This may be the northeast, but we’ve got folk rock like we’re living in the ‘70s south. Boston’s thriving scene grows with mild secrecy. Its acts snag venues as large as the Royale, but they’re so modest about it that there’s no headline news making a raucous – well, until now.
Meet The Ballroom Thieves. The local trio of guitarist Martin Earley, drummer Devin Mauch, and cellist Calin Peters (all three of ‘em share vocal responsibilities) only have one full-length to their name, but the size of the crowd that follows them would have you guessing they’ve got three times that under their belt. With musical enjoyment comes talent, with talent comes praise, and with praise comes the doting adoration of fans who can’t get enough.
The band originally played as a duo when Earley and Mauch attended Stonehill College. Shortly after, they found a cellist, but she left after two years when touring became too large of a commitment for her. Then, one fateful night at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, they stumbled into Peters. “We put up a signal, very much similar to how batman puts a logo in the sky, but for her,” Mauch jokes. “She didn’t seem to be your standard cellist. Really, it was the right person at the right time. It was fate… and now she’s stuck with us.”
Physical releases roll out slowly in the Ballroom Thieves’ court. In 2012, they put out The Devil & The Deep EP. In 2013, they released their self-titled EP. Only this year did their fell-length, A Wolf In The Doorway, see the light of day. As their most polished and comprehensive work they’ve put out yet, the record captures not only their technical skills, but their unbridled love for folk rock.
“It’s a relief to finally have it out, mostly because the previous ones didn’t feature Calin,” says Earley. “When we made that change, we were having anxiety trying to get music out that actually represents the current lineup of the band. Giving people an accurate representation of what we do, you know? We wanted enough time to figure out where we wanted to take the sound, and in that way we know the waiting game between the EPs and the full-length was done the right way.”
Listen closely and you can pick out bonus instruments they usually don’t play live: strings, organ, pedal steel. Besides those, it’s note-for-note what you hear at their live performances.
“We wanted to make sure there was nothing lost between the listening experience in your car or home compared to the live show,” says Earley. “We still want the live show to be an even bigger experience.” They did that by recorded most every part live, recording three-part harmonies in the same room to emphasize vocal textures and organics. The sterile-ness of isolated recordings doesn’t lend towards an easily imitable sound live.
“There’s something about being in a room and being right next to people who are experiencing the same thing,” adds Earley. “We like to keep our shows intimate, even if they’re in large rooms. That’s a goal we set for ourselves. We want you to feel like you’re sitting in a living room with us instead of staring at someone on a stage.”
The three have the close-knit friendship of a family. Given they tour for ten months of the year, close quarters force them to learn how to. They bicker, they joke, but at the end of the day, they love each other in a way that can’t be broken. Onstage, that allows them to read even the tiniest changeup another member is about to dive into mid-song. “We love what we do so much, and I think you can see that when we play live,” says Peters. “I noticed right after we put the album out that a few songs in particular were instantly fuller and better because we actually got a chance to play them every single night. It’s interesting to put out a project and have everything changed but still be proud of that.”
Lucky for them, our city won’t bail anytime soon if their songs sound different. The loyalty here is unparalleled. “Once you have a Boston audience, you’re not going to lose the Boston audience,” explains Earley. “They’ll love you not only because they like the music, but they’ll love you because you’re from Boston. That might have to do because Boston’s such a sports show. Some of our fans really love sports. There’s people at our shows who have made up chants like they see it as more of an athletic event.”
“We get to experience that from the road too,” Mauch chimes in. “We have so many good friends from Boston that are traveling bands as well. Darlingside, Tall Heights… They’re some of our best friends and only people we can turn to that understand what its’ like traveling and touring as much as we do. The Ballroom Thieves definitely have a lot of pride from where we come from as a band.”
The last club show The Ballroom Thieves played here was a two-night takeover at Great Scott. The Royale is about twice the size of The Sinclair – and about six times the size of Great Scott. “Two and a half years ago, we were playing music on the streets by Faneuil Hall to make a living,” says Mauch. “It’s a bit surreal now to feel this much love and support to get to play The Royale, but those old days down in the marketplace crushing covers all day aren’t lost on us. We’re grateful for everything that’s happened.”
With the help of local music forces like 88.9fm WERS and Bowery Boston, the band’s music has been echoed twice as loudly as it would have been if they kept to spots like the Lizard Lounge, instead placing them on the stages of Boston Calling Music Festival and Newport Folk Festival. “We’re always pumped to come home and play for our Boston shows because, not only are shows the most fun for us, but there’s a certain energy that comes along with Boston shows that is unmatched,” says Earley. “It brings out a new energy in us in return.” That energy keeps fans coming back in doubled numbers. Folk rock will never die, and The Ballroom Thieves are bringing it back in Boston with unparalleled gusto and jollification, a sound that’s uplifting in genuine ways. Thank our lucky, charming, barn-stompin’ stars.
THE BALLROOM THIEVES + YOU WON’T + THE BROS. LANDRETH. THU 11.19. THE ROYALE, 279 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. 7:30PM/18+/$16. ROYALEBOSTON.COM.