Life In A Tree is a Grafton alternative rock band made up of, from left, guitarist and vocalist Tyler Miller, vocalist and bass player Molly Lutz, drummer Jimmy Cooper, guitarist and vocalist DJ Underwood, and keyboardist and vocalist Brenden Fugate. Photos by Maggie Quick
Life In A Tree takes five Grafton teens to new musical heights
by Maggie Quick -News Graphic Staff
Grafton — Life In A Tree, a youthful alternative band composed of five rising sophomores at Grafton High School, has only been around for about a year but is ready for the big time. After all, they’re playing Summerfest twice this year.
“Bands would kill to have a shot at Summerfest,” Jimmy Cooper, the band’s drummer, said. “We have two.”
Cooper, along with vocalist and bass player Molly Lutz, guitarist and vocalist Tyler Miller, guitarist and vocalist DJ Underwood and keyboardist and vocalist Brenden Fugate, is proving that age is only a number. Life In A Tree will be at Summerfest Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on the K-Nation/Cascio stage and Tuesday on the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage for the Wisconsin Association for Music Industry Youth Showcase. The band will also be opening for Dot Dot Dot at Cedarburg’s Summer Sounds in Cedar Creek Park on July 19 at 6:30 p.m.Cooper said the band feels “privileged” to open for them.
“I think they were matched really well with these guys,” Terry Lutz, Molly’s father and the band manager, said. “Each guy switches off singing and that’s how these guys do it. (Dot Dot Dot) is extremely talented at their craft.”
Life In A Tree is ranked No. 1 for alternative music in the Milwaukee area onReverbnation.com, a nationally recognized indie music website. The band has been ranked first for about a month, after being in second place since April. The rankings are calculated through video and song plays.
“It shows that people are interested in our music,” Terry Lutz said of the ranking.
The band even won the Milwaukee Battle of the Bands at the Miramar Theatre in May, where it had its own security guard.
“That was pretty epic,” Miller said.
Terry Lutz said the adult competition at the battle wasn’t a concern.
“We don’t want to be in teen stuff,” Terry Lutz said. “We want to look beyond that.”
Much of the band’s success can be contributed to youthful enthusiasm. The band has created songs at sleepovers using Wii Rock Band and harnesses competitive energy for competitions from Cooper, Miller and Fugate, who are all wrestlers. And while most young adults today try to forget the embarrassing email addresses they made in middle school, Life In A Tree took Cooper’s old email address, which included the phrase “I live in a tree,” and turned it into their band name.
The band got its start when Cooper, Miller and Underwood played together in a band for a sixth-grade talent show.
“We thought, ‘Boy, this is a lot of fun! We want to do it for real,’” Cooper said.
The boys brought Fugate on board to play piano so they would have a different sound, according to Cooper. Then, in eighth grade, Cooper went to every show of “Bye Bye Birdie” at Long John Middle School to scout for another vocalist. That’s when he first heard Molly Lutz sing. After the last show, he gave her a rose and asked her if she would be in the band.
“I thought the whole concept of being in a band in middle school was different for a girl,” Molly Lutz said of her initial reaction. “But I’m finding this a lot of fun. I got used to them ... They’ve just become my brothers.”
The boys agree that their first few practices were awkward but they’ve grown close to each other.
“Now she makes fun of us like we make fun of each other,” Fugate said.
The band has about 18 original songs and 30 covers in its repertoire, one album already out (“Trapped in My Treehouse,” March 2013) and another on its way.
“This summer is going to be the big test for (“Trapped”),” Terry Lutz said. “The response has been great for people who have it.”
Fans can buy the CD or MP3 at the band’s website, Lifeinatreeband.com, where a schedule of upcoming shows can also be found. The band created the album at Batcave Recording Studios in Bayview with owner Sam Malaj, who has now become an unofficial part of the team, according to Terry Lutz.
“He really became fond of the guys,” Lutz said. “They really hit it off.”
To the band members’ surprise, they recorded vocals in the bathroom of the studio.
“When we first saw the place we wouldn’t have expected our CD to come out of it,” Fugate said. “(Malaj) is a genius.”
When they got a copy of their final product, the band did what any self-respecting teenagers would do: “We got whiplash from head banging,” Cooper said.
The band also has two music videos, both directed by Brady Palubiski, a friend of the band who hopes to go into the film industry, according to Cooper. The members agree that “Something New,” their first song with a music video, is the highlight of their work.
“It represents us,” Molly Lutz said.
The second video was made for “Josh’s Song,” which is about Josh Davis-Joiner, a senior basketball player at GHS who died last year.
“That was kind of an emotional one,” Underwood said.
Davis-Joiner was in the same grade as Cooper’s sister; Miller’s brother was on the basketball team with him; and he often came over to Underwood’s house.
“We had to do a video for it because of the message we put out,” Miller said.
The band has been practicing every day in the Lutzes’ basement now that school is out. Their rehearsals are usually two to three hours long. Their writing process is spontaneous but doesn’t always include Rock Band.
“A few of us will come up with lyrics and then a few of us will come up with music, or the opposite of that (will happen),” Miller said.
Before Summerfest, the band will be playing at Mequon-Thiensville’s Family Fun Before the 4th Saturday at 3 p.m. The members hope their success continues so they can make a career out of their music.
“It’s something we love,” Miller said. “If you can make a career of it, it’s not really work.”
They are also optimistic about managing their schedule once school starts up again, even though Molly Lutz hopes to be in more GHS theatre productions. For now, the band members are focusing on doing what they love.
“Music is pretty much my life and it’s cool to be able to share that with friends,” Underwood, who has 24 guitars, said.
And of course, it’s still pretty cool to be able to say you have your own CD, according to Miller: “I’m the only kid in school who can play my music and sing along.”