Best of What’s Next: Jukebox the Ghost

Music Features Jukebox The Ghost

HOMETOWN: Washington, D.C.
BAND MEMBERS: Tommy Siegel (guitar,
vocals), Ben Thornewill (piano, vocals),
Jesse Kristin (drums)
ALBUM: Everything Under the Sun
FOR FANS OF: Ben Folds, Bishop Allen, Ra Ra Riot

A few years have passed since the three members of Jukebox the Ghost met at George Washington University and recorded their piano-popped debut LP, Let Live and Let Ghosts. In the meantime, the band toured and wrote songs; in September, they’ll release their second album, Everything Under the Sun, on Yep Roc.

Sun found lyrical inspiration in mental illness, dreams and health scares (Siegel is recovering from vocal surgery prompted by the band’s relentless performance schedule), and was produced by Peter Katis, known for his work with moodier acts like The National. “We thought he’d rein us in and help us create a more mature or stronger record,” Thornewill says. “We didn’t want someone who just made upbeat and peppy music. We were already bringing enough of that to the table.”

But while Katis’ fingerprints are obvious (namely on “So Let Us Create,” a twinkling, expansive ballad), Jukebox the Ghost can’t stay serious for long. Siegel and pianist Ben Thornewill milk their voices for melodrama, dancing up and down registers with exaggerated notes and nonsense syllables. The melody of “Ring Around the Rosy” crops up in “The Stars,” and the infectious “The Popular Thing” can also be heard in the family flick Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Siegel laughs at the thought of a Katis-produced song in a kids’ movie: “I don’t think he realized when he signed on how silly of a band we are.”

Jukebox the Ghost’s ever-present playfulness stems from its members’ wildly different musical backgrounds, from Thornewill’s classical training to drummer Jesse Kristin’s proudly “untrained-but-not-uneducated quality.” “I try to keep the music from being too ‘skilled’ and add some naivete where I can,” Kristin says. “It’s important to create music not just from talent alone but from spontaneity and instinct.”

WHAT’S NEXT: This fall, the band will embark on a two-month U.S. tour, its first as a headlining act. “Right now we’re just focusing on the new record. I’d like to get back into the studio as soon as possible,” Siegel says. “But I don’t know how many people are gonna want that.”

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