and a Tibetan singing bowl add to the earthy spirituality. The improv musicality was somewhat accidental, Frankenreiter explains. “Nothing was planned; it just all happened because that’s what [longtime bassist] Matt Grundy had in his studio. One thing led to another, and seven days later the record was done with instruments and sounds I never planned on using or hearing.” Despite the mellowness of much of his work, and the living-room casualness that permeates Frankenreiter’s live shows, his quietly insistent musicality can cut through a dense din–even, hopefully, over the cacophonous orchestra of strikes and gutter balls.

Donavon Frankenreiter plays the Brooklyn Bowl Wed., August 14.

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