When Jack Johnson signed on to do the soundtrack for the upcoming "Curious George" film, he says he was the one doing the questioning.
"I've never really done a kids' record before, so it's a whole different trip," the singer said recently from his Hawaii homestead, where he has been recording the bulk of the tracks in his garage studio. "It's funny, because some of the songs are kidlike, and some I kind of question whether or not they should be on there. They touch on more normal, adult subjects like relationships."
Johnson has been writing the original music for the animated film, due in February (see "Jack Johnson Takes It Easy On New LP, Gets Into Curious George's Head"). One heart-wrenching tune, "Wrong Turn," plays during a scene where George and the Man in the Yellow Hat, voiced by funnyman Will Ferrell, become separated. "[The song] says, 'I'll wait here awhile, just long enough to make sure you didn't make a wrong turn, and I'll wait long enough, maybe an hour or two before I decide it wasn't me, it was you,' " Johnson explained of the darker track. "It's almost like a break-up song, but when you put it on a kids' record, suddenly it feels all different."
Johnson did his fair share of homework to acclimate himself to writing from George's perspective. After reading through the screenplay to get an idea of the story line, he studied a pile of black-and-white sketches to get some imagery of the animated monkey in his head. Pretty soon the music started to create itself.
So far the songwriter is halfway done, having written and recorded six tracks out of the estimated 10 or 12 needed for the disc. That includes "The Sharing Song," written by his drummer, Adam Topol, and piano player, Zach Gill; "Lullaby," written by friend and fellow musician Matt Costa; and "The Three R's" (reduce, reuse and recycle), an environmentally conscious tune.
"Upside Down," George's theme song, delves into the monkey's insatiable inquiring nature and his desire to invert everything in his life. "Not in a malicious way," clarified Johnson, "but just to find all the ins and outs of everything in the world and wanting to learn everything there is to learn."
A real concern for Johnson, as well as the filmmakers, was to make sure George was not portrayed as a cruel misfit. "He's supposed to be this real loving guy who's basically trying to help. Every time he gets into trouble, it's because he's trying to do something really good, but he's just misguided."
Johnson, the father of 2-year-old boy, praises the project as a "real pure film with good morals" that doesn't have any scary shockers ("It doesn't have the scene where the mom has to die," he laughed) or rely on double entendres to keep an adult audience satisfied.
The movie versions of the songs are already complete, and now Johnson is burning daylight recording them for the soundtrack, also due in February. After he wraps that up, he's planning a small European jaunt in March, followed by a very long, much-need break before he starts work on his next LP, the follow-up to 2005's In Between Dreams (see "Jack Johnson Rides Wave Of Success, Maintains Some Anonymity").
"We're probably going to take a solid year or two off," he said. "I'm ready to catch up on surfing."