As a brisk wind blew most Madisonians into their homes and students into libraries Sunday night, an intimate crowd scuttled into The Frequency to stay warm by the light of folk rock group, The Ballroom Thieves and their openers, The Oarsman.
Fresh off a two-week break in Spring Lake, Michigan, The Ballroom Thieves’ lead vocalist and guitar player Martin Earley said the group has moved onto the “meat and potatoes” of their tour. Hailing from Boston, Earley and his band mates, percussionist Devin Mauch and cellist Calin Peters, have been making waves across the country with their unique sound that Tony Sarabia from WBEZ-Chicago called, “folk music but not really, rock but not really.”
Their show at The Frequency mainly consisted of songs off their first full album, set to come out this spring.
“We’re really excited because at the start of the New Year we’re going to slowly start releasing some of those songs to build some hype for the new record,” said Earley.
Songs on the new album are indicative of the growth of sound The Thieves have experienced since the release of their first EP in 2012, “The Devil & The Deep,” at which point Earley and Mauch were working with a different cellist. By the time they released “The Ballroom Thieves”EP in 2013, they had discovered Peters and were on their way to discovering their place in the music industry.
The band’s maturation is clear in their soon-to-be-released album. “I think we’re kind of at a point where we’re kind of finding the sound that we really want to explore further,” said Earley. “Lyrically, I think it’s evolving as well. We’re writing more mature songs now than we used to be so you can definitely see the progression to the record and check the band out that way.”
As the band makes progression in fan base and maturity, their humble and fun-loving personalities haven’t been left by the wayside. While touring can be exhausting at times, the trio has a few tricks up their sleeves to keep their perspective in check when they’re on the road.
“We try to make sure that we have time to check out the new places that we’re going to because it’s such a big part of what makes this job so interesting,” Earley said. Whether they are doing a hot wings challenge in Chicago or white water rafting in Washington, The Thieves try to make plans to see the cities in which they play.
They’re not too shabby at making friends in these places either. During The Oarsman’s opener at The Frequency, The Thieves stood among the quaint crowd, greeting familiar fans like longtime friends and new ones with open arms.
The Oarsman joined The Thieves for just the weekend in what they called a “#TINYTOUR” on their Facebook page. Their folk rock set evoked a sense of chilling honesty that made you ache for more when they left the stage.
In the middle of their set, the lead vocalist of this Chicago-based foursome, Marcus Christopher Maloney, candidly explained that he started writing music after his fiance left him. Upon realizing that booze and whining were not the answer to his problems, he grabbed a guitar he stole in middle school and an iPhone and recorded an album. After being discovered by stations like NPR and Daytrotter, Maloney put together the band.
“I met one guy in a bar, I met the other ones in church … and then two or three months after it started we just hit the road,” said Maloney.
The band has been touring their first album, Writing House, for the past year and will head back into the studio this month to record their new album. They’re also collaborating with a group of other singer-songwriters to put out the “HYMNS” EP this holiday season. Sales from this exclusively digital Christmas EP will be donated to help Ebola victims. After all the recording and holiday hype, The Oarsman head back out on tour after the New Year with Josiah Early.
Maloney, who writes most of the lyrics for The Oarsman, says he draws inspiration from a host of life’s elements, from girls to John Steinbeck.
“Just traveling, you know, we’ve been all over and we get to meet all sorts of beautiful, interesting, wild, weird, fantastic people.”
Both bands took full advantage of The Frequency’s intimate space, conversing and joking directly with the crowd and mentioning multiple times how happy they were to do a few shows together in the Midwest.
After The Ballroom Thieves took the audience on a musical adventure through heart-wrenching ballads and foot-stomping folk songs they stepped down on the floor to play their last song amongst the crowd; an untitled tune that came out of their recent trip to Spring Lake. The crowd swayed silently around the three musicians, as Earley, Mauch and Peters ended the night with warm harmonies and a soft acoustic melody.