Young Milwaukee rock group Eagle Trace is a literal band of brothers
When we talked to Eagle Trace last summer, the New Berlin-based rock band was barely a year old and preparing for a big show at the Big Gig.
The group – made up of Broderick Coning and brothers Max, Jackson, Mitch and Cass Borgardt – has shown no signs of slowing since then. It has scored some airtime on 102.1 Milwaukee's Neighborhood Watch program, recently released a new EP "Pictures Paint a Thousand Worries" and scored gigs throughout Milwaukee and Chicago.
I sat down to talk with lead singer Mitch and bassist Jackson about balancing the band and school, working with family and the classic debate: Beatles or Stones.
OnMilwaukee.com: So how did you guys start up?
Jackson Borgardt: It started out with Max. About three of four years ago, his freshman year of college, he picked up a guitar. We were all playing sports, so we had never played anything before. So he started playing guitar, and then about a year later, I decided to start playing a bass, and it kinda just started trickling down. Cass started playing the drums.
At that point, we wanted someone else to play with, so that's how we met Broderick, our guitar player who was also a student at the time. We had a gig – like a battle of the bands thing – but we only had about two or three songs at the time, and we needed a singer.
Mitch Borgardt: So then they just asked me. I'm a film major; screenwriting was going to be my major. I got accepted to schools out in California. That was my plan, and then they just sort of asked me if I would help them write some stuff. I was like, "Sure, sure."
JB: We knew he could write. It was just a matter of whether or not he could sing. We had never heard him sing a note before. But it worked! We ended up winning the concert, and it just kind of stuck.
OMC: How old were you guys when you started up Eagle Trace?
MB: In July, we'll have been together two years. So two years ago, you were 19, and I was like 17. We were all really young, especially Cass.
JB: We've come such a long way in such a short time.
OMC: When did you realize that this could be an actual career move?
JB: I don't it really has hit us. I mean, you always dream about it, or you see a concert on TV and think, "One day I'll play there." I think when we really realize it is when we're performing a show, and you see people kind of groovin' to it. You think, "Good, people like it; it's not just a bunch of crap we're writing." Somebody other than yourself likes it.
MB: Yeah, it's definitely the shows. We played an event down at the Milwaukee Public Museum and brought about 75 CDs with us, not really knowing what to expect. Within the first 10 minutes, they were all gone!
JB: I mean, half of them were probably drunk.
OMC: Is it hard to make time for the band? I mean, you guys started in high school. Now you're in college, and you've got studying and all this other stuff going on.
JB: It is, and it isn't. I know it's cliché to say that it's our passion, but we all love it. We all individually practice every day, finding a half hour here or half hour there. As a band, it's very tough to actually get us to practice. We only have two days a week where we practice at our house. Broderick has to come from UWM, so he's hustling down, Mitch has got class all day and Max lives on the East Side, too. We all work, too. We're all servers and bartenders.
MB: But since we've started, we've always set aside Saturday mornings and afternoons. That's always the day, and that's usually a long one, too. We've had practices on that day that have gone for six hours.
JB: Finding time can be difficult with everyone's schedules, though. I mean, our jobs start at night. So when Broderick and Cass – who is still in high school – get off of school, we're just going to work. But we make it work, and it's worked out so far.
OMC: What do you guys listen to?
JB: When it comes to rock music, we like Kings of Leon, Foo Fighters, Oasis, Arctic Monkeys, Two Door Cinema Club, obviously Led Zeppelin. Mitch is a bigger Rolling Stones fan than I am.
MB: Jackson's more of a Beatles guy.
OMC: Alright, let's hear the arguments. Who's better: Beatles or Stones?
MB: I mean, in terms of rock music, the Beatles are poppier. You have to admit that. The Stones rock harder.
JB: They're poppier, but their ability to write songs, harmonies, melodies, lyrics …
MB: You could say that about the Stones, too.
JB: The Stones are talented, yes, but they're known for their sheer attitude and stage performance. The Beatles are just … in terms of songs, they know how to write music broadly but not like today's pop music. They knew how to write a killer song that everyone could connect with.
MB: But really, we listen to music from pretty much every decade.
JB: Except the '80s.
MB: Yeah, not '80s.
JB: It was a lost generation. Except for Cass; he's a huge Smiths fan.
MB: I listen to a bit of Sonic Youth, too. I really like them.
OMC: Is it easier or harder being in a band with your brothers?
MB: I'd say easier because we're comfortable around each other. In the writing process, we're different from a lot of bands because everyone writes. And sometimes, you have to tell someone straight up to their face and tell them I don't like that. When you're brothers, it's easy to say it, but at the same time, it's difficult. We fight a good bit.
JB: What's nice is that you'll hear from a lot of bands that they feed off of each other. Obviously, being brothers, we have a connection right off the bat. When Max is writing a guitar line or chord change, I know where he's going to go with it. I can kind of feel it. Sometimes, I'll have a part in my head, and all of sudden, there it is! I didn't even have to tell him that. We are brothers, though, and we do tend to fight a bit.
OMC: Any really bad fights?
MB: Yeah, we got into a fistfight once.
MB: Yeah, it wasn't us. The littlest one punched the oldest one in the face.
OMC: What was the occasion?
MB: We were songwriting, and … I don't know. It got heated. We've never had that happen before.
JB: And then ten minutes later, we were all back together and buddy buddy.
OMC: How do you include Broderick into this whole family dynamic? Is that difficult?
MB: Ever since he walked in the door, we've just been really comfortable around him. It's like he is part of the family. He's always over and around. He does everything with us, and we do everything with him. It's really no different.
JB: I think it's good to have someone else in the band to break up some of our fights and help to change it up a little bit. And it's good for him, because he actually gets to leave at the end of practice. We can't really go anywhere.
OMC: You guys have made two EPs and a full-length now. What have you learned in between all these projects?
JB: I think the first one we did … it's young. Those were really the first songs we had ever written. It took us about five months to record that, and you can definitely hear that how, I don't want to say that it sounds rugged, but maybe rough our first few songs were. As it goes along, though, you can tell the structures are more thought out and complex, and the melodies are not necessarily better, but there's a little bit more to them.
MB: We just knew more. You could see that we were learning and hear the songs we recorded in September as opposed to the songs we recorded in February.
JB: And now this last EP is leaps and bounds above what we did. Our melodies are better. We're understanding song form and changing it up.
MB: We're getting a lot better feedback on it too. We started getting playtime on 102.1's Neighborhood Watch and emails from Kramp & Adler.
JB: Some of our first feedback from people was that they loved the first album, but that we sounded young. Now, the feedback is that we're progressing. Everyone's starting to really dig it – not that they didn't dig the first one, but there's more energy. We're excited, and we're starting to record our next album, which will probably be full-length.
OMC: Wow. You guys are moving pretty fast.
MB: When it comes to songwriting, we'll have songs that will take us months, and we won't be able to figure a part out. And then, like, the title track on the EP, "Submarine Race," took us maybe ten minutes. Cass just had some rhythm in his head, and then bam! Jack put in the bass line, and there it was.
JB: That's exciting when that happens. It gets a little more frustrating when a song doesn't come together.
MB: The EP was supposed to be five songs, and we tracked five, but the fifth song … we still can't figure it out.
JB: I think we played it at Summerfest last year.
OMC: How did the Summerfest gig work out for you guys? What was the feedback and impact from that?
MB: Oh god, it was like the greatest two shows.
JB: It was a great feeling. What was really cool was that we played at 3:00 on the Cascio stage on the first day, and it was like 110 degrees, plus with stage lights. We were dying up there, but we saw the people come in and get drawn in. It was like, "Damn! This is awesome!" It was a blast.
MB: We're really looking forward to it this year. Now you kind of know what to expect.
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