“I thought ska was dead? That’s like No Doubt Days.” The text came over the smartphone and lit up the dark corner of my world in reply to the latest Youtube music video I sent out of “No Good” by Ballyhoo!. The colleague on the other end was wondering about that ska punk show going down. Ballyhoo!, the Aberdeen, Maryland based ska band performed at Rawlings’ Gas Monkey Bar & Grill in Dallas to a large crowd of your ska punk devotees. They were there with another ska band, Passafire for the Winter Brew Ha Ha Tour. Many of the fans could be categorized into a mixed set of diverse age ranges, from your 19 year old punk college set to your die hard ska devotees, who are now in their mid to late thirties. These aren’t your regular groupies of plastic chested, big hair and tight shirts that you see at every Dallas concert but a Dallas fan base that most entertainment writers would overlook. It’s puzzling because you wonder “where did they come from?" because for the most part they are pretty chill. Many of the fans came out for the headliners- Passafire, another fantastic band from Georgia with progressive mixed in with dub, reggae and rock, adding hard sounds to the often misnomered genre of slow and easy reggae music. The unique opportunity to interview lead man Howi Spangler from Ballyhoo! lends the occasion to see a music devotee dedicated to his craft and dream.
At 33 years of age, most of Howi’s contemporaries are in the crowd watching Ballyhoo!. These kids from the 90’s grew up in the ska punk era. Now they are seriously talking about getting married or their jobs, as one fan’s conversation rung in my head. Soon after, the same fan can be seen jumping up and down with his hoodie over his hat and arm stretched up, palms out lending itself to the beat. Howi towers over most at 6 feet 6 and he is often mistaken for Neil Patrick Harris. If Neil Patrick Harris could be edgier and sexier than he would be embodied in Howi. Howi has a girlfriend, so hands off, but it is quite unusual for me to see someone his age at this stage stay so long in a band. Ballyhoo! has 5 albums with the latest being Pineapple Grenade in the Ska Punk or Ska Core genre. For those unfamiliar with this genre, it was led by bands such as Reel Big Fish, No Doubt and of course the Mighty, Mighty Bosstones.
Who is Ballyhoo?
Howi and his brother, Donald Spangler, started their love for music at a very young age. Their dad had just quit his own band, but gave the love of music to his sons, and their mom gave them the lessons of hard work and commitment. As Howi says, “At the age of 13, I picked up a guitar and never looked back. “ Howi as lead vocalist and guitarist is often compared to Billy Joe from Green Day which was one of the bands he used to listen to. When asked about that comparison and Ballyhoo’s music being a lot softer and soulful than Green Day, Spangler states, “I guess I’m kinda reserved . . . a little more reserved. I try to make a good show out of it and bring in the crowd. I kinda yell at the crowd a little bit.” Ballyhoo! also includes Scott Vandrey and J.R. Gregory.
DCE: How did you guys first get together? How did you first get into music and who inspired you?
Howi: It was my dad before my mom made him quit. I was about 4 or 5 years old, I caught the last, the tail end of that . . . just hang out in the basement and watch the band jam. It was the coolest thing ever. He would buy us gear. Drums and guitars and things.
We had a keyboard, casio keyboard. My brother and I would band, play band. Play like Skid Row, Motley Crue or whatever. Whatever tape we had. We always had this dream of starting a band. . . . We just kinda kept a dream.
DCE: It’s been a long road for you and it hasn’t happened overnight. What makes you stick to it? What makes you stay with it (the band)?
Howi: I love the feeling of being on stage, I love the feeling of writing music. . . . I love the idea of touching people and moving them. Really connecting. We all went through tough times and music was a big part of the healing process. The thought of giving back to other people is really cool. It’s a gift that we can give. To do it at this level, you have to love it. It’s exhausting and disappointing at times. It’s not for everybody. If you want to know if you can do this you need to get out there and start touring.
DCE: From the first album to the most recent one, Pineapple Grenade, how have the themes changed? What was the inspiration for the theme Pineapple Grenade?
Howi: Just like our last record, Daydreams, we didn’t really have a direction. We just like the songs, keep the songs. It sort of just worked out. Daydreams was a very uplifting type of album. I like all of them to be positive. The last song on Daydreams has that big epic piano layer and just keep going, keep moving.
Pineapple Grenade has that . . . kinda tropical, beachy, definitely beachy. We got to play around. Lighter not heavier. The name of the album came from a jar of weed in Colorado. Very cool. It was a little tiny jar sitting next to a lot of bigger ones. I kinda looked at it and thought that would be a great album. It describes us, tropical beachy sound with grenade, like a punch. That’s how I feel about music so it kinda worked out. And the artwork was done by Shaun Logan.
DCE: Which artists are on your playlist right now?
Howi: There’s a band called RDGLDGRN – very, very cool. Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) is on drums and also features Pharrell. Very cool record. I always go back to my Green Day stuff of course. And UB40. UB40 is the chill. It’s cool. Very sexy. I’m checking out the Neighbourhood too. Their record is pretty cool. Very chill and dark. I like that. It has a sexy vibe to it.
DCE: I: I get that from your music too that it also has that sort of sexy. You can make a break up sound sexy.
Howi: Yeah, that’s the whole idea. More people should play that while they are making love.
DCE: For the touring part, what are your future plans this year?
Howi: We are going to finish this tour at the end of February, and take a week off. Get back into touring. Other places we haven’t been to in awhile. Kinda like the south. In like March. That will be a month or so. Come home and do a big spring hometown show. So we are kind of looking at that now and looking at bands to tour with. It’s always about staying on the grind and trying to get the word out and sell the record.
DCE: How does your mom feel about you guys being in a band?
Howi: My mom passed away when I was a kid. We had the band for about a year before she died. She got to see us at a show. She loved it. She did ground us when we didn’t get good grades. So she just pulled it out of her head like “Two Months, no shows.” Can’t practice nothing. But she was a hard ass like that. She was making sure we were on the right path.
DCE: Do you think you take some of that, where you say she passed away when you were young. . . Do you think you take some of that emotion and put that in your music as well?
Howi: Yes, I always – not as much anymore. I’ll think about her when I’m on stage. I’ll think about, Man I wish she could see this right now. Sometimes I play like she is in the crowd. I play like she’s out there watching me. All proud.
The Winterbrew Ha Ha Tour
In the Winterbrew Ha Ha Tour with headliner Passafire as well as Bum Lucky and Pacific Dub for Dallas’ show, the Gas Monkey Bar & Grill seems to have a great setup for live music. Their own crew expertly managing the sound, one has to wonder how this place does it night after night with live bands. The only nights they don’t have live music going on is on Mondays and Tuesdays. Anyway, the crowd in the bar and grill is definitely not the same one that came out for last night’s show. They probably should have ventured into the live music area because as soon as Pacific Dub came on and the crowd got comfortable enough to venture towards the stage, it was on. Restlessness ensued as the constant check, check for Pacific Dub seemed to keep the crowd mystified. A little too long but eventually the Huntington Beach band made their presence known. Keep an eye on lead guitar Bryce Klemer; his style is effortless and riffs are on point, a treat for the crowd as giggly, over-aged, wanna-look-like-school-girls bought him shots and a beer chaser.
DCE had never heard of this tour, but once the notice about Ballyhoo! came out, it was a slow night so why not check out Rawling’s establishment and get into the groove of the once-thought-to-be-dead genre of Ska-Punk. When Ballyhoo! got to the stage you definitely get the feeling that Howi has emerged into his comfort zone. He’s no longer playing “BAND” like he was when he was 8 years old, along with his brother and his bandmates – they are doing it. The first part of the set lends its way to tried and true hard guitar chords – more punk than ska. Maybe it’s an homage to Green Day that they start out that way. Maybe it just fits. Sandcastles, Battle Cry and Bad Credit all fit well into that sound. And what about women and heartache? No band could do the crowd justice without song themes that the crowd can relate to. “She Wants to Destroy Me!” and of course their popular hit, "No Good", rang through everyone’s ears. It makes you wonder how Howi can make pain sound so good. The previous album, Daydreams, showcases a lot of piano layers, and Scott Vandrey does a fantastic job with beats and percussion notes. What would Ska be without talking about sensi? The band goes on with “Marijuana Laws”, and the list goes on. Overall the crowd was enthralled, and it leads one to believe that Ska is in fact not entirely dead in Dallas. Get their latest album, “Pineapple Grenade”, via iTunes or Google Play
Disclaimer: Heather Buen and staff were invited to the show for the purposes of this stellar review. Get insights and more on Dallas pop culture happenings with everything from art, film and music right here by subscribing today! or liking us on Facebook.