In some circles, a ballyhoo is all fins and scales — a needle-like bait fish used by offshore fishermen. Attached to hooks at the end of long poles while the boats troll, the ballyhoos serve as glimmering live lures, attracting larger fish to the surface of the water. This definition, translated to mean “penis fish” in English, isn’t the only one. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a ballyhoo is also a “talk or writing designed to get people excited or interested in something.” For the reggae-rock band Ballyhoo!, lead singer Howi Spangler says the latter definition is more fitting.
By Jane Claire Hervey
“We were just a loud noise in my mom’s basement,” he says. The four-piece band — comprised of Baltimore natives Howi Spangler (lead singer), Donald Spangler (drums), JR Gregory (bass guitar) and Scott Vandrey (keyboard) — formed in July 1995, back when the boys were still in high school. Growing up in the music scene, Howi and his brother Donald went to glam metal concerts with their dad and the two dreamed of starting their own band. Although the brothers listened to a lot of metal and Green Day when they were younger, all it took was one song, “Here In Your Bedroom” by Goldfinger, to turn them to reggae and ska. A friend threw out the name “Ballyhoo!” for the band when Howi was 14 years old, and, although he had no idea what it meant, it stuck.
From there, Ballyhoo! began developing their sound and participating in the reggae lifestyle. Although some may not pin Baltimore as the place to start a reggae band, Howi says Baltimore’s beach has the relaxed reggae vibe one would expect from California or Hawaii — complete with surfers and all. Now, traveling all over the country, the band has experienced stylistic growth and met some of the best in the industry. Their latest single, “No Good,” off of their fifth studio album “Pineapple Grenade,” was produced by Rome Ramirez of Sublime With Rome. The song still maintains Ballyhoo!’s signature reggae vibe, but has much more of an electronic sound than the band is used to, which Howi credits to Rome’s touch. The band got Rome in on the track after they bumped into him at a radio station while traveling on tour. After an exchange of emails, Howi started sending Rome some of their song demos, and the collaboration between the two organically culminated into the reggae-electronic lovechild that is “No Good.”
On March 13, Ballyhoo! will play a show at 8:30 p.m. at the Buddha stage on 7th Street and Neches Street for the Heart of Texas RockFest , a downtown Austin alternative to South By Southwest. While in town, the Austin venue veterans (the band has played at Emo’s, Stubb’s, Flamingo Cantina, The Parish and more) plan to eat some Stubb’s barbecue and hang out with their fellow reggae-rockers Iration, who are also in town for South By events. Although the band will be heading out to Corpus Christi come Friday for a show at House of Rock, ORANGE suggested they grab a couple of tacos at Juan in a Million before they hit the road. Sounding like an actual Austinite, Howi says the band “loves tacos.”
To keep up with the band, download the Ballyhoo! app, which includes information on the band, as well as links to shows and a merchandise shop. For more updates, follow the band on Twitter or like the Ballyhoo! page on Facebook.