Posted February 24, 2016 by Jeff in Tunes

Jukebox the Ghost Contemplates the Great Unknown

Jukebox the Ghost
Jukebox the Ghost

Last month, the Brooklyn trio Jukebox the Ghost kicked off a headlining tour that includes a two-night stint at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City at the end of March.  Greg Holden and The Family Crest are splitting support duties. Back in 2014, the band signed with Cherrytree Records and hit the road in early 2015 for a North American tour that became the subject of the new documentary “Long Way Home.” The current tour supports Jukebox the Ghost (Cherrytree Deluxe Edition), a re-release of their self-titled LP which comes with a bonus disc of singer-pianist Ben Thornewill’s “reimagining” of the songs as improvised piano arrangements. Thornewill recently phoned us as the band was driving through the desert on the way to a gig outside of Phoenix.

Last year, you re-released Jukebox the Ghost. What was it like revisiting the album?
We signed to Cherrytree and they took over the record we released in the fall through Yep Roc. In rereleasing it, we wanted to do something different. I had the idea — and the label was surprisingly supportive — to do slightly abstract classical versions of the songs on the album. I sat at the piano and made some shit up and it ended up on the album.

Was that difficult?
Yes and no. It’s something I love doing and do a lot on my own. I just sit down and play classical music. I like to use my foundation in classical training. It’s not something I get to exercise very often. Sometimes at the show, I’ll do an extended improvised introduction to a song. But at the end of the day we play pop and rock and rock music and that doesn’t go hand in hand with lofty classical music.

Talk about the initial recording process for the album. Where did you go to cut it and what was the experience like?
We did that over a number of months. We started it with Andrew Dawson who did the first five Kanye records and worked on the .fun record. We did “Postcard” and half of “The Great Unknown” with him. That set the tone and we finished with Dan Romer, who’s also in L.A. We made the previous record with him. It’s the longest we ever spent on an album. It was probably a six months process from beginning to end. Making an album is both incredibly rewarding and exhausting, meticulous work. People who don’t know figure the album is 40 minutes long and you do it in a day. No, we spent eight hours on three seconds of a drum part. That’s just how it goes.

Sometimes, it flows and you get a song done and some days you labor over the smallest bits.

How does the songwriting work?
It’s a process we’ve been figuring out as the years go on. There are two songwriters, me and Tommy [Siegel]. We will bring in all the songs we’ve written and do rudimentary versions of them. Then, we do our best to take ego out of it and decide which songs are the best and consider the sound and shape of the album and pick the songs we think will make the strongest album.

“The Great Unknown” poses the question about the afterlife. Was there something specific that inspired the song?
I wrote that with one of my best friends, a guy named Greg Holden, who’s out with us on part of this tour. It was the first time we’ve written together and we struck a chord and struck a vibe. The song almost wrote itself. It could be about death or it could be about adventures or self-exploration.

There wasn’t something specific that made you come up with the concept?
The place where we wrote it was the tenth floor of a Brooklyn warehouse that overlooks Manhattan We were just looking at that cityscape and walking through it and thinking about the myriad of possibilities of living in a city like that. That’s what I think of when I think about us writing that song.

I’m always amazed at how many people live there.
It’s extraordinary. The thing about New York is that you find your neighborhood and your pocket and that’s where you tend to stay. You go two miles in any direction and the demographic changes and the neighborhood changes and it’s an entirely other world. I’m from Louisville so New York will always be a foreign and exotic place to me.

I really like the vocal performance on “When the Nights Get Long.” Can you talk your approach to the music on that tune?
That’s my tune. A lot of it for me is the contrast between the verse and the chorus. There are strong vocals and shouting and then the super-intimate close part. I think the piano textures inform how I sang it. When we’re making a record, we’re always thinking about how to make it great and how it will work live. That’s a great moment live.

“The One” seems to have more synths than other songs. Has anyone remixed it?
It hasn’t happened. It’s funny. That’s the song we went the furthest with in terms of the production. It’s all electronic. I think if we did it again we wouldn’t go so far in that direction. It turns out that that’s the one song we never play. We wanted to take some risks with that record and that’s how that song landed.

Talk about how the band first came together.
We met at George Washington University. Jesse Kristin and I lived next to each other in the dorms freshman year and started playing. Sophomore ore year, Tommy had put up a flyer because he was looking for a band and we were looking for a guitarist. We brought him in. We were all 19 and started playing together and we just kept on going. They took a much better approach to school. Tommy was a journalist and Jesse was a bio major. It started as a fun thing. Slowly things started to grow and develop and here we are 10 to 12 years later.

Did you share common influences?
Almost none whatsoever. We’d agree on occasional things. That’s still the way it is. We all have albums we agree are good albums but I doubt all three of us are ever listening to the same thing as the same time.

What are your influences?
It oscillates. I go back to my classical roots and jazz leanings. But I have a soft spot for super pop music.

You recorded your first album while on winter break. Reflect back on what that experience was like.
Yeah, it was rough. It was the last two weeks of our winter break. We slept on the floor Tommy’s sister’s floor. We did the record in eight days and had no money. We just did it because we knew we had to do it. After that, we try to give ourselves enough time and always have a place to sleep.

Talk about the documentary film that’s coming out.
It’s a 15-minute piece. A wonderful filmmaker followed us around for a couple of shows on the tour at this time last year and provides some insight into what touring is like and what we’re like. It’s a standalone documentation piece of history.

Are you writing new songs for a studio release?
Yeah, we have. We’re playing a new song on this tour and testing the waters with that and have begun the process of writing and I’m sure we’ll do that for the next year as we try to piece it together.

You play a lot of shows.
We try to balance. Touring is tough and there’s no avoiding it. There’s no pretending that we don’t find it. We find it difficult but highly rewarding. It’s how we survived all these years and how we’ve maintained our fan-base and made new fans.

Upcoming 2016 Shows


















Chicago, IL – Thalia Hall

St. Louis, MO – The Ready Room

Ferndale, MI – The Loving Touch

Louisville, KY – Headliners Music Hall

Cincinnati, OH – The Woodward Theater

Columbus, OH – Skullys Music Diner

Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom

Millvale, PA – Mr. Smalls Theatre

Toronto, ON – Adelaide Hall

Portland, ME – Port City Music Hall

Boston, MA – Paradise Rock Club

New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom

New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom

Baltimore, MD – Rams Head Live!

Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].