Jukebox the Ghost has been compared to everyone from the Ben Folds Five to a “muted incarnation of Queen.” While these comparisons are both flattering and overall pretty accurate, the description NPR offers is spot on; “If School House Rock morphed into an actual band, it’d be Jukebox the Ghost.” Like School House Rock, their lyrics are witty and thought-provoking and the piano hooks and memorable melody lines prove that catchy and superficial don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. I mean who hasn’t had “Conjunction Junction” stuck in their head at least once in their lives.
If you listen through their album Let Live and Let Ghosts you’ll notice the Ben Folds/Queen-esque vocals (note semi-operatic vocals in “Under My Skin”) and the abundance of skillful piano lines courtesy of the classically-trained Ben Thornewill. Tommy Siegel’s gritty guitar playing is a perfect complement to Thornewill’s pop/rock piano parts, and his vocals—along with the subject matter of his songs—keeps the infectious buoyancy from turning into a sugar coma. Insert the creative and emphatic drumming of Jesse Kristin, and you’ve got one solid debut album.
Ben, Tommy and Jesse met while attending George Washington University after fatefully being assigned dorm rooms right above and next to each other. They played shows around the GW campus, changed their name from the Sunday Mail to Jukebox the Ghost, started playing shows off-campus, opened for Kanye West (no big deal) and the rest, as they say, is history! To read about the highs and lows of touring, check out the following Q&A.
MD: When did you guys start touring?
JTG: We booked our first tour on our own in 2005 — it was unbelievably bad. Our manager, Seth Kallen, got us touring seriously in the summer of 2007, right after we all graduated college. That was a lot better.
MD: How often do you tour?
JTG: There hasn’t really been a pattern so far, but we’ve played over 250 shows since 2007, and no signs of stopping.
MD: What’s your general mode of transportation?
JTG: Our E-150 Econoline van.
MD: Who are some of the artists you’ve toured with?
MD: Are there any songs you only play live that you haven’t recorded?
JTG: Quite a few. There were about 10 new songs that didn’t make the record we just finished, some of which we played every night for awhile…Hopefully we’ll get the chance to record everything we’ve written at some point.
MD: What are your favorite songs/bands to cover?
JTG: This year we’ve had a lot of fun covering “Temptation” by New Order (check out a live video with Jenny Owen Youngs here). We’ve used it a lot of times as our “hail mary pass” if we’re not sure people are having a good time — dance songs never fail. At special shows in the last year or so we’ve also done a cover of the ending sequence from Abbey Road, which is always a blast. We’ve covered a lot of artists in the past — The Cure, The Clash, Queen, Rage Against the Machine, Danny Elfman, They Might Be Giants, and the Smiths, just to name some off the top of my head.
MD: What is your favorite region/city to play in?
JTG: The west coast is always exciting — the scenery is always exciting after being on the east coast for so long. But as far as shows and fans are concerned, it’s hard to beat NYC and DC. Our fans on the east coast are amazing.
MD: Which city has the most enthusiastic crowd?
JTG: DC, hands down.
MD: Sketchiest hotel you’ve ever stayed in?
JTG: Sort of difficult to say, since we’ve stayed in dozens and dozens of gross motels all over the country. We’ve had our share of strange-smelling rooms.
MD: Any crazy/funny tour stories you’d like to share?
JTG: Hmm, so many to choose from…The first one that comes to mind is the time we went rock-climbing off the highway in some desert mountains in southern California only to be apprehended by the US border patrol — apparently we were hiking around in a major drug trafficking spot on the Mexican border. Whoops.