They aren’t old enough to legally smoke, drink or even drive. If "This Is Spinal Tap" was in theaters, they wouldn’t be able to see it without their parents, and if you add together the ages of all five band members, the quintet’s combined age (63) would still be younger than Sir Paul McCartney (72).
You could say the band literally goes to 11, seeing as that’s the age of keyboardist Ethan Tutaj-Blaz, the group’s youngest member.
But while most kids’ dreams of rock glory only go as far as that – dreams – the quintet of Mad RED Kat have already started acting on their aspirations, forming a band and playing gigs across the city. The group performed at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, winning best in show alongside the Milwaukee Hurling Club, and is now preparing for a gig at the East Library’s grand opening on Saturday, Nov. 22.
"At our first practice, when we had the whole band set up, we were all thinking, ‘Man, we’re really good at this song, but what are other people going to think," said drummer Reiley Hofschulte. "Because right now, we only have parental bias on our side."
"It’s scary, but it’s really cool that we’re doing it," added singer Maddie Willis.
The young rockers first met and came together about two years ago when all five musicians were going to Maryland Avenue Montessori School. The school’s first-ever talent show was coming up, so Hofschulte and guitarist Dillon Collins – whose guitar teacher turns out to be Eric Hofschulte, Reiley’s dad – decided to form a band. Eventually singer Kateri Hade joined, and when Willis heard about the group, she asked to join, too. To round out the sound, they brought on Tutaj-Blaz to play the keyboard.
Mad RED Kat – the K isn't simply for kool points; their title is an acronym of the band members’ names – was now ready for its first technical gig.
"After a while, it’s not so scary because you’re kind of used to it, and everything feels fine," Willis said. "But I think the first show was really scary, just with all of the people staring at you. You’re not used to it."
Since that first show, Mad RED Kat has continued to practice, work and grow their name – all the while still in school and needing parents to coordinate rides for meet-ups and rehearsals. The quintet meets up every Sunday for two-hour practices, working through the setlist with guidance from Reiley’s dad and then hanging out like the casual everyday friends they are after they finish.
Their inspirations are scattered across multiple genres – alternative is an overall favorite between all five teens, but Hofschulte, for instance, likes everything from dubstep to classical – so to make their playlist, Mad RED Kat has established a kind of band democracy.
Somebody introduces a potential song, and the group talks it out. Do they all like the song? And is it even within their current capabilities? Sometimes it ends in mild disaster – memories of a failed attempt at "I Wanna Be Sedated" brought out giggles from everyone in the group – but more often than not, it results in a musical breakthrough.
"One of them will say something, and maybe Dillon will be working on a riff in his private lesson with Eric," said Jenni Hofschulte, Reiley’s mom. "He’ll start to play it, and the girls might know the lyrics. The next thing you know, they’re really playing the song. That was a really awesome turning point in the band, where they all really felt like musicians, listening to each other and figuring it out."
It’s represented a turning point for others as well, as Mad RED Kat attempts to defy the expectations of a kid band.
"I feel like a lot of people don’t believe me when I say I’m in a band," Collins joked.
"You get up there, and people are looking at you," Hade added. "Then you start to sing, and all of a sudden, you see their eyebrows go up. They’re like, ‘Whoa, they’re actually good!’ This is not a kid band, you know. Everybody is really surprised, and afterward it’s compliment after compliment. So it’s like, we can do this. They like us. We’re going to keep doing this."
And that’s the plan for Mad RED Kat: to keep going and play together as long as possible. Of course, life isn’t likely to make their goal that simple. Though they all started together at Maryland Avenue Montessori School, Ethan began going to Golda Meir last year, Dillon moved to Glen Hills Middle School and Kateri goes to Shorewood. High school is fast approaching for the young rockers, too, with everyone looking at different schools – from Shorewood High to Marquette High to Nicolet to King and more.
"We finished all the tests, and it’s really scary waiting to hear about it," Willis admitted. "I’m a little worried I won’t have enough time to practice for band with all of the homework we’ll have. We still have a lot just in middle school, and everybody says high school homework is crazy."
Logistically, they already cleared a mild early hurdle when the Hofschulte family moved away from the band’s hub on the East Side back in March.
"I sent an email, saying that we’re moving to the West Side and we hope everyone will stay in the band," Jenni Hofschulte said. "The parents responded and said, ‘You guys moving across town doesn’t mean the band breaks up.’ So they come across town every week, and we make it happen."
Even with more changes certainly on the horizon – both of the expected and unexpected variety – the quintet is winningly optimistic about continuing to play together and keeping Mad RED Kat alive and rocking. After getting its name out there with covers of Gnarls Barkley and Imagine Dragons, the band’s begun writing its own material – a process everyone in the group agrees is fun if not particularly easy.
"It’s fun, but you can’t just do it in a night," Collins said. "It has to come together."
"I’ve been kind of thinking about how everything’s pretty much about romance," Hade said, "so I was thinking about writing about finding yourself instead of finding somebody else. That’s cool."
Meanwhile, the band hopes to continue to grow off their recent success. The band’s sights for the future are even higher, with bigger gigs, venues, a CD, a Summerfest show and more all in mind.
"My dream gig is probably Miller Park," Collins said, giggling a bit at his own lofty ambition. "That would be epic. That would be amazing, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon. We have to keep going up and up and up in baby steps."
In just a short while – and at such a young age – Mad RED Kat’s first couple steps have been strong. Posters for their upcoming gig at the East Library’s opening are spread across the area, featuring their band’s name. Schoolmates, family friends and teachers at school have told them multiple times that they plan to attend. Meanwhile, at home, it’s the kids and their youthful enthusiasm and moxie doing the inspiring rather than the parents.
"They love that I’m in a band," Willis said. "They think it’s really cool because they said they’d never do that when they were kids. My mom would be too afraid to do that."
"My dad has wanted to play the guitar since he was a kid, but he only just recently started," Collins added. "He didn’t want that to happen to me. He didn’t want me to want to play an instrument and never end up playing."
"It’s really inspiring, the fearlessness," said Jenni Hofschulte, whose kept track of their progress through the band’s Facebook page and blog. "They just said we’re going to have a band, and we’re going to do this. And they did. There wasn’t really a lot of hesitation. They just felt really confident in their abilities, and it’s just blossomed from there."
And as for the high stakes, money-first, cutthroat music industry that might lie in wait for Mad RED Kat? Have they started taking a glance in that direction?
"I’m not looking into the music industry that much."
"I don’t even listen to the radio that much."
Never grow up, kids.
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.