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Donavon Frankenreiter - SOLDOUT Biography
To create his fifth full-length album Start Livin’, Hawaii-based singer/guitarist/songwriter Donavon Frankenreiter holed up in a Southern California studio for seven days with his longtime bassist Matt Grundy—and no one else. The follow-up to 2010’s Glow, Start Livin’ is a nine-track selection of folk-infused songs that sweetly reflect the simplicity of their recording. With its smooth showcasing of Frankenreiter’s rich, honey-thick vocals and masterful guitar work, Start Livin’ bears all the intimacy of an impromptu back-porch performance and the tenderness of a treasured love letter.
“Start Livin’ is basically a love album,” says Frankenreiter, who co-produced the record alongside Matt Grundy and Adam Ableman. “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.
Essential to the record’s playful feel is Frankenreiter’s inspired use of instrumentation. “This album’s completely unlike anything I’ve ever done before, in that we skipped the basics and went for a whole lot of different instruments,” he says. “We never brought in a drum set—instead there’s handclapping for percussion, or the two of us banging on pots and pans. We were using everything from bells to singing bowls to Zippo lighters; at one point we put some beans and salts in a can and shook it around.” Grundy played a key role in the wildly varied sounds on Start Livin’, according to Frankenreiter. “Matt was playing ukulele and lap steel guitar and banjo—he’d grab an instrument and we’d do a take live and just build the track up from that. It was a real fun vibe.” Despite that kitchen-sink approach, Start Livin’ never comes off as cluttered. Each of the songs shines with a crisp, clean sound perfectly suited to the album’s sunny spirit: “You” achieves a hypnotic dreaminess by layering lap steel over beautifully crooned harmonies and a twinkling acoustic riff; “I Can Lose” matches its island-breezy guitars with shimmering mandolin; and a gracefully plucked banjo backs up Frankenreiter’s hushed, heart-on-sleeve lyrics on the quietly epic “Together Forever.” On “Shine,” meanwhile, ocean-wave-like effects merge with a swaying melody and smitten lyrics (“You and I, girl, are like a sun and moon/Lately you’ve been in orbit in my head like a good summer tune”).
While love songs serve as the album’s centerpiece, Frankenreiter also explores non-romantic love throughout Start Livin’. The gloriously ragtag “Same Lullaby,” for instance, makes a sweetly hopeful plea for world peace. “I wrote that song a little while after the tsunami in Japan, thinking how lucky I was to have a family and be alive,” Frankenreiter recalls. “The line that goes ‘I believe the world could be fine if we could all sing the same lullaby’—that’s me hoping we could all just get together and be on the same wavelength even for just one moment.” On the irresistibly toe-tapping “Just Love,” Frankenreiter turns his focus to his two sons, Ozzy and Hendrix. “Sometimes my kids’ll get scared of things in the dark—you know, the monster under the bed,” he says. “So that song’s me telling them, ‘Instead of thinking there’s something bad there, think of it as just love creeping in. Embrace it. Talk to it.’”
Rayland Baxter Biography
Itʼs hard to pinpoint the moment that songs are born, the day casual hummers become singers or scribblers become songwriters. Rayland Baxter certainly canʼt, and he wouldnʼt want to. Though he grew up in Nashville to the sounds of his fatherʼs pedal steel, he didnʼt dream of being a rock star. He loved music, of course, but he liked other things, too: being outside, playing sports, working at the bait shop to make spare change. Heʼd always just let things settle into place naturally, following his gut from Tennessee to Colorado to Israel and back again, not knowing that when he returned home heʼd have a handful of songs and the knowledge that, at the end of the day, he didnʼt want to do anything else but make music. He leads a life without reigns, his work always echoing the ease in which it came to be.
“All of my music has come in a very natural way, by following the organic process of life and letting it just happen,” he says. “I jumped my fair share of ships, and the pieces came together slowly, not by study or design.” The result is a record inspired by a life lived, not one struggling to inspire life. “Down the mountains and the valleys like the breeze,” he sings on “the mtn song,” “weʼre going where we want to go, doing anything we please.” Heʼs done just that, writing songs that are reflections of what heʼs seen, felt and lived; the metaphors found in the hills, the slow strums born at home but blossomed across the sea.
Growing up, Baxterʼs father Bucky (a multi-instrumentalist for Bob Dylan, Steve Earle and Ryan Adams, among others) made sure music was just a natural part of life, a soundtrack to childhood. “I grew up around pedal steel melodies,” Baxter says, “not knowing how later in life it would shape me and how I sing or place lyrics in a song.” Heʼd met Dylan and become friends with a young Justin Townes Earle—back then, they were just two kids who knew their dads were gone frequently. One day, while out on a motorcycle trip, Bucky bought his son a guitar: a used, blue electric one. He was in elementary school, no older than third grade. “I played it,” Baxter says. “But I also played Nintendo.”
Most of the time, he just liked being out in the field, grass under his feet. While he spent much of his teenage years playing sports, by 21 heʼd picked up the guitar again. The sound of six strings ringing had always been comforting, only now its draw proved stronger: it was a surprise, perhaps most to Baxter himself, how naturally and harmoniously songs came. Instead of finishing college he moved to the small town of Creede, CO, playing open mics at a taco bar and busking for tips. It was a gig as a guitar tech for the band Moonshine Sessions that led him to Europe. After a relationship in Paris went sour (though would later inspire the song “oLivia) he took his fatherʼs old friend up on an offer to spend some time at his home in Ashkelon, Israel. “I was supposed to be there for two weeks,” he says. “I ended up staying for six months.” Life in Ashkelon, a coastal town close to Gaza, involved a cadre of sounds: bombs detonating in the cornfields, sirens going off so frequently that few took notice or cover. Baxter drowned the noise with his hostʼs enormous collection of records and documentaries: Townes Van Zandt, Dylan, Leonard Cohen. “I would spend my days and nights just studying all my favorite people and musicians, and thatʼs when it clicked.” One night he couldnʼt sleep, so he went outside to a barn in the back of the house with his guitar. “When I came back in, I said to my friend, ʻI think I wrote a good one out there.ʼ” The resulting song was his aching, pivotal folk tune “the woman for me,” which later became a road favorite and will appear on his debut, feathers & fishHooks. Baxter has a saying he likes to use a lot: “when you find the right river to float down, just keep floating.”
That he did, using his time in Israel to craft the material that would become his Miscalculation of Song EP. He began recording his full-length in January 2011, produced by Skylar Wilson (Justin Townes Earle, Caitlin Rose) and supported by his friends, including Eric Masse (producer/engineer), Jacquire King (mix) and instrumentals by his father, Bucky. The songs range from the solemn, steel guitar and harmonica anchored “marjoria”; to the locomotive, du-wop of “driveway meLody”; to the stark, Middle Eastern tinge of “wiLLow.” Each is thickly emotional, raw but supremely balanced, pulling reference not only from musical idols but from love had and lost, roads traveled and trials awaiting back at home. And, when you strip it all away, these are songs that could exist with just Baxterʼs voice and guitar alone, timeless.
Heʼs spent much of his time on tour: with The Civil Wars, who personally invited him to open, as well as Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. Now Baxter lives in a small, crowded house with five people, four chickens, a dog and a fish named Okra near the Nashville fairgrounds, an industrial part of town on the west side of the river. He sleeps in a covered porch with no air conditioning or heat—“like camping,” he says, enthusiastically at that. His hometown has played a vital role in shaping him musically. “There is an incredible group of young artists, songwriters, painters and filmmakers here, just a huge community of really rad people. Itʼs been vital to have a great creative group of people I can feed off of all the time.”
His songs are a calming force for anyone looking for change, for love, or wanting to walk in a different direction—because it was his own quest for all those things that motivated the music. “I had nothing to write about until I was 25. I had to live through a lot,” he says, “and I when I sing I donʼt hold back. Iʼll cry on stage if I came to it. Itʼs an emotional release for me, and thereʼs no makeup on it. It puts me at ease, and thatʼs what I hope it will do for those who listen.” Down the mountains and the valleys, like the breeze.
Eric Tollefson Biography
About 90 seconds into the first track on “The Polar Ends,” Oregon-based singer-songwriter Eric Tollefson plainly sets the tone for his highly anticipated sophomore album: “Love will come racing through your veins,” he sings in his resolute baritone. “Who would’ve thought it’s a poisonous thing?”
Heart is the essence of this talented Alaska native’s charming music. His songs are a deep and satisfying exhale, as if Tollefson sings primarily to rid his ribcage of the sorrow, satisfaction and rich stories that simmer within it. His sound breathes the doleful spirit of the blues yet pulses with savvy pop sensibility, whether he’s transmitting it via a muscular electric groove or a gorgeous, gently plucked acoustic guitar
Simply put, "The Polar Ends" sounds terrific. Recorded large in part at a remote studio atop densely forested rolling hills near Charlottesville, Virginia, Tollefson gathered a select group of musicians from both coasts in April of 2011 to turn his ideas into reality. Surrounded by the thunderous rhythm section of Jay Foote and Brian Jones, guitarist Sam Kearney and producer/engineer Rob Evans, he created an eight-track album where pure rock 'n' roll sits comfortably alongside lovelorn laments, and where mournful strings, swooping guitars, ethereal background vocals and purposeful tape hiss all make perfect sense. Taken as a whole, "The Polar Ends" is more than the next album from a confident young singer-songwriter. It feels like a vibrant introduction to a vital new recording artist.