Shipyard 2019 wasn’t the first time piano rock trio and Shipyard co-headliner Jukebox the Ghost played in Cape Girardeau; they were here more than a decade ago in 2008 when they played a show “for 10 people at best” at Port Cape. At that point, the band had been around for only two years and hadn’t yet played on the Late Show with David Letterman, which they describe as the turning point when people began recognizing them as a “real band.”
On Saturday, Sept 28, they were back in Cape as the co-headliners of the second Shipyard Music Festival, closing out the festival.
The last time they were in Cape, pianist and vocalist Ben Thornewill says it was “kind of dramatic” because the water from the river was at the top of the flood wall.
Formed in 2006 while Thornewill, drummer and vocalist Jesse Kristin and guitarist and vocalist Tommy Siegel were in college in Washington, DC, the band created a record during their senior year and began gathering a following. As they kept touring and creating new albums every two years, their fan base slowly grew. After playing on Letterman in 2010, they began playing festivals and getting radio airtime. Now, they call themselves tour veterans and have a cult following.
The band is working on a new album, which Thornewill says is still “in the state of infancy” and not yet ready to be discussed. Evolving as a band over more than 13 years of playing together is both easy and difficult, Thornewill, who is a classically-trained pianist, says.
“It's easy because we love music, and we love making music. And the music that Jukebox the Ghost puts out is the music that we create and love and want to put out into the world,” he says. “And then it's difficult because you want to always be reinventing yourself. You don't want to make the same record over and over again. … The challenge is making music we still want to make and reinventing ourselves but still sound[ing] true to who we are.”
From the beginning, one of the hallmarks of the band has been their sense of humor; they try to keep their music unique rather than making music solely with the goal of becoming popular and getting radio playtime.
“We’re always trying to make sure that we’re interesting and that the musicianship is there,” Kristin says. “It’s kind of striking that balance between being eccentric and funny.”
In their latest album, “Off to the Races,” the band created interesting production effects on their tracks such as running a grand piano through a guitar amp and opening up the piano, having their studio interns put their hands on the strings while Thornewill played it to create a plunking sound. They are ideas, Thornewill says, that are “just out there in the world, ready to be paid attention to.”
The band is gearing up for their annual HalloQueen performances, in which they dress up and perform in character as one of Jukebox the Ghost’s main inspirations, Queen.
This year, they are doing six of these shows in New York, Boston, Seattle, Washington, DC and Austin, Texas. For Thornewill, playing live shows is the reason for being a band.
“There’s no reason to do it if it weren’t for the show,” he says. “It’s all about playing the show, getting in front of people and the thrill of the audience. At this point, we’ve seen almost every city in the country. It’s all about playing the show.”
The band was looking forward to playing a show in Southeast Missouri, a part of the state they don’t usually come to.
“We’ve just been coming to Missouri for so long. So you know, in a way, everywhere is home for us, but I actually like coming to Missouri,” Kristin says. “So like, shoutout to all of our fans in Missouri.”