SOLD OUT: Jukebox the Ghost / The Mowgli's
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Jukebox the Ghost
Jukebox the Ghost's latest record, Off To The Races is a giddy, vibrant collection of Jukebox the Ghost's most bombastic, colorful songs to date. Though it's the fifth studio outing from this long-running trio of piano pop wizards, it plays like an energetic debut album: Just as eager to please as it is eager to surprise you. Every generation has a band that puts a fresh twist on piano-rock, and Jukebox the Ghost’s latest studio offering serves as a memorably vivid and kaleidoscopic step forward for the genre.
From the opening vocal stack of "Jumpstarted," it's obvious that Jukebox the Ghost has newfound confidence in embracing bold musical risks. A mishmash of modern pop, retro vocals and classic rock indulgence, it's a head-spinning listen for the first go-round that the band describes as "what it's like to be inside of Ben (Thornewill, lead singer/pianist)'s brain." A thickly-layered vocal intro builds into a showcase of Thornewill’s virtuosic classical piano chops and then abruptly vaults into a bouncy, upbeat pop chorus led by Jesse Kristin’s punchy backbeat drumming. A synth solo enters and you're suddenly in a section vaguely resembling hip-hop. The guitar solo kicks the door down and you're front row at an arena rock show. Thornewill recorded over 170 vocal tracks in "Jumpstarted," and somehow you can hear them all.
One influence stands out in particular as a common thread: Queen. This isn't a matter of happenstance -- The band has recently made a tradition of "HalloQueen," a yearly show where they perform two sets: One as themselves, followed by a set break, and one in costume (and in character) as Queen. Through being forced to do a deep dive into Queen's catalogue, the band says they ended up discovering themselves in the process. "Something magical about Queen to me is that their songs are so catchy, but the song structures are so wonderfully wrong and they're so unafraid to showcase their chops," said Tommy Siegel. "Their music is a reminder to me that pop music doesn't have to come in a neat, restrained package,” added Thornewill, “It's ok to get weird and own it -- And you can still be catchy.”
The second track from Off To The Races, "Everybody's Lonely" provides a mix of old and new, evocative of Queen crossed with Walk the Moon. In addition to a distinctly modern pop chorus, it also features a surprising time signature shift and a bridge that has more in common with "Bohemian Rhapsody" than it does current radio morés. And though Thornewill’s lyrics thumb their nose at modern pop radio, it’s also easy to envision it becoming a modern pop hit in its own right. The third track, a snarky ode to the 9-to-5 from guitarist/singer Tommy Siegel called "People Go Home" sounds like you've tuned into some 1970s AM radio station that's been humming along in a parallel universe for decades, an otherworldly early-Beatles-style track for the new millennium. The remainder of the record serves as a bright, exciting showcase of the band’s well-honed sense of pop craft, coated in thick harmony stacks that serve as a brand new instrument for the band, dramatic cinematic climaxes, and broad hooks that playfully nod to the past with a decisively modern sensibility.
Off To The Races is their fifth studio outing, mostly recorded at Studio G in Brooklyn and engineered, produced and mixed by Chris Cubeta and Gary Atturio (two exceptions: “Everybody’s Lonely” was produced by CJ Baran and Peter Thomas and “Fred Astaire” was produced by Chris Wallace). Longtime fans will hear little bits of past Jukebox the Ghost embedded in the record blanketed in a fresh, more colorful sonic palette. The flamboyance and quirkiness of Let Live and Let Ghosts (2008), the retro sensibility of Everything Under the Sun (2010), the concise modern pop smarts of their recent self-titled album (2014) and Safe Travels (2012) and the raw live energy of their live album Long Way Home (2016) are all on full display if you listen closely.
The album is the result of a three-year songwriting and recording process, culled from dozens of demos that the band brought to the table. Recording in their home base of Brooklyn enabled them to do more outside-the-computer sonic experimentation and live performance than past records have afforded. “In ‘Boring’ we sent Tommy’s backing harmonies through a distorting rotary speaker which created this totally weird underwater sound,” explained Jesse Kristin. “And for ‘See You Soon’ we ran an electronic tabla machine through an amplifier and then I played drums along with it. That’s the sort of thing I think we wouldn’t have spent the time to do on our other records.”
Jukebox the Ghost formed in college in 2006 and has been a steadily growing cult favorite and a globally touring band ever since. Composed of Ben Thornewill (piano/vocals), Tommy Siegel (guitar/bass/vocals) and Jesse Kristin (drums/vocals), they have played over 1,000 shows across the country and around the world over the course of their career. In addition to countless headlining tours, they have also toured as openers alongside Ingrid Michaelson, Ben Folds, Guster, Motion City Soundtrack, A Great Big World and Jack’s Mannequin, among others. In addition to festivals like Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, Bonnaroo, and Bottlerock, Jukebox the Ghost has also performed on The Late Show with David Letterman and Conan. Their 2018 national headlining tour will take them to their largest headlining venues to date across April and May.
One of the most exciting things in all of music is discovering a band early on, following them throughout their career and watching that moment as they come into their own. For California alt-pop band THE MOWGLI'S that moment is two-fold on their superb third album "Where'd Your Weekend Go?," due fall 2016. They not only get to share their songwriting growth with fans who have followed the band since they formed in 2010, the band got to experience it themselves.
Ask singers and principal songwriters KATIE EARL, JOSH HOGAN and COLIN DIEDEN the secret to the band's growth on this new album and they will all say it came from within. "Involving the whole band in the writing process was a hugely important factor in this new record. When everyone's there you just have more brains, more minds," HOGAN says. EARL echoes this: "A lot of our songs start with one or two people's ideas and the band puts their mark on them later. This time we spent a great deal of time in the room together as the six of us, building many songs from the ground up."
The results of incorporating band members whose tastes run from "musical theater to black metal to pop" according to HOGAN, are an incredibly diverse collection of songs that run like a musical time machine through the best of the past four decades of music.
From the jangly folk/pop of the Sixties-infused "Arms & Legs,"and the groovy Seventies feel of "Monster" to the 80's inspired "Bad Thing" and anthemic "Spiderweb" this latest collection is a testament to songwriting.
One recent song released from the LP, "Spacin Out" is one of the first tracks that came together from jamming in the studio. "'Spacin Out' has a kind of jazzy feel, but it's very Mowgli's, "says HOGAN. "In the bridge we cut to a seven/eight time signature -- it's little things like that come from the fact we have some really amazing musicians in our band." In addition to Dieden, Earl and Hogan, the band is rounded out by MATTHEW DI PANNI (bass), DAVID APPELBAUM (keys) and ANDY WARREN (drums).
The band has been previewing some of the new songs on recent tour dates with great success. "'Monster,' it's just crazy the reaction we've been getting from audiences," DIEDEN says. "It's an immediately familiar-sounding song." They're also playing the album's first released track, "Freakin' Me Out," a thoroughly engaging and winning blend of summer-like pop, R&B and soul that is one of the band's favorite songs since their first LP's debut single "San Francisco."
HOGAN, EARL and DIEDEN freely admit that the success of "San Francisco," which led to TV appearances on The Tonight Show, Conan and Jimmy Kimmel, sold-out tours and, arguably most excitedly, a prominent role in the San Francisco Giants' World Series title in 2012 (the team played it regularly on their way to the championship) had influence on the sophomore record, Kids in Love.
Making that second LP, they felt rushed and pressured by often conflicting outside opinions. But as the cliché goes, "That which does not kill you...." HOGAN credits that experience with motivating the band to take a stand against external forces on this collection. "With this record we were very clear about doing it ourselves and we just said, 'Give us a little time and we'll write you a sick record,'"
They backed it up, showing growth, not only musically, but lyrically as well. "These songs are about really digging deeper into personal issues because there are only so many times you can sing about loving each other. It's not that we have moved past that message necessarily, it's that we want to explore other concepts," HOGAN says. "There's one song on the record, 'Last Forever,' that was meant for the second album but we ended up reworking it a lot. It's a song I was writing going through a breakup and life changes, with a line in the song that says, 'If we lose it altogether, maybe love will last forever.' That, to me, is the opposite of what the Mowgli's would normally say. But I hope people can connect with that sentiment."
Helping them channel all these changes into the growth on the new album is producer Mike Green (Pierce The Veil, All Time Low, The Wanted), who the band was so confident they wanted to work with that they revised their whole recording schedule to accommodate his availability.
To EARL, it was absolutely the right call. "We're a lot of really big personalities, a lot of energy and Mike has this really calming, relaxed vibe that's much different from any of the rest of ours. And he works so fast that nothing gets lost or overthought," she says. "It just felt like the right fit. We had never worked with him before, so we did a trial run, and just clicked."
DIEDEN agrees. "Mike has a really good sense of contemporary popular music but I think he's very aware of how to make ideas sound different and unique. He also understands what people want to hear right now, which is a great balancing act." The band also collaborated with U.K. producer Rob Ellmore on "Automatic" and "Bad Thing," the LP's first radio single. "'Bad Thing'' says Dieden, "is a song about the kind of person who feels so good they're dangerous. The kind of person you want to run away from and pull closer to you simultaneously. The song also makes ya wanna shake your butt with your pals."
All of these elements -- Green, the band's renewed independence and collaborative process -- have weaved together seamlessly to make The Mowgli's third record a career album, that moment where the band steps to the next level as artists. HOGAN and EARL hear it proudly as they listen to the album all the way through.
"It's been really cool to learn and experience everything we have and now, us as people, we're very close and I think we're just at our best," HOGAN says.
"This record is the truest representation of who we are, not just as individuals, but as a band," EARL says. It's the sound of collaboration, it's the sound of listening to and working with each other in ways that we've never done before. I'm really, really proud of every moment. Everybody shines more than they've ever shone. To me, it feels like a rebirth for us."