Interview: Tommy Siegel of Jukebox the Ghost Q&A

"A black and white cartoon drawing of Jukebox the Ghost instruments playing Jukebox the Ghost people"
“Jukebox the Ghost instruments playing Jukebox the Ghost people” – from Tommy Siegel’s Twitter.

If you like your indie rock on the up-beat, apocalyptic, and with a piano, then Jukebox the Ghost is probably the band for you. The trio recently kicked off their latest American tour, starting in DC. They’re on the up-and-up, having just completed a successful Kickstarter to fund a live album, and releasing a new music video for the single “Hollywood.” If I sound like a Jukebox the Ghost evangelist, it’s because I’ve been following them since their formation at my alma mater, so it’s been a blast watching them get bigger and knowing that hey, that guy from my research methods class is doing pretty well.

What you might not know about that guy from my research methods class, guitarist, and vocalist Tommy Siegel, is he’s also an accomplished doodler. He released a book of what he calls “van doodles” (also through Kickstarter), cartoons he draws based on requests he gets from people on Twitter, presumably drawn from his van. I did a short interview with him about his doodling and Jukebox’s recent cartoon cameo.

What started your doodling career? Were you a class notes doodler? Notebook doodler? Or was it something you picked up while touring?

I was, and still am, a brutally-addicted doodler of margins. I think I’m probably somewhere on the ADD spectrum, but have always been good enough at essays and last-minute cramming to survive academia—thank god for the latter, as my memory of kindergarten through 12th grade is mostly a haze of cartoon dinosaurs and animals with human noses (I thought that was funny, for whatever reason).

Do you have any doodling influences? (I know Jukebox the Ghost was influenced in part by Charles Schulz with the “Hold It In” music video, but is there anyone we might not think of?)

Oddly we had nothing to do with the Schulz bits in that video—just some post-production bits on the director’s end!

As for influences on my doodles, I’d have to go with Bill Watterson, Jeff Smith, Gary Larsen, Carl Barks, and Nick Park (I know he’s a claymation guru, but those eyebrows clearly made a huge imprint on me).

A caricature of Donald Trump, where his hair is a squirrel with a sign that reads "Amnesty Now."
“How Donald Trump’s hair feels about being attached to him.” – from Tommy Siegel’s Twitter

Has doing cartooning introduced you to any new art, in any medium?

Honestly, not lately. I was obsessed with cartooning as a kid and devoured comic books and comic strips whole, but as an adult, I’m waiting for a sherpa of sorts to guide me through the realm of graphic novels, which has grown infinitely richer and more complex since I was last in that world. I’d love some recommendations!

What do you look for in a good doodle request?

Good punchline potential. It has to be a good idea, but not *ALL* the way fleshed out. I love when I get to inject my own voice into it or twist their expectations.

How did you like the Kickstarter process for your book? Did that help influence Jukebox going the Kickstarter route for the live ablum?

The success of the doodle book Kickstarter definitely showed me that it was a viable and exciting way of independently distributing something. I’m excited that it seems to be working even better for the live record!

Is there any subject matter you won’t doodle or anything you want people to request, but they haven’t yet?

I don’t like doodling inside jokes—I think it’s infinitely more fun to draw things that most people can appreciate or understand. So I tend not to draw the requests like “draw me and my cat!”

Will we be getting some Narc Twain doodles [Narc Twain is Siegel’s dystopian indie/punk band on the side]?

I actually did some of those for Vice’s Noisey Blog in the fall!

Do you have an apocalyptic comic book hiding somewhere? Do you ever consider doing an original storyline?

I would love to do an original comic someday. Unfortunately, the success of the doodle-by-request formula has led me to shy away from inventing my own worlds. The doodle-by-request thing provides a nice safety net. “You don’t like it? Well, it wasn’t MY idea!”

You were recently featured on the Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show and mentioned that they reached out to you guys—were they planning on using an existing song? Did you meet with any animators or did they just work off photos?

Apparently we had a fan on the Dreamworks staff, so they contacted us directly about writing a song for them. The episode was about black holes, but they didn’t give us any perimeters or limits on what the song should say. We ended up sending two options—one in a more nerd rock vein and one in a dance pop vein. They ended up settling on the nerdier take. Honestly, seeing the final cartoon was such a life highlight for me—it felt like two unrelated parts of my soul colliding. We’re official citizens of toontown!

We even got a tour of the studio when we were in LA one time. I was in awe of the whole experience and very confused about the amount of reverence and excitement they had for us in return. Really great people over there.

Check out their videos, and make sure to recommend some comics to Tommy in the comments!

Kat Overland

Kat Overland

Small press editor Kat Overland is a displaced Texan now living in Washington, DC, where she is perpetually behind on reading her pull list. She's a millennial, Latina, exhausted, and can often be spotted casually cosplaying America Chavez and complaining.