FAIRFAX — Singer songwriter Troy Millette strummed his first strings in freshman year Beginner Guitar, surrounded by his classmates struggling to play the melody “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
The class ignited a passion to write lyrics and perform and now, seven years later, Millette has played all over Franklin and Chittenden Counties at local music hot spots like Twiggs American Gastropub and Higher Ground.
“When I was a freshman in high school, I was told I could take art or guitar,” Millette, a resident of Fairfax, said. “I can’t even draw a stick figure so I had to take guitar. And I just fell in love with it.”
“I started writing songs because I got so bored with the book work,” Millette continued. Millette and his friends began to “one-up” each other, each one trying to out play the other on the guitar.
“We started a band called ‘With Love, Anonymous’ and we were awful,” he said, laughing. Millette said they performed at local craft fairs and other small gigs in the area.
“It kind of fell apart,” he said. “I mean, we were just high school kids.”
Though the band members went their separate ways after high school, Millette brought his love of music to Saint Michael’s College, where he’s studied for the past four years as an English major.
He said he kept the name of his old band, but recruited all new members. “I pulled an Axel Rose,” Millette joked.
During this transition period, the sound of his music changed, switching from a punk rock vibe to more acoustic.
“My cousin plays the base in The Offspring,” he said. “I thought that was the coolest thing ever when I was a kid. I was like, yeah, that’s what I want to do. I want to be like The Offspring.”
But Millette preferred to listen to bands like Matchbox Twenty, Goo Goo Dolls and Third Eyed Blind because of their lyrics. So when he began to write his own music, he drew from his musical inspirations and his style began to evolve.
Millette said he doesn’t have a process for writing songs. “It kind of hits me at random times,” he said. “I wish I had a process, cause I’d write way more.”
“In the car a lot of times I’ll get just a line or I’ll hear something on the radio and think, ‘Oh, that’s a cool chord,’” he said. “’What if I did this?’ And then I’ll go home and play around.”
Sometimes the song is finished with half an hour. “Other times, I sit on something for weeks and nothing will ever come from it,” he said.
“Turn This Car Around,” one of his original works, is about a girl. “We have a lot of songs about girls,” Millette laughed. “I think that’s an easy inspiration, especially as a late teen.”
“We try to not do it in the cliché way,” he said, referring to Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love” as an example of a typical love song.
“’Turn This Car Around’ is basically an unresolved love song,” Millette continued. “That’s kind of what I go for most of the time. The lyric is, ‘I’d like to turn this car around, race back to your house.’”
Millette said this song tries to describe an unresolved conflict in a relationship, where things were left unsaid and there’s left over uncertainty. “I think that’s kind of just because as a teenager to early twenties, your brain just circles around that,” he said.
“I would say most of the time, the lyrics come first,” Millette said. “I think that’s the English major, wordy side of me that I put way more time and effort into the lyrics. The chords work to play in the background in my mind.”
For the past school year, Millette has played on a consistent basis with violin/fiddle player and St. Michael’s classmate Dylan Gombas.
Millette said Gombas has been great because he focuses more on the melody and the music, while Millette focuses on the lyrics. “I think we’re becoming better songwriters because we have that different focus,” he said.
With the addition of the violin, their sound has a blue grassy feel. Millette said the partnership has changed the way he plays. “It kind of forces me to play on time and in key,” he joked. “Usually, I’m just off doing my own thing.”
Millette and Gombas have been well received in the local music scene near St. Michael’s College, recently performing to a full house at The Monkey House in Winooski. “They actually had to turn people away at the door, which was amazing,” he said.
At their most recent performance on April 9 at Nectar’s, Millette’s family and friends came out to support the duo.
“I’ve been very lucky to have a good following, a good set of people who come to a lot of shows, even if I don’t know them by name,” Millette said. “They’ve always been very receptive to what I do. I kind of feed off of that.”
“I really like seeing people sing along and have a good time,” he said. “The more fun people are having, the better I play, I like to think.”
Millette said he and Gombas plan the first and last songs, but leave the rest of the set up in air. “We try to read it,” he said, explaining that the set list depends on the crowd. Sometimes they will play more covers, other times more original stuff.
“At the end of the day, we want to get the original stuff out there,” he said. “We want people to at least hear it, take it in, take it for what they will.”
Millette said he hopes to continue with music after college. “I don’t know how plausible it is,” he said, but “it’s definitely something I see myself continuing to do, hopefully beyond this level.”
“I think after graduation, I want to set some time aside to at least give that a shot and see where it goes,” he said.
During that time, Millette hopes to release an EP, called The Mourning After. He said his current struggle is to pick five or six songs that go together and “push them out of the nest.”
To see Millette and Gombas perform live, check out the duo live at Twigg’s American Gastropub on April 29 from 7 to 9 p.m.