Shea Boynton's love of music is all over the map. But as he'll tell you, that kind of wanderlust is just in his genes.
"My grandfather was a touring jazz musician for years," says Boynton, leader of the upbeat, hard-to-peg Denver outfit the Gromet. "He was a saxophonist. He played a lot back on the East Coast, from Maine down to Florida. That's how he met my grandmother. That love of playing music just got passed through the family. A lot of people in my family, most of my aunts and uncles, play music."
That facility and almost familial ease with making music is fully evident on Colorado Captain, the Gromet's new eight-song CD. Anchored in solid yet explorative songcraft, the trio — singer/guitarist Boynton, bassist Nick Pittman and drummer John Lewthwaite — feels like a brotherhood. Fittingly, it should come as no surprise that Boynton first started getting recognition around town as a member of Autonomous Collective, the progressive-minded and now-defunct group he played in alongside his brother (bassist Fatguy Boynton, now of the Archive) a few years back.
Before Autonomous Collective made its own small yet distinct mark on the local scene, Boynton played with Pittman in a less refined and idiosyncratic outfit, the emo-leaning punk band Budd Keyari. "I played music all the time growing up," Boynton recalls. "I started playing drums at the age of six, right after my family moved here from New England. But I probably didn't started writing songs until I picked up the guitar in seventh grade, and in my freshman year, I started playing with Nick, who was five years older than me and already out of high school."
After Boynton left Autonomous Collective in 2006, he and Lewthwaite — the next-door neighbor of his girlfriend — took off for New England as an acoustic duo in an embryonic version of the Gromet.
"I took off to the East Coast, and John moved with me. We started playing acoustically out there. We lived in a pop-up camper off the coast of Maine and just surfed and played music for a summer. 'Merrimack,' one of the songs off the new CD — we wrote that one in the pop-up."
Wistful, twangy and suffused with a rootsy afterglow, "Merrimack" is a vivid reminder in song that the Appalachians don't stop at the Mason-Dixon Line. There's a road-weary wonder and nostalgia to its jangly tale of New England's "back-country roads" and "catching falling leaves at thirty miles an hour." What's easy to miss is just how accomplished the music is: Despite its instant absorbability, there's plenty of chops, nuance and harmony to the easygoing tune. The romance of the road, though, eventually wore off.
"We played all around New England — Boston and New Hampshire and all that — but we were just getting kind of bored of the East Coast," Boynton remembers. "And we had a lot more connections here, as far as music goes, just from doing the Autonomous thing. We're from here. My girlfriend's from here. I've spent most of my life here. We just wanted to come home."
One thing Boynton knew for sure after his many months living in a camper in the rolling New England hills: He wanted a band again. Rather than jumping right back into the local scene he'd been away from for almost two years, he and Lewthwaite waited until the right opportunity came along — which, as it turns out, was a chance run-in with Pittman.
"We were still a duo when we came back," says Boynton. "We weren't really playing actively. We were more or less looking to start a band. I ran into Nick at a bar. I'd kind of lost touch with him over the years since the punk band. He plays bass, so it just kind of fit."
From there, the newly solidified lineup of the Gromet retrofitted a few of the acoustic songs — including "Merrimack" and "Beach Bummin'," a rollicking account of, well, bummin' on the beach in Maine — but focused mostly on new material. "We just wanted a fresh start," Boynton explains.
And fresh it is: As heard on Colorado Captain, the Gromet has been able to breeze past the formative stage and jump straight into the well-worn, comfort-food songwriting of the best classic rock. At the same time, the disc teems with tight, dramatic dynamics — a holdover from Boynton's and Pittman's post-hardcore days — and Boynton's laid-back yet impassioned delivery, a voice that's neither gravelly nor sweet, but something perfectly in between.
"We kind of wanted to be a multi-genre band," says Boynton. "It wasn't about necessarily pigeonholing ourselves in one genre. You can tell that from the new CD, especially. We want to do country. We want to do classic rock. Not to put ourselves on a pedestal or anything, but we're music lovers, and we like everything: reggae, rock, punk. We really do like every genre of music. It's just one of those things where we never want to be limited. I would personally get bored playing one genre all the time."
Drawing from the jazz tradition that runs in his blood, Boynton even leads his crew on a merry foray into ragtime with "Fritzel," one of the new CD's most spirited tracks. "We played that song at 3 Kings, and burlesque dancers danced to it," recalls Boynton. "It was bad-ass!"
But even as the Gromet embraces just about every genre of music under the sun, the group's music has a consistency and integrity that's unmistakably them. "Classic rock is the core," says Boynton. "Not jam-band stuff, by any means. That's not what we strive to be. Do we bring back the guitar solo a little bit? Yeah. But we're not a jam band. We don't solo for twenty minutes. With classic rock, country and blues and rock all fall into the same handbasket. And that's just us. You could use a million different words to describe us."
According to Boynton, though, it hasn't all been as easy as his music might make it seem: "For having been gone from the music scene for a couple years, I think we've been received really well. But being a multi-genre band can work for you and against you sometimes. But it does make us able to play with a lot of different bands, a lot of different crowds. We've played with metal bands. We've played with straight country bands. We've played with jam bands. We've played with punk bands.
"That's nice," he adds. "It can be difficult to carry a mood when you're multi-genre, though, I think. But we're energetic, and we smile when we play. We really enjoy it. It's not about getting up there and crying into the microphone for 45 minutes, you know?"
That's not to say that the Gromet shies away from moodier lyrical topics. For instance, "Sink or Sail," one of the catchiest and most inviting tracks on Colorado Captain, is also one of its most evocative. "It's a classic case of singing about girlfriend issues," says Boynton. "I've been in a relationship for seven years, and it's been a roller coaster. It's definitely plateaued now, and it's good. That's what that whole song is about. It's just laying it all out there.
"I think that's the hardest part," he goes on. "It seems really easy today for bands to write minor-key songs. You don't see a lot of bands writing good major-key songs. We don't particularly go out of our way to make sure everything we write is major, but we do try to pour some heart into it while making it fun. Keep it clever. Keep it energetic."
Even with such highs and lows in its music, energy is definitely a priority for the Gromet, which is somehow able to infuse the most dreamy and introspective song with punch and swing. Which just proves that, regardless of the myriad genres that flow through Boynton and company, punk is still the band's heartbeat.
"Simplicity: Punk rock was based on that," Boynton points out. "Simplicity and four chords. And that bleeds into country and rock as well. But there can be a progressiveness to it, too. That whole mentality is where we're coming from."