Just about a year ago Boston-based Americana rockers The Ballroom Thieves packed an exceptionally squishy Johnny Brenda’s for an exceptionally sweaty Friday night, despite the fact that Americana mega-darlings The Lone Bellow were headlining Union Transfer just a couple neighborhoods over. The Ballroom Thieves expressed their gratitude for the crowd of several hundred, but those of us who were there were the ones who likely got the best show in town that night. Well, The Ballroom Thieves are returning to Philthy’s favorite rock’n’roll ballroom, Johnny Brenda’s, this Friday, 12/7, for a show that I can only imagine will be equally satisfying.
The Ballroom Thieves are comprised of lead vocalist/guitarist Martin Earley, cellist Calin Peters, and percussionist Devin Mauch, and since 2012 they’ve been kicking out folk rock jams that would seem to be equally inspired by the greatest protest songs of all-time and the best southern rock of the 21st century. This May The Ballroom Thieves released their five-song Paper Crown EP, courtesy of Nettwerk Records, and last month they released a three-song covers EP, comprised of their takes on songs by Frightened Rabbit, Joe Pug, and Bahamas.
Thursday The Ballroom Thieves kick off their last batch of dates for 2018 at Rock & Roll Hotel in Washington DC (before they return to JB’s) and this October I got a chance to chat with Martin Earley about both the history and current state of the band. When I ask him what have been some of his own personal highlights of the past six years, he tells me that there are quite a few.
“There are a lot. It’s been a really interesting run. When we started out, we were just constantly on the road. One of the biggest highlights was playing Newport Folk Festival for the first time – and we’ve, since, played several more times – but, before we did that, I used to go that festival every year and I just thought that was the pinnacle of folk and folk rock and what that’s meant to be. But also selling out so many shows in Boston and knowing the people still like us [laughs], and just travelling. We love the outdoors and seeing different parts of the country… We’re on the road fairly constantly and it normally goes pretty well. There are not a lot of duds in there. Any time you see people singing along and dancing, that’s a great feeling.”
I ask Earley what can be expected of the band’s show this Friday and he tells me that they’re definitely excited to return to Johnny Brenda’s, which he considers to be the perfect blend of a room: “We love Johnny Brenda’s. Everyone’s so close to the stage and it feels so intimate, even though it’s not that small. It’ll be a high-energy show, but kind of a living room vibe. We’ll pay all the songs off the new EP and some of the covers EP and then some off of the earlier albums.” He also tells me that this covers EP will likely not be the last of its kind: “This is an idea we’ve had for a while. Each one of us sings, so we’d have each person pick a song and do lead on it. The idea is to have it be a continually going project, where each year we pick three songs and have each sing lead and the person who sings gets to pick the song.”
Finally, I ask Earley what The Ballroom Thieves’ biggest influences have been recently, and he tells me that, unfortunately, he feels as though politics is currently playing a bigger role in their mindsets than he necessarily wants: “Politics is a big influence at this point. We felt like we had to speak up, because we have a platform and we have things to say and it would be a disservice, if we didn’t speak up, and it shouldn’t be that way. Politics shouldn’t be something you think about, but we’re just living in a time when it influences so many aspects of our lives.”