Q&A: Jesse Kristin of Jukebox the Ghost Interview with Jukebox the Ghost drummer Jesse Kristin conducted by Jess Swigonski on behalf of WARC

Swigonski: What questions are you tired of getting asked in interviews?

Kristin: Because we’ve been a band awhile, we’re kind of tired of being asked how we got our band name and how did we form because they’re literally on Wikipedia in the first couple sentences. One question we used to get all the time is “Are you sick of being compared to Ben Folds?” And our response used to be “No, we’re not sick of being compared to Ben Folds, we’re just sick of being asked if we’re sick of being compared to Ben Folds.”

S: What bands or artists specifically influence you?

K: They kind of coincide with my favorite bands but not exactly. For my drum style, I take the most influence from Ringo Starr, which sounds kind of unoriginal, but it’s not because I think he gets a lot of heat for being technically unskilled. But taste wise, ear wise, feel wise, his creativity, his playing, is just amazing, it’s inspirational. It’s that clashing with a lot of 80s music. Especially on our last record, the drummer of The Replacements, the drummer of New Order, and there’s a couple early Morrisey albums where I’m always inspired by the drumming. Mostly 80s music mixed with Ringo Starr.

S: Did you always know that you were going to be a musician?

K: I didn’t plan or think or expect that this is what I’d be doing. I studied biology and even though I had been playing in bands, I didn’t think it would be my job. I wanted to do DNA research, but I can do that in 40 years or 10 or 5 or a million who knows?

S: The Demos have played at Allegheny in the past. And you toured with them for a while, right?

K: Yeah! We played up in Rochester a few times where they’re from and they were the local support band. Not only were they really talented and nice, but they also really helped sell tickets. It’s one thing to just say “We’re going to hop on the show just because we love you guys and we need a show,” it’s another to actually go out and sell 50 tickets in the week preceding the show. They did that, and I’m sure that’s not an easy thing to do. It’s tough up in Rochester. I like it there, but you can tell if they were in New York City they would have a better time reaching out.

S: What do you think kids are missing out on if these local scenes are dying out?

K: I’m from Boston and I was involved in the local punk scene and there was hardcore stuff that was thriving there. That got people to play instruments at young age; whether or not they were good, it didn’t matter. You were having fun; you know it gave you a place to go before people could go to bars. And I feel like there’s still a place for that, I’d like to think. If there isn’t that’s sad, but when we go through Connecticut we try to play teen centers. Just to see that we’re inspiring people a lot younger than us makes me think that the culture of really young music scenes is still there.

S: What do you think the importance of college radio is?

K: I used to think it didn’t matter, but that’s not true. College radio just has the demographic that’s a taste-maker; they tend to have really good music. And it makes a big difference. In Baltimore, we would not have had a following, an up-start, without the college radio station there. Getting played on college radio absolutely helps.

S: Some of your songs deal with some heavy themes: the end of the world, mental illness, death. But the band’s sound and energy is very happy and optimistic. Philosophically and tonally, how do these mesh together? How do you marry the two?

K: I think that lyrics are dark. Even Britney Spears and Michael Jackson songs, stuff you wouldn’t think. At the very least there has to be some sort of problem, just like a story. So I think we like an upbeat sound and we’re a very upbeat band and that comes through in our music. And perhaps the melodies that [pianist, vocalist] Ben and [guitarist, vocalist] Tommy are inspired to create, but when it comes to lyrics, if you’re going to write a love song, you’re going to have to mention some of the challenges in that relationship. If your song doesn’t present any challenge or conflict, the lyrics don’t really work. They’re kind of not lyrics. I personally feel like our lyrics need to be dark and we like having an upbeat sound.

S: Is it ever strange to hear yourself on the radio?

K: We’ve hardly caught ourselves on the radio. Besides requesting ourselves, you know calling in and saying “You should really play Jukebox the Ghost!” But when it does happen it’s exciting. We know that we get played on small college stations, in a few cities. I think whatever happens with the band, if it’s consistent with the current trend, maybe we’ll hear ourselves on a big station once, but that hasn’t really happened yet and I’m okay with that.

S: Do you have those aspirations to be a bigger, more mainstream band?

K: Yeah, well I think part of it is that we’ve been playing together for a while. We’ve been touring for six years. So I think those aspirations are felt more because we’ve come this far, so it’s like why not keep going. Those aspirations are more real now, because it feels like there could be some possibility that our exposure could open up. At the same time, we started touring years ago, [and] we’ve already stopped working. That’s already kind of the dream. I’ve already achieved it. I think ambitions are always there, they’re healthy they’re good, but I think it’s important to have a lot of patience and humility. If things don’t happen, don’t worry about it. Make your music; you’re lucky that you’re making it.

S: How was performing on David Letterman?

K: It was amazing. It reaffirms what you’ve been doing. I knew once we played on Letterman we were a certain type of band. Sometimes you forget because part of being a band is eating crappy food, and filling up gas and driving around and it’s so much that isn’t music that it’s very easy to just kind of forget that you’re a band. Sometimes the performance is easy to forget when you’re worrying about all the logistics. That day, that moment, Jukebox the Ghost will be a band forever. Whether people forget us or not, we kind of etched our name in the wall of history.

S: If you could live in any fantasy world, which one would it be?

K: Probably Super Mario Bros. 3, maybe grow one of those raccoon tails, fly around. I think that’d be a cool world to live in. Actually, in my fantasy world there wouldn’t be humans or bugs, every creature would just be a French bull dog. The goal is attain optimum cuteness in this world of only French bull dogs no one else, no one’s allowed.