From the high seas to the high C's, surf dude Jack Johnson makes a splash with his new album

By Carina Chocano
Updated May 09, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
Jack Johnson: Danny Clinch

Singer-songwriter-surfer-filmmaker Jack Johnson proves you can succeed in the music industry without really trying. A former professional surfer from Oahu (”I feel like that’s exaggerated somewhat,” he says. ”I only participated in a few events”), Johnson, 28, also attended film school at UC Santa Barbara and directed well-regarded surfing documentaries including ”Thicker Than Water” (1999) and ”The September Sessions” (2000).

Johnson’s music career happened almost by accident. His pal G. Love recorded a song Johnson wrote called ”Rodeo Clowns,” which proved to be a minor hit in 1999. Two years later, Johnson put out an album of his own, ”Brushfire Fairytales,” on indie label Enjoy. The disc slowly blossomed into a word-of-mouth phenomenon, eventually going platinum.

On May 6, Johnson released his second effort, ”on and on.” Actually, effort is probably the wrong word: Written in Hawaii, the CD’s tracks — with the exception of the one he laid down on the beach during a barbecue at his brother’s house — were recorded in his garage between surfing breaks. The jack-of-all-trades spoke to us from a cell phone in a moving vehicle somewhere in the Australian rain forest (where he’s on a promotional tour). How was the connection, you ask? Dude, good thing his new album sounds better than his phone.

After ”Rodeo Clowns” became a small hit and major labels started calling, your friend Ben Harper told you to go on tour and let the buzz die down. Was that a good idea?
It was actually his manager, JP, and it was really good advice. I made ”September Sessions” and let it die out a little bit. Then I did some touring. That way, there wasn’t as much hype around [me]. It made it easier to grow into.

Now that you open for G. Love sometimes, is there any tension, or are you both way mellow for that sort of thing?
[Static] friends [static] doesn’t really matter [static] goes first…[static] Hello? Hello?