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eTown Time Capsule: The Ballroom Thieves / Ron Sexsmith

Martin Earley and Calin Peters are The Ballroom Thieves and, this week, they travel to eTown to share the bill with Canadian songsmith, Ron Sexsmith. Also on the show, Nick discusses sharks and the environmental impact of pollution on our waters with Dr. Mikki McComb-Kobza, Chief Scientist and Executive Director of the Ocean First Institute.

The Ballroom Thieves

Indie folk-rock duo the Ballroom Thieves hail from New England, where their big-hearted, energetic sound won them an audience in the early part of the 2010s. A pair of indie releases and several years of hard touring helped the band earn a contract with Nettwerk, which issued their emotionally charged third album Unlovely in 2020, Clouds two years later, and Sundust in 2023.

The Ballroom Thieves formed in 2010 while guitarist Martin Earley and drummer Devin Mauch were attending Stonehill College outside of Boston. Adding cellist Calin Peters in 2013, the trio recorded their full-length debut, 2015’s A Wolf in the Doorway, which introduced fans to their rich, harmonic blend and rousing arrangements. The months spent on the road promoting their debut took their toll on the three musicians, who channeled their struggles into their deeply personal and edgier follow-up, Deadeye, in 2016. The band’s hard work paid off when they landed a deal with the Nettwerk label. 2018’s “Paper Crown” EP marked their first outing for the label and was followed in early 2020 by their third full-length, Unlovely, which dealt with themes of political and social dissonance, including greed and inequality. In late 2020, Mauch left the band to focus on his burgeoning pyrography business. Moving forward as a duo, Earley and Peters released a succession of singles like “Worldender” and “Harry Styles” that pushed the band in a dreamy, stripped-down indie pop direction. This culminated in the Ballroom Thieves’ fourth album, Clouds, which was released mid-2022 and their fifth album Sundust in 2023.

Timothy Monger

Ron Sexsmith

Ron Sexsmith is a three time, Juno award winning singer songwriter from St Catharines Ontario. Born in 1964, Ron was drawn to music from an early age by the melodic songs of the era, which he heard on the radio and by his Mom’s record collection.

His earliest musical heroes were Buddy Holly and Elton John.

He always loved to sing, but didn’t start playing guitar until age 14 when he formed his first band “Paper Moon” (named after the film of the same name). Although he tried to write songs throughout his teens, it wasn’t until he was 21 and living in Quebec with his partner and first child, that he truly became a songwriter.

Ron eventually moved his young family to Toronto in 1987 to further pursue a career in music. He worked as a courier by day, while performing in the clubs by night. He formed the band ‘Ron Sexsmith and The Uncool’ and started gaining attention from music label executives, though all passed on signing him.

In 1991 he released his first full length album on cassette called “Grand Opera Lane” produced by Bob Wiseman. The album was rejected by the Canadian music industry, although it found its way to Los Angeles where Ron ultimately signed his first music publishing deal with Interscope Records followed by a recording contract.

With producer Mitchell Froom, Sexsmith released his self-titled label debut album in 1995. The melancholic tone and sparse acoustic arrangements of the album were met with disapproval from Interscope. However an enthusiastic endorsement from Elvis Costello drew media attention and the album was declared a critical success. In his Sept 7, 1995 review for Rolling Stone, Bud Scoppa wrote: “He just may be the most fluent balladeer to come along since Tim Hardin or Harry Nilsson.”

Sexsmith’s songwriting style evolved into a unique and timeless blend of classic pop, contemporary folk, and roots-rock idioms. He has built a steadfast reputation with critics and with some of his own songwriting hero’s (Elton John, Ray Davies, John Prine, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen and Paul McCartney) for his characteristically honest, sensitive, and enduring approach to the songwriting craft.

Ron has released albums on a consistent basis since 1995 and has recorded with noted producers Mitchell Froom, Daniel Lanois, Steve Earle, Jim Scott, Don Kerr, Brad Jones, Bob Rock, and Martin Terefe.

His extensive song and album catalog has garnered Sexsmith a substantive cult following and an international touring career. His early years of touring included opening for established artists such as, John Hiatt, Elvis Costello, Sarah McLaughlin, Tori Amos, Squeeze, Aimee Mann, Coldplay, Nick Lowe, John Prine, Lucinda Williams and many others.

His songs as well, have been covered by the likes of Rod Stewart, Nick Lowe, Emmy Lou Harris, Feist, and Michael Buble to name a few.

Mikki McComb-Kobza, Ph.D.

Mikki McComb-Kobza, Ph.D. is a biologist specializing in applied conservation biology, particularly of endangered species and natural resources in marine ecosystems for over 20 years. Her research is focused primarily on the biology, behavior, abundance, and movement of sharks using novel technologies. The goal of her work is to support science based strategic conservation initiatives with multiple stakeholders. She has participated in or led over 40 under-sea expeditions, spanning the globe from Darwin to Cape Town, to Manaus, to Hong Kong, and along the east coast of North America from Nova Scotia to Belize. She is the Executive Director of Ocean First Institute, a Boulder based non-profit dedicated to marine research, conservation, and education. The Institute has reached thousands of students in local schools, and over 400,000 students in 35 countries and 46 US states with nationally acclaimed conservation projects and compelling educational programming. Her research has been covered by the BBC, National Geographic, Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, and CBC National Radio Canada. She is faculty with University of Colorado at Boulder in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the Past President of the American Elasmobranch Society, a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, and a National Fellow of the Explorer’s Club.

She holds a Ph.D. in Integrative Biology from Florida Atlantic University and is the author of numerous scientific publications.