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Bands You Should Know — The Ballroom Thieves

www.stephaniebassos.com
The Ballroom Thieves
Stephanie Bassos

The unique psychology of a trio is an archetype within pop culture we’ve all come to love. Regarding the rule of three, a staple principle in literary philosophy, three entities are more effective in relaying a story or a point; three is the smallest number required to form a pattern, therefore allowing audiences to understand and retain information from the story in a more satisfying way.

Much like many trio’s before them, each member of indie-folk outfit The Ballroom Thieves are distinct and necessary to the greater good. Callie Peters bows a charcoal cello, an instrument nearly her full size. Devin Mauch straddles an unusual makeshift drum kit; long strands of hair drape over his bearded face. Guitarist Martin Earley, blonde and red as a viking prince, plucks an acoustic guitar, bellowing the bulk of the group’s lead vocals. Their melodic landscapes are full of natural realism steeped in the beauty of New England.

Says Earley: “Growing up in Switzerland and Maine meant being surrounded by nature, and that definitely finds its way into our songs. We use a lot of nautical imagery, and a lot of our inspiration comes from being outdoors.”

"The Pine Tree" state still maintains its influence. Originally from Switzerland, Earley emigrated with his family to rural Maine at the age of 13, where he recently settled into a home with Peters, who hails from the suburbs of Boston. Mauch, originally from the farmlands of Red Hook, New York, found sanctuary further south in Portland.

In Earley’s case, music was innate. “I've always loved music. My dad played guitar and recorded his original songs throughout my childhood and adolescence, and he also managed a bluegrass band for a spell, so I've always been surrounded by music. I took drum lessons starting when I was 8 or 9, and then picked up the guitar in high school.”

The first chapter of what eventually became The Ballroom Thieves began at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts where Earley met Mauch, a prospective fine arts major. After college, the two began performing acoustic folk music under Martin Earley and Devin Mauch before eventually settling on the band name.

“I came up with the Ballroom Thieves after several adult beverages at the Newport Folk Festival in 2011," says Earley. "I used to steal silverware from restaurants when I was really young, so that had a little to do with it. I also just enjoyed the idea of thieves attending fancy parties and stealing things from rich folks.”

Joined by cellist Rachel Gawell, Earley and Mauch recorded their debut EP The Devil & The Deep after relocating to Boston. Released in January of 2012, the debut EP set a tone that remains wholly resonate in their music today: neo-folk music with a roots rock affectation.

The trio’s 2013 EP saw the departure of Gawell, and the subsequent discovery of Peters, a Berklee College alumni, at an open mic at Cambridge’s preeminent listening room The Lizard Lounge. With Peters in tow, The Ballroom Thieves began chipping away at a legacy of touring unprecedented for any live act in New England. The ceaseless schedules drove the trio to a vagrant lifestyle, giving up their homes to live full time on the road. More often than not, The Ballroom Thieves made difficult sacrifices.

Earley detailed: “We gave up apartments and lived out of suitcases for several years on end, we lost relationships to our incessant traveling, and we even lost touch with some friends because we were never around anymore. We missed important life events like weddings and births, and we had to mentally adjust to a life lived on the road, where privacy is nonexistent.”

2015 saw the release of the group’s debut full length album A Wolf in the Doorway, their first music released on a record label (Austin’s Blue Corn Music). Expanding on the neo-folk base of their prior two releases, A Wolf in the Doorway was positively received by Boston music blogs Sound of Boston and Red Line Roots.

The group’s second full length album Deadeye was a crucial breaking point. Profitable placements on several Spotify playlists including “Your Favorite Coffee House”, “Relax & Unwind”, and “Morning Acoustic” lead The Ballroom Thieves to rack up over fifteen million streams with their song “Bees”. “La Mer Peu Profonde”, an instrumental song heavily featuring Peters’ string talents, has climbed to nearly three million streams. With such a abrupt foray into the world of virality, The Ballroom Thieves accompanied their newfound success with high profile and critically heralded performances, including slots at the Boston Calling and Newport Folk festivals, and generous coverage from NPR, The Boston Globe, and Paste.

“Performing at Newport Folk Festival was a dream that felt almost unachievable at one point. That was a magical day”, Earley recalled.

Early in 2018, exactly one year after the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, The Ballroom Thieves released a politically charged song called “Do Something”, a single from their forthcoming EP Paper Crown. In a statement to music blog Baeble Music, the band detailed their animosity and frustration:

"Now a year has passed and it's apparent that the patience we once championed is wholly wasted on an egomaniacal president who cares for nothing but his own enrichment. As such, the meaning behind this song has shifted with the times and it now stands as a letter for you, to him, from us. Patience has become a virtue of yesterday, and time's up."

Earley added: “We've been affected by all the political turmoil and the increasingly negative role that social media plays in our society. It's been difficult to write songs that don't have anything to do with one of those two topics, honestly.”

On Paper Crown, The Ballroom Thieves teamed up with Ryan Hadlock, a veteran producer having worked with alt-indie giants The Lumineers and Vance Joy. Working remotely with Hadlock at Bear Creek studios in Washington, The Ballroom Thieves aimed to discover a more vulnerable approach to their sound.

“[Ryan] had a way of making us kill our darlings, and he forced us to view our songs from a new perspective. That's often the case when working with a new producer, but Ryan has a skill for finding great sounds and not over-producing songs.”

Paper Crown is a noticeable departure from the group’s characteristically rustic approach. Flirting with elements of roots music and beefier rock sound, Earley described the EP as a pivot point.

“It's been a pretty organic transition into a more electric sound. We've been influenced by music from the 50s, 60s, and 70s lately, and our natural transition when it comes to songwriting has probably been influenced by that. Paper Crown is meant to be a bridge between the first two albums and the ones to come. The idea was to begin to broaden our sound in a way that doesn't alienate our existing fan base.”

As the trio progressed into the later half of the decade, they made a conscious decision to ease up on the road dog lifestyle, keeping in mind their physical and mental health. Perpetual touring since the early 2010s had began to take its toll.

“The best decision we've ever made was probably to tour less and balance our lives out by settling into homes. We've been spending more time in Maine, which has allowed us all to be slightly more sane than in years past. We were killing ourselves on the road, and I'm not sure we would have been able to continue as a band if we hadn't taken things back a bit.”

So where do we find The Ballroom Thieves now? In Maine, preparing.

“We've got a summer of shows lined up, and we're hard at work, writing our next record. Callie and I have been spending a good amount of time writing and arranging the material for the next project, and we're getting ready to put it all together with Dev and our recording team.”

Revisiting the rule of three, the trio, through a unique language and democracy, willfully persists. Boasting an infectiously kinetic live show, The Ballroom Thieves will round out the remainder of summer with a one-of a kind performance at WGBH on August 28th, and festival slots including the Oyster Ridge and Moon River music festivals, located in Wyoming and Tennessee respectively.

The fall foresees a national tour from the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast.

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