Life In A Tree: featured in the Wauwatosa NOW publication by Michael Runyon

Wisconsin School Music Association evaluators rate the band Reckless Abandon from Catholic Memorial and Muskwonago high schools during Launchpad, a competition for 15 area alternative and rock bands hosted by the at Wauwatosa East High School on May 10. Photo By C.T. Kruger

By Michael Runyon

May 15, 2013 7:33 a.m

Blasting guitars, thundering drums and a chorus of voices echoed through Wauwatosa East's halls May 10. The music came from band students, but not your typical band students.

They were rock band students and they played to win. Over 15 area bands performed as part of Launchpad Wisconsin's competition to earn a day in the Summerfest spotlight.

Only three advanced to the state competition, but all who shared the stage walked away with a new understanding.

To be selected to compete in one of the four regional competitions, a band must have demo songs recorded and reviewed by a panel of judges. If they make the cut, they can compete and, if they win top three in their regionals, can move to state.

All who compete at the state competition in Madison on June 8 get to play in Summerfest. The big winner gets a Les Paul award.

Taking it to heart

One band, Grafton High School's Life in a Tree, did not make it to state. While they did not beat the stiff competition from finalists Thief and Rascal of James Madison Memorial, Relatively Blue of Delavan-Darien and Second Time Around of Arrowhead Union / Slinger, they are proud of their performance and took the judge's feedback to heart.

"People think that high schoolers get together in their garage and start playing," Launchpad Program Director Tim Wurgler said. "No. These are very refined performances and they take the comments of the judges very seriously."

Members of Life in a Tree will be taking that feedback into the recording studio for their second album. That's right: The band, composed of high school freshmen, already has a full, six-song album and will be working on their second. Their pianist, Brendon Fugate, said they have over 20 unrecorded originals as well.

Their debut album, "Trapped in My Treehouse," recorded last summer, is nothing to sneeze at either. The recording consists of highly-polished garage rock that can move with tidal waves of ferocious energy one minute and melancholy piano the next. The album provides listeners with a hint of good things to come from the young five-piece.

"They (the judges) had some really cool things to say about everything, just the energy we showed on stage," drummer Jimmy Cooper said, adding that their Launchpad performance was the best the band had put on. "He said he liked how we tried things that were different and risky."

One of the risky things the band tried was approaching the vocals in a very democratic fashion. Each member sings on their album and performances, lending a variety of sound to the band.

Planting seeds

Launchpad will not be their last competition, either. The band is gearing up to play at the Miramar for Battle of the Bands on May 25. Their manager, singer and bassist Molly Lutz's father Terry Lutz, has them playing gigs at least once a month. They will also be playing at the Summerfest grounds for Greek fest later this year.

Terry Lutz is not the only means of support for the band. Nearly every member of the band picks their parents, grandparents or another family member as an inspiration or mentor on their bios on the band's website.

"I'm extremely proud of her and the guys," Terry Lutz said. "They always rise to the occasion no matter how big and I'm really proud for them. Their support network is excellent. All the parents are on board and they really support the kids and their music."