When a band readies their second album, the music community enters a tense phase. What could follow could be a masterpiece that sees the band skyrocket toward continued success. Or, it could be a phenomenal failure, one completely impotent in the attempt to recapture the magic. A lot of it is up to fate, and some of it is the band’s actual skill and dedication. But if you’re Jukebox the Ghost, you damn well make sure fate has little to do with the end result.
The Lollapalooza-bound, Washington, DC-born trio of singer/pianist Ben Thornewill, drummer Jesse Kristin, and guitarist Tommy Siegel rode to initial success on their perpetually happy mix of piano-powered pop rock on Let Live and Let Ghosts. For that first album, the band had little time but had an advantage of knowing the tracklist before recording, something which sat well with a big-picture kind of guy like Siegel.
“I like making albums and sequences that work,” Siegel says. “I make all the setlists and daydream about the order of the album.”
But for their second go around (which is recorded, waiting to be mastered), the band has been “bickering over the tracklist,” with 25 songs already prepped. A satisfying end is in sight, though.
“This time around there was more chaos,” Siegel explains. “We discussed what direction we should go and how we should reconcile and strike a balance. It was a good experience, but it was stressful having someone else’s opinion.”
That someone else is Peter Katis, who has produced the likes of Tokyo Police Club, Interpol, and The National. Katis ensured the band was on their toes, doing things like recording songs the band thought they never could, even going so far as recording a song they had never played. But, in a rare case of confidence from a relatively young band, they stuck to their guns.
“(Peter) helped shape it, but it would be scary if it was the whole thing,” Siegel says, digressing on the band’s level of control over the effort. “We brought Peter in to add more of that darker, unpoppy sonic stuff he’s known for. It changed a lot, and we think we’re coming in a little bit more mature, but it’s not a big difference.”
And while Siegel and company claim not much has changed, the songs discussed seem to make a substantial enough shift to merit some attention. Take “Schizophrenia”, which the band have been performing live for a while. Siegel said the song was the band’s attempt at dance music, inspired in part by New Order’s “Temptation”. There’s also the near piano-less track entitled “Half Crazy”, which Siegel says is all about “herky-jerky ’80s synth.” Two tracks about mental illness? A message about a band losing their mind?
“Maybe…yes we are,” Siegel jokes.
But there’s also a band trademark making its way onto the sophomore LP. Fans of Let Live and Let Ghosts are well aware of the so-called “Armageddon chunk,” a section of the album with a linear narrative about the end of the world. The as-yet untitled album features the sequence “The Sun” and “The Stars”, which does without the lyrical narrative and tells a tale through the music itself. Coupled with the the band’s recent love of Henry Nilsson and Randy Newman, plus Siegel and Kristin’s shared love of The Zombies, and Siegel’s own “two-year obsession” with Deerhoof, and you can expect a bubbly affair with something bigger just under the surface.
If you’re wondering how three kids who attended George Washington University got their musical make-up and hopeful future, chalk that up to the band being one hell of a unit.
“With recording, someone’s feelings are bound to be hurt,” Siegel says. “But with us, it’s like fighting with your mom. Plus we live together, so we have to get along.”
Close quarters and a sense of humor will undoubtedly make the album’s expected late summer release (and, by extension the immediate future of the band as a whole), an exciting one.
“We’d be having these really intense mixing sessions, and Peter would have to go play hockey,” Siegel says. “So we’re kicking around calling the album Stop Playing Hockey, Peter Katis.”