Jack Johnson doesn't agree with his image as a mellow guy, but that's cool.
"I never thought of myself as mellow," says the surfer-turned-music-star. "But I don't mind it's not a bad thing to be called."
The 33-year-old singer/songwriter with the breezy baritone and casual style, who often plays to thousands of fans wearing faded T-shirts and baggy board shorts, has become the icon of laid-back celebrity. With album sales of almost 10 million including 1.3 million of his latest, "Sleep Through the Static," according to Nielsen SoundScan he's big enough to be targeted by "Saturday Night Live," which spoofed him in a skit in April featuring Andy Samberg as the host of "The Mellow Show."
Still, he prefers to shun the spotlight. "If you do too many interviews, you start to believe your own press, and eventually you're in danger of becoming a caricature of yourself," he says. "When you're always talking about yourself in interviews, it's hard to find a balance between your public image and yourself."
On tour through August, Johnson dutifully boards buses and planes to perform at venues around the world. But every month, he heads home to his beloved North Shore in Hawaii, where he spends time with Kim, his wife of eight years, and their two young sons. Once home, he trades in his guitar for a surfboard.
"At a certain point, being around a lot of people and playing shows isn't healthy for me," he says. "I need to get off of the tour periodically; I can't be away from home for long periods of time. A lot of the songs get written while I'm in the ocean because I have time to think out there. There's a connection to nature, and for me, it's not a struggle to write the music when I'm surfing."
Another thing Johnson's not mellow about: the environment.
Though he understands that touring is a necessary part of his success, festivals and concerts leave a deep carbon footprint. "We wanted to more than just lessen our impact, but actually make a positive one," he says.
His musical success has afforded him the ability to stipulate the conditions under which he'll perform. Johnson's contracts require that event organizers compost and recycle at least 50 percent of the waste generated at the show and purchase carbon-dioxide offsets covering the energy his show uses.
To reach out to fans, he has created a social networking site, allatonce.org, where people can talk about green initiatives, trade greening tips and organize carpools to concerts. As an incentive, visitors get free downloads from Johnson and other musicians.
"You've got to get them while they're young," he said jokingly.Johnson continues his green campaign at Virgin Fest, where he joins an eclectic group of headliners: Nine Inch Nails, Foo Fighters, Kanye West and Bob Dylan. His allatonce.org will set up camp at the festival's Green Spot, an area where nonprofit groups connect with concertgoers. "It takes time to see the effects of environmental activism, but it's the right thing to do."
Whom is Johnson listening to?
Neil Halstead (of indie rock bands Mojave 3 and Slowdive), who has a new solo album, Oh! Mighty Engine. He's on my label, Brushfire Records.
Zach Gill, Johnson's keyboardist, whose new album is Stuff. I do some backing vocals and play keyboards.Folk singer Greg Brown. He's my favorite songwriter.
If you go
What: Jack Johnson
Where: USANA Amphitheatre, 5400 S. 6200 West
When: Monday, 7 p.m.
How much; $29.50-$49.50
Phone: 467-8499, 800-888-8499