Coming off a platinum selling album and two Grammy nominations, Jack Johnson set off on an ambitious new project, creating an original soundtrack for the upcoming, Ron Howard produced, Curious George animated film. Glide's Jack Spilberg sat down with Jack for all the curious details.
Were you into Curious George as a kid?
Yeah, I liked him a lot.
Are there any major changes the studio made for this modern version of Curious George?
It’s kind of a trip; they changed the story quite a bit. They kept it similar, but some of the stuff [from the original books] wasn’t very politically correct. Like, the man in the yellow hat steals the monkey out of the jungle, puts him in the zoo, and tells him that’s a better place for him to be. That doesn’t happen in the movie, he ends up in New York on accident and stuff.
How were you first approached about the film?
They knew that had to hire somebody and I think my name was one that came up. I don’t know who else, I think there were a few others they were considering. They reached out to me and I think that I was the most excited about it so they let me do it.
Did taking this project on have anything to do with wanting to work on something your son could enjoy?
Yeah, definitely, [it] was perfect timing, I just had a kid when it first came to me. When they first approached me, I thought, “Ah, this is perfect. I get to keep doing music, but at the same time, [I'm] spending time writing songs that are in that energy of kids and stuff.”
How many songs did you create for the film?
At first they were like, “Will you write two songs for this film?” but I told them that I’d write as many as they wanted. I was really excited about it, so I ended up doing about seven or eight.
How would you describe the process of creating the soundtrack?
The first thing I got [were] just drawings with little explanations of each scene that they wanted songs for. I’d give them a sketch of a song, and they would put the sketch of that song down and start animating to that. They’d ask for general lengths for how long each song would be.
After, they’d show me more detailed pictures, I’d write more detailed lyrics. The balance was writing lyrics that didn’t match things too perfectly, but would kind of reference what was going on in the film. I tried to make metaphors that describe the scene better than trying to exactly match what was going on.
That sounds pretty time consuming, did you enjoy working on this project?
It was really fun. I liked it because I had the time to do it. I think it would’ve been a drag if I didn’t have enough time to put into it, because it wasn’t like I’d just finish a song and give it to them. A lot of times they’d send it back with notes. There’d be situations where they’d want to move things around a little, when certain lyrics would fit really well with something going on at a different time in the film. There was a lot of rearranging of the songs.
You’ve said in recent interviews that you’re planning to take a year off after wrapping up these last few projects, and won’t be doing any touring or recording. Are there any downsides that you see to taking a break?
It depends how you look at it. If you look at it from a business standpoint, there are some people I’m involved with on that side of it who warned me and said, “Take this amount of time off, but if you take more than that you can really start to lose your fan base.” That doesn’t worry me too much. I never expected all this to happen anyways, I’m pretty damn excited about how far it’s all gone. If I take a break and come back, it’s not a big deal and doesn’t worry me.
Are you concerned at all that taking time off may make it difficult to get back into music and songwriting?
If songs come, they do, and if they don’t, they don’t. I’m not going to try to force them. That’s how I keep the whole machine running.
From what you’ve heard from your pro surfer friends, what do you think is a tougher gig, competitive surfing or being a professional musician?
Pro surfers have it a lot harder, mainly because of the kinds of places they travel to. Not that they’re hard to be at, but at places like Tavarua [Fiji], you’re not really connected to the rest of the world. I like doing that too, but my thing is more on the beaten path. You go on these tours where you follow the freeway to the hotel and you play the same venue another band’s played the night before. It’s kind of like you know what to expect. I guess what I’m saying is, I can have my family with me on the road. Even though it’s hectic, it’s all pretty easy, whereas those guys, they’ve got to travel nonstop to far off spots.
Are you getting to surf as much as you’d like to?
These days, I can’t complain, I get to surf quite a bit. The nice thing is when I’m home for a month or so, on a break from touring or recording, I just get to surf a lot, so it’s nice.
Where are some of your favorite places to tour?
I like touring in Australia a lot because we surf quite a bit when we’re down there, pretty much everyday if we can, as long as there’s waves. The nice thing is that all the towns are right on the coast, so if we’re playing in Sydney, we can go surf that day and play that night.
Do you feel like you get enough time off from touring?
We tour a lot, but we usually take a month on and then a month off the road. I don’t like to tour for more than about five weeks at a time. We definitely balance it out with surfing. Whenever I come home to Hawaii, I get to surf a lot.
What did you think of the Saturday Night Live parody they did of you?
That was pretty sweet (laughs). It was funny as hell, I laughed my head off.
How did you find out about it?
I was in Hawaii, so I was a couple hours behind. Nobody told us it was going to happen or anything, I got this call from a friend and he said, “Hey, you just got parodied on Saturday Night Live
,” and my heart just sunk, I was just like, “Ohhhh shit.” You know, they can be pretty harsh if they want to.
So you weren’t pissed about them making fun of you for being so laid back?
I felt like, as far as being on there and getting parodied, that was about as easy as you can get off, you know, getting teased for not wearing shoes much, and being a bit of a hippie or whatever. It was pretty funny, I was cracking up. My mom liked it, which was a good sign, she’s the most protective.
Do you think fame and money have changed you in any ways?
I think with the money thing, you kind of are who you are before and after you’re successful. I wrote this song about it a while ago, I said it in, “They say that money made him change, but I don’t really think so. I think the money gave him the means to be exactly what he wanted, and maybe that means we gave him a little too much credit, and the person he was before, was the only one he could afford.”
What song is that from?
It was a song I wrote a while ago, even before my first record, and I thought about it a lot. It’s along the same lines as that White Stripes song “Little Room” that goes, “When you’re in your little room, you might make something good, but if it’s really good, you’re gonna need a bigger room, and when you’re in a bigger room, you might not know what to do, you might have to start thinking about what you did in your little room.” Both those songs I like a lot, they just put things into perspective.
Curious George opens in theatres everywhere February 10th. To find out more about what Jack’s up to, head over to jackjohnsonmusic.com.