The history of Brushfire Records begins in the late 90s, not at the start of Jack Johnson’s musical career (as some may think), but was instead born out of the creative impulses of a group of surfers who call themselves “The Moonshine Conspiracy.” TMC, founded in Ventura, California, by Emmett, Chris, Keith, Dan Malloy, and Jack Johnson, is a self-proclaimed “collective of surfers and artists who share a retro sensibility.” They proved this “retro sensibility” when they debuted “Thicker Than Water,” a surf film shot entirely on 16mm film directed by Johnson and The Malloys.
This film, scored by Jack, showcased some of the earliest recordings of his career. TMC later released “September Sessions” and then “A Brokedown Melody,” described by Emmett Malloy as “two years of home movies,” to an excited crowd at the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts. TMC produced the films and also acted as a record label for the purpose of releasing soundtracks, which eventually led to the formation of Brushfire.
In 2002, Jack, his wife Kim, and Chris and Emmett Malloy decided to release albums as well as soundtracks and officially founded Brushfire Records. Brushfire still carries the same ideology of the Moonshine Conspiracy, continuing as a collective of surfers, musicians, and filmmakers who work to create positive art, film, and music. The record label is based out of Jack’s native Hawaii, which operates the solar powered “Mango Tree” studio, as well as, the LA-based Brushfire office, which houses the “Solar Powered Plastic Plant” studio.
The first release by Brushfire was the soundtrack to “Thicker than Water,” which had been released on the Moonshine Conspiracy label, prior to the name change. The soundtracks released on the Brushfire label are all from films released by Woodshed Films, (a production company born out of The Moonshine Conspiracy just like Brushfire) that is also owned by Johnson and the Malloys. Jack’s second album, “On and On,” was one of the first album releases to bear the Brushfire name, and Jack has been releasing his albums on his own label ever since and has been met with great success. When they paired up with Universal Distribution to release “Sleep Through the Static,” the album sold 140,000 copies digitally, breaking the all-time record for digital sales in one week. Despite the success of his music and Brushfire, Jack keeps the same attitude toward music now as he did in the beginning, “I’ve kind of always tried to make it secondary to life, you know?,” he says, “The kind of music I make I think is best at barbecues and road trips. It’s kind of good soundtrack music.”
Aside from Jack Johnson and Woodshed soundtracks, Brushfire has found success by releasing albums by Matt Costa, Animal Liberation Orchestra, G. Love and others.
G. Love was part of Brushfire Records back in the Moonshine days when Jack contacted G. Love to see if he could license a song for the “Thicker Than Water” Soundtrack. The two became friends, and G. Love ended up recording his own version of Jack’s song “Rodeo Clowns” long before Jack ever pursued a career in music.
Animal Liberation Orchestra is a SoCal jam band fronted by Zach Gill, a good friend of Jack’s who he knew in college. ALO often tours with Jack, and Zach is a permanent fixture in Jack’s band.
Matt Costa pursued a career in skateboarding the same way Jack pursued a career as a pro surfer. He also ended his skateboarding career with a major injury, and turned to music during his recovery.
Brushfire Records is one of the greenest record labels in existence today by choosing to operate completely on solar power. They also have built their studios out of entirely eco-friendly materials. “The studio, being that it runs off solar power, and all the wood that we used in here is reclaimed lumber, it just feels better, you know, it just feels nice to look at that. There are plenty of things that you can do that are low impact,” states Johnson, referring to his LA studio.
His environmental efforts of course don’t stop there. He has formed the All at Once Foundation, an organization that focuses specifically on promoting all green initiatives from carpooling to sustainable farming by way of connecting people to non-profits in their communities in hope of encouraging individual action.
In 2003, Jack and Kim founded the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, which is aimed at improving environmental conditions specifically in Hawaii. They organize the annual Kokua Festival to support this initiative.
His live shows are just as sustainable. He released a 2010 tour greening report in which everything done to offset the footprint of his tour was itemized and released to the public. 26,000 gallons of sustainable biodiesel were used to power buses, trucks, and onsite generators for the tour.
Brushfire Records continues to grow and sell hundreds of thousands of records, while simultaneously maintaining the attitude and respect for art and music that got them there in the first place. They will continue to exemplify the laid back retro surfer ideology buried deep in their roots for years to come.