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Music Journeys: Ben Thornewill of Jukebox the Ghost

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Jukebox the Ghost

Jukebox The Ghost performs in Columbus at Newport Music Hall April 11, touring on the Cheers release. On this edition of Music Journeys, singer Ben Thornewill shares how the songs came together, a pivotal moment that changed his life, what music means to him, and the band's love of Queen.

Raise A Glass plays...

Cheers from Jukebox The Ghost marks the first album the band recorded on its own. Singer Ben Thornewill valued the intimacy and freedom the project provided.

"It is not big, the drums are five feet behind me, and the piano is to the left of me," Thornewill said of the studio where the band recorded Cheers. "But it gave us the chance to take some risks and record songs that maybe we wouldn't have had the time to record. It was this beautiful chance to work together, hold each other accountable, and take some musical risks. It represents us looking at the five albums before it and trying to pick the moments we like the best. Part of what's cool are these transitional songs that blend into one another."

Century In The Making plays...

"What I think what we like doing even though it's maybe outdated is sculpting a record that references itself and has themes that reappear," Thornewill said. "The way music is consumed now is single, single, single. You can do that with some of these songs. But if you listen to the album front to back, there are clues that show up in one song and appear in another or themes that show up and reappear later on. We love doing that and still believe in the art of an album as a singular listening experience."

Hey Maude plays...

"That's a song we wrote in college and shelved," Thornewill said of Hey Maude. "We brought it back, tore it apart, rebuilt it, and rewrote some lyrics and new parts. That was a labor of love and a cool marrying of a song that's 15 or 16 years old that we got to redo and make modern to fit into our album."

Thornewill's initial exposure to music moved him to tears.

"My earliest memories are of my dad playing classical guitar," Thornewill reflected. "I would have been 3 or 4 years old and for whatever reason it just made me weep. I was a sensitive little kid and whenever I heard his guitar I would start balling. Ridiculously that is my earliest memory of music - just being completely overwhelmed by it. I started playing piano when I was 6, and I stopped crying all the time."

Victoria plays...

"I was born and raised in Louisville, KY," Thornewill continued. "I was all classical piano, very intensely. I had teachers that weren't supportive of me taking my own journey because of the classical path. Trying to sneak in writing and figuring out Jazz and Blues between my two to three hours of classical practice. When I got into college and met the other guys in the band - this was the first and only band I ever started."

Thornewill wanted to incorporate the classical stuff into pop music.

"When I got to college, I ended up with a punk rock drummer and a guitarist who was at the time into jam bands," Thornewill said. "We had no business starting a band and no bass player. For many years, we probably could have used a bass player but then we figured it out. Learning what works and what didn't, we were just flying by the seat of our pants."

A Matter Of Time plays...

"We all met at George Washington University," Thornewill said of the band's formation. "Jessie and I lived next to each other. Tommy - we met at the start of our sophomore year. It just kept on rolling. We were playing every terrible house party event and battle-of-the-bands. We lost to a local high school band which was a little demoralizing, but they were really good so we didn't feel that bad. We were doing weird, theatrical, piano, pop-rock music, so no one really knew what to do with us, and arguably they still don't. Took us a while to find our footing."

Don't Let Me Fall Behind plays...

Thornewill and his bandmates started in 2004 under a different moniker and then in 2006 changed to Jukebox the Ghost. They graduated in 2007 and started touring that year.

"Something I find amusing is that people congratulate us for doing it in a smart way - meaning we just toured and grinded it out and played for nobody," Thornewill said in describing the band's evolution and growth. "In other words, the idea that it was smart not to blow up and have overnight success. But I would have killed for that hit and moment. But on the flip side, we have built this amazing fan base and learned and released an incredible amount of music at this point and have people come to shows - and we've done that without a major hit or watershed moment. We opened for Ben Folds in 2009 and that brought a bunch of new fans in. We've had songs do little things, but never that Apple commercial that changes everything and that's okay."

Everybody Knows plays...

"We're still a band and thinking about creative ways to grow and keep going," Thornewill continued. "We are lucky. We did it in a smart way without meaning to. We get to keep making music and keep touring and playing for people. We are living the dream."

Brass Band plays...

"Brass Band is one I envisioned and produced and built out," Thornewill said. "I did more production on that song than any other song, and it felt really good."

Wasted from the Cheers release reflects a pivotal moment in Thornewill's life.

"I had just gone through a break-up, moved to New York, and lost a close family member," Thornewill said of the time. "All these things were happening at once. I was feeling kind of lost. I went out with some friends and walked out on the expressway late at night and had a risky sort of night."

Wasted plays...

"It's this song that tries to marry and juxtapose the glamour of being young and dumb but also realizing how stupid that was," Thornewill said. "And then that fear that if something bad happened - my future, my relationships, the band, all the promise - that's the thing that was close to being lost in that super dark moment in my life."

Cheers plays...

"We wanted to do a pump up anthem," Thornewill said of Cheers. "We thought this feels like a Queen song, let's own it a little bit. People would either say I sounded like Freddie or say we sounded like Queen. It was always an accident. I have the voice that I have but when you sing over piano, you naturally sing in a big way and have to project and sing over it. So there's a little bit of that intensity Freddie had and my love of theatrical music. We learned a few Queen songs for a friend's wedding, and then we did these shows called HalloQueen, where we covered Queen for a full hour. At first it started as a gimmicky thing, but it's turned into this love of Queen and learning what works and what's great and classic about them. We've incorporated that into our music and not many others can or would - so let's just embrace what we love - the big guitar solos, the harmony stacks, the big theatrical, anthemic moments."

Jukebox the Ghost performs a few HalloQueen shows every year right around Halloween.

Everybody's Lonely plays...

"My quick answer is that we're still a band and still going," Thornewill said of what he's most proud of to this point. "Most bands we toured with are no longer bands. Song or album, it's hard to separate the success of the song with the pride you feel for it. I'm proud of songs that got us to a certain level, but also the songs no one has listened to. Interestingly over the last two years - Under My Skin has become our most streamed song."

Under My Skin plays...

"I'm super proud of it, and you just never know what's going to take and that keeps me excited," Thornewill continued.

Us Against The World...

"It's been so central to my identity and my lifestyle and my love and my passion," Thornewill said of music. "It's this weird intersection of the greatest joy in my life and also the thing I do for a living and those complications. I talked to my grandmother, and she's 90 and a force to be reckoned with. She said a lot of people can get up and are pleased that they didn't kick anybody in school and weren't a bully - but most people can't say they brought joy to thousands of people with their life work and their music. I've just been sitting with that a lot. I don't do it to create that impact. It was the natural expression of who I was. But the bonus to spread joy and love and give people an escape to what they're going through or a night of partying and joy is this extraordinary bonus that is probably the most inspiring part of all of it."

Learn more about Jukebox the Ghost here

Details on the Columbus show here

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Mike Foley joined WCBE in February 2000, coming from WUFT in Gainesville, Florida. Foley has worked in various roles, from producing news and feature stories to engineering Live From Studio A sessions. A series of music features Foley started in 2018 called Music Journeys has grown into a podcast and radio show. He also assists in developing other programs in WCBE's Podcast Experience. Foley hosts The Morning Mix, a weekday music show featuring emerging and established musicians, our Columbus-area and Ohio-based talent, and additional artists that inspire him.