Entertainment Weekly

Subscribe

Stay Connected

Subscribe

Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content

Article

Jack Johnson: How I Built My Record

What does it take to craft the surfer-turned-multiplatinum beach-rock hero’s new album, ”From Here to Now to You” (out Sept. 17)? As he reveals here, it takes a bunch of kooky instruments, some elbow grease — and a good wave in the backyard

Posted on

1. Skateboards
”We take those on tour and keep them in the instrument cases. When we can’t find surf, we skate. It’s the next best thing. We have a lot of skaters on the road with us. [One of our skateboards] has graphics from [2008 album] Sleep Through the Static that we gave as a gift to the crew at the end of the tour.”

2. Vibraphone
”There’s a fair bit of vibraphone on this record. It gives it that dreamy quality. We found this one on Craigslist for really cheap. Somebody had it over on the Big Island, so we had a friend who lived out there arrange to ship it. It didn’t work perfect, so my guitar tech had to get a bunch of oil and tools and work on it.”

3. Surfboards
”I’ve got boards all over the place. People come to Hawaii and get boards but don’t want to travel home with them, so they just stick them under my house. Surfing is the only thing I do that gets me any exercise — when I go on tour, I usually gain 10 or 15 pounds because I’m not surfing. At home we come straight from the ocean into the studio.”

4. Bass Kalimba
”That’s the bass part on [lead single] ‘I Got You.’ You sit on it and you pluck these metal tongues. That’s been around the studio for years, but it’s the first time it’s made it on an album. It’s a very imperfect instrument — you tune it with a screwdriver, and I don’t think we ever got it exactly right.”

5. Accordion
”A bigger production might call in a string section, but we just use the accordion. The sound is so big. We were recording a version of the song ‘Home’ live outside, and [accordion player Zach Gill] is probably 30 feet away from us, turned the opposite way so he doesn’t overwhelm everything.”

6. Ukulele
”The Portuguese brought them to Hawaii, and the word combines ‘uku,’ which is a small bug, and ‘lele’ is to jump, so ‘ukulele’ is like a jumping flea, like that’s the sound you get. There’s a song called ‘As I Was Saying’ that was feeling a little dark, so we added a little ukulele to it and it really lightened it up.”

7. Sampler
”My piano player sampled the sound of a keyboard and then started playing with it, and it sounded like an organ, so we brought in an organ. We didn’t stick with it, but that same idea became ‘Washing Dishes,’ which I ended up playing on a 12-string guitar. But we found it through the blue box.”

8. Guitar
”That guitar is probably the most important part of this record. I met a surfer and a really amazing guitar player named Pepe Romero Jr., and he gave me a ukulele that was really beautiful, and then he let me hold on to this guitar for a while. My kid knocked it over and it tuned it down to B flat and it broke, so I had to tune the whole thing around that string. I was happy, though, because Neil Young told me that the universe is tuned to B flat. If Neil says it, I believe it. I don’t really practice. I didn’t practice much growing up, though I did try to do hammer-ons like Metallica.”

9. Upright Bass
”My bass player doesn’t really play upright, but our producer challenged him, and he’s really competitive and didn’t want to back down. So we put that on ‘Tape Deck,’ a song about a punk-rock band forming, and the sounds we use — an upright bass and a hand drum — are about as un-punk as you can get. [Laughs]”