Most punk rock bands have a bad rap for being unruly, loud, eccentric and downright disrespectful. I mean after all, that’s the point of punk isn’t it? This couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to the Escape Wheel, a local Denver Colorado punk rock band. I’d like to introduce you to Shea Boynton, guitar and lead vocals; Johnny Lewth, drums and vocals; Ian Baca, guitar; and Nick PIttman, bass. The band met years ago when they were kids, and their friendship has never wavered through high school, college degrees, an infamous country rock band named The Gromet, marriages, babies, and life in general. I had the pleasure of sitting down with these laid back and likable guys on Friday night at The Summit in downtown Denver prior to their show to get to know who they are, how they met and what makes their band as enjoyable as most punk rock bands, but simply Not the Same.
Outside of the Escape Wheel, are there other instruments you prefer to play?
Shea: I guess I’m a multi-instrumentalist, I don’t know. Without sounding pompous.
What else do you play?
Shea: I play the drums, I play bango, I play the lap steel……I play the Father [laughs].
John: Yeah, I play guitar as well, and sing. I started out pretty much playing drums and then moved on to guitar for a little while and then back on drums, it’s kind of back and forth, but I really enjoy playing drums for this kind of project; punk rock music.
Ian: I’m a guitar player, pretty much any stringed instrument.
Shea: Ukulele dude
Ian: Yeah, Ukulele, I play Ukulele.
What about bass, do you like bass too?
Ian: I played it but it’s not my favorite.
Nick: I play guitar around the house.
So I had heard that you guys were The Gromet prior to Escape Wheel. Is it the same band, with a different genre?
Shea: It was the three of us, except Ian wasn’t in it uh, Nick, John and I we all played in the Gromet together. We were like an all country band and we did that for probably five or six years and it was good. We traveled a lot and uh, yeah. It was fun. We just kinda put it down for a while and then decided to start a punk rock band just for fun. Any time we’re on the road, we listen to punk rock, and we all grew up listening to punk rock so we were like fuck it, let’s start a punk rock band.
John: Towards the end of the Gromet we all like, he [Shea] was having a kid, Nick was finishing up college, life got kinda busy and so it wasn’t intentional for the Gromet to really stop, but it just did and then after like a period of not playing music we just decided we needed to do something you know, to get together and have fun playing music so.
As the Gromet, why did you choose country as a musical genre if you all grew up listening to punk?
Shea: Um, I personally think they go hand in hand. I mean you could take any old country song and play it fast and it’s a good punk rock song, and vice versa. There’s a lot of great punk rock songs, you can slow them down or you could play them in a folk rhythm and they work. A good song is a good song, it really, I think you can play it any way. I mean I just listened the other day, it was a bluegrass tribute to Taking Back Sunday, it was killer. It just goes to show that a good song is a good song.
Nick: I think too that our…we got a little refined over the years too because we started playing punk rock way back in the day, we go way way way back.
John: Yeah we’ve all been friends for a really long time
Nick: And we’ve all been playing music together for a long time. I think as we got better and progressed our music got a little more complex.
Shea: I think I got the country bug with all of the alt-country that was coming around; Drag the River and The Avett Brothers and all that stuff, so I don’t know, it’s just fun. It was good. It was probably a little more rounded, it was more widely accepted I guess you could say. The type of music. I mean we could play, we played with punk rock bands, we played with straight country bands, we played with a lot of different genre bands and it worked in that way. This is a little more pigeon holed I guess you could say.
When did the Gromet stop?
Shea: We stopped that in the fall of 2013, we played our last show in Golden [Colorado], that’s pretty much where we started, was Golden. Me and him [John] lived in Golden. Um, so yeah that’s when it ended. We just kinda stopped playing for a while, my wife and I had a baby and just life you know? Took some time off and got back together and it’s been awesome, it’s been fun. We’ve been more fortunate than we probably should have been. We just played our first show as this band [Escape Wheel] in January.
What has Escape Wheel been doing prior to January?
Shea: Yeah so actually this dude that’s standing right here (he points to a man named Jason standing against the banister in the seating lounge) helped us do a couple recordings. Kind of a DIY, we went to a nice studio to do the drums, that’s kinda the hardest part, you need the most equipment for that. So for both EP’s we went into the studio to do drums and the rest we did in my basement. And we mixed and mastered everything with Mr. Jason Brogly.
Who decided to put Escape Wheel together?
Shea: Probably me.
So as a vocalist, why a band and not solo?
Shea: Um, definitely done the solo thing. I lived in New Hampshire for a while and did the acoustic solo thing, coffee shop thing. As cool as it is, um as far as I guess my personality goes, I like maybe a little more rowdy environment and the solo singer/songwriter thing can be, and it’s nothing against it, I love a lot of solo singer/songwriters, and I still play solo shows every now and then, but I like the live band. I like playing electric guitar.
The three of you were in this previous band, but Ian, how did you come into the mix?
Ian: We’ve been drinking buddies for a long time. I went on tour with the Gromet once and it was a great time and we’ve just been hanging out and I grew up listening separately from these guys, but to the same type of music, I listen to punk rock and it just kind of fit and he asked me to play.
John: Ian has a good solid background in playing guitar. Like he studied it in college and we knew that him coming into the band, like we’ve created quite a tight dynamic between the three of us from playing together for so long that we knew that Ian coming in with his knowledge of picking up things really fast….
Ian: You thought that…….
John: I’m second guessing it now but…..no it was, like Ian, it was just perfect you know? We all have the opportunity to get together and do it.
How, specifically, did you all meet?
Shea: So I guess you could say it started with me and Nick. Nick’s Mom lived next to my Mom when I was in high school, Nicks a few years older than me, I won’t state his age or the year he graduated from high school. I guess the other day I was wrong and I guessed…. anyways. Um and then John lived three doors down from my wife now, and Ian, how the hell? Oh we met through Trevor.
Ian: Yeah our friends all work for Tokyo Joes.
Shea: Yeah we have a bunch of friends that work for Tokyo Joes, I work for them, Nick works for them so we met Ian through that and we’ve just been buddies forever. I mean we travel together; we’ve done weird stuff ya know. You know how boys are.
From a writing perspective, do you write creatively, or from real life experience. Or is a mix of the two?
Shea: As far as what we write about, I mean I tend to write a lot about just probably things I’ve been through I mean like anybody. I was finishing up a degree that I was kinda frustrated with, I know first world problems but, it’s just something that I wrote a lot about, just a lot of frustration. As far as how we write, I typically write, I’ll probably write like a lick, a verse, a chorus, maybe a bridge here or there, we try to put the song together collectively, as far as the arrangement goes, we try and all stand in the room and all put our two cents in so it’s a little more effective that way I think because we’re not writing everything all from scratch all together which can get tedious and time consuming. We practice only once a week so I mean we all have lives and what not ya know? It’s easier and more effective I think, if I bring the song, at least the skeleton of it, and we kinda fill in the rest. It’s worked so far that way I think.
John: It’s worked that way for this band and it worked pretty much that way for the Gromet too. We just work better with a good solid chunk of it already written and then we can kinda see what works, what doesn’t and fill in the gaps.
How do the lyrics fit in from there?
Shea: Well I think that whenever you’re writing a song there’s that moment of spontaneity when you’re just sitting down putting the rubber to the road you know, writing your song. So there’s that moment of spontaneity as far as what the rhythm is going to be like, what the chord structure is going to look like, what the patterns are going to look like, so I mean as far as how I write, I write a lot of lyrics on my phone and I’ll think of melodies when I’m driving and sing them in my phone. I write a lot of my stuff with my phone.
Does it come in pieces?
Shea: A lot of times yeah. I’m a pretty slow writer I think. Sometimes, there have definitely been those songs that are kind of effortless and feel like they write themselves and they’re just quick and dirty! Then you’re life fuck, I don’t have to deal with this anymore, it’s done!
What is the main point of your music that you want to convey to your fans?
Shea: (to John) You’re good at these questions.
John: Honestly, so I don’t think that we are taking this band as serious as the Gromet was. When we were in the Gromet we were trying to like push forward and try and go to the top and top and top. But this band, it started out with just us wanting to just get together for the sake of getting together and being creative again. So I don’t know if we’ve actually really gotten to the point where we’ve sat down and discussed what we’re trying to bring across to people. But I probably could say this for every one of us, we love punk rock music. We love the way it makes us feel, you know it’s the energy, the anger, the happiness, the funny, you know all of that. That’s probably what we’re trying to do, is emulate the punk rock bands that we love and what they brought to us.
Completely unrelated to music, or maybe it is related, what are your favorite drinks?
Shea: Old style. Old style beer, I love that shit.
John: I used to love whiskey and then I thought I had an ulcer so I switched to vodka tonics and it suits my stomach a lot better. With vodka tonic it’s like sprite and you get to flavor it however you want it. It’s bitchen.
Ian: I like gin and tonic. I didn’t think I had an ulcer, I just like it.
Nick: I like whiskey gingers.
Does Escape Wheel have any recordings that are available for your fans?
Shea: We have two EP’s, one’s called “Not the same” the other is called “Deaf Horses” uh, both of them are on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play. We just did them digitally, there are three songs each and are more to just get shows and get started.
Are you writing anything right now?
Shea: Yeah we’re playing a new song tonight. We have other stuff that isn’t on there but yeah, check it out.
Collectively, the bands inspirations range from Red City Radio, The Beatles, Jets to Brazil, Ben Folds, Warren Fitzgerald, Billy Joel, Jawbreaker, and The Laurence Arms. Each band contributing something eclectic and artistic through each of these musicians in basement writing sessions to front stage performances. Currently, Escape Wheel is taking it easy, writing slowly, being creative, and spending their time together and with their families. Enjoying life seems to be something that comes easy to these four guys and it clearly shows when they are on stage performing. Get your ass on Facebook and like this band. Their page will be updated with up and coming shows and anticipated new albums. And make sure that the next time Escape Wheel is playing, that you have a whisky or vodka tonic in hand at the front of the stage getting unruly and loud!