Jukebox the Ghost's third album Safe Travels marks a period in the band's career that's steeped in change, both personally and professionally. Relationships dissolved and crumbled. Loved ones passed on. The band themselves relocated from Philadelphia to New York City and played over 200 shows since the release of their last album in 2010. In the midst of so much change, the band spent months in the studio creating what would become Safe Travels, a record that represents a shift in the band's creative trajectory.
"It felt like the music was finally growing with us—Songs that relate to who we are as people right now, not who we were when we were 19 or 20," Siegel said. "This record is more heartfelt; part of that came from not worrying about exactly what kind of music we were supposed to be making and instead just working on songs that felt genuine and natural at the time."
Safe Travels, at its core, represents three people going through universal life changes—A way of coping with how quickly things can turn around, for good and bad. And though it's clear their sound and outlook have matured to addressing some darker subject material, their brand of upbeat pop still remains intact.
"We've always been the kind of band that juxtaposes darker lyrics with upbeat music, but this record feels a little more personal," Thornewill said. "In the grand scheme of things, it's certainly not a downer record but you need pain to get joy, and joy to get pain; they're inseparable."
Bolstered by an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, an appearance at Lollapalooza, and extended opening tours with Ben Folds, Guster, Adam Green and Jack's Mannequin, the band has acquired an incredibly loyal (and sometimes rabid) fanbase since the release of 2008's Live and Let Ghosts. Over the years, Jukebox the Ghost has maintained a tour schedule that most bands would balk at, playing over 150 shows a year and becoming a well-oiled, high energy live band. This summer, the band embarks on their biggest headline tour to date after performing at Bonnaroo on the album's release weekend—Their Bowery Ballroom show in June has already sold out two months in advance.
Safe Travels also marks the first time that the band had been afforded unlimited studio time. The sessions took place in Brooklyn, with their friend Dan Romer (Ingrid Michaelson, Jenny Owens Young) producing and engineering. The result is a collection of 13 songs that finds the band maturing both musically and lyrically. The band was also able to work with a string section for the first time, which gave Thornewill the chance to flex his compositional skills and formal classical training.
They'd be the first to admit that their previous two records had a charming, "hyperactive" quality about them, but you don't get that sense here. There's a balance between the peppy piano pop of songs like the album's upbeat opener "Somebody", the bouncy synth-pop of "Oh, Emily" and the radio-ready drama of "Don't Let Me Fall Behind" to more poignant, contemplative songs in the album's second half that represent the band's desire to travel into new sonic territory.
"In the past Ben and Tommy sometimes wrote from various fictional perspectives" says drummer Jesse Kristin, "but the songs on this album feel closer, more personal, and steeped in actual life experiences."
This creative shift is best exemplified by "Dead," "Adulthood," "Ghosts in Empty Houses," and "The Spiritual" – songs that deal with death and mortality head on, with an immediacy that was masked on previous albums.
"Adulthood" was initially a difficult song for Thornewill to perform. Written before his grandfather's death from lung cancer, the line "In my lungs I still feel young" was painfully prophetic and the overall message that "from adulthood, no one survives" became all too real. "Dead" approaches a similar theme with understated elegance. The song begins with Siegel's innocent, boyish croon over a ghostly drone and builds into a climax with post-rock ferocity entirely new to the band's catalogue.
"Even though we're tackling some difficult themes this go-round, we're still a band that wants people to feel good," said Tommy. "We're the same upbeat band we've always been, but we're firm believers that pop music can have depth."
Ask Brooklyn's Jukebox the Ghost why their third album is called Safe Travels, on a surface level, it's likely they'll tell you about a song by Austin's Red Hunter, who performs as Peter and the Wolf. The song, from his 2006 album "Lightness" became something of a mantra for the band. "Since we're always in new cities and away from the people we love, that song really hit home for us," said Ben. "It was a song that represented saying goodbye."
On Safe Travels, Jukebox the Ghost manages to contrast these darker themes with the same optimistic sound and a familiar sense of youthfulness that stays true to their core.