Jukebox the Ghost , one of the hottest up-and-coming pop rock bands on the scene, released Safe Travels last month. You have probably heard them on WFPK , watched them on The Late Show with David Letterman, or seen them at numerous music festivals. Ben Thornewill, a Louisville native who lived in St. Matthews and then in the Indian Hills area, is the group's lead singer and pianist.
Louisville.com: So the last time Louisville.com interviewed  you was back in September 2010. You had just released Everything Under the Sun. How do you feel Jukebox the Ghost has transformed since your last CD release and have your musical influences changed at all?
Thornewill: We are a more advanced band and more professional. We’ve played over 200 shows since the release of our last album and we are older and more experienced as people. Our musical listening habits have changed but we try not to emulate other bands. We have a perceived esthetic and want to play music we like. Each of us comes from a different musical background and we have a strong idea of what we want to sound like. We try to avoid sounding like other bands.
Louisville.com: What is your musical background?
Thornewill: I have a classical and jazz background. I studied classical composition and jazz performance at George Washington University. The drummer [Jesse Kristin] played drums in high school and played prog rock.
Louisville.com: Is that where all of you all met?
Thornewill: Yes it is.
Louisville.com: After visiting your website, it sounds like you all had some difficult times while working on Safe Travels. Despite this you said you still want to be a band that makes people feel good. Was this hard to do and how did you all overcome this?
Thornewill: It has been a tough year. We’ve had two major deaths, breakups, but we have a positive outlook on life. All of these things are very human experiences and while we may not enjoy going through them they are things you have to go through. We are still fundamentally the same people. We play pop music and these songs have both depth and darkness.
Louisville.com: As a violinist myself, I found it very cool that you used a string section for the first time. What were some of the challenges and perks you found working with strings?
Thornewill: We’ve wanted to do this for each record, but we either ran out of time or money. You know how those things go. This time we had both. The producer, Dan Romer, is a fantastic arranger and helped me arrange the parts. There was no challenge just pure enjoyment.
Louisville.com: I think strings always make music better and super excited to hear future works with strings. They also make shows more awesome on stage.
Thornewill: Definitely, it is organic and beautiful.
Louisville.com: You’ve released three albums now. Is it still exciting as releasing the first one?
Thornewill: It gets more exciting every time. The music is getting into more people’s hands and we are slowly getting bigger so we have less pressure. People are more supportive and look forward to music we put out in the future. We are able to make records we want to make without worrying about it being popular.
Louisville.com: That is great to hear. I’d figure it would be the total opposite with expectations and what not.
Thornewill: We had a strong feeling on how it should progress and made sure it was done right. It has been very enjoyable.
Louisville.com: You all perform live a lot. How many shows have you done to promote Safe Travels? What is the hardest part about touring as much as you all do?
Thornewill: The CD was released June 12 so we haven’t done a whole lot of shows since the CD released. I think we have done 10-12 so far, but we have been playing off the album for the past 9-10 months for 50-60 shows. Touring and playing shows is our mode and means to success. The hardest part about touring is having a bunch of creative people in the same space. You eat, sleep, and live together which is probably the reason many bands end up breaking up. We manage to get along well. It is hard traveling and not having a home to be able to center yourself.
Louisville.com: What has been your favorite show on your current tour so far and why?
Thornewill: It’s a tossup between New York and DC’s shows. New York was sold out six to seven weeks before. The shows were packed with energy and feeling of excitement. Hopefully this is positive foreshadowing of future shows.
Louisville.com: You have a couple shows coming up nearby in Cincinnati and Nashville. For those people who have not been to one of your shows what would you tell people to expect?
Thornewill: Unadulterated joy and excitement. It will be a good time. Plan on having a good time.
Louisville.com: You have a couple shows coming up near Louisville in Cincinnati and Nashville. I hope to come see you guys live.
Thornewill: We will also be playing a Waterfront Wednesday in Louisville sometime in August.
Louisville.com: Well I’ll definitely have to hit that one up. Speaking of venues and locations, is there any particular dream venue or location that you would really like to play at but haven’t?
Thornewill: Red Rocks outside Denver. It is this amphitheater placed between these huge rocks. It is really cool place and we played a music festival inside when we were first starting out. It would be great to be able to go back and play outside.
Louisville.com: WFPK has been playing “Somebody” on the radio a lot here in Louisville. Have you heard yourself on the radio in Louisville?
Thornewill: Actually I heard it on the radio yesterday on my way to my grandmother’s. It was the first song to come on when I got in the car. It’s the second time ever. It is really exciting. I used to listen to WFPK driving to high school, and I’d turn the radio to WFPK when doing the dishes. I’ve always listened to WFPK so hearing us on there is special and really exciting.
Louisville.com: Is there a particular song on Safe Travels that is your favorite?
Thornewill: I have two favorite songs to listen to. “Devil’s On Our Side” and “All For You” starts out quiet and builds to something big and have a lot of classical influence. “Devil’s On Our Side” goes into “All For You.”
Louisville.com: For all the music nerds out there, what kind of gear do you use?
Thornewill: I use a Kurzweil as my main keyboard. It has a great range of expression. I also use an Alesis QS 6.1 synthesizer.
Louisville.com: Well I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
Thornewill: We will have a music video for “Somebody” next week filmed on Coney Island. Check it out.
Louisville.com: Well Ben, thanks for taking time to chat with me despite your busy schedule.
Thornewill: Thank you for the interview!
After listening through Safe Travels for the first time I am a new Jukebox fan. You can tell they are inspired to some degree by the The Beatles, Yes and Coldplay. The gorgeous melodic string arrangements and upbeat piano pop rock sound is indeed happy sounding despite some of the darker themes. They have garnered a mature sound that is unique and catchy.
Jukebox the Ghost will be playing in and around Louisville this summer:
- July 13—The High Watt, 8 p.m., 1 Cannery Row, Nashville, TN 37203
- July 14—Bunbury Music Festival, 11 a.m., Cincinnati, OH
- August 29—Waterfront Wednesday presented by 91.9 WFPK
Photos: Courtesy Jukebox the Ghost