Laid-back surfie dude. Anti-waste environmentalist. Ben Harper's best mate. The guy who dedicated an entire album to a monkey. You probably think you already know who pop crooner Jack Johnson is - and, after his long and lengthy relationship with New Zealand, why wouldn't you?

But on his new album, released tomorrow, Johnson takes on a new guise: political provocateur. Yes, Johnson has dedicated his seventh record to Donald Trump. Sort of.

"I always try to write about whatever's on my mind, and this time around it's hard not to have politics on your mind when it's become our main source of entertainment," Johnson tells TimeOut from his Hawaii home. "From the outside, that's a horrifying thing."

Johnson, known for crafting chilled out pop hits like Flake and Upside Down, says he's always written political material, but fans didn't always connect the dots between his pointed lyrics and mellow harmonies.

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This time, Johnson says he's being more direct. On his otherwise jaunty recent single My Mind Is For Sale, he makes references to walls, reality TV and "hateful words". In the video, he builds a wall with bricks embossed with lyrics, before knocking them down.

"It's hard not to see it as a song about Trump or some of the ideas he's putting out: the walls that divide us, the 'me-first, gimme-gimme' appetite," says Johnson.

"I wanted to make sure it wasn't a song that wasn't only relevant for a couple of years while he's in office. it's more about those ideas than a direct reference to a person. It's more a pro-love song than an anti-Trump song."

Yes, Johnson's been away for a while. His last album came out in 2013, his last show here, after many years of touring, was the same year. "If you're always trying to put things out, you exhaust all your breathe," he says about his break. "It's good to breathe in for a while and be taking things in."

But he didn't give up on music. Johnson says many of his new songs came from after-school jam sessions with his three children. "I guess I'm acknowledging that I rip my kids off for ideas," he laughs. "A lot of times they say the best things and I steal their words."

Surfing every day on an island paradise, jam sessions with his kids after school every day. You'd think he'd feel a little isolated from America's political situation. That's not the case.
"We're all so connected now, it's easy to see what's going on," he says. "I've got friends in Charlottesville, you can't help but think about them."

Johnson is particularly proud that Hawaii - an American state - declared it would stick to the Paris Agreement on climate change after Trump denounced it. But he believes there are bigger issues at hand. "All this racism that's bubbled up to the surface recently, you can't underestimate how much it has to do with how the leader of our country is making statements that are racist."

Johnson will bring his politically minded new album to New Zealand for one environmentally friendly show this December, and Johnson's hoping to treat the trip like a bit of a holiday for him and his family. "I love playing music there, I love just being there. You guys know: it's one of the most magical places in the world. It's really nice to be there with my family."

And, by the sounds of things, get away from America, and Trump, for a bit.

LOWDOWN
Who: Jack Johnson
What: New album, All the Light Above It Too, out tomorrow
Also: Performing at Auckland's Villa Maria Estate on December 10

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