The Friendliest Ghost You Know

Jukebox the Ghost materialize to play Soda Bar on Feb. 2

Photo credit: Eric Ryan Anderson

Photo credit: Eric Ryan Anderson

The last time pop trio Jukebox the Ghost played San Diego was, according to singer/pianist Ben Thornewill, one of his worst shows ever.

That’s not a sick burn, SD. The guy came down with bronchitis. That morning. Luckily the whole crew had a severe case of the-show-must-go-on and kept the San Diego date. But when Thornewill lost his voice just a few songs in, the D.C.-formed group didn’t step down — no. They turned the night into a bona fide Jukebox the Ghost karaoke special.

“It was next level,” Thornewill tells SoundDiego from the road. “It was an adventure.”

The adventure continues as Thornewill, vocalist/guitarist Tommy Siegel and drummer Jesse Kristin return to San Diego for round two on Monday, Feb. 2, at Soda Bar.

Thornewill chatted us up on his drive across America about the new album, keeping fans coming to shows, what the hell “power pop” means anyway and more — let’s just hope he keeps those vocal chords purring.

Hannah Lott-Schwartz: All right. Let’s start with the origins. How did you guys get together?
Ben Thornewill: We’re one of those bands who started in college. We all went to George Washington University. We played every crappy frat house and every benefit concert, the quad, and then towards the end of our tenure there, we started thinking maybe we can make a go of this. People who weren’t our friends started to coming to shows. Then we moved to Philadelphia, played 170 shows a year. And then New York.

HLS: What made you move to New York? Just that it’s New York, more opportunities?
BT: I think the allure of New York is sort of universal, regardless of what you’re doing or who you are. We lived in Philly for three to four years after graduating, and that was a great home base to work from. And then when it became financially feasible to move to New York, we did. On top of that, there’s a great community of musicians. It ends up being this culture of everyone hustling and working and in a weird way being their best.

HLS: What’s life like when you’re not on the road? Do you guys still have day jobs?
BT: This has been our full-time gig for about six years now. In our free time, we’re writing lots of songs — for us and for other people — and staying creative.

HLS: That’s pretty great, having this be your full-time job. That’s the goal, isn’t it?
BT: It’s so funny, ’cause when that was first the case back in 2008 or 2009, and people were like, “Oh, you’ve made it,” we’re like, “No, we’re still nobody. We’re surviving on rice.” It’s not glamorous living.

HLS: How many shows are you playing this year? Are you still keeping pace with the 170 you used to play?
BT: It’s slowed down a little bit, but I’d still say we’re at about 120-130. One of the strange things about getting a bigger fan base is you can only play so many shows before people stop coming.

HLS: You guys are sometimes called a “power-pop” group. What does that mean?
BT: In its own way, I feel like power pop is a bit of a dirty word. It feels gross to me. It sounds like N*SYNC or something, and that’s definitely not what we’re doing. We’re writing pop songs — that’s our world. Musical labels at the end of the day are just “manic pixie dream girl.” We’re trying to evolve.

HLS: You’re exploring a new sound on your latest record. Was that a conscious choice?
BT: There’s a couple thoughts on that. The change in the sound was a conscious effort. When we came into the record, we had all these songs. Tom and I had both been writing outside of the band, but not even thinking, “I’m going to write this for Jukebox.” And I think part of what happened is in the co-writing process, we could be less precious about songs — and what I mean by that is, if you have a song that’s great but doesn’t really fit in to the record, now we’re OK letting it go. But that was the goal: How do we make a big record?

This article originally appeared on NBC SoundDiego. January 27, 2015.