The Ballroom Thieves | New Music Review + Interview

The Ballroom Thieves. Maybe you haven’t heard of this band – I hadn’t until I received the album. But that’s okay…this band is going to be around for a while so you’ll get your chance. If you go to your local record store, chances are you might find an album, but it’s unlikely. The band has only put out two EPs since they formed in 2011. Their first EP, The Devil & The Deep released in 2012. The band’s latest, and second, EP released October 4, 2013.

Although the Thieves’ self-titled EP only has four songs, it’s a good representation of the band’s talent, sound and style. Their talent? Unmistakable. The instrumentation is well-balanced and flows beautifully. The sound: Reminiscent of Delta Rae at times (especially ‘Down by the River’), but with a more bluegrass sound. Other times, I’m reminded of nobody – the band holds itself up very well. And the Thieves’ style? It’s upbeat, well-thought-out and impressive. They journey from chain gang foot-stomp to sentimental and melodic.

The first track on the EP, Down by the River, is full. It starts strong, with a single drum beat. Then the vocals start, with cello wailing in the background. The song is exuberant, soulful, bluegrass. The band sings acapella a few points throughout the song, and I’m a sucker for solo vocals. The song builds, ending with a single cymbal crash.

The next song, Droves, takes you to a moonlight-through-the-trees graveyard. Heavy on the strings and tambourines, the song isn’t overwhelming or harsh. It makes you shake a little and throw your hands flying to the sky. ‘I’ve got a hummingbird heart/too quick to hold./My love it comes and goes./My love it comes and goes.’

Next on the EP is Coward’s Son – a tribute to one of the members’ fathers.  A perfect, calm breeze, this song flows perfectly as the third spot on the album. I imagine this album as a concert; a perfectly deliberate performance. And I think that’s what the band wants from this EP – an example of a live Ballroom Thieves show.

Armada, the last on The Ballroom Thieves, is a party song; a delicious, southern heat party song. It’s a fun, upbeat track where the instruments are used a bit differently than their other 3 songs. They seem to be pulling on a Louisiana Delta feel, playing their instruments harder and more raw. It’s swampy and thick; hot and humid. Toward the end of the song, strings and foot-stomping bring in the sunrise of whatever epic night(s) inspired this tune.

This album is great! It’s a bit of a tease, but hopefully the band will put out a full-length album soon. In the meantime, I’m going to find a show in my area and hopefully you will too. The Ballroom Theives can be purchased via their website, and I encourage you to snag a copy of the EP as soon as possible!

Here’s a quick interview with the band.

GW: Your newest EP, The Ballroom Thieves, is just four songs - was it difficult to choose which went on the record?

TBT: We had about 11 or 12 songs that were definitely in contention, but we narrowed that down to what you hear on the record now in order to present our long-time fans with a concise body of work while giving new listeners an accurate representation of our live sound. It was a tough process, but we're really excited about the four songs we chose for the EP.

What was the inspiration for each of the four songs?

We're big believers in letting music happen on a personal level, so it's tough to spell out the inspiration for each of these tunes, but we'll give it a try:

Down By the River is a grungy song with some heavy religious undertones. These topics are always pretty controversial, so it might be better for everyone to take what they will from this one. I'm only half embarrassed to admit that there's a really quick scene during the beginning credits of the show True Blood in which two men are baptizing a woman in a white dress which lended some of the initial inspiration for the song. 

We've always described Droves as being about 'love that wavers,' meaning that we all fall in and out of love with people as we grow up. We think it's a topic that everyone can identify with, as most of us have gone through some relationship issues. As it is with most emotions, there are peaks and valleys to these emotions, and while there are many songs that focus on either the highs or the lows, there isn't a great deal out there that acknowledges the process. 

Coward's Son was written for my father, who is one of my biggest fans, and one of the biggest supporters of the band. He left his home in Virginia to move (permanently) to Switzerland after finishing college, and I've always admired the courage a decision like that takes. Leaving your family and your loved ones is always tough, but relocating to a new continent without any prior knowledge of the language, customs, and traditions takes that to a whole new level. He's always been a big source of inspiration for me, so that's one of the more personal songs in the band's catalog. 

Armada is a fun tune about a night of drinking and other general debauchery. I think we'll just leave it at that...

Do you all play other instruments? Do you play in other bands?

We all dabble with numerous instruments, but we've pretty much settled into the ones we play on stage. Devin has spent some time learning piano and guitar and Martin played drums for a number of years before he started getting into the guitar. Callie played drums in high school and has some experience playing upright bass as well. Dev also wants the record to show that he crushes the bagpipes on special occasions.

The band recently lost a member, and added a new one; how has the change affected the sound? The performance? Songwriting? Tell me about her!

We're still in the middle of this transitional period, so things haven't had a chance to settle in yet, but we're all really optimistic about the direction of the band. Callie is really excited about writing her own parts to our songs, and her style of playing will definitely alter the songwriting a bit. Overall we're all enjoying spending time with the music and letting inspiration happen as it will. We'll see where it goes from there!

In a recent interview with SN Times, you mentioned this EP is like a 'rebirth' for the band...what does that mean!?

Our first EP was very much an experiment in terms of the instrumentation and the recording process. Our songwriting and our live show has evolved in the last two years, and we think we're now able to give our audience a much more accurate representation of our live performances, all without sacrificing any of the energy that is sometimes lost when converting a live sound into a studio sound. So, as far as we're concerned, this is the first truly accurate recording of the Ballroom Thieves experience.

In the song Coward's Son, these lines particularly stuck out to me: 'I say a riskless life ain't worth a thing./Useless as a wedding ring.' Can you explain them? Are you just drawing a metaphor or is there a particular opinion about marriage being stated here?

The song is about taking risks, and while I have no problems with marriage in general, I do think the tradition of a wedding ring and the monetary value that's placed on it is a bit arbitrary. It's like a dozen roses on Valentine's Day: the sentiment is nice, but is it really the most meaningful way to show your devotion to someone? 

We're definitely voicing an opinion on marriage, or maybe more on the perhaps arbitrary traditions and customs that come along with marriage. 

Based on this EP, The Ballroom Thieves tends toward more upbeat songs; is that a conscious choice?

Absolutely. Like we said, we narrowed this EP down from a field of over 10-12 songs, so we made a conscious choice of including songs that hit hard. We think our show is a lively mix of upbeat songs and slower, more introspective tunes, so these four songs are meant to give the listener a good idea of what to expect when he or she makes it to a Ballroom Thieves show. Plus, we really enjoy performing the high-energy tunes we have in our repertoire!

What place do you most want to visit? (As a band and as individual humans.)

As a band we're really looking forward to expanding our touring schedule to include new places. We're looking into some West Coast dates in 2014, so that'll be a really interesting first experience for us. Internationally, we'd love to start playing a few shows in Europe, specifically in Great Britain. We're influenced quite heavily by some great artists from England, Ireland, and Scotland, so it'd be a great experience for us to make our way over there. 

Individually, we're all big fans of traveling, so the lists are pretty long, but Devin would love to visit Scotland and the moon. Callie wants to make her way over to Iceland and France, and Martin would love to visit Nepal and Australia. 

Do ya'll have any plans for a full-length album?

Definitely, but we're also really looking forward to seeing where this initial EP takes us in the next few months.

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