Jack Johnson: Back to Basics

“From Here to Now to You” reverts to the happy sounds of “Brushfire Fairytales” and “In Between Dreams”.


Jack Johnson’s new album “From Here to Now to You” was released in September

Finally, Jack Johnson returns to the magic of “In Between Dreams.” Johnson’s new album, “From Here to Now to You,” captures the carefree island charm of his most popular album, while maintaining its own contemporary identity.

“To the Sea,” released in 2010 after his father’s death, and explored darker themes than have been his standard in the past. Even “Sleep through the Static” was fairly heavy. In comparison, the new album is a celebration of his wife and kids, and his love for them is apparent in the warmth woven into the music. The warmth also returns with a more acoustic sound than was found in “To the Sea.”

In an interview with The Telegraph’s Craig McLean, Johnson explains the three songs written for each of his children. “You Remind Me of You” is written for his daughter, his youngest child, “Radiate” for his middle son, and “Tape Deck” for his oldest son.

“You Remind Me of You” has the sweet feel of an impromptu lullaby a father would sing to his daughter while tucking her in at night. The lyrics are clever and round-about, such as “forever’s how long your daddy’s gonna love you…mama made a clone so she won’t be alone,” a delightful characteristic typical of most of Johnson’s songs.

“Radiate” features a groovy feel and reflects the energy Johnson’s middle child radiates. “He does this thing where he walks around the house and you could be calling his name and he’s just in his world, where he’s painting a picture and he’s walking into it as he’s painting it and he’s making these noises – whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. So that song is just about the beautiful energy he radiates,” Johnson said.

Although “Tape Deck” tells the story of the formation of his first band while in high school, Limber Chicken, it’s inspired by his oldest son. “I saw him and his cousin jamming, and now and then I saw this little flame starting up in him,” said Johnson in the Telegraph interview. The song has a repetitive melody, lending a juvenile feel that echoes the lyrics.

The order of the songs on the album tells a story in itself. “I Got You” sets the tone with a carefree whistle and lyrics that reflect Johnson’s minimalist values. “Washing Dishes” speeds up a little, saying it’s “only the beginning, I’m only getting started,” and gives the message to seize the day and live in the moment.

The third song on the album, “Shot Reverse Shot,” has a forward moving tempo with steel guitar slides that lend a vintage surfer vibe. The song draws from his days at film school, when in a conversation the camera takes a shot over one person’s shoulder then switches to show different perspectives. “I liked the idea of seeing something from a different perspective, and started thinking about empathy, and this whole idea of getting in somebody elses mind, and seeing things through their eyes,” Johnson said in a commentary recording of the song. “It’s a film-nerd song,” he said.

“Never Fade” slows the tempo down with a simple love song. The lyrics “I went home and wrote my first love song” tell the story of when Johnson first met his wife and went home and wrote “Bubble Toes,” a song that appears on “Brushfire Fairytales”.

“All these love songs I’ve written over the years are for the same person, and I feel really lucky for that. I’ve only really had one love story, and I’ve written a lot of songs about it, but it’s uh, kinda nice that it feels that pure,” said Johnson. He and his wife have been married for twenty years.

“Don’t Believe A Thing I Say” also has a mellow feel, with lyrics that are easy to sing along to. The steady rhythm mimics the sound of a heartbeat, lulling listeners into a calm state. “I started realizing as I wrote that song that I trust all these patterns out in nature as much as anything,” said Johnson.

He teams up with Ben Harper in one of his last songs, “Change.” The song almost sounds country, with a plodding beat and Harper’s slide guitar skills. “It was one of the funnest days of the whole recording,” said Johnson.

The album wraps up nicely with “Home,” a feel good song with roundabout lyrics that lead us “right back to where it begins”: a reflection of a loving family and a loving home. “For me it was kind of finding the father in myself, and this return home, and so having that song as the last song on the album, it felt like a good conclusion to the group of songs,” said Johnson. Part of the song was recorded outside to capture the various noises he hears outside his home, especially the birds.

As always, Johnson’s lyrics are three-dimensional; we could listen to them over and over, and years later still learn something new. Besides expressing his love for his family, the album explores the idea of there being something more to the universe than what we can see.