By: Tim Donnelly
Jack Johnson is pacing in the driveway of his Los Angeles office/recording studio with a glass of wine in his hand. He doesn't seem nervous or buzzed, just a little apprehensive. Inside the garage that doubles as his studio and hang spot, are 40 or so retail buyers and industry insiders getting their first listen to Johnson's latest release, Sleep Through The Static (arriving February 5 on Brushfire Records). I understand his concern. I'd be a little freaked to at the thought of having 40 people in my workspace/pleasure zone judging my art if I were him.
"Hey Timmy, you think I should play for them afterwards?" he asks me. "If you feel like it man, then do it," I reply. "Why don't we go upstairs and check on them in a couple minutes," I add to ease his mind. ""Sounds like a good idea," responds Johnson. Well, suffice to say, we stayed upstairs a little longer than we thought we would and when we returned to the backyard, he wasn't thinking of playing for the invited guests. "Uh, I may be too loose," he laughed. Instead, Johnson thanked everyone for coming and shook their hands while looking them straight in the eye as they left. That's Jack Johnson: great host, funny dude and slyly shy superstar.
What the suits and influencers were listening to was a quintessential Jack Johnson record - breezy, uncomplicated, soulful and straightforward. Sleep Through the Static comes after the Curious George movie soundtrack exclusively done for rug scratching bambinos and their parental units. Those looking for nursery rhymes on Sleep will be sorely disappointed because Johnson has the universe on his mind this time around, and his outlook is deliberate and democratic.
"I try not to get introspective on what I write and how I go about the songwriting process. I write the ones I write that time around, and they end up as a group on the record. A lot of times it's about what is going on with the world, but I don't necessarily sit down and watch the news or read the paper. Things going on become part of the social consciousness, and over time it seems hard not to write songs like that," he says.
"Going into it, I was pretty comfortable. I felt like I didn't have anything to prove. At some point here, things are going to go downhill. I don't mean that in a negative sense. Everything has its peaks and valleys," Johnson says. "To me, this thing has been going on a while. Each record has kind of surprised me that it keeps going in that direction. I'm at a place now where I am ready if it sold half of the [usual] amount, so that kind of pressure is off in a way."
It's not that he doesn't care about sales but he's not in competition with himself, nor has he ever been. "What an amazing ride it was to get to keep putting out records. If I can keep on doing this at some level then I am happy to put out a record every coupla of years," Johnson says.
Johnson was a film major at UC Santa Barbara, so it's no surprise that he "sees" an arc that runs through his records. "Almost every record I do I want it to feel like it's a whole unit. They always have. Sonically its felt like they always fit together in a nice sequence, and thematically they jump around a little bit," he says. "On this one, I'll be curious to see whether people see it as a nice whole piece or a little redundant. To me, a lot of the songs on this record are dealing with the same topics and thinking about them from different angles. The songs tie really nice together in my mind. A lot of times getting songs off your chest or outta your mind is one thing, but fans listening to them is another thing. I feel like it is a nice thematic record with a nice cinematic ride through the whole thing."
For Sleep Through The Static, he enlisted producer J.P. Plunier (Ben Harper, G. Love), the man who helped launch Johnson's career with his breakthrough debut, Brushfire Fairytales. Plunier knows him and for Johnson it allowed him to take things a little further than usual, especially on the electric side of things.
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