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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, March 6, 2005

Johnson hits the road, sharing his 'Dreams'

 •  CD review: He knows what works and sticks with it
 •  Jack Johnson goes global to promote his new CD

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

"It just began snowing outside," said Jack Johnson, quietly, momentarily distracted toward the end of our phone conversation.

Hawai'i recording artist Jack Johnson is on the Mainland promoting his third CD, "In Between Dreams."

Thomas Campbell

He had been casually discussing the music on his third CD "In Between Dreams," when he saw flakes falling outside the window of his New York City hotel room last Monday. It was the eve of the CD's national release, and Johnson had a couple of hours to go before an 11 p.m. in-store performance at the 4th and Broadway Tower Records.

Asked what else he was looking out on, Johnson was still trying to acquaint himself with his new surroundings.

"I guess I'm on, uh, I don't even know where I am. I don't know what street I'm on," he said, chuckling. "I just got in last night."

Johnson spent most of the day in that New York room doing phone interviews with international press. After the Tower Records appearance, he'd have a few hours of sleep before a morning train ride to Philadelphia, Pa., for another in-store show.

He was three days and three similar performances away from meeting up with his wife Kim and year-old son in San Diego. They'd accompany him through more promotional work, his first solo appearance on "Saturday Night Live" on March 12, and a month of touring before returning home for his annual Kokua Festivals next month.

"It's a really fun chance for us to get to travel and take him on the road to see places," said Johnson. "We're excited about this year. We'll be going to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Europe and across the states."

After promotional work and touring for "In Between Dreams," Johnson plans to come back home to O'ahu for a couple of summer months. He'll go back on the road, then return again in time to surf the North Shore winter swells.

Most of the songs on "In Between Dreams" were written by Johnson in the months before recording it last October at his North Shore studio. Others reach back as far as his 2001 debut "Brushfire Fairytales."

The title "In Between Dreams" was inspired by the month Johnson spent at home recording the CD.

"Tours are like dreams — these surreal adventures I go on," explained Johnson. "But my reality is back home in Hawai'i. It's where I feel like my normal self. I love touring and doing all of this exciting stuff. But when I was recording the record back in my garage in Hawai'i I was in between two dreams (or) tours.

"It's also a lyric out of the first song 'Better Together.' I feel like it sums up the feel of the record a bit. It's supposed to be kind of dreamy."

We reviewed "In Between Dreams" in Tuesday's Island Life section.

Here, Jack gets to sound off on the creative process and inspirations that went into each "Dream" track.

"Better Together"

"It's been around for a little while. I had the first verse, and I was always tooling around with that. And then the second verse came along later. It was a song that was pretty much complete (before entering the studio). It was really just a song that I wrote for my wife. The love songs always start out for her, but then ... I try to make them pretty broad so they're for everybody by the end."

"Better Together" by Jack Johnson. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

"Never Know"

"That one's about people pushing their religions on each other. I actually started writing it when I was in New York doing 'Saturday Night Live' (last April with Toots and The Maytals and Ben Harper). I picked up the newspaper and on the cover was that horrible thing that happened in Fallujah where they killed those (four) Americans and dragged their bodies through the city. The cover of the newspaper had a photo of their burned bodies, and it was a horrible image. ... I came up with just the line 'I heard this old story before/Where the people keep on killing for their metaphors.' Joseph Campbell is a writer that I like a lot. He talked about how there's all these different metaphors and different ways of believing in what's unexplainable and people are always getting into conflicts over it. The idea for the song is just about tolerance and not pushing your religion on each other."

"Never Know" by Jack Johnson. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

"Banana Pancakes"

"It's a wake-up-in-the-morning-and-make-breakfast-with-your-family kind of song. It started when my wife was busy doing something and I wanted to distract her. So I just started playing (he begins singing) 'You hardly even notice/When I try to show you this/Song it's meant to keep you/From doing what you're supposed to.' I'd play her that every time she'd get sidetracked and I wanted to just hang out. Later, it just shaped into a real song. I started playing it live on the last tour we did, before it was finished, and just kind of filled in parts with (singing again) 'Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah' to get the crowd laughing. It's just a real feel good song and kind of silly. But I try not to discard the silly love songs. I mean, it'd be easy just to say, 'This one is too silly. I'm not gonna put it out there.' But for me, it's part of what I like to do — just make people have a good time and sing and get in a good mood. So I like to put a couple of those sort-of just straight love songs on there."

"Banana Pancakes" by Jack Johnson. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

"Good People"

"It's a little bit about reality TV. A TV show called 'Boarding House' was being done in Hawaii. And the lady who was producing it asked if I wanted to play on the grand finale of the show. I said that I wasn't interested. She came up to me while I was having a conversation at this community gathering, which was a fundraiser for Sunset Elementary School. And then she interrupted me again and said that I didn't understand, that this was for national TV and that it would be a great opportunity for me. So that's where that line, 'You interrupt me from a friendly conversation/To tell me how great it's all going to be' comes from. That verse is about how sometimes, even when you're trying not to pay attention to it, television and the entertainment industry and all that, still sneaks into your world. It's obviously in jest (and) just a funny song. But it's (about) that feeling you get sometimes when you flip through the channels and there isn't one thing on TV that's not sensationalized or just completely about some of the lower parts of humanity. And you just start wondering where all the good people are."

"Good People" by Jack Johnson. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

"No Other Way"

"I was up real late one night, picked up the guitar. I was just playing real quietly and trying not to wake anyone up. It's about when you're having trouble sleeping just because there's too much on your mind. I just couldn't go to bed. So I picked up the guitar and wrote that song all in one night. It's basically (about) it being impossible to find resolve. Sometimes you want to resolve these thoughts in your head. And for me at least, it's best just to go to sleep sometimes. You wake up in the morning and everything seems better even though your whole world seems like it was dark and in a bad place the night before. It's probably my favorite song on the record. We might've done two or three takes on that one, but we used the first take because it had a real natural feel to it."

"No Other Way" by Jack Johnson. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

"Sitting, Waiting, Wishing"

"A friend of mine was trying to get this girl. And I tried to write a song that would help him have a laugh at himself because he was spending so much time trying to get her and it obviously wasn't leading anywhere. That was one just to cheer up a friend."

"Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" by Jack Johnson. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

"Staple It Together"

"This was a really fun one, too. We came up with the music first and found the groove in the studio. It was something that we were messing around with at sound checks during the summertime. A lot of times we pick up our instruments and just kind of jam on a riff for a while. I had the lyric (begins singing) 'Better staple it together and call it bad weather.' That was just a line that for some reason popped into my head one day and didn't have any meaning or anything at first. Once I started wondering what in the world I meant by saying that, I (decided that) it meant that you have to pick up the pieces, move on, and not dwell on the past or think about the future too much.' Then I started writing the lyrics, the content and the verses about a person who's having trouble living in the present, basically.

"Staple It Together" by Jack Johnson. Audio sample available in mp3 format.


"It's an old song that I've had for a long time. It was always a real short song; more like an intro than a song so I (put it next to) "Crying Shame" because lyrically I thought they went well together. We almost didn't put a mark between the two. We almost left it as one song."

"Situation" by Jack Johnson. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

"Crying Shame"

"I had a few of the lines for it here and there. But what really inspired me to write the rest of it was an interview with Kurt Vonnegut I read where he was asked ... if he felt that the leaders of today — cultural, political, and artistic — were being responsible to their society. And he had this line that I thought was great where he said, 'Forget about society. What about humanity in general?' And so that was the idea for the song. The first line is, 'By now we should know how to communicate/Instead of coming to blows.' It just seems that in this day and age with e-mail and telephones, it's crazy how we still have wars. It seems that everything should be able to be worked out through a conversation by now, if there's just a little bit of compassion on every side."

"Crying Shame" by Jack Johnson. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

"If I Could"

"It's related to the first record. The song 'Mud Football' on that album was dedicated to Moe Lerner. He was a friend of our family that passed away while I was making 'Brushfire Fairytales.' I started writing 'If I Could' way back then because he'd meant a lot to a whole lot of people out on the North Shore. And before he passed away, he called around to everybody to let everyone know that he was going. He told everybody that he felt really at peace because he had had a chance to meet his grandkids. That was just really a beautiful thing to me. And I wanted to write about it because he was making jokes and everything when he had only two weeks to live. It was really nice that he was able to be so positive about it. I think it had a lot to do with transferring that love from yourself to your kids and, even more, to your grandkids — passing the love and spirit on. We're sort of whole ourselves. But then there's that grander thing of us all being connected."

"If I Could" by Jack Johnson. Audio sample available in mp3 format.


"I did a version of it first on a hip-hop album by Handsome Boy Modeling School. They sent me the track ... and I just sang the lyrics over it. It had drum loops and different stringed instruments on it. I added some guitar and 'ukulele. But for this one, we just did our band version of it."

"Breakdown" by Jack Johnson. Audio sample available in mp3 format.


"Another joke. My wife speaks a little bit of French. We went traveling around Europe together years ago. It's probably the oldest song I have. I kind of learned these bossa nova chords. And I was joking with her, basically saying, 'Hey beautiful' in a lot of different languages and then said, 'Je ne comprend pas francais' — which is 'I don't understand' in French — 'so you'll have to speak to me some other way.' I toyed around with that in the studio and ended up liking it and put it on the record."

"Belle" by Jack Johnson. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

"Do You Remember"

"This one and 'Crying Shame' were (recorded) on the last night we were working on the album. There was another song I was working on that was real upbeat and I wasn't digging on where it was going. I didn't want to force it. ... But 'Do You Remember' was one that for some reason just popped in my head all of a sudden. I was driving one day, and had this little riff going on in my head. After that, the song just wrote itself pretty quick. It's just a simple love song with some personal moments I wasn't afraid to share. Just kind of silly things like me (back in college) locking my bike to my wife's — who wasn't even my girlfriend back then, but just this girl I was trying to get — so she couldn't ride off after class. It's just stuff I thought might make people laugh and feel good. It's kind of like 'Bubble Toes, Part 2.'"

"Do You Remember" by Jack Johnson. Audio sample available in mp3 format.


"That's one I wrote while I was surfing. I was out longboarding in California, actually. The sun had just set and the moon was rising so it was real nice. It was also summertime and warm, so I could stay out and surf for a while. I was alone, it was really calm and the wind was dead and it was a real magical night. The wind was nonexistent so you could hear things from really far away. And I could hear these kids who were laughing and skipping rocks on the beach. All their dads were there and it was kind of like dads' night out camping with the kids on the beach. The were all sitting around this little campfire and the kids were playing. And it just started getting me thinking about sailing canoe trips my father and I took around the island when I was younger. He'd always show me all the constellations up in the sky and tell me the stories about Pleiades being chased by Taurus the bull, Orion coming to save Pleiades ... and Orion's little dog following right next to him. ... Those stories always stuck with me, as did just the time we spent learning about the stars. It was a really nice thing. He always explained to me that (the stars) made him feel like he was never really lost. That if he found himself somewhere where he didn't know where he was and looked up into the sky at night, he could see where the stars were and put the puzzle together. It made him feel a little more at home anywhere he was in the world. I've noticed with myself now when I travel, that if I'm able to place a few of the constellations I'll get a better sense of where I am in the world."

"Constellations" by Jack Johnson. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

Reach Derek Paiva at dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8005.