Shady Groves’ ‘Dreamboat’ Sails a Varied Voyage of Friendship, Empathy, and Existentialism

Shady Groves
Photos by Jessica Fitzgerald and Elaine Smith

Shady Groves’ songs are imbued with the same amount of serotonin as pure pop music but without that genre’s archetypal surplus adrenaline or hollowed sentiments. They deliver the same sensory-firing escapism as neo-psychedelia or shoegaze but thread a lot more lyrical substance throughout the atmospherics. The mood of the music can almost seem to get as heavy as emo, but they always pull it back from melodrama and render a soberer perspective of acceptance. There’s emotional heft, cerebral heft, and aesthetical heft, all going on throughout the Detroit-based band’s second full-length album, Dreamboat — with a diversity of vibes, shrewd attention to production quality, and a substantive theme sewn throughout the lyrics. 

Shady Groves exists somewhere between being a duo and a “collective,” led by dual songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Adam Fitzgerald and Dylan Caron. These new tunes feature contributions from Colt Caron, Sage Denam, James Bulin, and James Fleisher. The band formed six years ago and has been sustained, primarily, by the collaborative friendship of Fitzgerald and Caron, along with songwriter Jeff Yateman, a former member and co-producer of this new release. While Yateman has his own musical moniker (Jemmi Hazeman), he’s continued to have a creative relationship with his two former mates; he mixed and mastered Dreamboat as well. And it’s being released on Underflow Records, a label owned and operated by these superfriends, releasing not only their own music but also a roster of other artists like Pesky Kid, Dave King III, Dan Amboy, A.R. Laidlaw, and the Prague-based duo Golden Spine. 

And not long after they debuted, in 2016, with an album titled Bitzer, Fitzgerald actually moved out of Michigan and spent a couple of years in the U.K. He returned in 2019 to finish working on this new release. And that’s where we pick up the story, with our Q&A. But before that, click play on this song, one of a few new singles from the album, and let it soundtrack the rest of your reading…

Current Magazine (CM): Over a year of quarantine, I’ve asked plenty of musicians about the challenges of not being able to be in a room together… But for a couple of years BEFORE the pandemic, you both literally had no physical way of ever being in the same room together because of the distance. Did that have any effect on your creative workflow?

Adam Fitzgerald (AF): It definitely put a stop to us being a “band” for a while, but as Dylan always says, we’ve never really been a band… Maybe it made things more difficult when I moved to the U.K. but we’ve never had a straightforward approach. The dynamic has changed a lot with many different collaborators, but it’s always been Dylan and I at the core since the beginning, showing each other songs, helping each other make sense of different ideas. When Jeff (Jemmi Hazeman) joined for our first album, we had an endless amount of songs and ideas, then after he left we still had a full band with Colt (Caron) on keys, Jamie (Dulin) on bass, and Sage (Denam) on drums. So there were a lot of ups and downs during the entire conceptualization of the band, but we’ve never stopped writing. Sometimes we write separately, sometimes together, sometimes in a room, sometimes over an ocean, or across many miles through email. When we write separately, usually we each think what we’re working on individually is a piece of shit or decent at best, then when the other one of us hears it, it’s like “no, this is great!” and I definitely feel like that helps keep this project going without being too ego-driven. 

CM: What was the creation process for Dreamboat like? 

AF: Some of these songs stretch back to before or during the recording of our first album, back when we were playing endless amounts of live shows. Several were conceived with the full band in a room, then Dylan and I started recording things bit by bit and took those demos to Jeff to start finalizing them. It’s honestly been kind of a grueling process. We finalized the tracklist and started final recordings in 2018…but then I moved to the U.K. The band was in limbo so most of our members moved on; Sage had his band, FinalBossFight! and Jame and Colt were in Jemmi Hazeman & the Honey Riders. So then it was really up to Dylan and me to make sense of what to do. I moved back to Michigan in 2019 and we reconvened to continue recording. 

CM: Tell me about that signature Shady Groves vibe that you’re able to conjure somewhere after the song’s arranged and during the production process. Each song sounds different but feels similar.

AF: Our aim is to create an entirely unique experience for every song. I try to write every song in a different way, maybe by starting on a different instrument each time, sometimes with a guitar part or a bassline or some weird sound collage using pedals, and then I can sample or reverse that. But Dylan usually starts with an acoustic guitar. I think we both value being able to strip every song we have down to just guitar and vocals, to really test it before we “throw the kitchen sink at it…” to produce them how we want, sonically. 

I think that’s one of the weirdest lines we walk — my spaciness, and Dylan’s folkiness — one of us will come up with an idea, then another will add stuff, and then I’ll record guitar, bass, samples, and guitar goop soup (sound collages). Dylan will record the acoustics, mandolins, banjos, ukuleles, and we’ll both figure out drums, keys, and other sounds. Sometimes we’ll end up with like 5 part harmonies with 4 guitar parts, 3 synths, and all these other layers going on in our recordings, but then we can also play the same song just the two of us. The production process is a lot of back & forth, adding, taking away, tweaking.

CM: I’ve read reviews and write-ups of this band where it seems like no one’s exactly sure where to categorize you. There’s always that dreamy quality though. What do you think of (Shady Groves) when you’re considering “genre”? 

AF: We’ve been called “genre chameleons” before and I think that fits pretty well. We’ve been called just about every genre and subgenre in the book. Maybe there’s a cohesive dreaminess to the music, as you said, whether it’s our arrangements, harmonies, guitar tones, whatever…we just never want to repeat ourselves when there’s so much territory to explore. I usually tell people we are “indie” because that’s a nice umbrella term. Plus it’s true, we’ve always been entirely independent.

CM: What inspired that album title? 

AF: With Dreamboat, we are exploring the inherent paradoxes of life & love. Like, what is a Dreamboat exactly? A person? A place? A feeling? It’s probably individual to each person. Everybody wants to escape this reality these days, so maybe it’s kind of examining that, re-evaluating what human ideals even mean — what’s the ideal partner, the ideal career, the ideal life — what is happiness? Maybe the central theme of the album revolves around duality; the light and the dark. I always tell people even though we take our music and songs seriously, we don’t take ourselves very seriously… we try to go with the flow. Life is a tragic comedy, so you have to take the good with the bad.

CM: I hear these similar notions shared in lyrics across the album, whether it’s in “Smoulder,” or “Pocket Knives,” or “Backflips,” that sound halfway between existentialism and nihilism. Tell me about the lyrics…

AF: “Pocket Knives” is a great example of something that was 100% both Dylan and me. We were working out the riffs, the lyrics, and the melodies all at once together. “What if we told you the truth, we never knew where we were going/ What if the world that we knew was just in our imagination?” might kind of be the thesis of the album. Definitely not nihilism. A working title for the record was acquiescence for a while — which is a horrible album title, but it’s one of the themes — realizing not everything we are so deeply upset about or affected by actually matters. There’s a lot of empathy in this album, as Dylan and I try to write stuff people can relate to, experiences people share either together, or have in solitude throughout life that become meaningful. There are love songs on this record — another kind of goof off the idea of a “dreamboat” — but there are some darker songs too, about heartbreak, addictions, trauma, etc. Because that’s actual life. All of it. 

CM: Having managed your own label for a few years, what have you learned? What’s kept it going? 

AF: I’m glad to hear people are finally starting to dig into these exciting new artists we’ve got working with Underflow. I was listening to the new EP that Jeff just finished mastering for Pesky Kid and it sounds so good. I’m happy to help all these talented people link together for the betterment of all of us. Honestly, Underflow was born out of necessity, wanting to help others, and being jaded by the industry. The amount of music all of us had together, and separately, were piling up. I’d had offers and “deals” and many broken promises. I’ve put money down for studio time (twice) and the “labels” never came through with the vinyl records we were guaranteed. Eventually, I figured, “Why rely on anyone else?” I’d always dreamt of starting a label, so I said, “fxxk it.” Essentially, we’re just helping artists release their own music worldwide in the most direct, honest, and effective ways possible. 

The entire mentality is “DIY” so that’d be my advice — do it yourself. Our artists can walk away at any point because I want them to be in control of their art, we’re more of a collective than a label. The idea is that each project can be a springboard for multiple artists to launch a career and connect with individuals from around the world. Going international, partnering with Park The Van for licensing and everything else has been an added bonus from hard work and accumulated effort. I believe in the power of music, as art, to help people, to heal, whatever. It’s needed more now than ever. Dreamboat is our album of moody love songs for the apocalypse. 

For more info on Underflow and Shady Groves, visit their website. You can explore their label’s roster here. Access singles and the full album, Dreamboat, here.