Within the past four years, professional surfer turned filmmaker turned rock star Jack Johnson has released three albums that have sold more than a combined total of seven million copies. Today, the Hawaiian native drops the live DVDs Jack Johnson and Friends: A Weekend at the Greek and Jack Johnson: Live in Japan as a twin-disc set.
For the Japan flick, Johnson, fellow filmmaker Emmett Malloy and some of their buddies decided to take some film along with them for Johnson's 2004 Japan tour. "We didn't know if we'd use it for something or just put it away," Johnson admits. "But we ended up liking the footage. There was a lot of fun culture -- going down to the beach in Kamakura and traveling around Kyoto."
Live in Japan flies through forty minutes of live material and backstage warm-ups at his Osaka, Toyko and Fuji Rock fest performances. The stage shots are overlapped with slow-motion scenes of Johnson riding waves with the tour's opener Donavon Frankenreiter, and they recall Johnson's own surf videos (Thicker Than Water and The September Sessions).
"It was real low budget," says Johnson. "We just had these Bolex cameras from the Sixties and Seventies with us. They're not in sync to sound so sometimes you'll see my lips getting off from the sound or the drums get off the beat a little."
The Greek on the other hand is a more in-depth glimpse of Johnson's music with his band -- bassist Merlo Podlewski, drummer Adam Topol and recently added pianist Zach Gill -- and features sit-ins with various members of the Brushfire Records family: G. Love, Animal Liberation Orchestra and solo crooner Matt Costa.
"On that tour we were playing amphitheaters and the Greek was a little more intimate," Johnson says of the Berkeley, California, locale. "Some places the crowds are either real into the upbeat songs then not into the mellow songs, and vise versa. The Greek Theatre is a good balance of both."
Johnson is currently spending his time in the Mango Tree, his converted-garage studio named for what grows above it, prepping the soundtrack to Ron Howard's upcoming animated film Curious George. The singer-songwriter says the CD, due in February, will appeal to all ages.
"There are definitely straightforward kid songs on the soundtrack, like 'The Sharing Song' and 'The Three R's,'" says Johnson, who accredits surfing with inspiring his eco-friendly ethos. "Then some are just relationship songs that sound like a song that would be on a normal record of mine."
Curious George doesn't speak, so Johnson's voice and the cavaquinho, a Brazilian ukelele, do it for him. "It's pretty exciting to be the monkey," Johnson says. "I identify with him. I use to spend so much time hiking in the mountains behind my house and surfing, so that's what he's like: a little guy who is always trying to find things to do with what's around him in nature."
The soundtrack features the theme song "Upside Down," the G. Love-penned and performed "Jungle Gym" and Johnson's personal favorite, "Talk of the Town."
"I wrote that one in Hawaii when there was this really nice sunset, and the next day everybody was talking about it," Johnson says. "I was thinking, 'What a beautiful thing it is when the big deal is about the sunset last night.'"
As for any future projects, Johnson says, "I wanna collaborate with the waves for the next couple of years . . . I want to take a little break and surf a lot."
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