Interview with Howi Spangler of Ballyhoo!

How’s the weather been on the Winter Wonderland Tour?

[Laughs] Yeah, aptly named. There’s snow everywhere. We had a show last night in Pittsburgh and a lot of people couldn’t make it. We still had a good turnout, but a lot of people couldn’t make it because of the snow.

That sucks. Snow doesn’t ever sit quite right with reggae rock bands.

I hate winter. I wouldn’t care to see snow ever again.

[Laughs] I assume that you guys are writing some tunes for the warmer months ahead of us then.

Yeah. The colder it is, the warmer the songs are going to feel.

Sweet. Ballyhoo! has a few more tour dates coming up. How has the response been so far?

The shows have been really good. We’re just getting started. This is our first string of shows of the year. Good turnouts and good reception so far. We’re visiting a lot of places we’ve been before, and a couple for the first time. We’re trying to play more shows until school lets out and kinda harvest [laughs].

Very good. Have you guys incorporated your new single, “The Front Porch,” into the live sets?

Yeah, we’ve been playing it at all the shows. The best way to promote a release is to play the song. I’m hoping people right then and there go on their iPhones and download the song off iTunes.

That would be ideal!

Yeah, it’s pretty cool that people can come see your show and have all your music for the ride home, instantly.

Absolutely. And nowadays, they probably listened to a few tracks before they arrived to the show too. You’ll have to live up to that record.

We try to perform better than we do on the album by incorporating the crowd. We like the crowd to be involved and sing along. It makes it a fun experience overall.

Right. With your band’s particular style, it’s all about the vibe. People have to feel the music.

People get more into it when there’s more people to feed off of. Even when there’s crappy weather and a smaller crowd, the crowd will find a way to bond with the band. Also, on the other side, when you have a packed show, people get even more wild and loose. We try to make our own energy on stage too and get people excited no matter how many people are there.

And, no one’s really coming to a concert to have a bad time.

Right. Though, sometimes we’ll open for bigger bands like 311 or Pepper, and there will be people packed in the front row that are obviously there to see the headliner, but here we come and they’ve never heard of us. They’ll have this stone look on their face. I know that they came to see the headliner, but let’s have a good time, come on [laughs].

That can be quite intimidating, right?

A little bit. We never know what to expect. It’s different from city to city. Different parts of the country have different mindsets. Ultimately, everyone’s there to have a good time. There are audiences that are just harder to get. I’m big on trying to get the crowd involved by putting myself out there. But, sometimes you don’t get the results you wanted. It’s whatever.

It’s all good though. Some fans aren’t meant to be wooed. Let’s change gears for a second and talk about your upcoming music. I hear you guys are working on a new album, which is set for release in the summer.

That’s the plan.

Does the record have a title yet?

No title yet. It’s still in its infancy. There are so many ideas flying around. We’re going to be heading back down to Florida for pre-production. We have a handful of songs ready to go and basic ideas that we want to let grow.

Was your last full-length, ‘Cheers,’ recorded in Florida too?

No, we started recording ‘Cheers’ in the summer of 2007, and went to WrightWay Studios in Baltimore to record the bass, drums and guitars. A few weeks later, our producer — Scott Ralston — came out to our hometown and I did vocals, acoustic guitar and overdubs in his RV. We recorded in Walmart parking lots, my grandmother’s driveway, and other random places. It was all done kind of guerrilla style. One time we even recorded in the middle of the woods because we were looking for a super quiet place. We had a really good time recording that album.

I suppose your forthcoming album will have a slightly different feel. Especially if you’re recording it indoors this time [laughs].

[Laughs] Yeah, we’re going to be locked up and living in the studio for a few weeks. We want to get this thing the best that we can. I’m really excited to do it this way. We’ve never done it this way before. There’s usually all these distractions. This is going to be solid Ballyhoo! time.

Sounds great. Will you all be jamming out the songs?

Some of the songs, yeah. I always have a lot of songs in my head that I’ll show the band. Then, we’ll tweak it. We usually jam it out and let it go where it wants to go. In the end, we’ll work on arrangements and things like that. It’s going to be a combination of everything.

I hope that there’s a real live feeling to the album. And I hope that people get immersed in it. We’re going to work really hard on it. It’s been too long. Our last record was technically put out three years ago. We’re itching and ready to get back.

Awesome. Rumor has it that this new record will be released by Law Records, which is owned and run by the band Pepper. Tell us a bit about how you got hooked up with them.

Sure. Well, I’ve always been in touch with Yesod [Williams] from Pepper. We would email each other — nothing crazy. We would be out on the road a lot, going coast to coast every year. And I guess they started seeing us doing a lot of work. Then, Pepper bassist Bret [Bollinger] started getting in touch with me. I was sending him songs and he would critique them. About six months ago, they told us they wanted to sign us. It took a while to get all the paperwork done, but now we’re ready to go. The ink is dry.

Now you’re trapped!

[Chuckles] We are trapped.

Honestly, it sounds wonderful. Pepper is great.

Yeah, they’re great guys. Also, it’s an indie label that’s really open and run by musicians. It’s a label by musicians for musicians. They understand creativity and know where we’re coming from. I can’t imagine there being a lot of tug-of-war when it comes to finalizing the record and the kind of stuff we’ll be putting on the album. They’ve been really stoked with what we’ve been showing them. We don’t feel any pressure from them. It feels really good.

Definitely. They won’t be telling you to change your style or musical direction anytime soon either.

Yeah. We’re just going to go in there and do 15-20 songs and knock it down to the best 12 or 14. And, there’s nothing too weird about our style. The reception has always been pretty good. There’s no worry of putting out some weird album that no one’s going to want to listen to.

Sure. It’s all relatable.

Simplicity is key. I think if you try to overthink things it’ll start getting out of hand. I write about everything that happens to me, which in turn happens to millions of other people as well. I think the subject matter naturally comes out relatable and people can get into it. Melodically, I try to come up with the best stuff I can to hook you in and pull at your heartstrings. I’ve been moved by many songs because of the way the vocal melodies are.

Totally. Any new ideas that you’re hoping to try in the studio this time around?

I’ve always wanted to put some strings on an album. Different things like that would be fun. Whether or not that will be available for us, I don’t know. Blaze, our DJ, has actually picked up keys, so we’re starting to add some piano and organ. I feel like there’s been more texture to the music lately. I want to keep adding texture and making the songs rich. I think that’s what we’re going to roll with. Of course, there will also be the straight up punk rock tunes as well.

Cool. I’m sure a summer tour will be following the release too.

Oh yeah. One of the coolest things about playing the style of music we play is that we always end up playing in beach towns. So, we always go to the beach during the day [laughs].

That doesn’t sound too bad!

It’s not too bad at all. I get to have a margarita during the day and rock out at night.

[Laughs] Nice. Well, keep warm on tour and have fun in the studio. See you out on the road.

Absolutely, thanks!

Pick up Ballyhoo!’s latest single, The Front Porch.

For upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.

You can also download Ballyhoo!’s songs “Paper Dolls” and “Cali Girl” for Rock Band.