The sensitive lyrics. The artfully spiked hair. The squirrel cheeks. Using these ingredients, 23-year-old Howie Day transformed himself from an everyday boy with a guitar into a boy with a record deal and adoring groupies. So we conned him into spilling his secrets. To write a good song, he says, "write the melody without the accompaniment." To survive on the road, pack "Febreze. You can do all your laundry -- just spray your clothes with Febreze." And to copy his perfect bed-head lid? "That's a trade secret. The truth is, I have the worst hair on the face of the earth. My mom cried because she was afraid I would never be able to get a job. I think you have to have bad hair genes."
Day grew up in rock star-deficient Maine, and one day he simply decided that playing guitar would be his job. His parents owned a restaurant -- where he played his first gig, and where Stephen King sometimes stopped in to chow, but not to jam. (Day says, "I don't wanna dis Stephen King's band, but he's a hell of a lot better writer.")
Day skipped college in favor of the real School of Rock -- the road. He spent two and a half years in a Ford Explorer, then one year in a van. After hearing that he sold 30,000 albums out of his trunk, Epic records came waving a contract and a pimped-out tour bus -- where Day has lived for the past two years. He's opened for Tori Amos, Jack Johnson, and Sting, and he'll play almost anywhere. He just did a gig at a Hollister store in an Indianapolis mall (Uh-oh! Tiffany flashback!) -- not because he has an insidious marketing deal with the chain, but because "they asked," he says, and "I got a whole bunch of free Hollister clothes."
Fans bootleg Day's shows Grateful Dead-style; you can bask in the love of the 1,500 registered users at www.howiefan.com -- and then trade setlists and MP3s with them. Still, Day won't feel like he's made it big until -- well, "I probably will never feel like I made it big," he says.
That said, he's already had a rock-star moment in handcuffs (and headlines) when he was arrested in Madison, Wisconsin, in March for allegedly locking a girl in the bathroom of his tour bus and then breaking her friend's cell phone -- an incident that Day's record company won't let him talk about. But don't dwell on that unfortunate event; judge Day for yourself. He's touring in support of the disc Stop All the World Now, and this week, he holds court at the Pompano Beach Amphitheatre with headliners O.A.R. (Of A Revolution), whom some would classify as a jam band, but Day calls "a bunch of friends -- a party band out to have a good time on a hot summer night." -- Deirdra Funcheon