Mike and Dave Altier take being a band of brothers to a literal extreme.
The Akron, Ohio, natives — now longtime Chicago residents — approached a recent phone interview about their band Ballroom Boxer with that sense of teamwork, throwing responses back and forth.
“Dave, I don’t want to speak for you, but …”
“That’s a good point, Mike.”
“Keep me honest here, Dave.”
That give-and-take translates to their work with the Chicago rock band, which is releasing its new five-song EP “A Little Wild” Friday, Nov. 16.
“It comes from playing together for 20 years,” said Dave, the drummer and backup vocalist. “From day one when we first started playing, I know where he’s going, and he knows where the drums are gonna go.”
“We have that kind of mind-read,” added Mike, who takes on lead vocals and guitar duty for the at-the-moment three-piece band. “For us, we love it. … One of the most fun parts about songwriting for me is when Dave and I are feeling that groove, feeling that flow.”
The duo, the primary songwriters for Ballroom Boxer, teamed up with bandmate Jared Cummans on bass and former bandmate and Aurora resident Donnie Renner — who recently left the area for warmer climes — to record the new EP.
“We had a lot of fragments to songs,” said Mike. “Instead of writing these full songs conceptually, we started taking these fragments and just started building on it. It kind of goes back to this philosophy we believe in: Instead of just having these big ideas, we believe big ideas come in collaboration building on small ideas. That’s pretty much what drove the EP.”
“In the past we’ve struggled with showing off a depth or range of emotion with a lot of our music, where it’s either poppy or super happy or it goes dark side,” he added. “There’s no in-between to those things.”
Ballroom Boxer’s catalog — the name itself is a dichotomy of two disparate elements — traffics in upbeat sounds and warm, fuzzy pop-rock feelings. Live shows often feel less like you’re being performed to and more like fans are at a backyard party with friends. But the strong history of music often comes from deeper places.
“You’ll find that in every single song we write,” said Mike. “That tension between something that sounds poppy and something that may have a deeper undertone if you look for it. If you like that.”
“‘September’ is a great example of that,” Mike explained. “I told Dave ‘I like the idea of having a tinge of punk beats, a little bit of rock growl, some Beach Boys harmony, and it’s all packaged in kind of a pop Bubble Wrap.’ But this is probably one of my most personal songs I’ve ever written. It goes dark.”
That dichotomy shows even stronger in “Bill Murray,” the first single released last month from the new EP. At first listen, it sounds like a light, poppy ode to a beloved Chicago icon. But in true Ballroom Boxer fashion, there’s more to it.
“We tend to take on larger social or cultural trends in a lot of these songs,” said Mike. “We wanted something simple, catchy and fun for us to harmonize to. … But from the depth perspective, I look at Bill Murray: He crashed weddings, people invite him in. He’s bartending in New York, and people are all excited. I thought that’s interesting as we look at the themes of today. … All three of us on the phone are white men. We are able to be welcomed into a lot of different things. I mean, not to the level of Bill Murray. We couldn’t crash a wedding. But our thought there is wouldn’t it be great if everyone had the luxury to be welcomed into every situation? And then think about the disparity between that and those who aren’t even welcomed into normal situations like a coffee shop, a store, just doing whatever everyone’s doing. Obviously thinking about minorities and women. That’s the parallel we’re drawing with ‘Bill Murray,’ that’s the level of storytelling we try to bring to all of the songs.”
• The “A Little Wild” EP digital release will be available for streaming and purchase on most major services Friday, Nov. 16. Ballroom Boxer will also live-stream a Q&A with fans about the new EP at 2:30 p.m. that afternoon at facebook.com/scenesmedia.