Skip to main content

Jack Johnson's tour profits the environment, education

By Denise Quan, CNN
Click to play
Jack Johnson donates tour proceeds
  • Singer-songwriter Jack Johnson is donating 100 percent of his tour proceeds
  • Money will go to eco-friendly charities and programs that support art and music education
  • Johnson says it's "rewarding to see the tangible things" the funds go to pay for

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- When Jack Johnson agreed to headline a free concert on the Santa Monica Pier, he probably envisioned a balmy Southern California night, with fans in shorts and bikini tops.

In reality, the temperature dipped into the 50s, and concertgoers huddled together in parkas and knit caps. Down on the beach, families grooved to the music on giant screens, wrapped in blankets and looking like dancing burritos. Most had earned their tickets by volunteering for beach cleanup over the weekend.

It's all part of the multiplatinum singer-songwriter's commitment to the environment. This week, Johnson released his fifth studio album, "To the Sea."

It was produced at his recording facilities in Hawaii and California utilizing solar power. In June, he'll embark on a world tour, donating 100 percent of the proceeds to eco-friendly charities and programs that support art and music education. The tour buses, of course, are run on biodiesel fuel.

Johnson talked with CNN about his new tour, how his moods affect his music, and the future of his career.

CNN: You're giving away 100 percent of the proceeds from your upcoming tour, and you did it on your 2008 tour, too. How can you afford to do that?

Jack Johnson: Everybody makes their salary still, everybody on the road makes a living doing it. The money that we're making from the shows, we're putting back into the communities we're playing at. We can't promise we'll do it forever. It's just something fun to do this summer.

CNN: Most musicians count on touring profits for their livelihood.

Johnson: The CD sales have done fine for us, so we feel really lucky to be able to use the touring as a fundraising tool. It's kinda nice.

CNN: How do you divvy up the funds?

Johnson: There's between five and 10 local nonprofit groups that come out to every show, and money from that show goes directly to the groups -- a certain percentage of it from that night.

And then at the end of the whole tour, we take the rest of it and we put it into a foundation. The nice thing with that is it's a perpetual deal, so we give away the interest every year. It's actually rewarding to see the tangible things -- this amount of instruments are going to this school district -- or to see photographs of a garden that got built from some of the funds. People write to us for grants [at his website,].

CNN: Your last album [2008's "Sleep Through the Static"] was kind of melancholy and dark -- not what people would expect from Jack Johnson. The new one seems to find you in a better place.

Johnson: I always just take what I can get with the songs. They kind of come along, and I love getting the uplifting ones. Those are the ones I like to sing the most.

My last album was definitely a different time in my life, losing so many people close to me. This time around, there was some of that involved too [his father passed away last summer], but I felt like the songs were more a celebration of life. It was also some new life coming into the world, with a new daughter. [Johnson and his wife, Kim, already had two young sons.] Just a lot of love all around.

CNN: Do you feel differently about the world now?

Johnson: The first line of my last album was, "All at once, the world can overwhelm me." There's certain songs on this new album where I'm almost singing to that person, trying to tell him, "Take it easy. Don't worry about it. That'll be all right." I think the more kids I have, the more I start watching life through their eyes, and seeing things the way they're seeing things. That's a pretty hopeful and nice way to see the world -- through kids' eyes.

CNN: You've sold 18 million albums worldwide.

Johnson: [Acts a bit surprised] That's pretty crazy.

CNN: Did you ever think your career would get this big, where you're one of the industry's top-selling artists and routinely sell out arenas and amphitheaters?

Johnson: I got to a few spots where I thought, "Wow, I can't believe I've arrived at this point where I can fill up a club with people. If we can keep doing this, that would actually be pretty neat." The daunting part, to me, was to try to maintain that. And then it would grow beyond that, and each time was a little bit of a head trip.

CNN: Do you worry that it'll go away?

Johnson: Even if it went downhill from here, that would be OK. If we had a percentage of these people come to the shows, that would be fine. So now, the stress is off a little bit. The core fans that heard us before we were on the radio -- even if they just stuck with us, it would be fine from there. Before we were on CNN. [Smiles]

CNN: You're making it sound too easy. Do you ever get neurotic about stuff?

Johnson: When I do these interviews, I get really nervous. And when I get nervous, it comes off as mellow for some reason, you know?