By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Feb 18, 2015 at 3:06 PM

In 2013, I got a chance to chat with the locally based rock band Eagle Trace, which had just released a new EP, "Pictures Paint a Thousand Worries." During the conversation, I asked the group – made up of Broderick Coning and four brothers, Max, Jackson, Mitch and Cass Borgardt – if or when they felt that this was becoming an actual career for them. At that time, Jackson said the idea hadn’t really hit them yet. 

In a little less than two years later, that idea has become even more of reality.

"We feel very good," Mitch said.

"We obviously all want this a lot," Jackson added. "We’re not here just to do this for fun. We want this to become something."

Considering all that’s happened for the literal band of brothers in the last two years, it’s easy to see where that confidence is coming from. Their songs have been found on 102.1 Milwaukee’s Neighborhood Watch, and last summer, the band was one of the three performers chosen as finalists for Summerfest’s Land the Big Gig. They’ve performed across Milwaukee, Chicago and the rest of the Midwest with the likes of Vinyl Theater.

In addition to all of that, they have a new EP – "Off in the Night" – primed for release this weekend at a show at Anodyne Coffee in Walker's Point on Saturday, Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. Recorded with Shane Hochstetler at Howl Street, it’s a fun, rollicking four-song shot of Arctic Monkeys-esque rock. For the guys, it’s exactly the step forward they’re hoping for.

"It’s our best stuff by far," Jackson said. "We’re proud of our older stuff, but this … we’re really happy with it. Normally, there’s always something that, when you look back at recording or writing a song, you say, ‘I wish I could change that.’ But when I listen to this EP, it’s pretty spot on."

"To be honest, this is the first one I’m very excited to show all my friends and show other people," Mitch added. "Before, I was maybe a little hesitant, but now, I’m excited about it."

It’s an understandably exciting one after about a year of drama and tension for Eagle Trace. And not just because of the predictable brotherly bickering – though there’s some of that as well. Jackson in particular remembered several fights centered on the bridge of the EP opener "Stale Black Ties," almost to the point of not even recording it. In the end, obviously, the song – and the newly assembled bridge that both sides of the argument love – made it to the record.

"We fight, but it’s a normal, brotherly kind of fighting," Mitch said. "We’re all super close, but obviously when you’re really close, that always adds to our moments."

"Sometimes, it’s a weird dynamic when you’re writing, and somebody’s not on board," Jackson added. "It just adds another layer in there, but at the end of the day, we all come together. That’s just being brothers – and even Broderick has obviously gotten really close with us over the last four years of being a band – and being close makes it easier, too."

Sibling tiffs, however, are on the low end of the past year’s dramatic spectrum. As the band is growing older ­– Mitch and Broderick are just now getting close to ending their college years, while Cass, the band’s drummer, is just beginning – they’re discovering life only gets in the way more often. Practice time is a precious commodity considering several band members are still in school and many work regular jobs. One of the band members, Max, has a new baby to tend to as well. Jackson noted they recently lost another one of their usual practice times, something they’ll have to figure out.

In addition to all of that regular band life chaos, reality threw the group – and the Borgardt family as a whole – a scary curveball back in October of 2013. On the day before Halloween, everyone was sitting around when suddenly Mitch went upstairs to go take a shower. Several minutes later, after having to force the bathroom door open, Jackson found his brother slouched against the door, dazed and with blood from his mouth on his shirt.

"I was just sitting with them in my kitchen, just hanging out and feeling completely fine, and then, all of a sudden, it was like a switch," Mitch remembered. "All of a sudden, this really weird feeling came over me, and I became fixated on one thing. So I wandered up the stairs; I said I needed water or something. I went and then BAM."

"I was terrified," Jackson recalled. "He didn’t know who he was, where he was, what was going on. If you know Mitch, he does this kind of sh*t just to mess with you, so I thought he was just messing with me. I’m like, ‘Mitch, can you just get up?’ It took me a minute to figure out what was going on, and then I finally saw the blood."

They quickly called EMTs, concerned that Mitch had maybe suffered a massive stroke or a brain tumor. After a stint at the hospital, the doctors finally diagnosed the incident as a seizure and diagnosed Mitch with epilepsy. Since then, for the past year, Mitch has been in and out of the hospital, narrowly avoiding brain surgery and getting his meds in line – all the while still performing with Eagle Trace, even with the risks and concerns.

"I was little freaked at first," Mitch admitted. "I was way more laid back."

"I think we were all a little hesitant too," Jackson said. "We all were making sure he was OK and looking at him and wondering what happens if something happens. We’ve played shows where we didn’t know if he was going to be able to get on stage."

Thankfully, there have been no big mid-show medical mishaps over the past year, though they’ve had their share of close calls and scares. At one show at the Metro in Chicago, Mitch seemed to blankly zone out like he did the night of his first seizure before snapping out of it and playing like normal. At another show in November, two or three weeks after he’d been at the hospital, he fell off the Cactus Club stage.

"He literally just went like BOOM," Jackson remembered. "We all kept playing somehow, like we didn’t stop ourselves."

"Got up like a champ and continued on," Mitch joked.

Lighthearted jokes are how Jackson and especially Mitch mostly talk about his epilepsy diagnosis nowadays. During the interview, Jackson lightly jabbed that his brother is now "the biggest lightweight ever" ("I’m only really allowed to have one in a sitting," Mitch retorted, "so do that for a year and half, and you’ll understand why"), while Mitch himself normally pokes fun at his ailment at shows in order to put the crow at east – and, probably more so, his bandmates. Creatively, the experience has almost even been a boon for Eagle Trace.

"It gives us a lot more material to write about," Mitch said. "It’s put me in a lot of interesting positions. It’s really crappy, but when that kind of stuff happens, it just gives everything a little bit more meaning. On this EP, you just hear more emotion in it compared especially to our last couple pieces of work. There’s just been so much more going on, and I think the new material is a little better. It’s a little more deep when you actually have a reason to be doing it."

That’s especially the case with the EP’s third number "Ghost," a song written just six months ago partly about that first night in the hospital. In it, a lyric in the second verse rings, "Pale faces of a family tree," recalling Mitch’s memory of sitting in a hospital bed, surrounded by his concerned family’s hovering faces – all while he laughed from the valium.

It’s all been a part of growing up in life and in music for Eagle Trace, something they feel can be clearly heard on "Off in the Night." Mitch admitted that, looking back at their past albums, his vocals and Cass’ drums sound noticeably young. Now that they’ve grown up, things have changed. Laying down tracks that would’ve once taken hours for Cass, according to Jackson, now takes an hour, which means more time for actually finessing and writing better songs in the process.

"I think our writing’s gotten stronger, our musicianship’s gotten better, Mitch’s voice has grown," Jackson noted. "Recording the first record, Cass was 15, and he couldn’t even play to a click track all the way. Halfway through the track, we’d have to turn off the click. Now, he’s a metronome."

 "We spent so much more time on this album in terms of melodies and vocals," Mitch recalled. "I can remember us practicing for months, writing ‘Ghost’ and going back and forth. For ‘Stale Black Ties,’ we had maybe six different choruses – legitimately different. The last EP was sort of like the first thing that came to mind, we just rolled with. Now, we actually work it out, even if we’re not the slightest bit happy."

Even after everything over the past year and a half, according to the guys, the result is the best thing they’ve developed so far – and hopefully the next big stepping stone to making their young rock ‘n’ roll dreams a potential reality. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.