ALWAYS ON SONG: American singer-songwriter, record producer and former professional surfer Jack Johnson.
ALWAYS ON SONG: American singer-songwriter, record producer and former professional surfer Jack Johnson. Marc Stapelberg

If you think he's only about the music, you don't know Jack

JACK Johnson has never been tempted by the trappings of the music industry.

The laid-back singer-songwriter, surfer and filmmaker shuns celebrity and many of the perks of being a chart-topping artist with more than 25 million record sales to his name.

The 43-year-old now spends just as much time on his environmental charities and initiatives, including the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation and the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, as he does on music.

"For me, it's nice to feel like that makes this career worth doing," he says.

"I feel so darn lucky to share my songs and play music for people that it doesn't feel like a real job.

"I hang out with a lot of people through the non-profits. Those conversations and real experiences are what contribute to songs. If you end up hanging out with a bunch of celebrities, life can get a little weird."

The Oahu native reveals his efforts to live sustainably almost resulted in him giving up touring altogether.

"In the very beginning, it was three of us and we could all fit in one van," he says.

"I was living in California - I'd just finished college over there - and it was easy to jump in a van and drive yourself to shows. There wasn't much of an environmental footprint all.

"But then it grew and at some point you look around and you've got buses and trucks and you're flying in airplanes. We really considered if we should just stop touring altogether or if we should try to work within the industry to try to improve it. We always do carbon offset but that's just mitigating the negative.

"We try to expand on the positive. The money from the shows always goes to non-profit groups and as much as we can, we try to get rid of the single-use plastics at the shows.

"It feels better to be part of the industry and to try to improve it than just bail."

Jack Johnson is headlining the 2019 Byron Bay Bluesfest.
Jack Johnson is headlining the 2019 Byron Bay Bluesfest. Morgan Maassen

Luckily for his fans, Johnson is still willing to hop on a plane for the right gig. He returns to our shores to play an exclusive show at Bluesfest in Byron Bay next year.

It's his first time on the festival's bill since 2014, but Johnson regularly attends with his wife Kim and three children.

"I've been back to Bluesfest a few times. I go with the family a lot to check out different bands," he says. "Living in Hawaii, it's not that far away. So when we need to escape, that's where we go."

Since his last Australian shows, Johnson released his seventh studio album All The Light Above it Too and, more recently, his greatest hits album Jack Johnson: The Essentials.

"It's hard for me to say what we might play," he says.

"There are certain songs we always play like Better Together, Banana Pancakes and Bubble Toes. Those are the party songs. Even though they are the songs I'd never just play around my house anymore, it's more fun with people to get them dancing.

"Then a lot of times we base other songs off those. Ideas for covers can come from a certain key or we might be jamming on a song backstage. I like to build medleys rather than do complete covers from start to finish."

Johnson may have a few new songs up his sleeve by the time he arrives - surfboard in hand, of course - in Byron.

"I'm on an inhale at the moment," he says. "The metaphor I look at is inhaling and exhaling - songwriting is the exhale. If you try to exhale all the time, then you get out of breath. I used to think 'Oh no, the last bunch of songs I wrote was months ago'.

"I feel like it's healthy to just check out from doing that, to read a lot of books, travel - it could be anything. Just take things in for a while. But I think I'm getting ready to write a bunch of songs.

"I feel like I write the best songs when I'm just living and not thinking about giving myself time to think about it."

Jack Johnson plays Byron Bay Bluesfest on Sunday, April 21. For more information, go to bluesfest.com.au



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