American Songwriter: Jack Johnson Loves Playing Music With Others, Talks New LP ‘Meet the Moonlight’

American Songwriter
August 10, 2022
American Songwriter: Jack Johnson Loves Playing Music With Others, Talks New LP ‘Meet the Moonlight’

Photo by Morgan Maassen / Big and Bright PR

There are many factors that can contribute to a lifetime of music. For the Oahu, Hawaii-born, Grammy-nominated songwriter and performer Jack Johnson, those factors were initially comprised of an old ukulele, Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix. Johnson, who released his latest LP, Meet the Moonlight, on June 24, says he can remember way back to strumming the traditional Hawaiian stringed instrument as a kid. His parents had one around the house. But he also had older brothers, who would pass them their old vinyl albums when they were done with them. Black Sabbath was prized among them, but others included KISS and Queen.

He remembers staring at the album art, playing them on a little plastic record player he had at the time. Later, he bought a Hendrix cassette tape, the first album he purchased with his own money, which he earned from working at a pizza place, he says. He was lucky, found it at a “trippy hippy shop” that sold crystals. He recalls buying moonstone earrings for a girl there for her birthday. He played the cassette out in a waterproof yellow Walkman. He moved next to Fugazi, which he heard on the radio. Hearing that band made him want to form his own.

“I was a backup singer,” Johnson tells American Songwriter, remembering that early ensemble—a punk band.

Today, Johnson is a genre unto himself. Often playing an acoustic guitar, palm-muting it, and singing his mellow, ocean-inspired songs, he’s instantly recognizable as soon as a track like “Flake” or “Bubble Toes” or “Taylor” comes on. But that reality stems from lots of practice. He would strum his acoustic constantly as a young person. But he’d also love to get into the water and surf. Famously, Johnson made early surf movies in Hawaii (some of which were the subject of the excellent HBO documentary, Momentum Generation). Back then, he’d transpose hip-hop tracks onto the guitar, often trying to play the melody, bass, and drums on the six-strings all at once.

“A lot of [my] style comes from me trying to play non-folk music in a folky style,” he says. “Over the years, it kind of became a natural thing without me even trying. Your own limitations sometimes help define you.”