Through 25 years and eight independent albums, the last four on their own Right Coast Records, Ballyhoo! have earned the exclamation point which marks their name. Starting in the basement of their mom’s Aberdeen, MD, home, rocking out on guitar and drums respectively, practicing every day, brothers Howi and Donald Spangler formed the proto-punk band in the mold of Green Day and Nirvana, with an eye towards the emerging ska genre led by Goldfinger, Sublime, 311 and No Doubt.
“I wanted to be Billie Joe Armstrong back then,” says Howi, who still lives in the same area where he grew up, not far from the Chesapeake Bay, his brother close by.
Inspired by his father – a rock fan who favored Grand Funk Railroad and Led Zeppelin – taking him to a Ratt/Poison show with his brother when he was six years old, Howi began writing “love songs to girls I pined for in middle and high school” when he was 12, and by the time he was 20, had self-released Ballyhoo!’s debut album, the aptly named 365-Day Weekend, on their own Hooligan Records, in 2000.
The group’s eighth and most recent studio album, the breezy, ska-fueled, hook-filled Message to the World, on their own Right Coast Records, finds the self-declared “beach-rockers,” having grown up in public, accepting the responsibilities of adulthood while still hanging on to their dreams of world domination. Songs like “Social Drinker,” “Dead by Tomorrow” and “Dark Sunglasses” explore the dangers of excessive partying, while “Fighter” and ‘Renegade” offer a not-so-gentle “I told you so” to all the naysayers who said they couldn’t succeed.
“We’ve had our fun over the years, drinking beer and Jaeger shots,” muses Howi, a father now, like his brother. “You have to write what you know. I’m not a kid anymore. I have bills, rent to pay, kids to raise and a lot more to worry about.”
On Message, new songs like “Scarlet Blue” and “California King,” which suggests one never go to bed angry with a spouse, address this domesticity, even while the title track still clings to the band’s post-punk idealism.
“I try not to dwell on the past,” says Howi about his songwriting. “I try not to get caught up in stuff that doesn’t mean anything in the big picture. We tend to hold ourselves back from achieving our goals or even enlightenment. We have to appreciate the adventures, the ups and downs along the way, which are as valuable as the end destination. It’s all about the path, not necessarily the achievement.”
Still, Ballyhoo!’s feats cannot be underestimated. After establishing themselves on the local club circuit in the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) area, with the release of their sophomore album, Do It for the Money!, which featured a cover shot of the group in their birthday suits, Ballyhoo! began spreading out along the eastern seaboard to North Carolina and Virginia Beach, eventually adding hot spots in Colorado and on the west coast, with forays into Hawaii, Mexico and Canada. Now a part of a burgeoning American Reggae scene which includes bands like management stablemates Authority Zero and The Expendables, along with Pepper, Slightly Stoopid, Iration, Rebelution, Stick Figure, Tribal Seeds and Long Beach Dub Allstars, Ballyhoo! will return to a busy touring schedule that ranges from 135 to 200 shows a year, as soon as the pandemic permits. Ballyhoo! has opened for the likes of 311, Dirty Heads, Iration, Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, Rebelution, Colie Buddz and Slightly Stoopid, while grinding the summers of 2012 and 2016 on the famed Vans Warped Tour.
“It’s been incredible watching this scene grow and flourish,” says Howi. “It’s been a slow build, but those are the best kind. It’s all about having the patience to get through the hard times, but to enjoy the great, wonderful moments along the way.”
With its newest members now veterans – keyboardist Vandrey has been a member since 2000, while bassist Lucera joined in 2014 – Ballyhoo! is ready for what the future brings. Stylistically, their music ranges from the hard-edged punk of 2018’s Detonate, which captured the feelings of anger and depression from dealing with personal loss and the exhaustion generated by over a decade on the road, to the island reggae beats of the follow-up, Message to the World.
“My songwriting approach never wavers,” insists Howi about the deceptively dark lyrics behind some of the most lilting ska beats. “I go for melodies, hooks and big choruses, no matter the style. Nothing would blindside our fans. Being an independent artist not owing anything to anyone is a beautiful thing. We’re not bound by any preconceived expectation of what it’s supposed to sound like. The best songs transcend genre.”
Ballyhoo! have been doing things their own way for 25 years now.
“Whatever you want to achieve, just focus on that and work towards it,” explains Howi about the Ballyhoo! ethos. “Don’t worry about followers, views or even money. Just keep making good stuff. One day, it may be possible to finally quit that day job and live your dream full-time..”
Ballyhoo! is still doing just that, purveying good vibes, positivity and fun live shows meant to take you away from real life for just a little bit.