Interview by Grace Troutman and Chayne Nelson ; Written by Sriya Reddy ; PC: Jukebox The Ghost
Originating in Washington D.C, Jukebox the Ghost constantly succeeds in uplifting the spirits of its audience with their one-of-a-kind music. The three-piece indie pop band consists of Ben Thornewill, Tommy Siegel, and Jesse Kristin, who all met at George Washington University in 2003. They recently released “Long Way Home: Live” on Dec. 2nd. Chayne Nelson and Grace Troutman of Alt Philanthropy had the opportunity to chat with Ben of Jukebox the Ghost over the phone, regarding their recent release, their tour experiences, and embarrassing moments.
Alt Philanthropy: When you first entered the music scene, what was something unique that you wanted to bring to the table that made you different from other bands?
Ben Thornewill: The thing that I have always carried with me is that I am a classical pianist. That is my root, my foundation, and there is not a lot of that in pop music and in rock music. So trying to find a way to integrate things I know how to play and the language I have for classical music into the pop music I am writing is just something I’ve been trying to do from the very beginning.
ALTP: You guys have your “Long Way Home” album that you released December 2nd. What is a quality that you think is going to be different between that and the music you already released?
Ben: We made four studio records. With studio records you spend literally days on a single song, making sure that every part is right, take after take, but we've spent ten years touring. We built our fan base because of our excessive touring. People have always said “your albums are great and we love your live shows” so we wanted to make a record that is very reflective of that. So we thought to record it. Spending the whole tour recording every show and every song gives the chance to pick the performances that we like the best. There is something raw about a live recording. There are no do-overs. It is what it is and we like that. There is a realness to it that doesn't exist on studio records.
ALTP: Yeah, absolutely! Ten years is a long time! That is super impressive. Another question, how do you feel about the music scene in Washington where you guys began as a band? How did it influence you guys considering it's a little different from other places across the United States.
Ben: For us, we were in college. We were at George Washington University. The campus is right downtown. My dorm was six blocks from the White House. GOing to school in that urban environment around all that culture and history made for a unique environment. You know so many of the clubs in DC, we couldn't play because they were all 21 and up and our friends and fans were all 18 and 19. For the first few years we were just playing dorm rooms, basements, charity contests, and virtually anything on campus. We got to spend those first few years, when we were especially awkward and some might say bad, playing little underground shows on campus. That was really helpful.
ALTP: Do you feel as though your fan base was started from doing shows like that?
Ben: It absolutely was! I mean, when we first started playing, it would be for our 15 friends who managed to make it to our shows. Towards the end of our senior year, all of a sudden, a couple hundred people were showing up to shows. People who weren’t our friends. That happened because we kept playing and work of mouth spread. It was a thing to do and we were a band to see in our little bubble there.
ALTP: That’s pretty awesome. Also, like you said, you’ve been playing for about ten years on and off, and your fan base has become increasingly larger. What experiences during those ten years left the biggest impact on you guys as artists?
Ben: It's a slow build and a slow burn. You learn something new from every tour, from every band you play with. Like we’ve played with the Barenaked Ladies we did a whole tour with them. You learn something from those guys. And then you meet people and some songs come from stories you hear on the road or things you experience on the road. Its very hard to pinpoint a singular event. For those who have toured, understanding what it is like to be travelling, seven hours a day. And then spending the night at nightclubs and talking to people. It’s a very unique experience. I don't think there is anyway to do that and have it not come out in the music.
ALTP: Is there a certain charity you wish to draw awareness to with the help of Alt Philanthropy?
Ben: We worked with, in the past, an organization called Smile Train. Which works with children with cleft lips and palates, because Jesse was was born with a cleft lip and palate. Right now we’re aligning ourselves with ACLU and Planned Parenthood. That is what we are focusing on.
ALTP: What specifically do you want to see happen with your band contributing to these charities?
Ben: With both of those, sexual education and the ability to get healthcare, for women especially, is important. From an ACLU standpoint, I have a personal connection. My grandfather was instrumental in starting the chapter in Kentucky, where we are from. He is a civil rights lawyer for the last 25 years of his life. Just seeing him fight for constitutional rights of everybody and free speech, continuing that in this time of uncertain political future so that those values are still upheld are very important.
ALTP: Do you have a personal role model or musical role model, who has helped you with your charity or music?
Ben: That's an interesting question. I take a lot from various people in my life. From a charitable standpoint, it was my grandfather. He always liked to say “Life is as simple as boy scouts. You either cheat or you don’t”. He was very to the letter of the law, and honest, and good. I try to take that with me wherever I can.
ALTP: We have a few quick round questions for you. These are more of the fun questions. To start out, I actually have a personal question I wanted to ask! Do you have any advice for local bands or for musicians who are just getting started?
Ben: My advice is to play as much as possible. I think performances are much better than practice. And don't get hung up on recordings. A lot of young bands will spend years on a song or two and I think that is distracting. Get something recorded, put a stamp on it and move on!
ALTP: What is a Jukebox the Ghost favorite or, if you have one, a pre-show tradition?
Ben: We literally do nothing. We go on tour with bands, and they have a huddle or they sing together. We just ignore each other, maybe say “five minutes until show time,” and give each other a high five on the way to the stage.
ALTP: A high five is still something!
Ben: Yeah, but we don't do it every time so it's not a tradition.
ALTP: Do you have a dream band to perform or collaborate with?
Ben: Aw man! Do I?
ALTP: I hope so.
Ben: I don't know if I do. Everyone on my list is dead. Do you know Harry Nilsson? That is my, and our, answer. A perfect collaborator!
ALTP: Yeah definitely. This next questions is a would you rather: Would you and your band rather play a headlining sold out tour or headline Coachella.
Ben: I’d rather headline Coachella because if we are headlining Coachella it means that we could tour all over the country with sold out shows. So I’d get both answers in one.
ALTP: True! Here is our final question… think back to your most embarrassing moment. What was it?
Ben: Oh there are so many. So many moments. Well this is simple, but I apparently played a number of shows with my fly down. And no one ever says anything. I remember we played in Cincinnati this summer, an outdoor festival, and I’m seated for most of the show and no one notices. But then I get up, I stand, I’m like putting my crotch in people’s faces and they never say a damn thing! So I’ll be in the middle of it, I look down and of course its wide open. And that’s not that embarrassing. I’ve done worse, but I’m not sure if I want to expose that.
ALTP: What about your bandmates? Is there anything that you hold over their heads?
Ben: That I would get in trouble for telling you right now? They are like 200 feet away so they will hold me accountable. They may not be able to hear me, but they could read it. I feel like I’m much more the embarrassing one, if I’m going to be honest.
ALTP: How about a good memory, or something that stands out about each one?
Ben: Jesse got attacked by a lemur about five summers ago. That was pretty good. A huge gash on his elbow from a lemur that he didn’t see. And Tommy, what have you done Tommy? I don’t know what this says about me or about Tommy, that I can’t think of anything that he has done. I’m sorry … I don’t have an answer, I’ll get back to you on that.
ALTP: Hey it’s good, that means we’ll get another phone call sometime! For our last and final question, is there anything huge or unique that we should be expecting from Jukebox the Ghost in the future?
Ben: We have the live record coming out, but at the same time we are also working on new music. There will be new music releases in the coming year. So just keep an ear to the ground and something will come out.
ALTP: Thank you so much for giving us your time and letting Alt Philanthropy talk with you! We hope you have a great evening.
Ben: You too, thank you for talking to me!