(This is from awhile ago, but I just found it online again, so I thought I would share)
Jack Johnson Interview
by Timothy Hogg
I decided to become a journalist for days like this one. Media is a difficult business, but at times there are rewards like these that make it worthwhile. Enter Jack Johnson, a musician, filmmaker and former professional surfer that will play Washington State University on February 6th at 7:00pm.
The following transcript is from an interview that I had the pleasure of doing with Johnson via phone from his home that he shares with his wife in Santa Barbara. When a journalist normally interviews a musician over the phone he writes a story from the notes. This would have cheated you, the reader, to what dynamics came out of the conversation. This is all Jack’s show, and he is just happy to be along for the ride.
We last saw you in Pullman at the beginning of the semester, what has changed in the life of Jack Johnson?
J.J.: Not too much. I do remember that when I was there, I was pretty sick. I didn’t really feel like playing. This time I am trying my hardest not to get sick. (Laughs)
Howie Day is going to be opening for you. You too have never played together before, but the last time you were here, he was going to open for you, but he got sick.
J.J.: Yeah that was a funny thing. We were both supposed to play Cougfest (sic) and he had to back out because he was sick, and the night before, I got sick. I am really excited to play there this time because it will be a totally different experience. I am excited to finally play with (Howie Day). I have heard about him and his music, but have never really sat down and listened to him.
You just went to New York to do “The Carson Daily Show” what was that like?
I am just kind of rolling with all this stuff ya know? It was cool because a lot of fans, people that have been fans for a while, drove up to New York for the show. It was pretty mellow. I didn’t know what he (Carson Daily) was going to be like, and he was the friendliest guy. He was really into the music, which was cool. It’s a trip – you go and play in front of a small group of people and forget that a few million people will see it later on television. I am glad that I forgot that, otherwise I would have been so nervous.
After doing this for over a year, I couldn’t expect to be where I am. In my heart, I have no desire to play anything larger than what we are playing on this tour. The cool thing is that you can do multiple small shows. Tom Petty did a number of sold out shows in small venues, to stay away from the big arena tours. That’s what I feel like right now.
After this show, you will be playing a sold out show at the Shoebox in Seattle, how does it feel to be filling venues of that size?
Feels cool, playing any size venue is not an ego thing, knowing that a show sells out quickly makes me happy, but it used to make me kind of nervous. I was kind of insecure because I thought people were going to expect something. Now I know that they do expect something, and that is what I give them. People come pumped to see you when a show sells out. The energy builds. We are doing two sold out nights at the Fillmore in San Francisco, which I can’t believe we sold out.
Can you give us an idea of what the show is going to look like this Thursday? How long are your sets averaging?
Well, I have Merlo on bass and Adam Topol on drums. I am going to bring a surf film or two, so we will show those, then Howie Day will come out and play, then us.. We have been averaging about an hour and fifteen to an hour and a half. We basically play until we run out of material.
From what I have read, you and wife are very close. Bubble Toes was written about her. How does touring tend to affect your relationship?
She comes out as much as she can and she helps out a lot. I still don’t have the normal setup, I have a friend that comes and helps with the gear on the road. She is a teacher, so she does it when she can. She is not coming to Pullman, but we will meet up in San Francisco.
Any weird road stories? You were on tour with Ben Harper last year.
I threw up in New York (City). I was playing in the Mercury Lounge. I had food poisoning and made it through about 4 songs, and then I just got up, ran between these two (beams) and threw up in a beanie. I then went out and told the crowd that I had food poisoning and played for another 45 minutes. When you puke, you feel so much better, so I just played.
You said that you were bringing one of your surf films to the show. You were a professional surfer, and then went to film school. Now the music thing has taken off, what makes a happy Jack?
Film for me is sort of taking a back seat. Music and surfing is something that I do everyday and do no matter what. Film is just a cool job, surfing I don’t consider it a job, and music, well; I can’t believe that I get to do this. We did a little bit of filming when we were on the road with Ben Harper, but it is a lot of work to do on your own.
Starting out in the music business can at times be a hard transition. Your music got traded around in the different surf circles didn’t it?
Yeah, yeah. It was really cool. I would go to all of these places and there would be copies of all these songs I did. I am not very computer literate, and this was before the whole Napster thing, but I was so honored that people would actually send my stuff out to other people in other surf circles.
So, I have to ask, this is probably the music journalists standard question these days, but what do you think about the whole Internet trading business?
My feeling is that is super cool and I am happy to be included on that. Some of the stuff got on Napster, and that is cool because people would trade the music in the surfing circles. I don’t want to forget that this how it all started for me.
You always gotta follow your heart; I don’t give a rat’s ass about the music industry. I don’t mean to be a hypocrite, I truly don’t mind if people are burning and trading my stuff around. I don’t care about all the big companies making money. Its just music.
I don’t deserve any of this; music is just fun for me. I feel spoiled at times that I get to do this.
You’re on a small, independent label, any desire to move to the big record companies?
We have distribution through a major label. They approached me to sign with them I wasn’t interested. They approached my label and we need the distributor. They (the label) had to make some kind distribution change. We were playing in these towns and the kids would listen to it and couldn’t go to a local record shop and buy it.
We spent a lot of time working with the bigger label, making sure that we have creative control. We hand them the record, the make sure it gets to the kids at the local shops. That’s all.
Dave Matthews has a tendency to refer to people that he plays with or has learned from as his “hero’s”.
Who are your hero’s?
Let’s see, Ben Harper, G-Love and Special Sauce-are all people that I have been able to work with. Then there is Taj Mahal, Toots and the Maytals.I also really like The Strokes. Those guys just seem to really be enjoying what they are doing right now, and it is just really good to see that. There is also this guy, Mason Jennings who is just amazing. You should really check him out.
Since the September 11th tragedy there seems to be a lot of writing and reflections, artists, musicians have really been somewhat inspired by this. Some of it the cheesy marketing pseudo patriotism, but then at the other end of the spectrum is a serious outflow of art and song. What is your take on this? Do catastrophic events have an effect on you or your writing?
Yeah, yeah. It’s one of those things that are going to effect people, no matter what. I wrote this song about all of these flags that were displayed, on people’s cars, their houses. Then I start seeing them on the side of the road and getting run over and trampled in the middle of the streets, like a month after 911. It’s kind of funny how people act so innocent when we have been on the exact other side so many times. Now something happens here. People forget history.
At this point in the interview, we talked a little more about this, and then to my surprise, Johnson played a song that he had been working on. It was truly a moment, not to mention inspirational, to spend time with someone to truly feel lucky to be doing what he is doing for a living.