The Popdose Interview: Jukebox the Ghost
Jukebox the Ghost are set to release their fantastic third album, Safe Travels, on June 12th. I’ve called the song “Oh, Emily” the first great earworm of 2012. NPR has called the album “Danceable songs of longing.”
Taking a break from tweeting, singer/guitarist Tommy Siegel took a couple minutes to talk about the Dismemberment Plan, sharing breakfast pictures on Twitter, the cliche of a more ‘mature’ album, the Book of Mormon, and learning life lessons from Guster.
True or false: “Ellen & Ben” from the Dismemberment Plan is their finest song.
That’s one of my favorite songs by the Dismemberment Plan. But I’m gonna have to go with false. There are probably five or six songs that I like more than “Ellen & Ben,” even though it’s an amazing song.
Wrong. The answer is actually true, because it mentions Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.
Yeah, I guess that’s true. I mean, listen — I can’t help it. I love Change. But for whatever reason, the album I keep going back to Is Terrified.
Fair enough. Change was their third album, and I feel it defines their sound at their creative peak. Safe Travels is your third record. Have you found the perfect mix of what you wanted Jukebox the Ghost to sound like?
I don’t know if we’ve found the perfect mix. But for the first time, we’ve found whatever it is that our next records will be coming from the same world. I hope that makes sense. It felt like it was the first time we could really relax without a lot of pressure from the outside world and we could be ourselves. It’s the first time we’ve been able do that on a record. I hope this is a beginning of a long stretch of records that sound like Safe Travels.
It’s a cliche to say the new album has a more “mature” sound, but it definitely has a fuller, larger sound compared to previous albums. Is that Dan Romer’s influence?
I think a lot of it is. He’s a great producer and engineer, and has a real knack for making things sound huge. The drums sound gigantic on this record, and that’s mostly to his credit. Part of the maturing, to me, is we didn’t wait so long to start recording this album. I think as a result, we were able to pick through some songs that normally wouldn’t have been obvious choices to us. I think it really benefits the record.
I’m hoping to pick these fish-out-of-water songs when it comes time to record the next album. Songs like “Devils on our Side,” “All for Love,” “Dead,” “The Spiritual.” Those are songs we wouldn’t have put on previous records, and I think they’re some of the best songs on the new record. Part of it is Dan Romer’s influence, part of it is us changing as people and having different preferences. It is cliched, but I feel we’ve matured as artists.
You mentioned “Dead,” and that’s a song that really stuck out to me on the new record. Has it been sitting around for awhile, or did it come about during the Safe Travels recording process?
I had been kicking around “Dead” for several years. I think I wrote the lyrics in 2007. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t think it would ever be a Jukebox the Ghost song. I just didn’t think we wrote those type of songs as a band. I write some songs like that, which may be a little more darker or folky, that don’t end up as Jukebox songs. But for whatever reason, our drummer Jessie was really pushing me about this song when we were rehearsing. It still wasn’t on the short list of songs when we went in to record the album. We played it for Dan Romer, and he just freaked out — “This has got to be on the record.” It was also his ear that pushed us in directions we might have normally gone.
Not only is the sound more mature, but it feels like the lyrics are also just as mature on this record.
Yeah, I don’t if we’ve really changed as songwriters. Certainly we’ve developed over the years and have gotten more comfortable with speaking what’s on our mind. This time, the lyrics just seem more in your face.
Jukebox the Ghost has two lead songwriters. How do you and Ben balance those roles?
I think we balance it as well as we can. I mean, we don’t have a “Tommy songs quota” — we have a “best song wins” type of mentality, but we also keep in mind that we’re a band with two songwriters and a change in voice sometimes can help the overall flow of an album. It’s nice to have a variety of voices to add to the architecture of an album.
Well, band managers sure think so, although I’m not really sure it is. [Laughs] Some of this stuff we don’t even have a hand in. Someone at Yep Roc said “We’re doing an iPhone app,” and I was like “Err, sure.” I’ve been told that it’s cool, but I don’t have an iPhone, so I don’t really even know what it does. I mean, we try to do entertaining things. Early on, our tour manager at the time, Seth, wanted us to do a tour blog. We adamantly said “No!” So we sarcastically started a gum review blog on the site. I chewed gum a lot, and was made fun of for it, but the blog entertained us for a couple tours. We have to come up with something new. Our last social media experiment was people would tweet ideas for me to draw and then I’d put them up on Instagram. That was kind of fun.
Do you find that bands are almost are sharing too much via social media?
Well it’s something we’re happy to do. Who doesn’t like getting a bunch of likes on Facebook? You know, we’re more than willing to share ourselves out in social media, but there used to be an element of mystery with bands that is now lost. There was something cool about a band like the Beatles who would say something cryptic that had some mystery behind it, and you would have to figure out what it was. Now, you know what your favorite artist is eating for breakfast.
You’ve started reading the Book of Mormon. What inspired that reading choice?
I did a two-week trip in Southern Utah and thought, what better reading material than the book of Mormon? I’ve always been drawn to that type of stuff. I mean, on our first record there are a bunch of songs based on the Book of Revelations. I certainly don’t believe in the Book of Revelations. I like looking at religion from the outside and to see if there is any cool imagery that I can take from it. I won’t be writing an album on the Book of Mormon, but it makes for an interesting read.
I’m telling anybody willing to listen that they need to check out Safe Travels. What band or album are you telling all your friends about?
I think they’re the most underrated band in America, and they’re called Pretty & Nice. They’re friends of ours from Boston. They scratch all the right spots for me. They’re like if early XTC was still going strong. Weird guitars, very punky, but really catchy. They capture that era of music that I love — where punk was on the verge of turning into new wave. Like Elvis Costello or Oingo Boingo. That era. I hope everyone takes notice.
You’ve toured with Ben Folds, Barenaked Ladies, Guster and others. What was the biggest thing you learned from other bands about long-term success?
We probably learned the most from Guster. They’re a trio, and there’s no one person calling the shots. They’ve been touring a long time. Our fanbases are similar in that it doesn’t revolve around a specific event — the fans just really like them. It’s outside of the traditional buzz thing. They’ve been the same band forever, and keep developing their sound. They surround themselves with good people on the road that they trust. They’re still friends. It was really powerful for us to see that it could be done. You hear about a lot of bands breaking up, so it was great to see a band doing what we do, on a larger level, that has managed to keep it going for so long.
Any hints on which cover song might make the tour this go around?
You know, that’s something that happens at the last minute. We’re still learning how to play all the songs off the new album first. So many songs have lots of layers to them that we have to figure out.
Which songs are you dying to play live off the record?
Hmm. Well…I’m gonna have to go with two songs: “Dead” and “The Spiritual.” Both are unusual, and I’m really curious to see how fans react to them live. If they’re confused, or if they’re really into it.
Find Jukebox the Ghost on tour this summer.