Posted June 12, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

What’s Really Happening in Jack Johnson’s Life

Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson recorded last year’s From Here to Now to You at his own Mango Tree Studio with longtime producer Mario Caldato, Jr. (the guy behind Johnson’s biggest-selling release 2005’s In Between Dreams as well as albums by the Beastie Boys, Super Furry Animals, Seu Jorge and Ben Harper, the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who played slide guitar on Johnson’s first-ever single “Flake”). The album also features Johnson’s longtime band members Adam Topol, Merlo Podlewski and Zach Gill. Johnson recently phoned from his Hawaii home to discuss the record, which includes songs that serve as very tender tributes to his wife and kids.

You got your first break with “Rodeo Clowns.” I think it’s so great that you and G. Love are still so active. Reflect on that experience a bit. Did you know it was something really special at the time?
Getting to meet Garrett [G. Love] was great. He and Ben Harper were the two people who gave me the chance to make music a career really. I wasn’t expecting that at all. I was fans of their music and we were using their music in our surf music. Garrett and I first went for a surf. He was in town making that record, Philadelphonic. We had a friend in common who was a photographer and who worked on the movies with us together. He grew up with Garrett. He put me on the spot. He told me to bring my guitar and he told Garrett that I should hear some of his music. That was the first day I ever met him. Now that I know him, I know he loves to jam more than anybody I know. He’s always looking to play music with people. We sat down and played for a few hours. He showed me all the songs from his record. I showed him some of my songs. He kept coming back to “Rodeo Clowns” and he wanted me to come back to the studio where he was recording. We met one day and recorded the next day and then people from the label heard it and next thing we knew it was the next single. It all happened within a week. Even at that point, I didn’t think it would amount to the level that it has. We had a friend in San Diego who was so excited that I was on the track. She started playing the heck of it down there on 91x.

Was this in Hawaii?
I was born and raised in Hawaii but then I went to school at UC-Santa Barbara. Then, I kind of lingered around there. My wife was teaching and I would make surf movies. I would take off for a week or two at a time but I was based in Santa Barbara. After Thicker than Water but before September Sessions, it all started happening. There was one label that wanted to do a record but wanted me to get right on it. I had this great surf trip to Indonesia planned. They passed and thought I wasn’t serious. I made the other surf movie and then came back. The labels didn’t understand how important surfing and making the surf films was. They were afraid I wouldn’t tour enough. I ended up doing on an independent label through JP Plunier, Ben Harper’s manager.

Do you remember your first meeting with Ben Harper?
JP was a surfer as well. Ben Harper is an amazing musician who likes to surf. I am the opposite. I’m a surfer who likes to make music. I was making these surf movies. His manager started coming in to the editing bay. He would sit around. It was fun for him. He got to sit there and watch guys make surf movies. He would just sit with us all day. He’s bossy in a fun way. He would start to run the shows and tell us what to do. He passed him a cassette. He gave that to JP and a couple of weeks later, he called me. As soon as he popped it in, he called me up and wanted to do something. I thought at that moment it would be something more than just a hobby. For me, Ben Harper’s albums were my favorites. The idea of working with someone he got to work with was pretty amazing. JP played it for Ben and the day I met him was at a show in Santa Barbara. I was backstage and I heard someone singing my lyrics. He was singing, “seems to me that maybe” [from “Flake”]. He came in and played the slide on that song in the studio.

At the time, surfing and skating was associated with punk rock. But those kids were into Ben Harper too.
I agree. The surf movies we were making were trying to show the other side too. I grew up listening to punk rock since I was a grommet. I had a punk rock band in high school. We would do songs by Minor Threat, Bad Religion and Fugazi. I loved watching surf movies that had those songs in them but there was another part of surfing that felt different. It was the evening when you come in and still have the salt on your skin. You look out and the sun is setting. It seems like slow motion and doesn’t feel like punk rock. It’s another side.  We love those old punk ones. It was hard not to put that fast-paced music to it. But I agree. Ben Harper had that crowd.

Talk about the themes that you address on this album.
I’ve always tried to write about what was really happening in my life. If it means sounding like you’re getting older, so be it. This record is about those experiences and watching the world through my children’s eyes. Simple love songs. They’re a good way for me to remind my wife how much I love her. I’m not great about getting presents. So often the night before Valentine’s Day I write one of those songs real quick. That’s where those come from. There’s one called “Radiate” that’s about watching one of my kids who gets in his own world. It’s hard to get him out of that world. Then there’s one about my little girl – “You Remind Me of You.” It’s basically family life.

“Never Fade” is such a beautiful song. Was there something in particular that inspired it?
That was thinking back to the first time I met my wife. It has to do with the present and the past. Twenty years later and here we are in a relationship. It’s about how our love will never fade; that’s the connector there. The ones that take five minutes to write often become people’s favorites. The ones I slave over for weeks often become the deep tracks on the records. I’ll have one person once a year who will tell me how much the song meant to me. The ones that connect are the ones that come really fast. It’s a simple thing, but it’s nice when the person you love loves you too.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected]