Story: Jack Foley
IN THE past five years, Jack Johnson has gone from filmmaker,
shooting and scoring his 16mm surf films to a well-known singer-songwriter.
After spending the remainder of 2003 on the road in support of
On and On, his best-known album, and slowing down in
2004 to welcome his new baby boy, Johnson is now ready to release
his third, and most musically upbeat release to date, In Between
Raised on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, Johnson practically began
to surf as he began to walk.
As the youngest of three wave-riding brothers and a long-boarding
father, most of Johnson’s life lessons were learned in the
With Pipeline in his front yard, Johnson started surfing the
legendary wave at age 12, and at 17 was invited to surf in the
Pipe Masters competition.
One month later, however, he suffered a surfing accident which
kept him out of the water for three months.
Although Johnson had began playing guitar as a young teen, it
was these land-locked months that allowed Johnson to hone his
guitar skills and find influences in a wide range of musicians
from Cat Stevens to Fugazi.
At 18, Johnson left the islands to study filmmaking at the University
of California of Santa Barbara.
After graduating in 1997, Johnson began a year-long adventure
around the world with old surfing friends, Chris and Emmett Malloy.
The result was the acclaimed 16mm surf film, Thicker Than Water,
hailed as a return to the purist beauty of early surf cinema,
which Johnson co-directed and shot.
It was during the scoring of the film that Johnson found his
Before its release in 1999 Johnson’s soulful folk tunes,
inflected with blues and hip hop flavourings, soon began circulating
as bootlegs in all corners of the global surf community.
At this time, Johnson met fellow surfer, Garrett Dutton (aka
G. Love), who recorded Johnson’s Rodeo Clowns for
the G. Love & Special Sauce disc Philadelphonic also released
The recording quickly gained radio airplay and Johnson’s
reputation as a musician was building beyond the surf community.
Despite offers to sign a record deal, Johnson chose to escape
to the South Pacific to film his second surf film, The September
By the time Thicker Than Water was named Surfer magazine's Film
of the Year and its follow-up, The September Sessions, nabbed
the Adobe Highlight Award at the ESPN Film Festival, Johnson’s
bootleg tape fell into the hands of musician, Ben Harper, and
his manager/producer JP Plunier who helped Johnson to make a record.
In January of 2001, Johnson’s
full-length debut, Brushfire Fairytales was released
on Enjoy Records; an upstart indie label founded by veteran A&R
man, Andy Factor and Plunier, who produced the recording.
Brushfire Fairytales was an impressive debut on numerous
levels: From the opening Inaudible Melodies - which seemed
to boil Jack's personal philosophy down to a chorus of 'slow down
everyone/You're moving too fast' - to the anthemic Flake,
Brushfire Fairytales turned many people across the nation
onto Jack Johnson.
While opening for Ben Harper’s four-month US/Australian
tour in 2001, Brushfire Fairytales started to build momentum
and spread like wildfire among the enthusiastic, music-minded
By the fall, Johnson, along with drummer, Adam Topol, and bassist,
Merlo Podlewski, were selling out their own club shows. Within
a year of the album’s release, it had sold 100,000 copies,
and in January 2003, it went platinum.
In May of 2003, Johnson released his sophomore album On
and On, which was produced by Mario Caldato Jr, best known
for his work with the Beastie Boys, and featured the same line
up as Brushfire Fairytales: Jack on vocals/guitar, Adam
Topol on drums, and Merlo Podlewski on bass.
On and On mixed heartfelt ballads of love and simple
joys with more serious subjects of materialism, industrialization,
school shootings, offshore oil drilling, and war.
The inner truth and social commentary that was evident in Johnson’s
early songwriting on Brushfire Fairytales matured with
On and On.
On and On’s release launched Johnson’s newly
formed Brushfire Records label and garnered sales of one million
within its first year.
Also during that year Brushfire Records welcomed Jack’s
old friends G. Love and Donavon Frankenreiter, a professional
surfer/musician, and released the soundtracks for Johnson’s
surf films Thicker Than Water and The September Sessions.
In 2005, Johnson will release his third full length recording
In Between Dreams.
Johnson along with Topol and Podlewski bring acoustic sing-a-longs
full of smartly embellished strumming and solid basslines to create
the hypnotic, blues and funk-inflected groove flowing through
In Between Dreams was recorded in Hawaii and Los Angeles
and was produced by Mario Caldato, Jr. and engineered by Robert
Carranza, the same duo at the controls for 2003’s On
It also features contributions from Jack’s friend, Zach
Gill, of Animal Liberation Orchestra, on piano and accordion.
Having started playing music at his family barbecues and atop
boats on far-off surf trips, it must be a touch surreal when Johnson
finds himself traveling the world with his band, performing on
television shows, and playing to sold-out amphitheatres.
But the reality is that Jack Johnson has accomplished an impressive
amount over the last few years as an artist, filmmaker, musician
and now as a father.