The all-knowing internet defines "ballyhoo" as "a buildup, hoopla, fanfare." And no title more aptly describes the musical output produced by the Aberdeen, Maryland, reggae/rock/punk fusion quartet known by that handle. Add an exclamation point to the end — Ballyhoo! — and one can already imagine the level of merriment set forth by this lively troupe before even pressing play.
The group has been on the grind since 1995 but only recently started making inroads in the music business. A successful jaunt across the country during the Vans Warped Tour in 2012 and an impressive showing on the Billboard charts for its self-released album, Pineapple Grenade, in 2013 helped them gain real traction.
It's been a long time coming for Ballyhoo!'s lead singer, Howi Spangler, who, as a Green Day- and Goldfinger-obsessed teenager, began writing his own pop-punk and ska creations. He hoped to separate himself from the hip-hop and mainstream rock environment that dominated his suburban Baltimore confines. Spangler and company toured constantly after high school, performing at house parties and high school gyms. The four-piece, slowly but surely, began earning a reputation as a fun-loving, party-starting type of band and roping in scores of fans.
Today the boys of Ballyhoo! refer to their followers as hooligans. Its raucous shows ultimately won over the ear of Scotch Ralston, famed producer of reggae-rock luminaries 311. Spangler's friend Ryan Siegel, lead vocalist for tropically like-minded Exes of Evil, name-dropped Spangler's crew to the fellas from 311. "A couple of months later, Scotch messaged me on MySpace out of the blue," explained Spangler. "Let's make a record together," it said. The collaboration resulted in Ballyhoo!'s second album, Cheers! (These guys are huge fans of the exclamation point, apparently!). It was released in May 2009 and led to prosperous opening spots not only for 311 but also for Matisyahu and Sublime With Rome.
"It's definitely a big fangirl moment sometimes," joked Spangler about touring with his idols. "At the same time, I feel like we've earned the respect of those bands enough to be playing alongside them."
In the already-crowded field of rocking reggae-punk synthesis, Ballyhoo! has done a stellar job standing out from the pack. Spangler attributes that to the group's unique balance of melody and rhythm. "We come off kind of hard with our punk side, but then we'll lay back a little and play some reggae jams on people," he said. "Touring has really helped push the band through as well, we just get out there and crush it."
And crush it Ballyhoo! has certainly done on its latest long player, Pineapple Grenade, the act's first release on its own label, Right Coast Records. The band deviated from its tropical punk formula, taking excursions into straight-up pop and R&B territories. "I want to play music that excites me and makes me feel young," Spangler admitted.
The band seems to have an unabashed affection for the pop tune. Its most recent effort, an EP titled Halo, features a cover of Bruno Mars' "The Lazy Song." This track has proven to be a hit for the Ballyhoo! men, debuting at number six on iTunes. Spangler's not afraid to admit he's a huge Mars fan. "He's got such a great voice and is an amazing songwriter," he said.
At the end of the day, Spangler doesn't take himself too seriously, and that's paying dividends in his music. "It's all about fun, good vibes, and trying to make people happy."