By Melanie Stangl
Photo by Alex Pines (courtesy of Facebook)
Ever since their first full-length, “Live and Let Ghosts,” dropped in 2008, power pop-rock trio Jukebox the Ghost have been flooding the airwaves with catchy beats, upbeat piano lines, thoughtful lyrics, and soaring vocals. Their compositions are tight—packed with electricity, theatrical flair, and just the right amount of charming quirkiness. The group (consisting of Ben Thornewill, Tommy Siegel, and Jesse Kristin) has kept themselves busy since then: four albums, tours with acts such as Jack’s Mannequin and Motion City Soundtrack, an appearance at Lollapalooza, and a yearlong stint with Interscope offshoot Cherrytree Records.
But with the release of their brand new single, “Stay the Night,” and their mini-tour around the U.S. that brings them to Mr. Smalls Theatre tonight (4/13), JTG are mixing up their formula. The standard “album-followed-by-two-tours” schtick was getting stale, so now they’re making music and performing on their own timeline, without the pressure of a record label. They’ve been diligently working on a follow-up to their 2014 self-titled album (which featured hits such as “Girl” and “The Great Unknown”), picking up producing and engineering know-how along the way.
This increased creative control comes through on “Stay the Night,” an ode to a date gone right: “Walking, draw close/before we know it, kissin’ good-bye…But I really wanna stay the night, night, night…with you/And I think you really want me, to.” It manages to evoke “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen while still feeling personal, accessible, and warm. Their standard raucous piano riffs (courtesy of Thornewill) are accompanied by vocal melodies that build and retreat compellingly, cheerful hand-claps, and an irresistible head-nodding beat. (You can find it now on all online music platforms.)
It’s a promising sign of things to come from an even-more-self-assured Jukebox the Ghost. In light of their label-less venture, lyrics from “The Great Unknown” seem particularly appropriate: “So let go, of the world you know/There’s something waiting for you/in the great unknown.”
Sound Scene Express got to conduct an email interview with the group in advance of their show at Mr. Smalls tonight. It might be a while before their next trip through the ‘Burgh, so don’t miss your chance to see their captivating energy in person.
Your new single, “Stay the Night,” just dropped, and it’s infectiously fun. What can you tell us about the rest of the upcoming album? Stylistically, how do the new songs relate to your previous work?
We are so excited about our new music – in a lot of ways the rest of the songs we are working on are more similar to our early works. We are recording all the instruments live and to tape, and there is a real emotional weight and yet a lightness to the songs.
You’ve been creating music together for over a decade now. How was the writing process this time around? I read on Billboard that you have “three albums’ worth of songs,” so how did you decide which ones would make the cut?
This time around we had so many songs that choosing actually became easier – all the tunes that we unanimously agreed on made the cut.
You guys go out on tour quite a bit. What are your favorite things about tour life, and what are the downsides? What do you do on your off-days?
I love getting to travel the country, visit all these places I wouldn’t otherwise get to visit. The downsides are the obvious travel hours and unhealthy eating (though Waffle House is always exciting) – but we love it. Off days are filled with bowling or parks or go carts, or anything that involves games.
Any funny or interesting stories from this mini-run, or from your previous visits to Pittsburgh?
We are on tour with the Elwins, who we love, and each night we play a game we created called Brimball – which involves lots of yelling gibberish and hitting a large foam ball with a whiffleball bat.
Your social media presence is quirky and hilarious, and many of your songs have an upbeat sound to them, even if the subject matter is a bit darker. In these trying times, how do you stay so positive?
I think the best humor comes out of dark places (that’s why comedians are all secretly miserable.) But our social media presence is really just a reflection of who we are. Really goofy grown-ass dudes.
We have many talented musicians here in Pittsburgh that are looking to work their way up to regional (and eventually, national) notoriety. As a band who’s done just that, what advice would you give to local artists trying to make that leap?
Play as many shows as possible early on, hone your craft and then make a really killer recording.
After this short run of shows is over, what’s next on the agenda for you guys? Any big events, releases, or travel plans you can clue us in on?
We are putting all of our effort into making the new record and getting it released as soon as possible. When that release will happen is yet to be decided but after tour we are right back in the studio!
Tickets to the show can be found here or at the door. Doors open at 7 PM for an 8 PM start time, with opening act The Elwins kicking things off. Follow along with Jukebox the Ghost on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@jukeboxtheghost.)