By Brian Ossip, DC Music Live
For a band from Aberdeen, MD, best known as the birthplace of Cal Ripken, it can be a tough road to achieve success. But for punk rock/reggae group Ballyhoo! that road never deterred them from achieving their goals. After starting out playing in high school gyms and parties in their friend’s basements, the group graduated to the stages of Warped Tour, cruises with 311, and on September 15 will be sharing the stage in Baltimore, just south of their hometown, with Weezer as a part of the Charm City Music Festival. DC Music Live caught up with the group’s lead singer/guitarist Howi Spangler to find out how they were able to carve their path out of the DMV region.
You guys are out on the road right now, how has the tour been so far?
It’s cool. We just did our first few shows. We just got off Warped Tour a couple weeks ago, and now we’re heading back out on the road.
That’s right. I caught your set at the Baltimore Warped Tour stop, it was awesome. How was the hometown show?
Oh man, it was great. Probably the best show of the tour, as far as draw-wise. It was awesome to come home because it kinda felt like we were bringing home the trophy, ya know? I mean, here we are, we’re on Warped Tour, and to see everybody out there, really packed, it was just going off. Warped in general was awesome, man. It’s such a great experience. It’s really hard, hot every day, a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth it. We got exposed to A LOT of new people.
You guys tour all the time, all over the country and the world, so what is it like to then come home and play a show in your hometown?
It just feels good, because we have a lot of people that have been following us for a long time, a lot of friends that we’ve made over the years. And to do a show like that, like Warped or something, we feel like they are proud of us in a way. Like, “Look at these guys, doing their thing,” you know? It’s a good feeling. We’ve put in a lot of work, and I think people are seeing that. We did a Baltimore show with 311 back in 2010, and that place was packed. We were seeing Ballyhoo! shirts in the crowd. It’s nice to have them see the kind of stuff that we are doing now.
What was it like growing up as a band around Baltimore?
We come from a town called Aberdeen, which is about a half hour north, and there are towns around there, Aberdeen and Bel Air, which have some cool bands. And we actually didn’t get down to Baltimore to play until around three years after we formed. So we were playing locally, friend’s houses, parties, local community centers, our high school gym. We would play with other bands and kind of mix it up, and I always felt like we were so much better than all of those bands. We played every single day after school, we were so tight. The songs were about school and girls and adolescent stuff like that, but I felt like we were way better, way tighter and had better songs. So, we started really pushing it and getting it out there, and people started listening. We started drawing crowds. We didn’t actually start touring until 2006 when we finally decided, “Alright, are we really going to do this?” And now here we are. Playing shows with Weezer and sh*t, haha.
Yea, I’d say that’s a pretty good progression right there.
Yea man, it’s cool to come from a place like Aberdeen, where nothing happens, to be doing what we’re doing. All Aberdeen is really known for is Cal Ripken. So that will be Aberdeen’s thing: Cal Ripken and Ballyhoo!
Do you guys make it down to the D.C. area for shows often?
We don’t get to D.C. much, but we love playing the 9:30 Club. Such a great spot. We love their cupcakes. That’s why we book shows there, haha. We just haven’t played in the city much. There’s a couple of other spots we like, though. We did a show at the Rock N Roll Hotel with Less Than Jake a couple months back. We try to make it down there when it makes sense, you know? We love playing there, the fans f**king rock, but it’s just hard to get there that often when we are all over the country so much.
Your music obviously has a range of influences. What are some of the bands that you grew up listening to that helped shape your sound?
Well, the core sound of the band, I was the sole songwriter for a time at the beginning, and everything I was listening to was coming out in the music I was writing. It was Green Day, Goldfinger, 311, Sublime, Bob Marley, UB40, Suicide Machines, Reel Big Fish, pop-punk, pop stuff. I grew up listening to the radio, and I was a sucker for melody. So I wanted to make sure that whatever we were gonna put out, whatever I was gonna sing, that not only was the vocal melody catchy, but so is the guitar line as well. Something that people can recognize. You know, just simplicity. So that’s the core sound of the band.
And your live show is pretty rockin’. How would you describe it to someone who hasn’t seen you before?
Fun. Energy. Good time. Party.
That’s awesome. I think that would probably entice a lot of people to check you out.
That’s a lot of things that most people like, haha. They usually like at least one of those things.
You also have two songs in the game “Rock Band,” don’t you? “Cali Girl” and “Paper Dolls.”
That was cool! I had heard that “Rock Band” was opening up their systems for independent bands, so I started doing some detective work and I discovered a place called Rock Gamer Studios that handles all that stuff. We sent them a link with our music and they hit me back within like an hour and were like, “We definitely want to put this on the game.” So we sent them 2 songs, that was it. It took like 3 or 4 months to get it all said and done, but it’s pretty awesome.
Did you go and download the songs so you could play them yourself?
Well I don’t have the game, but we have a lot of friends that have the game and got the songs, and we played our own parts. It was funny because I actually failed the first song, “Paper Dolls,” and then the second song, “Cali Girls,” I got like a 70%. I’m sitting there thinking to myself, “If there’s anybody in the world that should get a 100% it’s me, right?” Because I wrote the damn song! But I guess I was just pretty bad, haha.
Daydreams, you’re latest record, came out almost exactly a year ago. What’s up next for you guys? Are there any plans to get back in the studio and record some new material?
We’re always talking about what we’re going to do. We don’t really have a plan yet, but we’re still writing. I wrote a bunch of demos while we were on the Warped Tour, and there will be a bunch more ideas coming. But we haven’t had a chance to get together yet and jam out any new songs. Hopefully we’ll get a record out next year, but at the moment there are no plans. We are really itching to, though.