Jack Johnson discusses ‘To The Sea’

Brad Frenette, National Post ·
Originallly published: Jun. 1, 2010

In the early 1960s, a young American named Jeff Johnson cast off from the jagged coast of California, on a solo sail across the Pacific. He landed in Hawaii, on the North Shore, settled there, started a family and became a surfer of high regard. Years later, the youngest of his three sons, Jack, became a noted surfer in his own right, and made a few popular surf films. Then he started recording music, eventually selling millions of records. Jack’s latest album, To The Sea, is an ode to Jeff, who died last summer.
“He was 20 years old when he made that sail,” says the 35-year-old Johnson, on the phone from New York City. “It became a big part of my life — the stories from that trip, but also the idea of your dad making a journey across the ocean to get to where you live now. It was quite a personality to live up to.”
The influence is clear, from the large font of the album’s dedication, “In loving memory of my dad,” to the interior artwork, which includes an archival photograph of a sailboat, and another of Jack, as a child, helping his dad build the wooden frame of an undefined structure.
The months after Jeff Johnson’s death left his son with an unexpected burst of creativity. “When we lost him, I figured I was going to take more time off. What ended up happening was that I had all these songs come out, and I had the urge to get back in and record them. It felt like the right thing to do.”
The songs themselves were recorded not far from the sea, at Mango Tree, Johnson’s solar-powered studio in Oahu. Like each of his previous releases, from his 2001 debut, Brushfire Fairytales, to 2008’s Sleep Through the Static, Johnson’s fifth album shuffles, not leaps, forward musically.
“I’m part of a tradition that incorporates Jackson Brown, Paul Simon, James Taylor. I see how I fit into that tradition. I’ve never really thought about it. Me and Zach [Gill, Johnson’s keyboardist and lead singer of ALO], have this saying: don’t get too introspective. It’s dangerous. It’s more important to dance the dance and keep joining.”
Body surfer Mark Cunningham once called Johnson “the anti-bling.” A family man who brings his young children on tour, Johnson has turned his road show in a kind of travelling eco-carnival. He gets excited when discussing the “sustainable bio-diesel on the buses, or refillable water bottle stations.” His next tour, kicking off in the middle of June in Germany, aims to be plastic-free, with 100% of the operating profits going to charity.
Despite the tours and millions of albums sold, his passion — like his dad, who surfed into his sixties — draws him back to the sea.
“Surfing is the bliss of my life, the thing in my life that I’m most happy doing. Music is so much fun, but it’s a way for me to share things, to answer questions. It’s back there as a resource.”
Brad Frenette, National Post · Originallly published: Jun. 1, 2010
In the early 1960s, a young American named Jeff Johnson cast off from the jagged coast of California, on a solo sail across the Pacific. He landed in Hawaii, on the North Shore, settled there, started a family and became a surfer of high regard. Years later, the youngest of his three sons, Jack, became a noted surfer in his own right, and made a few popular surf films. Then he started recording music, eventually selling millions of records. Jack’s latest album, To The Sea, is an ode to Jeff, who died last summer.
“He was 20 years old when he made that sail,” says the 35-year-old Johnson, on the phone from New York City. “It became a big part of my life — the stories from that trip, but also the idea of your dad making a journey across the ocean to get to where you live now. It was quite a personality to live up to.”
The influence is clear, from the large font of the album’s dedication, “In loving memory of my dad,” to the interior artwork, which includes an archival photograph of a sailboat, and another of Jack, as a child, helping his dad build the wooden frame of an undefined structure.
The months after Jeff Johnson’s death left his son with an unexpected burst of creativity. “When we lost him, I figured I was going to take more time off. What ended up happening was that I had all these songs come out, and I had the urge to get back in and record them. It felt like the right thing to do.”
The songs themselves were recorded not far from the sea, at Mango Tree, Johnson’s solar-powered studio in Oahu. Like each of his previous releases, from his 2001 debut, Brushfire Fairytales, to 2008’s Sleep Through the Static, Johnson’s fifth album shuffles, not leaps, forward musically.
“I’m part of a tradition that incorporates Jackson Brown, Paul Simon, James Taylor. I see how I fit into that tradition. I’ve never really thought about it. Me and Zach [Gill, Johnson’s keyboardist and lead singer of ALO], have this saying: don’t get too introspective. It’s dangerous. It’s more important to dance the dance and keep joining.”
Body surfer Mark Cunningham once called Johnson “the anti-bling.” A family man who brings his young children on tour, Johnson has turned his road show in a kind of travelling eco-carnival. He gets excited when discussing the “sustainable bio-diesel on the buses, or refillable water bottle stations.” His next tour, kicking off in the middle of June in Germany, aims to be plastic-free, with 100% of the operating profits going to charity.
Despite the tours and millions of albums sold, his passion — like his dad, who surfed into his sixties — draws him back to the sea.
“Surfing is the bliss of my life, the thing in my life that I’m most happy doing. Music is so much fun, but it’s a way for me to share things, to answer questions. It’s back there as a resource.”

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One thought on “Jack Johnson discusses ‘To The Sea’

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