Take a look back at the original Warped Tour lineup from 1995 and you’ll see bands like No Doubt, Sublime, and Supernova. With the festival’s rapid expansion and desire to include more diverse artists, today’s lineup is a far cry from the original punk-centric focus of the tour. Luckily, Ballyhoo! frontman Howi Spangler has a plan to bring back the nostalgic sounds of ’90s ska punk with the band’s new material. The Aberdeen, Md. four-piece just recently completed the entire run of the Vans Warped Tour and are already back on tour until the end of September.
We had the chance to chat with Howi about life on Warped Tour, sharing the stage with reggae legends, and what the band hopes to accomplish with their next record.
OS: You’ve had a busy summer already! Tell us about the performances you’ve done so far.
HS: It has been busy! We started the [Warped ]Tour in Salt Lake City, and we’re doing the whole thing. Every day’s been awesome, the kids have been really great. We’re getting a lot of new listeners that come up every day, so that’s awesome. We have a guy in a sombrero that’s out there selling CDs in the morning to the line, turning new heads. We hooked up this thing called the “Ghetto Blaster,” it’s basically our handtruck and we have a speaker, a generator and a mixer, and our set time on it, and it just blasts our songs. So he takes that out in the morning and it just puts it right in their face, like, “This is Ballyhoo! Listen up!”
OS: What has been your favorite stop/state on Warped so far?
HS: Chicago was awesome, Chicago was really good. That’s the first one that comes to mind. We had a really great crowd. San Francisco was amazing as well, we had a really good time there. We had five or six hundred people out there. Boston was really great today, too!
OS: What other bands have you most enjoyed seeing at Warped Tour?
HS: Motionless in White, those guys are sick. Just heavy screaming, heavy guitars, they paint themselves black and white…the crowd was nuts, it was really cool to see that. New Found Glory’s killing it, Yellowcard’s killing it every day. Tonight Alive, We Are The In Crowd, A Loss For Words…there’s just so many good bands.
Like Lupe Fiasco, Billa Camp hails from Chi-Town, loves skateboard culture and is an exemplar of alternative hip hop. And here’s another similarity”both appeared in the video for Fiasco’s song Kick, Push.” Still, Camp’s got his own thing going on, like an encyclopedic knowledge of rock, for starters. On Grateful Dread, the rapper name checks dozens of artists, starting with Sublime, Radiohead and Nirvana before moving onto Talking Heads, MC5 and Flaming Lips. Even Phish gets a shout-out on the hypnotic track, which combines lashes of cymbals and droning textures that sound like a deviant version of Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker. Stylistically, Camp’s music runs the gamut”from surf guitars on California to a crackling samples of the 1950s hit Why Don’t You Believe Me on Show Time to the banging Beat Street with its hefty dose of Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa. You don’t know where you’re going when you put on a Billa Camp track, but you can be sure you’re gonna have a good time.
Like most musicians at the age of twenty, singer-songwriter Rome Ramirez was inspired by the music he listened to growing up, including influential reggae group Sublime. Little did he know, he would not only be given the opportunity to jam with Sublime, but to also become their new frontman. The band had not performed as Sublime since the death of original vocalist Bradley Nowell in 1996, but founding members Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh knew that Ramirez would be the right choice to sing for the newly reunited band. Sublime with Rome released their debut album, Yours Truly, in July 2011 and have been touring nonstop since. We had the opportunity to speak with Rome himself about fronting this legendary band, what it’s like to write with Bud and Eric and his future plans for a solo record.
OS: What is your musical background and how did it lead you to connecting with the members of Sublime?
RR: I started playing guitar when I was eleven years and I wanted to learn Sublime songs. I played other instruments too, but I was mainly a guitar player. I didn’t start singing until way, way later. I was in a studio in Orange County, and the studio owner was good friends with Eric, the bass player of the band. Eric would come by and hang out and shit, and over the course of time we started to jam. My soon-to-be-manager caught wave that a kid who kind of sounded like Brad was playing Sublime songs once in a while with Eric. She thought of the idea and talked to Eric, and Eric was like, “I was thinking the same thing!” Next thing was going up to Tahoe and seeing Bud…
OS: That’s crazy!
RR: Dude, it’s nuts. It happened so fast!
OS: What is like to be so young, but performing with a band that has a twenty year legacy?
RR: I grew up listening to that music, in particular, so to be able to pick up a phone and call them is just fucking weird [laughs], let alone being on stage and playing their songs!
The effective blending of two genres is never an easy task, especially when it comes to the smooth stylings of reggae and the rough intensity of rock. Arguably, the only major band to really have a lot of success blending these specific genres of music was Sublime. Enter: Passafire. Since their formation in 2003, the band has maintained the balance between the two wildly different elements in order to create a truly explosive live act that has dazzled many. With their latest album Start From Scratch, which debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard Reggae Charts, Passafire has taken leaps and bounds towards proclaiming a new leader in the musical style that Sublime helped to popularize in the ’90s. Drummer Nick Kubley stopped by to give us some backstory behind the creation process of Start From Scratch and the magic behind their live shows.
OS: You started your own label FlameGuy Records when recording Start From Scratch. Was this due to a desire for more creative control? Or did you just feel like it was time to strike out on your own?
NK: It was more to strike out on our own. We’ve always had complete creative control. We just wanted to do our own thing and be in charge of every aspect of putting out arecord.
OS: What does your new keyboardist Mike DeGuzman bring to the band?
NK: Mike brings the possibility of doing more. His level of skill as a pianist and multi instrumentalist has opened a lot of doors for Passafire musically. Now that we have Mike, we feel like we can really push our sound.
England’s Ivy League was a vocal trio with two Top 10 hits in 1965. While that band could deliver transcendent harmonies, they couldn’t, say, bang the life out of a metal trashcan in perfect rhythm. Not like our Ivy League here in the States. Purveyors of American rock reggae, this California band’s music has appeared on MTV’s Score, The Vans Warped Tour, and XBOX 360’s Amped 3, which should give you an idea of the energy level you’re dealing with. The Only Escape kicks off with the brazen howl of singer Luke George, lunging guitars and kooky synths. Theirs is a high-octane ruckus that pulls in bits of ska, garage, reggae and whatever else tickles the band’s fancy. Fans of Sublime and adrenaline junkies, beware. Addiction is nigh.
The coveted Grand Prize at OurStage is as illusive as it is dangerous. We were curious about what happened to previous Grand Prize winners, so We put on our “Where are they now?” caps and found an astonishing truth. The OurStage Grand Prize may be just as cursed as opening an umbrella indoors. Sure, there’s glamour, exposure, and of course that $5,000, but something the artists didn’t plan on was an end to their band. That’s right, we’ve found a few cases where an artist will rise to the top only to find that their days as a band are over. Don’t believe in black cats and broken mirrors? Check out these groups and their stories. Draw your own conclusions about the curse of the Grand Prize.
Inspired by Coldplay and U2 (among others), Northern Room has been a familiar face on OurStage. Building synth melodies, energetic drumming, and soaring vocals are just a few of the characteristics that afforded this band a grand prize win in July of 2008 with their song “Last Embrace“. They were even featured on our blog during the July competitions, showcasing an interview between OurStage’s Alyssa Jayne Hale and lead vocalist, AJ. Despite their large scale aspirations, just months after winning the grand prize, the band played a farewell show and called it quits. Thankfully, the band’s inspirational and uplifting music can still be heard on their OurStage profile. Check them out and pay your respects to a timeless grand prize winner from deep within the OurStage archives.
Dig even deeper into those archives and you’ll find Oddway, a female-fronted rock band from Boston. Their sound can be compared to artists ranging from Sublime to Alanis Morisette. The bluesy, soulful melodies of singer Petrina Foley pair so well with the skillful guitar playing of Ryan Ordway that they seemed destined for greatness. After winning the first ever grand prize at OurStage in March 2007, the band enjoyed a month or two more of success in the charts. Then they met their fatal end, the well-meshed sound was just not enough to prevent artistic conflicts of interest that lead to the breakup.
Two well-accomplished OurStage artists have since risen from the ashes of Oddway. Singer/songwriter Ryan Ordway has recently enjoyed success in the charts; fronting his own solo act has given him the artistic control he needed to thrive as a musician. Additionally, lead singer Petrina Foley has also posted her own badges of honor in the singer/songwriter (female) channel. Her style brings back memories of Oddway with a slightly more indie sound, suggesting hints of Ingrid Michaelson or even Regina Spektor.
Of course, a curse is only what you make it. The truth is, these bands achieved the highest honor that OurStage has to offer, and their music supports the award. So maybe the Grand Prize isn’t cursed after all. Oddway produced some phenomenal solo artists and Northern Room’s lead singer is optimistic about future musical goals for the band members.
So go ahead, keep listening, because in the music industry, you make your own luck. Our artists will keep submitting their songs even if a few of them will be throwing salt over their shoulder or knocking on wood.