JPR Live Session: The Ballroom Thieves
Life on the road for a burgeoning band is easily glamorized: The joy of playing a show, the wonder of encountering new places and people, the stories that amass. Yet the lifestyle can also be a trying one: The suffocating isolation of a van, the misery of being separated from home and loved ones, the unspoken grievances that stack tensions high. If you're unprepared, this life can become your downfall. For Boston's The Ballroom Thieves, it became their sophomore album, Deadeye.
Owing to the success of their harmony-rich 2015 debut, A Wolf in the Doorway, guitarist Martin Earley, cellist Calin Peters, and drummer Devin Mauch have spent the last two years in a sustained state of touring that took them all across the country and to venerable stages like the Newport Folk Festival. As prepared as the trio was for the sudden lack of a sedentary existence -- even packing their Boston apartments into storage units -- it wasn't long before nearly nonstop touring rendered any preparation inadequate. "I think all three of us underestimated how mentally and physically taxing it would be to uproot our lives completely in an effort to jump after the wild and unlikely dream of becoming a successful band," explains Earley.
As the stability of home faded along the relentless road, fresh anxieties came into focus: depression, financial burdens, illness, the breakdown of relationships. With the luxury of hindsight, things could have been handled better, but instead of addressing their personal issues, they doubled down on the band. "I think if you give everything to something for long enough, you have nothing left for you," Peters says, "and then you break down." Playing through the pain started to warp the band's dynamic. Darkness took over their days as anger boiled over and burned edges that were already frayed. Resentment built, and the end would have been a very real concept if not for, ironically, the one thing that had caused all the strain in the first place: the road. "Often the only thing that would bring us back together at the end of a hard day was to step on stage and play our music together," recalls Mauch. "That's something we could almost always agree on. We love to play. We need to play." That need led the Thieves to begin toying around with new songs, ones written in the midst of all their bitter feelings.
Rough times have helped them explore the darker corners of their sound -- which is why they've chosen to forgo the standard label release cycle to put out Deadeye by themselves. Sharing it now is exposure therapy, letting their fans pay witness to these hardships and the resulting creative evolution while simultaneously helping the band move on.