Before Jack Johnson became the 21st century kingpin of beachside pop/rock, he was a champion surfer on the professional circuit. The sport was second nature to the Hawaiian native, who began chasing waves as a toddler and, by the age of 17, had become an outstanding athlete on the Banzai Pipeline. However, Johnson was also testing other creative outlets — specifically film and music — and a serious surfing accident during his first professional competition convinced him to devote more time to those landlocked hobbies. After studying cinematography in college, he turned his full attention to music, writing breezy pop songs punctuated by an unassuming voice and a mellow, beach-bum demeanor. The combination proved to be particularly commercial, as Johnson’s first five major-label albums all climbed to platinum status.
While studying film at the University of California in Santa Barbara, Johnson partnered with friends Chris Malloy and Emmett Malloy to produced a surfing documentary entitled Thicker Than Water. Although the project spotlighted Johnson’s talent as a director, it also showcased his flair for songwriting, and the accompanying soundtrack featured several of his own tunes. Thicker Than Water was deemed 2000’s Video of the Year by Surfer magazine and paved the way for a second surf flick, The September Sessions. Meanwhile, Johnson began receiving similar notice for his songs, one of which was covered by G. Love & Special Sauce on the band’s 1999 album, Philadelphonic. Shortly thereafter, Johnson’s demo material piqued the interest of J.P. Plunier, a French producer who had helped launch Ben Harper’s career several years prior.
With Plunier’s help, Johnson recorded and released Brushfire Fairytales in 2001. The debut album featured a cameo by Ben Harper, thus sparking a friendship between the two musicians. Moreover, its casually spun folk songs attracted an audience that stretched far beyond Johnson’s own surfing community, and Brushfire Fairytales went platinum as a result. After touring throughout the early half of 2002, he returned to the studio and issued On and On one year later. Despite its musical similarity to Brushfire Fairytales, On and On found Johnson delving into social commentary, resulting in a number of songs that paired worldly, insightful lyrics with a sunny surf vibe.
Jack Johnson toured heavily in support of his growing catalog, taking frequent breaks to surf and spend time with his family. When it came time to return to the studio, he resumed his partnership with Mario Caldato, Jr., the same producer who had helmed On and On, and decamped to Mango Trees Studio in Hawaii. In Between Dreams was released in 2005, sporting a mango tree on the album’s cover (in tribute to the studio) while offering a familiar mix of tropical songwriting and conscious commentary. The album peaked at number two, Johnson’s highest chart position to date in America, and sold more than two million copies stateside. Oddly enough, it was Johnson’s next project, the kids-oriented Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George, that finally sent him to the top of the charts. The soundtrack debuted at number one in February 2006, selling 149,000 copies during its first week and making Curious George the first animated film since Pocahontas to have a chart-topping soundtrack. Like the four albums before it, it climbed to platinum status.
Despite such continued success, however, Johnson was dealt a sharp blow in 2007, when his cousin Danny Riley succumbed to brain cancer. That death, coupled with the decision to record outside of Hawaii’s familiar environment, lent a moody ambience to Johnson’s next record, 2008’s Sleep Through the Static. Nonetheless, the bulk of the album retained a warm, sand-scrubbed feel, and Sleep Through the Static went platinum within five weeks. Johnson traveled throughout Europe that summer, playing some of his largest shows to date, and the resulting footage was captured for the 2009 CD/DVD release En Concert. Johnson released his fifth studio album, To the Sea, in June 2010. Covering a nine-year span, the Jack Johnson & Friends: The Best of Kokua Festival compilation appeared in 2012 and featured performances from Johnson’s benefit concert for the nonprofit, environmental education organization the Kokua Hawaii Foundation. Johnson returned to his Mango Tree studio with Mario Caldato, Jr. — who produced his 2005 release In Between Dreams — to record his sixth studio album, From Here to Now to You. The album, which was released in September 2013, was preceded by the single “I Got You.”
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: On the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii
Q: When did you start playing guitar?
A: I started playing when I was 14.
Q: What was the first song you learned on the guitar?
A: I learned two at the same time: “One” by Metallica and “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens.
Q: What did you do before you put out Brushfire Fairytales?
A: I made surf films.
Q: What are some of your favorite Surf Movies?
A: The Seedling, Litmus, Filthy Habbits, Blazing Boards, Bunyip Dreaming, Green Iguana, and Endless Summer.
Q: Who are some of your (musical) influences?
A: I dig Nick Drake, The Beatles, Hendrix, Tribe Called Quest, Dylan, Ben Harper, Radio Head, G. Love and Special Sauce, Otis Redding, Neil Young, Marley, Kurosawa, Tom Curren and so on.