Calin “Callie” Peters (vocals, cello), Martin Earley (guitar, vocals), and Devin Mauch (percussion, vocals) make up the Boston-based trio The Ballroom Thieves. The band released its new single, “Tenebrist,” on Aug. 30 in advance of their upcoming appearance at AmericanaFest. DittyTV Senior Editor Tim W. Jackson connected with Callie Peters for our Five Questions segment.
1) You consider Boston home, but what can you tell us about how the three of you met and formed this trio?
Martin had a pretty legit thing going, writing and performing romantic college boy pop jams, as well as many incredibly dirty jingles. Towards the end of his college glory days he met Devin, who really latched on to the romantic college boy jams side of the spectrum. Since they were restricted by dorm room life, no full drum set would do the trick, and Dev began to play a djembe turned on its side with a mallet to accompany Martin’s songs. Within a few years they had busked all over Boston, named themselves, and convinced Eric Jones to manage before he had even finished studying.
In 2013 I was playing the Lizard Lounge open mic with my band Flightless Buttress, and decided to meet the judge before we performed (to hopefully increase our chances of winning like 40 bucks plus that healthy serving of recognition and self esteem). From behind, I panic-thought this judge was an ex boyfriend, but it was just Devin! We met, we won, (thanks Dev) and two weeks later I received a message from Martin wondering if I’d like to meet their band and play some tunes, which I rudely ignored, because come on, Facebook messages are the worst. Eric got in touch over email with a more compelling message in which he lied and said they were talking to a bunch of cellists and whoever did their Midwest college show run would get to play their Sinclair show next month, which filled my veins with competition blood, and the rest is Ballroom Thieves history.
2) Let’s get into your single, which just released Aug. 30. What can you tell us about the title “Tenebrist” and your effort to try to maintain a sense of positivity and hope in such an increasingly negative sociopolitical climate?
Right now the world is on fire, and there are a handful of unfortunate people who could put aside their need for power and money to save real human lives. For as long as humans have been on this earth we’ve played this same game, and I don’t really see it changing now. At best, we can wait for the pendulum to swing the other way long enough to teach the new humans how to access their empathy, and hope it gives us time to look into greed and narcissism as real mental health hurdles.
The only hope and positivity found in this song is the upbeat music that supports important statements from a white man’s perspective such as “I am the color of forgiveness, I am the shape of what is wrong.” Tenebrism refers to a painting technique using chiaroscuro, where dark and light are in extreme contrast with one another. While the illuminated part of the painting is clearly the subject, it’s the darkness that becomes the overwhelming focus of the entire picture. Today in this country, knowing what we know, and having the money and power we have, we are all tenebrists. We muddy the water to make it seem less shallow, when we actually need to look at our current state for what it really is, and make the changes we so desperately need to make.
In writing music, I enjoy the juxtaposition between happy sounding music and rough lyrics, and at this time we find it impossible to write without having a lot of terrible realizations. We find that we can write dreary thoughts and put them to whatever soundtrack we want to hear, which will let people scream sad truths with us, but also dance it out.
3) This single is releasing just in time for AmericanaFest, and I know you’ll be there. Can you give us an idea of what your schedule looks like for AmericanaFest and what you’re looking forward to the most about the week?
AmericanaFest seems like it’s going to be an epic reunion of all the band friends we ever made. We can’t wait to hug Ryan Montbleau, The Shook Twins, Ghost of Paul Revere, Suitcase Junket, and our long lost Brothers of the Landreth variety. I’d love to see Jade Bird, The Milk Carton Kids, and Andrew Bird, as well as see a full show from Yola, who did such such a beautiful thing to every set I saw her in at Newport Folk this July.
We have our own set on Thursday night, as well as a Berklee College of Music showcase on Saturday. Other that that we plan to hang out with our entire team, drink to some personal celebrations, and see a lot of inspiring music.
4. What’s next for The Ballroom Thieves in terms of albums, touring, or just your general expectations for your career in the future?
The three of us would love nothing more than to be able to support our lives with this band, but the music industry is still part of the ugly greed parade that is the corporate world. It’s nerve wracking to work so diligently, have some success, and still feel like the future of our band is out of our hands. Even still, we’ll work to play and perform as much as we can handle, and we’re really looking forward to releasing our new album followed by a pretty hefty 2020 tour.
5) So you’re all out antiquing but you can only buy one item and all three band members must agree on the purchase. What would that item be? (And feel free to expand on your antiquing habits!)
A bunch of years ago when we were wild touring freaks and all our stuff lived at all our parents’ houses, we were infected with The Antiquing Sickness. It came on slow, a couple knives here, a couple antlers there. Soon the back of our van was full of blankets and useless trinkets, and we had learned what a good antique mall looked like from the billboard alone. Once, we were hauling it home from Oregon, and a sign for skulls and taxidermy caught our collective infected eye. We spent over an hour hanging out with the fattest dog, and the coolest skulls. There were exactly three that fell in our price range, and you better believe we each got one. It was a really packed cross country drive home. Finding stupid shit we never needed is the glue that holds us together, so it’s pretty tough to answer this question without conferring with my bandmates, but if I must, I am confident that we could all agree to thrift a gorgeous old lighter for the other glue that holds us together, Mary Jane.