Donovan is touring the country bringing his sonic wonders somewhere close to you. It all happens over the next couple of months, check out all the dates and venues at the La Casa site here. I caught up with Donovan to discuss his latest album ‘Start living’, it’s tour and his mental health (which is just fine by the way).
Donavon how are you doing? Good bro, how’s it going?
I’m good thanks, where are you at the moment? I’m home right now in Hawaii. I just got back from touring in South America and I’m just about to leave to Australia for seven weeks, looking forward to that it should be fun.
How long have you been touring your latest album ‘Start Living’? It’s been out for around 8 months and we’re going to tour it all this year, I’ve got a bunch of other places to go to as well. We’re going to write songs all this year while we’re on tour and we’ll make another record at the end of this year. Usually when I put out a record it will be a year and a half to two year tour in support of it.
When was the last time you were in Australia? This time last year I did this exact tour and I stopped in at ‘La Casa’ where I had a residency and made some music. We’re going to spend some time there again this tour. That place is really amazing, it has a bunch of different musical gear and recording equipment. It’s so cool to be able to hangout there making music, surf out the front of the house and they’ve got refrigerators stocked full of Corona (laughs). It’s a good time to be in Australia in the summer time too, everybody’s kind of geared up having a good time.
How do we Australian audiences compare to other international audiences? These shows that I’m doing have been such a good vibe because they’re free concerts. Such a great vibe everybody hanging out at a pub, having a good time.
Your latest album is your fifth studio release, how has the recording experience changed over that time? This last one things changed quite a lot. Usually I’d make a record by building up all the music so I could then sing over the top of it as the last part of the process. With this record I really wanted to try something new so I went in with the guitar to play and sing the song live then add everything else afterwards. It was really fun to make a record like that. Sometimes we would do one take and other times it would be three takes. Once we got it then we’d just add to the live track. We’d put enough until it felt just right and then we’d move onto the next one. We were doing like two or three songs a day so we finished the record in seven days which was really cool.
And there was lots of make-shift percussion going on in the recording process? Yeah there was tons of percussion because there were no drums at all in the recording process. Plus there were instruments I’ve never really had on my records before like banjos and lap steels and other weird things we were using.
That sounds pretty intricate, how does it translate live? With a band it’s a lot of fun the guys I play with translate it all very easily. That’s no problem because all the songs were written on acoustic guitar anyway. With this next tour in Australia it’s just me and one other guy, we do duo acoustic stuff off all five albums. When it’s just two guys playing acoustic at these gigs they can feel like giant campfire jams. All my music is written on acoustic so it’s the base of all my songs anyway.
You have a very heartfelt tribute to Andy Irons called ‘AI’ on the latest album, was it something you found difficult to write about? That song was interesting… I just felt like I needed to say it. It was just a feeling I had. It was really strange because some songs take a long time to write but with that one I sat down and it wrote itself in five minutes. It’s definitely super emotional for me, it’s hard to play the song live. Living here in Hawaii his legacy is so engraved in everything I see and everywhere I go so I’m always reminded of him. Living in Kauai, the island where Andy was from, I see things everyday. Whether it’s running into his brother or his wife and their baby, plus there’s signs up everywhere. That song happened a little after he passed away and things like that are special, I hold it close when a song comes to me like that. It definitely helped me get through an emotional time. Everyone’s was feeling different ways and I just wrote how I was feeling down and put it to music.
Does music play the role of therapy in your life at times? For me music and surfing are definitely an escape or whatever that may be. I try to have as much fun as I can playing music and surfing and having those things allows an escape, not necessarily from reality but more from day to day things that you see and hear on the news or on TV. I never sing political songs I’m never going to stand up in front of people and say this is what you should or shouldn’t do. I just want to have fun. I want to laugh and dance and sing and have fun with people and maybe for that moment just forget about all the bullshit that’s going on. I do that through surfing too and I feel like they are some of the greatest moments because I feel the most pure you could ever feel when I’m surfing with just another buddy. If I’m ever feeling down or bummed I’ll reach for the guitar but even a lot of times I’ll still pick it up when I’m feeling fucking great too. I’m always reaching for the guitar, it always feels good to play music and it feels good to be in the water.
Your always presented by the surf media as a beacon of positivity. Is that always the truth? What side of Donovan do we not see? I’m on the road like eight months a year and it’s a difficult thing. I try to manage my time as much as I can but being married with two kids it’s fucking hard when your away eight months of the year. Some times it gets really lonely on the road and it sucks never being around for birthday parties or when kids graduate from one grade to another. I’m so happy surfing and playing music but it’s really hard when the music’s over and I’m lying in bed and thinking “fuck, I’m missing things in my kid’s and wife’s lives that I can never make up”. You never get that back. My kids are ten years old and five years old and they’re not going to be that age ever again and when I miss something it really hurts. My life is completely different from the normal nine to five and tonight I’m going to be home for dinner for the first time in 2 months and it feels incredible. It’s amazing. Other than that I do get to surf and play music all over the world so I couldn’t ask for anything more dream like than that. I have ups and downs like everybody but what I get to do for a living is a fucking dream. It can be difficult doing the things that you love though, they don’t come easy.
How much are you surfing these days? That’s the one thing I always make time for. When I’m in Australia I’m going to be surfing all over the place. It’s great because music and surfing never interrupt each other. Music happens in the evenings and you that leaves you time to surf all day.
What are you picking up and putting under the arm these days? I ride anything. Fins no fins, thruster single fin, I’ll ride anything. I just ordered some new boards from JS and I just said “hey just surprise me, I don’t know what your going to shape but whatever you think will be fun to ride”. I like riding different things but if he happens to shape me just a normal thruster that’s what I’m going to ride. I just like riding waves on whatever I happen to be on. I don’t really have a go to board I’m just going to get anything from JS and I’m excited. I like doing that, if I hear about a shaper or that someone wants to shape me something I’m always like ok “surprise me” and it’s always fun to see what they come up with.
Thanks for your time Donovan we’ll see you for a beer when you get here. Right on, done deal. See you soon.