Interview: Jukebox The Ghost

Jukebox The Ghost

Jukebox The Ghost

Attention New Yorkers! I know you all have very busy weekends ahead of you crying over not winning the Book of Mormon lotto or waiting in line to check out Lady GaGa’s self-indulgent “workshop” at Barney’s. But if you’re in the mood to do something different, how about grabbing some beers, going bowling and checking out some awesome live music? And yes, I do mean all at the same time.

This Friday, Philadelphia-bred indie pop/rock trio Jukebox The Ghost will be playing the legendary Brooklyn Bowl as part of their current headlining tour.

Following their debut record in 2008, Let Live And Let Ghosts (which was recorded in only nine days!), Jukebox The Ghost released their critically acclaimed sophomore album, Everything Under The Sun, last fall. The record’s release spawned an appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman and found the band touring with acts such as Guster and Barenaked Ladies.

In anticipation of Friday’s show, I chatted with guitarist and vocalist Tommy Siegel, who told me all about Jukebox’s creative process, shared some fond touring memories and spilled some details about their highly-anticipated upcoming third album.

ALEX: I read that you originally called yourselves The Sunday Mail but then decided to change the band’s name to Jukebox The Ghost. Can you tell me a little bit about where the name Jukebox The Ghost comes from and what it signifies to you?

TOMMY: Honestly, ‘Jukebox the Ghost’ was just a combination of words we thought would make a good band name. I wanted ‘Jukebox’, Ben wanted ‘Ghost’, and Jesse wanted us to be a ‘the’ band a la ‘The Smiths’ or ‘The Cure’. We put the words together, and voila. We’ve made a habit out of putting darker lyrical material into light-hearted-sounding pop songs, so I like to think that we’re somehow Jukebox-ing the Ghost. If that makes sense. ‘Jukebox’ also could just be the name of that ghost drawing on everything we do.

Your music is such a distinct blend of indie pop and piano rock. I’d even argue that there are some significant classical influences in there. Given that your sound doesn’t fit the label of one specific genre, how would you best describe it?

The classical influence you’re hearing is very real on Ben’s part. He was a music major in college, and a serious classical player long before that. As far as our overall genre name … asking someone in a band to describe their genre is sorta like asking a person to sum their life up in a word or two. That being said … Pop-rock? Indie-pop? Pop-pop? Pop-rock-pop?

Pop-rock-pop definitely wins. Being a trio, how do you divide songwriting duties? Do you all sit together and try to write as a unit or do you find you work better working individually and then bringing songs to the rest of the group?

We generally write songs independently and then bring them to the band to get arranged. Sometimes a song will arrive for rehearsal completely finished in the head of the person who wrote it, and sometimes it’ll be totally primordial.

With song titles like “Summer Sun,” “The Sun,” “The Sun (Interlude)” and “The Stars”, there’s an obvious reoccurring theme on Everything Under The Sun. Would you say there’s a specific narrative you’re trying to employ to string all of your music together (like a concept album)?

Just a happy accident, to be honest. “The Sun/The Sun Interlude/The Stars” was a long piece I was working on (we ended it up splitting it on the album) and Ben happened to have a song called “Summer Sun” around the same time.  We’re big album-structure geeks, so we put a lot of effort into making a tracklist feel like a narrative.

Everything Under The Sun had a significantly more synth-enhanced and polished feel than Let Live and Let Ghosts did. In what direction do you feel your sound has been evolving since this record’s release?

It’s difficult to pinpoint what defines our current state of evolution because our band’s music has always been all over the place stylistically. I can’t really say we’ve gone in one particular direction. In some ways I feel like we’re the same band, just making smarter decisions and learning to calm down and leave some space.

What can you tell me about your upcoming third album? How far into the writing process are you? Any ideas of when it might be released?

We’re about 75% done with our new album. Hoping to completely finish in the next few weeks! We’ve been working in Brooklyn with a producer named Dan Romer, who also happens to be a great friend of ours. He’s been doing a killer job and we had a great batch of songs to pick from, so I really think this is going to be my favorite record we’ve made. I really couldn’t be more excited about this one. Hopefully it’ll see the light of day in the late spring.

In 2009, you toured with Ben Folds on what I like to think of as the “piano rock dream tour.” What were the scariest and most rewarding things about sharing the stage with such a contemporary musical legend?

That was a great tour! It was the first large-club/theater tour we had ever done, so it was a surreal learning experience. His fans have been amazing to us.

I can imagine. So if you could embark on a tour with any 2-3 musicians around today, who would they be?

One of our collective favorite bands, the Dismemberment Plan, recently reunited for the tenth anniversary of Emergency and I (brilliant album). If they released a new album and asked us to go on a national tour, my brain would melt. Should I daydream another act on the bill? I think a resurrected Harry Nilsson would fit nicely.

You guys really seem to tour non-stop. What’s the best prank you’ve each pulled on one another while on the road?

We had Jesse convinced on a long drive that the earth only has one pole.  Eventually, he figured it out. As a science major in college and an incredibly smart guy, he should have known better. But I guess we were pretty convincing (“think about the Mercator projection, Jesse!”).

And speaking of touring, you’re about to hit the road with Jack’s Mannequin for their winter tour. Anything especially exciting in store for the fans attending these shows?

If I told you they wouldn’t be surprises, now would they?

Very valid point. What were some of your favorite albums of 2011?

I’ve been floored by a lot of albums this year.  Off the top of my head, some of my favorites (in no particular order) are Deerhoof’s Deerhoof vs. Evil (my favorite currently-active band), Ahleuchatistas’ Location, Location (angular and dissonant instrumental rock), They Might Be Giants’ Join Us, St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy, Delicate Steve’s Wondervisions (perfect, uplifting guitar-led instrumentals), Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues, Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 Vol. 2 (I know, I know), Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr’s It’s a Corporate World, TV On The Radio’s Nine Types of Light and White Denim’s D.

And finally, what are you looking forward to most about 2012?

Putting out a new record!

Thanks, Tommy! Can’t wait to see the show on Friday!

See ya there! Thanks!

Everything Under The Sun is available now via Yep Roc Records. Check out Jukebox The Ghost’s tour page to see when they’ll be playing at a venue near you.

Jukebox The Ghost

Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. Alex lives in Western Massachusetts and can be found on Twitter at @AlexKNagorski.