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Jukebox The Ghost On The Unique Approach To Their New Album and Life on the Road

Photo by Jason Tang

Jukebox the Ghost’s latest self-titled album goes into some new territory for the Washington, DC band.  Singer Ben Thornewill is not only an incredible vocalist – he is also a classically trained and very talented pianist.  To celebrate the album’s release on Cherry Tree Records, Ben recorded a piano version of every song to be included on the album.  The piano versions take the songs to entirely new places and create the possibility for different interpretations.

I had a wonderful opportunity to interview vocalist Ben Thornewill, Tommy Siegel and Jesse Kristin of Jukebox the Ghost just before their set opening for Ingrid Michaelson.  I love their new album and I know you will too!  Enjoy our conversation below!

Hey guys, thank you so much for talking with me today!  I would love to hear about your approach to your latest album?
Ben: In the past, we’d usually come up with a band arrangement and figure out how to play it in a room. Get into the studio, do that and then sort of add on top. This time we came in with 40 odd songs and picked them apart. We really spent time in the studio deconstructing and then reconstructing them.

In addition, the record was recently re-released on Cherry Tree and I did an all piano, improvised version of the album – which we had never done before. That was a new thing.

That’s the version that I have! What inspired you to do that?
Ben: I was raised on classical piano, so I play it a lot. And when I’m just by myself playing the piano, I’m doing a lot of classical improv stuff. We were looking to do something for the re-release that was special and I suggested doing a song or two. The label asked if I’d do a whole record and I did it!

I didn’t realize that you had written one of the songs on the album with Greg Holden!  What was the co-writing experience like?
Ben: Yeah!  Co-writing with people can be very hit or miss. It can be great or not. Luckily Greg is a very good friend of mine, so when we did that – it was actually the first time that we ever wrote together, we’ve done about four now – we just got together, sat in the studio for a day and hung out, wrote the song and made it happen!

I love the song “Undeniable You.”
Ben: That was just a piano ballad at first. When we came into the studio, I had another song that had these vocal stacks, I think Tommy was the one who listened to it —

Tommy: He had sent this other demo called “This Wretched World” and it had these huge vocal stacks. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t really want to wait until the next record to have this on a record.’ It wasn’t a song that we had chosen and it was too late. But I knew once I heard the vocal stacks, that we needed it. Ben got up to the vocal booth take after take after take doing harmonies – going up and going down. This version that you hear felt like it came together in about an hour.

Ben: Yeah, I think it did.

Photo by Jason Tang

Are there any tracks on the record that are extra special to you?
Jesse: We feel like “Long Way Home” is a special song because it has Ben and Tommy, which somehow was never really a thing other than one bridge in another song. It was special for that reason – it was very collaborative.

Tommy: I think what’s weird about the songwriting process is that I’m expunging whatever emotion it is and then when it’s time to actually record, it feels like I’m almost beyond that and then when I’m playing it live it’s like I’m way beyond it. At this point, I feel like I can look back on these songs as artifacts of a moment in time and not get sucked back into that world. Sometimes it happens though.

Jesse: The weird thing that happens with making a record is that you have the songs that are clearly the favorites. You’re most eager to record those and the label probably also likes those the most for potential singles. Then you end up kind of tiring yourself out of those ones first, so it ends up being the other ones – the later half of the record – that you end up coming back to and really appreciating. “Girl” is a great example, we all love that song.

Together: And “Hollywood.”

You guys have been together for years, what has being together constantly taught you?
Tommy: Well, it’s kind of funny because we started out as not a very serious band – just friends making music. But being in a musical and business and living arrangement partnership with three people…it’s almost like a polygamist marriage [laughs]! Without the kids and without the funny business [laughs]!

Like any kind of relationship or friendship, anything that is that close and in close quarters and in direct communication for that long, you have to kind of constantly reinvent yourself and the way you see each other because you can get into stupid cycles.

Luckily I’m in a band with two nice guys so we figure it out – I think a lot of bands don’t have that luxury.

Jesse: Also, we’re only human. So anyone who’s had a marriage or had a roommate, can probably relate. It’s not that different, it feels exactly like you’d expect it to.

What are your go-to “forever” albums:
Jesse: …And Out Come the Wolves by Rancid, I loved it when I was in 5th grade and I still love it today. The second would be…Queen’s Greatest Hits.

Tommy: I’m going to go with Paul McCartney’s RAM and Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I.

Ben: Oscar Peterson, he’s my favorite jazz pianist. His Finest Hour is an album I adore.



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