Molly Ford, singer for The Civil Engineer
photo by Mary Sweeney Photography
Sing along, dance along, or just nod your head along; the music of The Civil Engineers will not allow you to just sit there. The 7 piece band has almost every instrument covered – Molly on vox, Chris plays guitar, Garrick has the keys, Tim aka T-LO plays bass, Carl on drums, Jason plays sax, Catherine is on the trumpet – and the groove the group lays down together, isn’t like anything else you’ve heard before with a little rock, some soul, and a lot of funk. The band is working on its debut CD, an EP they’re calling “Save the Bridge,” which is expected to be done by fall; yet even without it, The Civil Engineers have already built a strong following around the state (the next Madison show is at The Frequency on August 21). I talked with lead guitar player Chris Castro about the band’s unique sound, the funny way they got their name, and why you need to be ready for almost anything when you go to a show.
Maximum Ink: How did you find the sound that defines The Civil Engineers?
Chris Castro: Our sound is definitely rooted in soul, since that’s how we got our start - just jamming out on Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye tunes in Molly’s basement. It’s evolved pretty far from there—and we’ve taken elements of funk, rock, hip hop, and ska – and spread it throughout our tunes. It’s music for dancing and partying, though we do throw a few curveballs in the mix.
MI: And with that mix of elements, your backgrounds in music must be diverse, too?
CC: Garrick, Carl and Catherine all hold degrees in music. I know Jason studied jazz at some point. Molly’s powerhouse voice was formed by years of musical theater. Tim and I aren’t as formal. We’ve just played in lots and lots of bands (psychedelic jammy stuff, bluegrass, hardcore, you name it).
MI: What brought your current line-up together?
CC: We sorta knew each other from here and there, but it took a mutual friend who said to us “yo you guys are all really talented! You should form a band” to make us act on it. The first version was Molly, Garrick, Tim and I, along with a different drummer. We gathered in Molly’s basement one night and started slammin’ some PBRs, and jammin’ some Motown tunes. We had fun so kept on doing that for a few months, and then at one point a friend of ours asked us to come out and play at his house party.
After that we just started playing wherever people would have us - parties, bars, backyards, you name it. Carl then joined us in late 2014, and then our horn players, Catherine and Jason, joined in early 2015.
MI: And I have to ask about the name. Why The Civil Engineers?
CC: That first party is actually how we got our name, The Civil Engineers. We didn’t have a name at that point and the party was themed around bridges, particularly an imaginary bridge across Lake Monona. Civil engineers build bridges so we thought it would be a cool name to use that day. The name just kind of stuck.
MI: Is the band your main priority?
CC: Nope, we’ve got it all: day jobs, spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, cats, dogs, other bands…no one does The Civil Engineers full time. But, the band is something we’re all really invested in and we all love doing it so we just find time for it. Everyone’s usually pretty busy so we do a fair bit of calendar crunching and coordination to make things happen. It’s what we love doing so we find a way to make it work around everyone’s schedule.
MI: Are you able to find time to write new music together?
CC: Writing, and really everything in this group, is super democratic. We don’t really have a chief songwriter, only a couple of our tunes were written start to finish by just one person. For the most part, someone comes in with a riff or a chord progression or a lyric, and we build it into a complete song together. Everyone contributes ideas and I think that’s one thing that makes our songs really diverse. This isn’t a 1 or 2 person project. Everyone gets involved, and also everyone takes responsibility for different aspects like booking, merch, logistics, etc.
MI: What accomplishments make you proud?
CC: It’s gratifying when we travel to places where no one really knows us (like La Crosse or Appleton or Austin), and people go crazy for us, then afterwards we make all these new friends and make plans to come back before we’ve even finished our whole set. That’s really special. Just being able to create connections over the course of a few hours really blows me away!
MI: Does the band have any specific goals for the future?
CC: We just want to make people happy, including ourselves! We have crazy-fun onstage, and when we see that reciprocated by the audience, it’s the best feeling in the world. Life’s rough sometimes in Walker’s Wisconsin, so it’s nice to create a space where we can all forget the bullshit, be friends, and be happy about our lives and the community we live in.
MI: Is there something funny people may not know about The Civil Engineers?
CC: Oh boy…where to start? Maybe a year ago, we got into this weird habit where every now and then we’ll start replacing song lyrics with ‘meows’ at rehearsal. Everyone gets a kick out of it but now we’ve started doing it for songs that aren’t even our own! I remember the other day Molly and I were packing up some equipment in our practice space and we just started singing Beethoven’s Fifth in ‘meow’ form. And then Garrick joined in from upstairs. We’re just kinda weird sometimes.