For Santa Barbarans of certain generations, particularly mine, the rhythmic pulsing of reggae music and seaside sounds of UCSB grad Jack Johnson serve as complementary soundtracks to the arcs of our lives. Finally, the two genres exist as one, with the release In Between Dub, a remixed album of Johnson hits such as “Traffic in the Sky,” “Better Together,” “Times Like These,” and “Breakdown” transported to hypnotic, bass-laced heaven by dub superstars such as Lee “Scratch” Perry, Mad Professor, and Nightmares on Wax.
When the first single was released earlier this year — “Traffic in the Sky,” run through Perry’s legendarily psychedelic lens — I wondered what had taken so long for this collaboration to occur. I texted Jack to inquire what it was like to work with the reggae-world saint, who moved to the next astral plane in August 2021. “My conversations with Lee Scratch were hilarious,” replied Jack. “He communicated differently.” And that was fine, “because ultimately I just wanted him to do whatever he wanted with the songs.”
He was acutely aware of the renowned wackiness of Perry, who was known for a surreal view of the world, dressed and performed in outlandish ways, and even once burned down his studio in the 1970s to rid it of vampires. One year while backstage at a festival, Jack spotted Perry taking everything that was reflective and gluing it to his clothes. “I think he was trying to bounce any negative energy off of himself,” he explained.
“There are only a few artists that are on that level where seeing them in catering seems weird,” explained Jack of his backstage experiences. “Lee was like that. You forget they need food. As if the light, reflections, and sound waves are what they are running on.”
No wonder that working with Perry was quite an eye-opening trip. “He definitely seemed on the level where nothing was for image,” said Jack. “It was all real.”
While the two Perry songs are definite highlights, the rest of the album flows together like an electronically enhanced ocean breeze. Johnson’s familiar, occasionally filtered voice and lyrics are layered atop steady, mellow bass thumps as the retooled refrains echo away into long fades. Expect In Between Dub to serve as the background vibe for barbecues and pool parties this summer, and then for the rest of our lives.