By Noah Hubbell
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In an age when rock and roll strikes some observers as increasingly passe, the members of Denver's Boss 302 still believe it's worthy of praise. Lead singer Rich Groskopf takes every available opportunity to call rock "the premier music genre." Later, when Groskopf and the other Bosses (guitarists Garrett Brittenham and Cheyne Bamford, bassist Alan Miller and drummer Jason White) are asked whether they prefer sex, drugs or rock and roll, they unanimously choose rock.
"With beer coming in second," Miller adds. "If that counts as a drug."
Boss 302's music certainly does. The band has attracted a legion of loyal fans thanks in large part to the dueling guitars of Brittenham and Bamford and the 4/4 timing of the Miller-and-White rhythm section.
The group may worship at the altar of Ozzy Osbourne, but its sound has most often been compared to that of the Dead Kennedys. But Groskopf's lyrics are more universal than Jello Biafra's: "They're mostly about girls and the way people treat each other," he says. "I don't mean to sound corny, but people are kind of nasty to one another." Nonetheless, he avoids preachy or political issues because, he claims, "we figure there's plenty of people handling that already."
Like members of many Denver bands, Groskopf, Brittenham, Miller and White met in high school and jammed together through college. By February 1993 the foursome was serious enough about music to advertise for a second guitarist--and, Groskopf says, "Cheyne was sent from on high. The ad said that we were into the Modern Lovers, Mudhoney and the Feelies. I guess we figured we'd get the right person. And he was."
Following a great rock-and-roll tradition, the fivesome named their band after a car. And not just any car: According to White, a writer for the area publication the The, as well as the group's automotive expert, a Boss 302 is "a Mustang that was made in the late Sixties/early Seventies. It wasn't only the car, it was also the engine they put in the car. There was a Boss 429, too."
"At the first open stage we played," Groskopf interjects, "some super-drunk biker guy in his forties said, `You guys are cool, but why don't you call yourselves the Boss 429s? It was a much more impressive engine.' But it didn't have the right ring to it. We liked Galaxie 500 a lot. We don't sound anything like that band, but we thought it was a cool name."
Soon, Boss 302 began earning a reputation as a local band's local band; today, practically every Seven South show or Lion's Lair gig the quintet performs is well attended by members of other Denver acts. "We just started playing, and those guys just started showing up," Brittenham explains.
White feels this kind of fraternization is unavoidable in what's becoming a close-knit scene. "Most all my really good friends are in bands," he says.
Boss 302 takes a lighthearted, common-man approach to performing. Groskopf, whose stage gear makes him look like a Nazi Pillsbury Doughboy, makes a practice of passing out gum to audience members as what he calls a "friendly sort of hello." Likewise, his between-song banter is as entertaining as the band's music. He throws plenty of sarcasm into the masterful announcer's voice he uses when introducing numbers or explaining technical difficulties. He even knows what seem like authentic Deutsch phrases--but ask for a translation and Groskopf (who says his surname means "big head") is forced into a confession.
"That's not real German. I was making that up. I can do French, too." To prove his point, he begins kissing White's arm while mumbling romantic-sounding nonsense a la Gomez Addams.
Boss 302's self-titled, five-song cassette, released this summer, is delivered in English and offers a good representation of the band. The tape kicks off with "Funny Funny," highlighted by bursts of Ramones-like background vocals, and concludes with the appropriate "Rock Song (Spirit of Rock)." The latter tune is immortalized in a video that Groskopf shot and edited while attending film school at the University of Colorado-Boulder last year; he likens it to old Beatles movies. It's very "retro," he says. "We're goofy and fun and we don't take stuff seriously."
And there's nothing passe about that.