Welcome to the new episode of the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast, your one-stop-shop for all things pop on Billboard’s weekly charts. In addition, you can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop.
Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard co-director of charts Keith Caulfield and Billboard music editor Jason Lipshutz every week on the Pop Shop Podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in iTunes (click here to listen to the previous Tuesday’s edition of the show on Billboard.com).
On the latest show, we welcome our special guest, singer/songwriter Jack Johnson! The chart-topping star chats about his new album All the Light Above It Too, how the set got its start on a boat in the North Atlantic Ocean, why he wrote the Donald Trump-inspired single “My Mind Is For Sale,” and how he remains incredibly humble about his success. (Listen to the show, below.)
The new set, which is Johnson’s seventh studio effort, got its start over a year ago. Back in 2016, the artist sailed through the North Atlantic Gyre for a documentary about plastic pollution in the ocean — The Smog of the Sea. While on the boat, Johnson started writing the track “Fragments” for the film, but he didn’t realize — at first — it would trigger a new album project.
“At that point though I didn’t know that I was going make an album within the year,” Johnson tells Billboard. “But then I wrote this song called ‘Subplots’ that became the first song (on the album). And it’s funny, I didn’t realize it until right now talking to you, but that’s the first and the last song (on the album; as “Fragments” closes the set). So they became kind of the bookends.
“Sometimes I’ll get a certain song where I’ll think, ‘ok, yeah, this is a song I can kinda start to base a record around, like some of these themes.’ ‘Subplots,’ to me, ended up being the first song because … a lot of times, I’ll look at the songs afterwards and I’ll think, ‘which one is the thesis statement?’ And to me, ‘Subplots’ was talking about all the rest of the songs.”
“Subplots,” Johnson says, talks about “all those things that can keep you up at night” and how the world can get overwhelming, but ultimately, “the light shines in all directions.”
One particular track on the album — the single “My Mind is For Sale” — is getting extra attention, as it was inspired by President Donald Trump. In the tune, Johnson sings “I don’t care for your paranoid ‘us against them,’ fearful kind of walls,” which could be interpreted to be about Trump’s promised border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
“It’s definitely very much meant to be about Trump and some of the walls that he’s building,” Johnson says of the song, which he solely wrote. “Not only that one wall. To me, there’s all these metaphorical walls — any of his dialogue that divides people and builds these walls between cultures and races. I just feel like there’s a lot of that going on. And it’s not just one person. I’m not trying to ever write a song that’s anti-one person. It’s anti some of the ideas that are coming out in politics right now. It’s easy to say what you’re against, but it’s important to have something to replace that with, you know, what do you believe in? It’s as much a pro-love song than it is an anti-Trump song. It’s really meant to just be about anybody who wants to build any kind of walls or talk about themselves and focus on the self so much instead of the community.”
We also ask the humble Johnson if his success on both the charts and in the marketplace has phased him, considering he’s tallied four No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart and sold more than 13 million albums in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music. (He got his first No. 1 with the 2006 Curious George soundtrack, a year after he hit No. 2 with the In Between Dreams album. The latter is his biggest selling set, with 3.5 million sold.)
“Getting a No. 1 record is nothing I was ever shooting for,” Johnson says. “I mean, I can honestly say that. We just wanted to make an album, the first time around (his 2001 debut Brushfire Fairytales), that maybe would be one person’s favorite record. I remember thinking that. I remember saying that to my wife. Right before the master was finished. We were in the car and we’re driving and telling her, ‘I just hope it’s somebody’s favorite record. That would mean so much to me if somebody felt the way about this record that I feel about certain records in my life.’
“And we’ve kind of — every time around — just had that same feeling. I mean, even now, I put out this new one (album). And I’m never trying to compete with the old ones. I kinda realized we were really lucky to have this run we did. And I see way back to our third record, probably, In Between Dreams, even during that time, I knew that I was never going to have a record that got that big again… I kinda knew that that was it for us. That was probably our peak. So the rest of this has just been kind of like all really exciting — that we still get to do it, you know? And every time we make a record, I just kind of have that same hope that at this point in my life, and these songs that I’m writing… you try your best to make them come from some truth that resonates with somebody in the world and that it’s somebody’s favorite record.”
In addition to our interview with Johnson, we chat about how there’s a bevy of A-list pop stars releasing new music (Kelly Clarkson! U2! Sam Smith!) as we near the end of the year, how Logic dialed up a surprise hit single with “1-800-273-8255,” and chart chat about LCD Soundsystem’s first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, how Taylor Swift continues to dominate the Billboard Hot 100, and how Thomas Rhett is on course for his first No. 1 on the Billboard 200.