Interview: Ballyhoo!

Written by Erica Batchelor with additional writing by Bill Bodkin

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While the country enters into a blustery and bitter winter season, the music of Ballyhoo! feels like a warm summer’s day coming through your speakers, warming your bones with vibrant and summery sounds that evoke memories of sweaty beer bottles on the beach. When their music is playing you can almost smell a hint of sun tan lotion in the air.

For the Baltimore-born band, it’s been quite an exciting 2013. It began with the release of a new album, Pineapple Grenade which was produced on their own record label (Right Coast Records), and it will end on the road. And what better place for this pop, punk, reggae-fusion band, to end the year as the band has made its name as road warriors whether on their own or opening for the likes of 311, Slightly Stoopid and The Dirty Heads.

Having been around since 1995, cutting their teeth in the B’more scene, the passing years continue to validate Ballyhoo!‘s hardworking attitude. Such an achievement does not come easy and endless touring plays a important role in such a lengthy career.

Pop-Break’s Erica Batchelor talked with Ballyhoo’s! lead singer and guitarist Howi Spangler about their new hit record, performing with their heroes, the Baltimore scene and more as they prepare post-holiday to roll into The Brooklyn Bowl (with Badfish) and GameChanger World in Howell, New Jersey.

Photo Credit: Taylor Foiles
Photo Credit: Taylor Foiles

Pop-Break: You released Pineapple Grenade earlier this year on your own label. How has the feedback been throughout the year?

Howi Spangler: It’s been great! We were pretty excited to see it hit the Billboard at #189. Never thought that would happen. Our listeners came through. We’ve received a lot of good reviews.

PB: Speaking of your own label, can you talk about the freedom/pressures that comes from being the masters of your fate and running your own label? In addition, what fueled the decision to self-release the album?

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HS: We’ve learned a lot about the business and what it takes over the last few years. What works and what doesn’t. We thought we should maybe try it on our own and see if we could do it as well or better than the last release. The pressures are immense. There’s a lot of overhead, how would we come up with the money? How do we sustain ourselves as a band while trying to get a label off the ground?

As for freedom, we’d never really felt like we were trapped or locked down as to what our sound should be. We have always done what we’ve wanted. This time was more about proving ourselves. Showing that we could put our own records…good records. And doing this way helps bring in more money. We don’t have to give away a cut to another label.

PB: When it came to writing this new record – where do you draw inspiration from, lyrically?

HS: For the most part, I write about real life. Sometimes I embellish to make it more fun or whatever. I was really stressed out writing this album. I spent all of 2012 recording demos on my iPad but I could never really finish them. And lyrics were a nightmare. I remember thinking about a week and half into recording that we weren’t going to finish. But we had to because we were leaving for tour at the end.

PB: To me, your sound is reminiscent of 311 and Sublime. With that being said – how was it going on the road with 311 and performing around the country with them? What was it like getting to work with Rome Ramirez on your song “No Good”?

HS: Working with 311 is a dream I had since I was 15. 12 years later, we got the call (laughs). The way they run their biz is very professional. We learned a lot from them and have since changed our way of doing business. Whenever we play with them, I’m usually in the crowd with everyone else drunk and raging.

Rome is a good dude. He’s got a great ear and an understanding of pop music. We were worked hard for two days out in Long Beach back in April. He was pretty demanding, which is a good thing. Only the best takes and making sure he had what he needed. Then, we cracked open the Jack Daniels.

PB: You’ve toured and worked with a number of amazing, nationally recognized bands. What band really took you under their wing and taught you important lessons about life/the road/music, etc.?

HS: See number 4 [the previous question]. And Pepper really showed us the way as well. We are always learning and trying to take in the business side of things. It’s funny when we get all pro on our support bands nowadays, they don’t get it. Just as we didn’t get it back then. The drummer will walk up and say “Are you gonna move your drums?” And our tour manager says, “Nope.” And they have to go in front of our gear, making it very tight. I’ve had to play with a drum set up my ass many times, but that’s just part of the game.

Photo Credit: Taylor Foiles
Photo Credit: Taylor Foiles

PB: You guys come out of the fertile crescent of good music that is the Baltimore scene. What bands that you came up with do you think people should be checking out?

HS: Colouring Lesson (not together anymore, but find their music!), Jah Works, Agents of the Sun. 86 the Effort. Pasadena. Bumpin’ Uglies. Grilled Lincolns. Lots of great B’more bands doing it.

PB: Since 2013 is coming to a close, what was the highlight of the year as a band?

HS: It was definitely Pineapple Grenade coming out to some chart success. Billboard Top 200 and #5 on iTunes Alternative. That’s huge for me.

PB: You’re a band that focuses heavily on touring. Do you have any tour plans scheduled for next year?

HS: We are doing a few shows in Florida in early January and then we’re hitting the road with Passafire again for the Winter BrewHaHa. This time we have a support band called Pacific Dub joining us. We’re pretty stoked to be heading out west again.

PB: Finally, if someone has never heard Ballyhoo! before but wants to jump into your music, what would be a good song to start with – one that really defines who Ballyhoo! is as a band?

HS: “Cerveza.” Great party song.

Ballyhoo! performs with Badfish: A Tribute to Sublime at The Brooklyn Bowl on Saturday December 27th, click here for tickets. The band will then roll into New Jersey at the brand new GameChanger World in Howell for the venues’ Halfway to Summer Bash. Click here for tickets.

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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