On the surface, the appeal of Jukebox the Ghost is simple – their songs are catchy. But after a quick listen, you’ll notice that there’s more to their particular band of indie rock than just catchy melodies. While their upbeat, piano-driven energy is a defining feature of the band’s sound, there are darker tones laced into even the most innocent-sounding songs.
The band has two songwriter/vocalists – Ben Thornewill, also a pianist, and Tommy Siegel, a guitarist. The trio is rounded out by drummer Jesse Kristin. The presence of two songwriters in the band makes for a variety of voices and moods, but never drifts into incoherence. Both Siegel and Thornewill contribute witty, clever lyrics. You could play the band’s upcoming album, Safe Travels, over and over again in a loop and find something new each time. It’s that playful inventiveness that makes Jukebox the Ghost one of our favorite new bands.
Check out our interview with Ben Thornewill below.
Crushable: Tell us a little bit about the band, and how you guys got together.
Ben Thornewill: We’ve actually been playing together for a while. We started in college together, at George Washington University. So we did that thing, and as we were getting closer to graduation we started thinking more seriously, and moved to Philly and used that as a homebase for a while, and now we’re all in New York.
Can I ask where the name Jukebox the Ghost came from?
You can. It’s a bit of a mouthful. We’re a very democratic band, everything goes to committee. So I wanted something with “ghost” in it, Tommy wanted something with “Jukebox,” and we like to joke that Jesse wanted to be a “the” band, and we put it all together.
You have a new album, Safe Travels, coming out on June 12. Tell me a little bit about it.
We recorded it in New York, with a good friend and wonderful producer named Dan Romer. It was the first time we got to spend a substantial amount of time on a record. Our first one we did in ten days, the next one was in twenty, and this we worked on every spare day from August until wrapping it in early March. You know, self-promotion is such a funny thing, but we all feel that it’s, at least for now it’s the best we’ve done. We’re really proud of it. We got to do all the things that we didn’t get to do our last record, like real string arrangements. Every note, every line, every song is exactly where it should be, exactly where we think it should be. We’re really proud of it.
There’s a real range of feelings on your album, from songs that are more upbeat to ones that are more heavy. How do you shift between those different moods?
I think every song is its own little universe. Albums can be tricky, because to make it all fit together is sort of a miraculous little process, and so much of that is sound and whatnot. Some songs just can’t be played back to back, or else it illuminates them as something particulate. So you wouldn’t put the saddest song on the record next to the most upbeat. But there’s two songwriters in the band, and for this record we were dealing with a lot more serious topics. Even some of the more upbeat songs still have bits of darkness in them, as we often try to put in. Playing them live back to back, two songs are two different things and it’s really authentic. I sort of treat each song as its own little mini-universe, and when I play that, that’s where I am.
What is your songwriting process like as a band?
As I mentioned earlier, there are two songwriters. And personally I’ll write a song and finish it, the chords, the lyrics, and whatnot, and then bring it to the band. Then we’ll dissect and talk about it and arrange it, and make it sound like… Tommy’s songs tend to be a little more fluid, a little more open, and then we’ll do more structural stuff with it. But we’re not one of those bands that sits down and says, ok guys, I got this groove, let’s jam this out and write a hit. We definitely bring it in and then move out from there.
How would you describe your sound for someone who had never heard your music?
I have no idea. It’s impossible. I mean, you get to the very obvious things, you know, we’re piano-based, we’re upbeat. We’re feel-good music, but then that is sort of cheating it. I don’t know. It’s upbeat but emotional, it’s light and heavy. I don’t know. It’s a hard thing to answer. I’ve never known how to answer that question.
You guys have been doing a lot of touring over the past few years. How has that shaped you as a band?
You know, we tour almost, if not more, than any other band I know. We do about 158 shows a year. I have trouble separating the amount of time on the road and how that affects me with just getting older, but I think there’s no way that much time traveling can not affect a person. We’re a little more rough around the edges, and we’ve been doing this a little while. One part is that I don’t write on the road. And so when I come home it’s go time, it’s writing time.
Who are a few of your favorite bands out there right now?
We just did a tour with this amazing band from Toronto called the The Elwins and I’ve been completely obsessed with them ever since. Also I just saw Regina Spektor the other night, and I sort of fell in love with her song craft all over again.
What has been your most exciting moment so far as a band?
We’re not one of those bands that had a blow up moment, or all of the sudden the whole world took watch. It’s been a really slow process. The easiest answer is a huge show, like when we did Lollapalooza two summers back. That was our first festival date, and it was just completely packed. We played in front of 50,000 people, and that was the first time we’d had a crowd like that. That was important.
Where are you hoping to be a year or two from now?
By now, I’ve given up on expectations and hopes. I hope that things keep getting better and better, you know, the sky’s the limit. I’m hoping for huge things, but things are never quite as they seem in the end. You know, I want to say that we’re touring stadiums, but I doubt that will happen. But you never know. That’s the nature of the beast. You hope for the best and you work your ass off, and hope that something comes from it.
What’s coming up for Jukebox the Ghost?
We hit the road pretty soon. We’re playing Bonnaroo, and then a headliner on the East Coast, in July we’ll hit a bunch of Midwest states, and we’re doing Outside Lands in San Francisco, probably a West Coast tour. Yeah, we’re busy. We’re doing a lot.
For more on Jukebox the Ghost, check out their website.