With the waves crashing just a few feet away from the Chevrolet Stage, Hangout Fest will most certainly provide the optimum atmosphere to experience the sounds of Jack Johnson. This surfing troubadour mesmerized the public with his acoustically-infused debut “Brushfire Fairytales.” With each release, Johnson is able to capture the laid-back vibes of his surfer world and effortlessly mold them into unforgettable grooves.
Johnson brought the electric guitar into the mix for his last two releases. However, his latest effort “From Here to Now to You” brings back his acoustic love affair as well as the production skills of longtime friend Mario Caldato Jr. (The Beastie Boys, Beck). Judging from the music on this reflective album, Johnson has once again caught a sonic wave of emotion that will ease the crowd into the Sunday sunset.
SC: You traded acoustic for electric in your last couple of releases. “From Here to Now to You” has you getting back to your acoustic roots. What made you want to go back to your original formula?
JJ: There’s this one guitar that this guy gave me. It’s this nylon-string, classical guitar. This guy Pepe Romero Jr. happens to be a surfer who was in Hawaii. I was hanging out in the water with this pretty well-known surfer named Gavin Beschen. He was telling me that this guy had a guitar for me. So, I said, “Bring him by.” So, he brought him over. Sometimes, I’ve gotten homemade guitars that are always really beautiful and play like an old Martin, but this guy was part of the Romero Family. He’s an amazing luthier. When I played this thing, it was really nice. I’ve listened to a lot of Brazilian music that’s on nylon strings and different styles of music, but I never really played it too much. I started playing it in these specialty open-tunings and Hawaiian tunings that I’ve been messing around with. The combination of these tunings with this nylon-string guitar this guy gave me, who was a surfer, made me start writing on the acoustic a bit.
SC: With technology being the way it is these days, I’ve been talking to more and more musicians who list the benefits of recording at home or close to home. You laid down tracks for this one in your own studio at home. What do you think were some of the benefits of doing this one close to home?
JJ: I’ll tell you the pros and cons. The biggest pro is that you can surf whenever you feel like, and the biggest con is that you can surf whenever you feel like it (laughing). Pretty much, it can go for or against. It’s nice when you’re not renting a studio space, and you’re not spending any money on it, because it’s just my garage. Some days the waves are really good, and I’ll call everybody in the band and say, “Let’s meet in the afternoon.” If the waves stay really good for a couple of days, then all of sudden you find you’re not getting in the studio. Then, I get in there with better energy and feeling better and ready to be inside. It’s nice. I love having the flexibility of going in whenever you want, and you’re not wasting money on a studio.
SC: I think this is one of your most personally reflective albums yet. For some songwriters, it’s a natural movement. For some, it’s a detailed process. When you were writing these songs, how did you sift through all these memories and thoughts to create these songs?
JJ: Yeah, it’s a good question! It’s always funny doing interviews, especially whenever an album first comes out for me. I just put together whatever has been on my mind that year. Then, it’s almost like going to therapy, because then you have these people asking you about the songs. The natural part is writing the songs. Then, all of a sudden people start digging into them, you start realizing, “Oh yeah! This is what I’ve been thinking about! This is what’s been affecting my life!” All my therapists that I’ve been doing interviews with have been telling me that I sound pretty content on this one. You’re yourself and living your life and having your ups and downs. I have friends that go into the studio with 20 songs and try to narrow it down to the best 12. Once I have 10 or 12 songs, I go into the studio and record them all. Whenever I finish a record, I’m completely out. I always record everything I write, basically. So, I don’t have too much to choose from. Those are the thoughts that I’ve been filing away from the past year.
SC: You brought Mario Caldato back into the studio with you. I haven’t heard that name in awhile, so it was cool to see him working with you. You guys are pretty much kindred spirits. What’s it like when you guys get into the studio together?
JJ: It’s great! There’s a lot of things I love about working with Mario. I first heard his name, like most people did, from The Beastie Boys. He loves that kind of music, but when you hang out with him, the guy is just an audiophile that will play music all day. He loves to sit around and play records all day. A lot of the music that he’s listening to is Brazilian. His passion is Brazilian music, so it really worked out really well. You’re working with somebody who liked to make songs that people like to dance to, like The Beastie Boys. You’re also working with somebody who’s sensible with acoustic music and percussion. He knows a nice way to approach trying to get something funky together but still feel organic.
He also has this way of tricking me sometime, and I think it’s true for a lot of musicians, but you think you can do things better. It can really start to degrade in the studio just wanting to do things over and over and over. You lose the magic. He’s pretty good about keeping us moving, and he always lies to me and says, “That sounds pretty good for now. Let’s just move along. If we don’t like it later, then we can just change it.” A couple of days pass, and I want to go back and redo that part. He goes, “Are you crazy? That thing is perfect! There’s no way that we’re touching that!” He has a good way of keeping me moving, and it’s true. A lot of times, you listen to it, and you think you can do better. Then, a couple of days pass, and you hear it again and think it’s fine. The best it ever sounds to me is fine. It’s hard when it’s your own voice, like on an answering machine. You can’t tell, until you put it out to the world, if the stuff is gonna react or not. I always take it to my brother first. If my brother says, “That’s pretty good. That’s nice.” Then, I feel like I got something. That’s the feedback that I get around here, but you can’t tell until you get it out there.
SC: When you take the stage at Hangout Fest, you’re going to be in your ideal environment on the beach. I know all your fans in the Southeast haven’t seen you in awhile. So, what are you bringing to the stage for this set?
JJ: The easy answer is a really good time. I feel so lucky, because the guys in the band are people that I hang out with. To me, we’ve got one of those old school bands that are made up of a bunch of friends. It’s not just hired guys that play well. It’s the same guys who have played on all of my albums. The piano player is one of my oldest friends. We met the first week of college, and started playing music together when we were 18 years old. Having them up on the stage, it’s so fun to look around. Every once in awhile, when you have a big crowd, it can get crazy, and you lose sense of what’s going on. You’re like, “What am I doing in front of these people? This is crazy!” When I look over and see one of my best friends there, it makes it all makes sense again. It’s just nice being on stage with friends. We always have fun. I can’t think of a time, well, there was this one time that I got food poisoning, and I muscled through the set. It wasn’t very much fun. Other than that, it’s pretty much been all fun.
Date: Sunday, May 18, 7:30 to 9 p.m.
Stage: Chevrolet Stage