Now you can have Jack Johnson your way, at home or in concert, thanks to a new album and an acoustic interisland tour. The album, Jack Johnson and Friends–Best of Kokua Festival, drops April 17. Kicking off with his now-classic duet with Paula Fuga, “Better Together,” the king of shuffle-rock colludes with Ben Harper, Willie Nelson, Jackson Browne, Eddie Vedder and others. Proceeds support the Kokua Hawaii Foundation’s work in schools and community. The mini-tour with Fuga and John Cruz
plays in Honolulu on April 21 and 22, Earth Day.
Do you surf when you’re touring?
I love to surf when I tour, and I do it as much as possible because it keeps me sane. My favorite places to tour are in South America and Australia, because every place we go there’s a coast and a chance to surf if there’s a swell. But sometimes traveling to foreign countries I have to try to scrub one from a local on the beach. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes they don’t recognize me and it’s, “Whoa! No way…”
The new album has a lot of my favorite musicians and songs, especially Taj Mahal’s “Further On Down the Road.”
One of my favorites. I got to talk to Taj about that song. Not many songs inspire me to write. That’s one. I don’t like to listen to too much music when I write. I try to listen to living. But one reason that song means a lot to me is when I was young and on the road, my wife and I bought this old VW in Europe and we traveled all over France and Spain, sleeping in the van. And we had just this one mixtape for the cassette player, with “Further On Down the Road” on it. “Further On” is about all the metaphors of being on the road. And being in a kind of a relationship that matures. My wife and I have been together for 18-plus years. You hear the song differently over time.
“Take It Easy” with Jackson Browne?
I don’t know if I’ve ever shared this with Jackson, [but] the first time we ever did the song I was living in Santa Barbara. We were the opening band at a Ventura festival in support of land preservation where he was the headliner. He came up to me and said, “At the end of the night you come back onstage and we’ll play ‘Take it Easy.’”
I went backstage and learned the whole thing, then onstage I realized I’d learned the wrong song. Growing up in Hawaii when reggae was so huge here, I thought he meant Bob Marley’s “Take It Easy.” Luckily, I just sort of played air guitar. [Laughs] Even my own songs I’m sometimes playing air guitar, strumming. Trying to catch up.
“Mudfootball” with Ozomatli?
Our drummer, Adam, was friends with them living in LA and I met them doing festivals like the Bonnaroo. It was really exciting to bring them to Hawaii. They do this thing where at the beginning of the show they come out through the audience with their horns. The crowd doesn’t know what’s going on. It sounds like a big party coming from outside the hall. Then they come in playing. Like mariachis!
Willie Nelson. Is what you see what you get?
Yeah, more so than anybody I ever met. When friends ask me about meeting musicians, I can honestly say I’m always really impressed, I feel like I learn so much from all of them. But Willie is the shining example: You really do get a sense of what he’s like in the songs he’s written and songs he’s chosen.
Anyone out there you’d like to work with?
Neil Young is somebody we’ve gotten to play with at his Bridge School benefit that he does. He’s somebody I’d like to do more with. He’s one of my idols.
You’re touring the Islands with John Cruz and Paula Fuga, going acoustic.
The idea came up–we wanted to play more in the Islands, do more proper shows. I’ve been playing a lot of benefits around here, for the North Shore Community Land Trust, the local schools. I can call John and Paula and say we got a gig coming up in a school cafeteria and they’ll show up and are always supportive. It’s not a huge production, it’s just acoustic, we’re able to take a few days on each island. See friends and family.
How do you feel about “Envision Laie” and Andy Anderson’s push for a Haleiwa hotel?
As you travel around as much as I have, to certain places by the sea, often you come to one that’s been completely developed. You don’t really desire to go back to those places. Talking about Hawaii, even those people who come here for the tourist amenities want to have the open space. Now, some say people who live in the country have a not-in-my-backyard mentality. But I know many people in town who have an even greater commitment to blocking development. They say, “We need the country to get away to, to surf, to get out in nature. Don’t ruin it.”
Any new projects that you’re working on?
We have four more videos to put out from the festival. We’ve been working with the Farm to School program and on the campaign to reduce single-use plastics. We’re changing our approach to beach cleanups. You know, it’s a nice thing to do, but you’re just covering up symptoms. I just went out on a cleanup with Kahuku High School, and they’re now keeping track of what they’re finding. They get to play scientist for a day. It’s not just picking up stuff, it’s collecting data. Is it fishing waste, plastic bottles, bottle caps? Where did it come from? We’re hoping to plant the seed in a kid’s mind: They may want to be a marine biologist one day.
All the farmland in Hawaii is at risk, and we need to be thinking about preservation. Without getting specific about the politics, I would encourage everybody in Hawaii to do some research into the issues of land preservation. It’s really important to have food we grow ourselves. It’s really important to get involved. Everything’s coming to a head. Now’s the time.