Jack Johnson On His New Album: ‘It’s The Most Un-Punk Rock Thing You’ve Ever Heard’

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Jack Johnson at Bonnaroo. (Nate Azark/WXRT)

Jack Johnson at Bonnaroo. (Nate Azark/WXRT)

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Singer-songwriter Jack Johnson, who performed at Bonnaroo this past weekend in lieu of Mumford & Sons after the band was forced to pull out following bassist Ted Dwanes’ hospitalization, spoke with Chicago station WXRT (a Radio.com station) before taking the stage Saturday night (June 15) for a hit-filled performance that came together in less than 48 hours. The exclusive interview, which you can hear the on-air audio from here, covered a wide range of topics including Johnson’s upcoming new album, From Here to Now to You, due for release September 17.

Related: Bonnaroo 2013 Photo Gallery

“I go for months without writing, and then I’ll write a bunch of songs in a few weeks sometimes. Once I have enough songs around, that’s usually when we kind of make a few phone calls and say let’s try to do one of these again,” Johnson explained to WXRT’s Marty Lennartz regarding his songwriting process leading up to the recording of a new album.

“My wife is kind of the one who tells me — that’s her job, to tell me what to do,” Johnson deadpanned about his latest batch of songs. “She’s always part of the writing process. We met when we were 18 years old. The first songs I ever tried to write, she was my first ear that I would play them to. She always had better taste and was smarter than I was, so I’ve always trusted her. If she told me she liked a song, it was cool.”

Recording the new album in his own Mango Tree Studio in Hawaii (“When you’re there, it’s just a two-car garage. The photos probably do it more justice. The outside is really nice…My brother and I built it”), Johnson explained how From Here to Now to You is a much mellower affair than his last album, To the Sea, which was powered by the decided presence of electric guitars in the mix.

“I had to get my rock out before I turned 40,” Johnson laughed in regards to the plugged-in aspect of To the Sea. “I used to be in a punk rock cover band in high school. We did all Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Bad Religion covers.

“There’s actually one song on this record called ‘Tape Deck,’ and it’s all about our first band, Limber Chicken,” Johnson elaborated. “It’s the story of that band, how we got our instruments, practicing and stuff. It’s funny, because we recorded it on a nylon string acoustic (guitar) and an upright bass and a little hand drum. It’s the most un-punk thing you’ve ever heard. It’s pretty funny. As an 18-year-old, I would’ve just hated me for doing it. The lamest 38-year-old thing to do.”

When asked to describe the upcoming new album, Johnson laid it out quite succinctly: “All the love songsicon1 Jack Johnson On His New Album: It’s The Most Un Punk Rock Thing You’ve Ever Heard are for my wife. The break-up songs are for my friends.” Listen to first single “I Got You,” clearly a love song,” below.

The Curious George singer-songwriter also discussed his recent touring habits, such as being influenced by a pair of equally enigmatic rock frontmen to embark on his 2012 Hawaiian Islands acoustic tour.

“Two shows in particular inspired me to want to do that run in Hawaii,” Johnson said. “Seeing Jeff Tweedy from Wilco play acoustic. He come to Hawaii and played at the Hawaii Theatre, which is where I did my show. And then Andrew Bird, he came and did his amazing thing where he’s solo. It’s just mind-blowing.

“I’m a huge fan of Wilco, I’ve seen them a million times as a band, and I love that as well,” he added. “To hear the songs stripped down to the bare basics was really nice. It inspired me to do something similar.”

Jack Johnson has made a huge social impact with his most recent run of live shows, donating 100 percent of his concert proceeds to charity.

“It’s my wife’s fault, it’s not me,” Johnson joked about handing over concert profits to various charities, a practice that started back in 2008. “We make a really good living just from the album sales. We’re lucky. It felt really right for us to have a nonprofit aspect to the music.

“When everybody gathers together and comes to this one place and it feels so nice to be playing songs, it would just seem like the right thing to be taking that money and putting it back into the communities that we’re playing along the way,” the singer added. “Those tours have a lot of busses and trucks and things, and I didn’t want to feel like we were just coming through a town. I wanted to feel like we were leaving it in better shape than when we got there. That’s been a lot of fun. That kind of helped me want to keep touring. It made it feel so much bigger than me. It made every event feel really special.”

Johnson has an extensive North American tour scheduled for the fall, kicking off in Canton, Mass., on September 22 as part of the Life is Good festival, and wrapping up in Santa Barbara, Calif., on October 20.

- Scott T. Sterling, Radio.com

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