Jack Johnson released his 7th album All The Light Above It Too Friday, featuring songs centered subtly around activism, love, and relationships. It’s melodic, breezy, and you’re going to want to find a beach and a drink after listening. Jack talks with No Name about environmental and political issues the LP touches on, finding balance as a dad and a musician, and the love of his life.
Tell me emotionally, Jack, what it feels like before a new record comes out?
It can be nerve-wracking. I think there was a time when you hoped people would like the next (record) as much as the others. Now I feel like I just want to put out stuff that I dig recording, and if it connects with a couple people, that’s cool. I feel so fortunate to have any run at this whole thing.
Let’s talk about the new record ‘All The Light Above It Too’ – specifically the album artwork. It features ocean debris. What shocked me was when I found out that it was all collected in one day.
I wasn’t planning for that to be the cover of the record. We do a lot of stuff with our live shows to eliminate single-use plastic, like using reusable pint cups and water bottle refill stations. We were doing press for (those) environmental initiatives.
I realized I wouldn’t have to do a photo shoot for a cover. To be honest, that was the best part.
Why do you think people litter?
Jeez, I’m no expert. I feel like a lot of times people probably think it’s somebody else’s job. But so much of that plastic is ending up in our oceans, and plastic lasts forever.
There’s a debate (about) attacking people for littering, but really you can put it on corporations. The companies making the stuff have to take some responsibility for creating something that’s not going to biodegrade. Cutting it off at the source is the most important thing.
You choose to create in nature (or your garage). Have you ever thought about changing that methodology?
Maybe I’d make a better record if I rented a fancy studio, but I don’t want to miss out on my life. When the waves get good, I like to be near my favorite surf spot. And the kids are growing up so fast, it’s fun to be around them. I like being around and recording when there are quiet moments and not be stuck in a studio.
What keeps you grounded?
My wife. She’s been my girlfriend since we were 18. She watched me write my first songs. She’s always been there.
Everybody along the way…the first sound guy we had (when) we were playing Bimbo’s in San Francisco (and sometimes it’d be half full), I have the same guy doing sound for me now. I think it’s about keeping your real friends around. Same thing with the drummer in my band…it was him and I and nobody else, we were like the acoustic White Stripes. I couldn’t even pay him anything. We played for a whole year gigs where we were losing money. He’s the same drummer now.
It’s nice having people around you that you can trust because we like each other as people and we dig making this music together.
What people are going to hear on this record is pretty much as recorded in the studio.
It’s true, we do a lot of live takes. Some of the songs were built up in a way that reminded me of playing on my 4-track in the living room before I made a record. I would start on the drums, and then I would add a bassline, then I would add the piano and slowly build the song one line at a time (because I didn’t have the whole band around).
But a lot of them are the first stab I took at the song. (Often) I listen back and I like the very first version (better).
Anything else we should know?
It’s not a sequel. I realized ‘All The Light Above It Too’ sounds like ‘All The Light Above It…Part 2.’
What’s the one secret hobby you have that would surprise people?
I like doing stop-motion animation. That’s something me and my kids do around the house. I’m kinda an animation nerd.
Can you tell me about (your song) “My Mind is For Sale?”
I wrote it one morning over coffee. It was one of those songs where…everything on my mind spilled out. The verses were a scattering of different rumors, like fake news. Since the verses felt scattered I wanted the choruses to be really clear. It’s a song about anybody that wants to divide people by building walls.
This interview has been edited and condensed.