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When Donavon Frankenreiter was 10 years old, he got his first surfboard. Six years later, he picked up his first guitar. It was the beginning of a wildly creative journey: His improvisational twin obsessions have carried him around the globe and into his fans' hearts. As Frankenreiter prepares to release his fourth album, Glow, this fall, the 37-year-old singer/songwriter/pro surfer admits he still thrives on simply taking the plunge. "We don't have a set show, if we did, I would go crazy," he says. "You never know what's going to happen. I love that element of surprise with music and surfing – you never catch the same wave twice."
Growing up in southern California, Frankenreiter was drawn first to guitar gods like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, then to songwriters like Dylan and Marley. Ska-punk soundtracked his moves in surfing films, but his first high school band was so inspired by Pearl Jam, they named it Peanut Butter and Jam. His next outfit, a Southern rock group, scored a spot on the Warped Tour and was promptly pummeled with debris whenever their harmonies followed acts like Sick of It All. He continued to play rhythm guitar with a cover band, staying comfortably out of the spotlight, until one day something clicked: he needed to branch out on his own.
Good pal Jack Johnson was starting up Brushfire Records, and offered Frankenreiter a shot, producing his first album of folk songs – including the hit "Free" – along with famed Beastie Boys collaborator Mario Caldato, Jr. Frankenreiter followed his 2004 self-titled debut with a full-band record, 2006's Move by Yourself (Lost Highway), where he plugged in and chronicled his life on the road. Joe Chiccarelli (The White Stripes, My Morning Jacket) produced 2008 disc Pass It Around, which featured guests Ben Harper and G. Love, and marked a major musical turning point for Frankenreiter: "The first time I started working with other writers." He kept up the spirit of collaboration on 2010's Revisited, a track-by-track reinterpretation of his debut disc through a Hawaiian lens. After relocating to Kauai fulltime with his wife and sons Ozzy and Jimi Hendrix three years ago, Frankenreiter became enamored with the sounds of the islands. "It started off with ukulele and my voice and [guitarist] Kirk Smart added slack key guitar, lap steel, and everything else, and it just kind of grew from there," he says. "It's really neat to hear an alternative version of what happened seven years ago."
Revisited proved a fascinating challenge, but Frankenreiter hasn't spent the last year focused on the past. And as soon as he got into a room with producer Mark Weinberg, he knew he'd found the perfect partner for Glow. "I wrote 'Keeping Me Away From You' with Mark the first time I ever met him in 30 minutes," Frankenreiter says of the warm, wistful mid-tempo track. "He looked at me and went, 'Wow, that was quick.' I asked, 'Does that normally happen?' " They recorded the entire album over three days at California's Pulse Studios, utilizing a band of crack players to amp up the original acoustic arrangements into gorgeously polished chill-out rock with U2-esque guitar flourishes ("Shadows"), lush strings ("Keeping Me Away From You"), and bluesy organ wails ("Hold On").
"In Your Dreams" is about the haunted home Frankenreiter lived in as a kid, where he imagined "the houses talking to me." On "All Right," what the singer calls "a bitching drum pattern" built on a synthesizer gives way to organic drums, finger-picked guitars and Frankenreiter's smoky vocals as he croons a soothing lullaby: "Let the good life shine/it's gonna be all right."
"The first thing I do is grab a surfboard or guitar if I'm depressed or bummed – I think that's why a lot of my songs are positive and uplifting, because those two things make me happy. I've really enjoyed living in the moment, enjoying what's going on right now," he says. The disc's title track captures this sentiment perfectly: Riding a sweet, syncopated acoustic strum, the song swells into a beautiful chorus as Frankenreiter sings, "I want to see you glow/I want to see your daylight shining all around your heart."
"The sounds are something I've never had on my records, ever," Frankenreiter says, adding he just played his acoustic guitar on the album and was pleasantly surprised by the addition of echo and delay on the disc's electric guitars. "I don't want to say it's a risk, but I don't know what people are going to think," he admits.
But in true Donavon Frankenreiter fashion, there's little room for stress on Glow. The album's 10 tracks are the perfect antidote to trying times: warm, organic, and overwhelmingly hopeful. And Frankenreiter is ready to bring the new tracks to his international fanbase as he continues to crisscross the globe on more surfing and musical adventures. "If there's anything I learned, it's that you really gotta be yourself," he says, reflecting on his career. "You can't fool people in music if you want to stick around for a long time."