They aren't ready to call on Saint Christopher, but Jukebox the Ghost is hoping for good fortune on Safe Travels. The third album for the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Philadelphia trio indeed represents a transition into "Adulthood" — a change which "no one survives."
Jukebox the Ghost formed at George Washington University and evolved out of their college band, The Sunday Mail. They hadn't even graduated when they recorded their 2008 debut, Let Live and Let Ghosts. Singer-guitarist Tommy Siegel describes it as a supposedly fun thing he'll happily never do again.
"I plunked down my life's savings," says Siegel. "We slept on the floor for a week and recorded it very quickly — to the point where, when we got the final mix of the record, we realized, 'Oh, we forgot to record guitar here' [laughs]. There were things that went completely missing."
Jukebox's quirky indie pop was nevertheless greeted with great praise. Their sound blends the bouncy piano pop of Ben Folds (thanks to keyboardist Ben Thornewill), Portugal. The Man's nervy prog-psych and OK Go's slinky power pop. They signed to Yep Roc and enlisted producer Peter Katis (The National, Frightened Rabbit) for 2010's Everything Under the Sun, but they still felt rushed — and perhaps something of a second thought compared to Katis' better-known clients.
So for their third album, they brought in friend and producer Dan Romer (Ingrid Michaelson, Greg Laswell), who'd been clamoring for an opportunity to record them for years. They worked in Romer's home studio, which afforded them more time — they used the time to fastidiously labor over the songs and the mixes until it was perfect.
"It was a labor of love through and through," Siegel says. "It was a really wonderful experience not to get to the point where you're like, 'This song is OK, but we only have three days left.' "
So the recording situation was more relaxed, but the members' lives weren't. Loss and ache shadowed Jukebox the Ghost, and it's reflected in the music. The aforementioned track, "Adulthood," was inspired by Thornewill's grandfather, who died of lung cancer. Siegel gets metaphysical on "Dead," pondering if it's all just "a dull dream about nothing that never ends." Along with the cabaret-noir track "Devils on Our Side," these songs form the soft philosophical middle of the album. Rather than slow the record's momentum, they seem to deepen and accentuate the music's dynamism.
According to Siegel, the impact of these life passages on the album's tone was indirect. "Most of the songs were written before that stuff happened, but it sort of impacted the selection of songs on the record," he says. "It made us more comfortable with songs dealing with mortality or breakups and things that dealt with darker stuff."
Even the album cover and interior artwork, the work of drummer Jesse Kitlin's friend, painter Chris Farino, reflect this theme of change and transition.
"They're a bunch of paintings with ladders in these big abstract textural arrangements, sort of a metaphor for traveling from one realm to another or just change," says Siegel.
Amid this change, the members of Jukebox the Ghost find comfort in each other and the connection they've shared since before Siegel and Thornewill ever made music together — back when they were mere indie-rock-loving freshman geeks.
"For us it's almost a brother relationship," Siegel says. "We've known each other so long and been friends much longer than we have been a successful band. I think that bodes well for when we work together creatively. It's not like a band of people you just got from a classified ad, where you can sort of say, 'I don't like the way you're acting, you're out of the band.' That's not really been an option for us, and I think that's a good thing."
Indeed, how can there be change or even Safe Travels without the shared will to see it through.