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Jukebox the Ghost on their "creepy, weird, but good" Career

Jesse Kristin, Ben Thornewill, Tommy Siegel
It is often hard to find a band as charismatic off stage as they are on stage, but Jukebox the Ghost seems to have it mastered. We got a chance to chat and joke around with the trio, Ben Thornewill (piano, vocals), Tommy Siegel (guitar, vocals), and Jesse Kristin (drums), before an acoustic set at Valparaiso University. 

The intimate set in the small recital hall was a huge switch from their recent appearances at SXSW only a few days prior. The pop group admitted during the set that acoustic sets were a bit of a rarity for them. However, their Valpo set was anything from unenthusiastic. In fact, it was more interactive than their usual concert. The band was able to play simpler versions of their upbeat, feel good jams. They pulled songs from their first album Let Live & Let Ghosts (2008) as well as from their 2015 self titled album. Some favorites were "Hold It In",  "Somebody", and "Girl". 

All in all, the band and the students seemed to enjoy themselves equal amounts during the show as they bantered back and forth. The trio even promised to visit Duffy's, the college town's local dive bar. We found out later that they did keep their promise and shared drinks with a few of the seniors.

The trio has been recording and preforming for over 10 years after meeting at George Washington University in 2003. Ben Thornewill comments on their longevity, "Here we are almost 10 years later and still doing it, which is creepy, weird, but good." In that time, the trio have released four full length albums Let Live & Let Ghosts, Everything Under The Sun, Safe Travels, and Jukebox the Ghost

Concerning their musical evolution, Tommy Siegel says "I think that our music has matured and, its solidified in a weird way. I think that early on we were excited to show off all the cool things we were learning ."Their music training influenced their compositions, especially in Let Live & Let Ghosts, which features many scales, solos, and time changes. He adds, "To me our music has evolved to be more song focused, more about song craft and less about the theatricality or the showing off, its more just about the song." 

"Our first album is still compositionally adventurous, but this makes a little bit more sense than what we were doing before," remarks Ben, a self proclaimed "classical pianist kid". He showcases his piano talent in Jukebox the Ghost, which was extended today (April 7) to include solo piano versions of every song on the album. It is masterful to say the least.

Photo: Cora Veltman
Ben described his creative process, he revealed, "There’s songs almost like a sculpture, like you have a block of marble and you have to whittle it down to figure out what exactly is underneath. For other songs, sometimes it just happens, sometimes its months worth of work. For me it almost always starts at the piano. Just playing and improvising and seeing what happens. We all work differently, sometimes you can approach a song with a concept and build it around a concept." After 10 plus years of writing, he concludes, "there’s no formula, I wish there was."

As for inspiration and influences, Jesse Kristin explains, "Its so inspiring to know these super talented creative people. We don’t necessarily  go “Oh we want to sound like Lucius” but its just like “Oh crap, our friends made such a good record. We better do that too!” Day of the Tiger is a good example too. Its like our friends that inspire us." 

Unlike most bands, Jukebox didn't release a self title album right off the bat. Instead, they decided to use the precious self title after reinventing themselves with their most recent album. Ben explained, "We had like 50 songs, or something like that, coming into it. We picked the 11 that were on the record, slaved over it, worked it, and got it there. By the end of it, we kind of felt that we reinvented, or refined, who we are and what we’re doing. We felt warrented of a self titled title."

After comparing album naming to child naming, Tommy concludes, "There all this pressure. Like it has to be this singular thing that the first time you hear it, you’re like “I like that!” Which is such an insane task. So I think this time, theres a lot of reasons we named it se lf titled, but at the end of the day it’s the one that we’re like “I don’t hate that”"

Photo: Cora Veltman
The guys have been on the road for most of their 10 years. Like you would imagine, they have accrued some interesting tour stories. Jesse, the drummer, had to play a show with stitches in his elbow from an estranged lemur attack in Massachusetts, of all places. On one of their European tours ("Which doesn't compare to Valparaiso!" Ben remarks), their manager went to the "stinky cheese part of France" aka Northern France, to treat Tommy. Not one of the best ideas considering the refrigerator in the van was unreliable. Ben recalls, "Whenever we left, we had to open every door and just let it air out because it was some really stinky cheese." He adds casually, "That was the same tour where I drank my own piss. Accidentally of course."  

Despite their odd stories, they would be the first to tell you that a good tour isn't the party 24/7 lifestyle everyone imagines. Ben advises to "treat it like a marathon". Tommy remembers, "I had a lot more fun in out like first year of touring than I’ve ever had since, but then I totally screwed up my voice and I had to get vocal surgery. So I learned a very valuable lesson early on." "Our early years were more drunken and stupid." Ben mentions. 

If they had the option to tour with anyone dead or alive, they would choose to tour with Harry Nilsson. Tommy clarifies, "But I wouldn’t want to bring him back to life. I would like to tour with the dead Harry Nilsson. I just think that would be and interesting show."

Photo: Cora Veltman
Aside from putting on a fantastic acoustic show, Jukebox the Ghost sets itself apart from other indie and pop groups with their "weird, but good" longevity. When asked why they're different, they joked about their lack of a bassist and their "quality interviews". Jesse remarked sarcastically "We’ve had the same drummer for ten years, and he’s not even that great." While only half of that statement is true - Jesse is a fantastic drummer - it addresses the trio's stability. 

Jukebox the Ghost is not going disappearing anytime soon. They will be going on tour in June with Ingrid Michelson. And, according to Tommy, it's time to harvest new materials for album number five.

Ben summarizes his perspective, "I think in a creative pursuit, you have to enjoy the sort of Sisyphean act of just getting out there and doing it," Sisyphus, in greek mythology, was a corrupt king bound to roll a stone up a hill just to have it roll back down nearing the top for the rest of his life. While the group isn't a bunch of Sisyphus's destined for a rocky eternity, there is a hint of truth in the metaphor. He explains further, "You can’t expect financial reward for something you enjoy. You can strive for it, but expecting it, no."

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