The Grafton teen band Life in a Tree, with two albums and a Summerfest gig under its belt, may be on the cusp of fame
It’s not unusual for talented teenagers to form bands and play for their peers, but Life in a Tree, an alternative rock band featuring four Grafton High School sophomores and a Homestead High School student, is being noticed by people in the music industry who recognize emerging talent.
The band — vocalist and bass player Molly Lutz, percussionist Jimmy Cooper, vocalists and guitarists Tyler Miller and D.J. Underwood and the newest member, keyboard player Andrew Conley of Homestead — recently recorded their second album, “For All You Listeners.”
Paul Kneevers, owner of Kneeverland Production Studios in Milwaukee, is doing the mixing and mastering of the album, which is expected to be released in June.
“He really brought the best of our music out,” Molly said. “We learned so much from Paul. I love all the songs on the album.”
“They are a super talented group who have a powerful, versatile alternative rock sound,” Kneevers said. “With several talented singer/songwriters in the band, they are interesting to listen to and watch. I’m working with them on strengthening their hooks and arrangements.”
The band’s first album, “Trapped in a Tree House,” was recorded in 2012, shortly after the group formed to play for their eighth-grade graduation dance.
Last year, the band won the BMO Harris Battle of the Bands in Cedarburg.
The group will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 31, at the Cedarburg Cultural Center, opening for Blessed Feather, a duo from West Bend that won the 2014 Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) Folk/Celtic Singer of the Year Award.
Life in a Tree will also play in Madison on Saturday, May 17.
“I can’t wait to play for an audience again,” said Jimmy, the spokesman for the group. “It’s been a long winter.”
Tyler added, “A big audience makes you want to play harder and almost forces you to not mess up. If you do mess up, then you pick it up a little better. I absolutely love big crowds, and I am just dying for the day I get to play a concert for 10,000 enthusiastic people with crowd surfing and the whole package.”
Last summer, the group played every weekend, including two Summerfest appearances, the WAMI showcase and the K-Nation Entertainment stage. This year, they’re scheduled for K-Nation again and the Briggs & Stratton stage.
“We really like the band and look forward to having them back this year,” said Jason Klagstad, vice president of K-Nation Entertainment in Grafton. “I would love to mentor the band. That is our mission.”
Since Molly joined the band, the group has practiced in the basement of her Town of Grafton home.
Her father Terry built a soundproof enclosure for the drums so the sound doesn’t reverberate through the whole house.
Lutz also designed the band’s website and serves as manager and publicist.
The band’s roots can be traced to the boys’ seventh-grade American history teacher, Mike Pfeiffer of John Long Middle School, who formed a band, Three Gems and a Fossil, with Jimmy, Tyler and Brendan Fugate for the school’s annual variety show.
“Playing in the band with them was a blast. They’re great kids and I’m glad that they are continuing on with the success they’ve had,” Pfeiffer said.
“I think the current line-up of the band is sounding real good. I look forward to seeing them again in several shows this summer. They know I will always be their biggest fan. I’m still hoping for a reunion tour.”
The band almost broke up when Pfeiffer became too busy to play with them.
“We decided to keep it together, but we needed another vocalist,” Jimmy said.
In the meantime, Molly, who started singing in her church choir when she was 4, was busy singing and acting in musicals and plays at John Long and previously at Grafton Elementary.
Music is in her genes. Molly’s great-grandmother and her two sisters formed the Three Queens trio, who sang in Chicago in the 1930s. Two great-aunts are professional singers in New York, one in opera and the other with rock bands, and two uncles are singers. One is a jazz singer in Chicago and the other one is an actor.
When Molly had the lead role in their eighth-grade musical “Bye, Bye Birdie,” Jimmy heard her sing and asked her to join the band.
“The experience of being the lead role in a musical and the adrenaline of performing in front of the crowd made me want to act and sing more than anything else,” Molly said.
“When Jimmy asked if I would be interested in being the lead singer in a band he was trying to form, I was a little hesitant because I had always seen myself as an actor. I decided to give it a try and after a few practices, I knew this was something I wanted to do forever.”
The group played for their eighth-grade dance, then performed at the Wabena Music Festival and several other events that first summer.
“We got a really good response there (Wabena),” Jimmy said. “We kept playing and trying to get better.”
DJ, who is the engineer of the group and previously played with other bands, was asked to join the group when it was preparing for its first album and wanted more voices. Brendan played keyboard until last fall, when he quit to concentrate on track and field events.
When Andrew heard the group was looking for a new keyboardist, he asked to audition.
Andrew, whose father John plays keyboard with the rock band Our House, had followed the young group on YouTube.
“I saw what they were doing. Everything they play is what I like to play,” he said. “They even listen to the same bands I do.”
Tyler and Molly write most of the band’s songs, but everyone has input.
Perhaps, the most emotional song the two wrote was “Josh’s Song,” a tribute to Josh Davis-Joiner, a classmate and star basketball player who collapsed and died Jan. 16, 2012, during a practice at Grafton High School.
The group’s most unusual praise came from the French music site “Rockameta.” The author was impressed by the band’s videos on YouTube and wrote a favorable review of its first album. The review is translated into English on the band’s website www.lifeinatreeband.com.
Image information: Life in a Tree band members (from left) Jimmy Cooper, Tyler Miller, Molly Lutz, D.J. Underwood and Andrew Conley. Photo by Sam Arendt