Jack Johnson , May 8, 2001

 

Written and photos by: Jason Perlman

 

Jason Perlman: This is not your typical Hawaiian-style music. How were you influenced into this style?
Jack Johnson: I wrote most of the songs ... Well, I grew up in Hawaii but I ended up leaving when I was 18 for school in Santa Barbara and ended up writing most of the songs the last couple of years after I graduated from college. So, I have been away from Hawaii for quite a while, though I go back and forth quite a bit. But most of the songs were written while I was traveling and filming a movie called Thicker Than Water, a surf film. We went to about eight or nine different countries. A couple were written in Ireland, a couple in Antigua. A couple were written in Australia, come in California. Some were in Tahiti. They were just kind of written all around. I would go and be so inspired. They wouldn't necessarily always be about the place I was at, but the place was so inspiring that it would just inspire you to start writing about things you have been thinking about the past few months. You get into a frame of mind that is hard to get into when you are at home.

JP: The music has an absolute mellowness in the acoustical sounds, lyrically and in vocal tones. Are you one of those high-energy people that can tone down their style?
JJ: Nahh, I think I am pretty laid back. I guess it's kind of funny to call yourself laid back, because that's not very laid back. But, I think judging from all my friends that are around me, we are a pretty laid back crew. Like right now, we got some pretty mellow music going on in the car, listening to things like reggae and things like that. So, it's definitely not far from how I really am.

JP: With the reggae/folk sound, most people won't figure you a Hawaiian/Northern Californian. Lenny Kravitz always says starting out, some said he wasn't 'black' enough, and others said he wasn't 'white' enough. Do you foresee that problem?
JJ: Well, I'm not sure. I mean I haven't had a problem yet. I haven't really run into anyone that has questioned anything yet. I mean, I haven't done that many interviews; it's all kind of brand new for me. So far, I haven't seen anybody question it. I am English, Irish and Danish, so it could be anything I guess. But growing up in Hawaii almost makes you a different nationality.

JP: I went on Napster about a month back and was able to download some demo songs.
JJ: It's funny that they label that demo, because I never really made a demo. I make a lot of four-track tapes at home and pass them out to friends. They kind of just ended up on Napster and stuff, but there is actually a bunch of different ones.

JP: A lot of those acoustic songs were on the Brushfire Fairytales. Did you have all the songs written when you went in and recorded?
JJ: One song on the record, the very last one called 'It's All Understood,' I wrote in the studio while we were recording and basically kinda came up with it while we were laying down the tracks and putting down the music and I wrote on of the verses the day we were recording it. All the rest were acoustic guitar and vocals were written before hand, but then the drummer and bass player I play with came up with their own parts, so we did that prior to recording.

JP: How did the writing process go for the CD? You write acoustic and record at home acoustic. How did drummer Adam Topol and bassist Merlo fit in?
JJ: I just write it acoustic and then they fit it in. It's pretty simple music, you know what I mean? It's just basic sort of folk with a little bit of reggae or hip-hop beats added in. I don't have their parts in mind. I trust them more on what the drums and bass should be than I trust my own judgment. I let them come up with their own stuff. (Brushfire Fairytales) is the first record we have done, so the process for the second one could be a lot different, I'm not sure. I have some of the songs written already, but a lot of them we're kind of coming up together with right now.

JP: My favorite song on the record is 'Bubble Toes.' It's just a fun song with a happy beat but has some of the strangest phrases in it.
JJ: I remember writing that song, actually. I was just sitting at my house with my wife and was just kind of goofing around. Like I goof around all the time just singing to her. Every couple of nights I make up a song for her. I was just making one up that night and it just kind of had a catchy little hook to it and I just kept playing it. The second verse is about when we met. The DLG? That stand for De Le Guera, that's the dining commons the freshman year we met was at the DLG, or what they call the DLG. We met there, and it's just a fun love song.

JP: Because you recorded with newly-written drum and bass tracks, do any of you ever switch some stuff up live with a new sound?
JJ: They are all pretty new, but we have been having a lot of fun closing with 'Mud Football.' It hasn't changed to the amount where people might notice the change, but for us, playing wise, we've changed up a few little parts to make it really fun. When we recorded that, we had just gotten together as a band, so we hadn't played all that much together. Now we have played a lot more together, so there are little, tiny variations that people might not notice as much as we do, but we have a lot of fun playing the songs we have changed slightly. 'Mud Football' is one of those ones that I think we play a lot better now than we did on the album. So, we have been closing with that the last few nights and having fun with that.

JP: And you had Ben Harper help out recording the song 'Flake.'
JJ: I met (Ben Harper) about a year before I did the record and one of the shows and started to get to know him better and better. He came in and played on 'Flake.' It was still a big surprise for me and a big honor. It wasn’t like we were so close that it was expected or anything. It was pretty neat because he was only home for a couple of days off a tour. And his producer, or manager and producer, J P Plunier, he is the one that produced the record for me and started the label that I signed to. So (Harper) was home for a few days and (Plunier) had him come into the studio and record that stuff.

JP: Enjoy Records. A brand new label and you are only one of two acts. What's it like?
JJ: Oh man, I am so lucky and it's been so much fun. I am lucky too, because these guys have been in the business for a while. Andy Factor used to work at Virgin Records, and then he left and began this label with JP. So it’s nice to be in a nice, little independent label, but it's also guys who know how the business works. It's been running really smooth; they have been great. It's pretty amazing to be on that label. There are two bands; it's me and Elgin Parks, who is a good friend of mine. There are only two of us on the label, so you get a lot of attention.

JP: It surprises me that people of all ages can get into your music. I am taking my dad with me to the show tonight, and we are both big fans. Does it surprise you the variance in fans you have?
JJ: It surprises me too. It makes me really happy because my mom and dad like it a lot; my grandma likes some of the songs. It feels good to do something that doesn't stray to far from who you really are. To have little kids love 'Bubble Toes.' My nieces and nephews know every word and them and all their friends will get together, and when I come home, they will sing the whole song to me. They like to put it on, play the song and put on a big performance. There is nothing in the world that can make me happier than knowing my music is good enough for my nieces and nephews to dance to.

JP: One of the things about going to a Ben Harper show, is it's music first and showmanship second. You can tell that Ben puts all his and the Innocent Criminal's focus on giving 100 percent to performance, and puts it all on the line live. Can we expect the same from you?
JJ: Yea. Ben is an intense human being. He is one of the most amazing, amazing singers and musicians I know or know of. When he plays, yea he has a couple of songs that are a lot of fun, but he has really serious songs that just make you stare and give you goose bumps the whole time. He has a whole level to his music that has seriousness to it that I don't think ours does. I mean, you will hear me hitting a lot more off-notes then you will hear them messing up. They are very intense about their music. It's funny you grind it up, because Ben we one of the people that inspired me to actually think that I could do this. Because when I watched him and he sat down his whole show and just played music, didn't jump around or didn't have fancy this or that, it made me realize you could do exactly what you wanted and get away with it. Even if you weren't playing the 'rock star.' So that really inspired me to realize I didn't have to put on this crazy show that I thought people were expecting.

JP: Cool, well we will see you tonight.
JJ: All right man, take care.