In the summer of 2015, Martin Earley could have retired happy.
He was onstage at the Newport Folk Festival, a moment he’d grown up dreaming about, with the Ballroom Thieves. Just a few months prior, they’d played Boston Calling. Not bad for a band who, a couple years earlier, busked outside Faneuil Hall.
“Newport, that was my the big goal,” says Earley, 32. “I used to joke that once we played Newport, we could stop because that was what I wanted to accomplish with the band.”
It was just the beginning. The Boston-grown folk-rock trio — with percussionist Devin Mauch and cellist Callie Peters — have since won half a dozen Boston Music Awards, played the 2019 Graham Nash Tribute at Newport, and just saw their new single, “Love Is Easy,” premiere on Rolling Stone Country.
Oh, and Earley proposed to Peters. (She said yes.)
With their new album, “Unlovely,” set to release on Valentine’s Day, and a national tour bringing them to The Sinclair in Cambridge March 20, the Thieves are preparing for a big 2020.
Some tracks from the upcoming album are now on Spotify: Aside from “Love Is Easy,” you can hear the title track — featuring Boston band/friends Darlingside — and politically-charged singles “Tenebrist” and “Vanity Trip.”
The band falls squarely in the catch-all of Americana, with lyrics poetic enough to prompt a second listen. For those new to the band, “Only Lonely,” “Peregrine,” and the thumping “Fist Fight” make for a solid introduction.
In conversation, the chemistry among the three is the first thing you notice. The rapport carries to the stage; they have a reputation as a band best experienced live (they won Live Artist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards in 2016).
Mauch hails from New York’s Hudson Valley. Earley grew up in a small town in Switzerland, where his dad was the business manager for a bluegrass group. (“I have these vivid memories of going to these raucous bluegrass festivals in the Alps.”) The family moved to Maine when Earley was 13.
Mauch, 31, and Earley, 32, met at Stonehill College in Easton, where they bonded over music and dueted at open mic nights. After Earley graduated from Stonehill in 2010, the pair rented an RV and took their show on the road. “It was more of a glorified road trip,” says Earley. “We had some wild times playing a couple of small shows in little rock clubs, people’s basements. We had fun, even though we ended up losing three grand each. It was a formative experience.”
When Mauch graduated in 2011, he waited tables, “slung T-shirts” outside Faneuil Hall, picked up DJ gigs. “Some would call it DJ-ing, some would call it plugging in your computer and hitting play,” he deadpans.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do — but that trip Martin mentioned had sparked a fire in me,” says Mauch. “I was just trying to make money to make sure I could be available whenever Martin and I were able to drop everything and get in the van and go play a show.”
The two busked outside Faneuil Hall, gigged around, and released 2012’s “The Devil and the Deep,” and 2013’s EP “The Ballroom Thieves” with cellist Rachel Gawell. When Gawell left in 2013, they were on the hunt for a new cellist. One night at Cambridge’s Lizard Lounge, they found one.
Peters, a Franklin native and Berklee College of Music graduate, was competing in an open mic night with her then-band, Flightless Buttress. Mauch was judging. “At first I thought he was this ex-boyfriend of mine, so I had this total panic. But it was just Dev,” Peters recalls.
“I don’t think I knew that,” Mauch says with a laugh.
“Oh, yeah. It was panic. Then we played, and Dev picked us to win,” she says. “We wrapped up our band a couple weeks later, and I started to worry because I didn’t have a group. Right around that time, Martin got in touch with me over Facebook, and I thought that was extremely unprofessional, so I ignored him.
"And then their manager got in touch with me over e-mail and I felt guilty,” Peters says. “And they took me in even though I’m a big jerk.”
“Let the record show that I have not yet forgiven her,” Earley teases.
When the three voices blended, “it was an instant click,” says Mauch.
They released their full-length debut, “A Wolf in the Doorway,” in 2015. Then things began to take off. They began racking up Boston Music Awards and played Boston Calling and Newport back-to-back.
“Boston Calling was really cool because it’s the biggest festival in the hometown — it felt like a big warm hug of support,” says Mauch. “We were getting recognized for all the hard work we were doing. It felt validating.”
The relationship between Earley and Peters “started slowly and rumbled into something that was unavoidable,” says Earley. “We tried to avoid it because we were afraid it would cause a ton of issues within the band. . . . but it didn’t really work.”
He proposed in August when they returned home after a tour. When they were on the road, they had rented their house on Airbnb and kept their closet full of personal items locked.
“I’d known I was going to propose — I had the ring for over a month. I unlocked the closet, and waited for her to come upstairs,” Earley recounts. "She came in and I was already on one knee. I had thought about all this stuff I was going to say, but in the moment just completely blanked.”
“He really did say nothing at all,” says Peters. “Well, he sort of said it.”
“That’s not true. I said, ‘Now you don’t have to anticipate anymore.' "
“Right! Which I thought was very snarky.”
They kid back and forth for a bit, laughing. Then Peters says: “It was amazing.”