Album Review: Troy Millette, 'Living With a Ghost'
By Kristen Ravin
(Self-released, CD, digital download)
In a 2015 review of Jason Isbell's album Something More Than Free, Pitchfork's Stephen Deusner described the singer-songwriter as having "an eye for telling details that accrue into specific settings and characters." It might seem crazy to compare, well, anyone to one of modern-day Americana's most popular and exalted performers, but this particular description aptly applies to Fairfax songster Troy Millette.
On his debut solo release, the EP Living With a Ghost, Millette serves up five alt-country-tinged light rock songs about universal topics of love, friendship and finding one's path in the world. The themes are broad, but the lyrical and musical details pack a big emotional punch.
Youthful hellraising is a trope in today's popular country music. However, when the narrator in "Brothers" recounts getting drunk with his buddies and running from the cops, it's more of an acknowledgment than a glorification of the past. He recognizes that his hometown "is just a little bit louder now" — as in, things change, people grow up and that's OK.
"Runaway" tells the story of a woman with a "lightning storm beneath her folded arms" looking to leave a bad relationship for a better life. With a simple phrase about stacking boxes in a brand-new basement, Millette, in his raspy drawl, evokes the challenges and the sense of possibility that can come with a change of course.
Nashville guitarist John Barclay pulls heartstrings throughout the EP with textural electric guitar playing that adds depth without stealing shine from Millette's acoustic work.
Millette, who was chosen by listeners to join Grace Potter's 2017 Grand Point North festival, recorded Living With a Ghost with Christopher Hawthorn of Burlington's Studio 150. Hawthorn produced, mixed and played keys on the EP.
Additional musicians include Ezra Oklan on drums and Robinson Morse on bass. Vermont singer-songwriter Francesca Blanchard pitches in with background vocals on the mid-tempo love song "Home."
Millette graduated from Saint Michael's College in 2016 with a degree in English and a minor in creative writing. He essentially delivers a work of flash fiction in his song "Magnolias" with the lyrics "Counting snowflakes on some lonely drive / Singing 'Born to Run' but stumbling through my life." With imagery like that, this collection is sure to strike a chord with fans of storytelling Americana troubadours such as Isbell and the radio-friendly stylings of Kip Moore.
"Living With A Ghost" on Spotify!
Fairfax singer/songwriter keeps it humble with big ‘90s sound, new EP
by Ethan Dezotelle
“I rarely party with Duane ‘The Rock’ Johnson.”
Troy Millette laughs and shakes his head as he discusses the extent of the fast-living, hard-partying, big-pimpin’ lifestyle he’s adopted since his debut EP – Living With a Ghost – dropped on Feb. 7.
In reality, Millette wouldn’t have the time to hang out with The Rock even if the opportunity arose. He’s a busy man these days, promoting the new release, doing local shows, working on an album of all new material, and working a full-time day job. Plus, glitz and glamor just ain’t his style.
“Heart, humor, and humility are the keys to success …” for Millette, according to the bio on his website (troymillettemusic.com). Forty-five minutes with the 24-year old musician bears out that claim as fact.
Talking at a St. Albans coffee shop one week after his release party and performance at Higher Ground in South Burlington, Millette seems a little overwhelmed by the past few days. He looks at the small pot of coffee he just bought at 4:30 p.m. and raises his eyebrows.
“I’m not sure this was the best idea,” he says and laughs.
Millette recalls the show last week, and his eyes widen.
“Higher Ground is my favorite room to see a show in. I’ve opened shows there, and I thought I was ready for it,” he says. “But I’ve never been more nervous of anything in my life. It was so humbling. I was taken back by how many people came out. There were around 120 people there, and we doubled ticket sales the day of the show.”
Millette’s big night has been a long time coming.
He’s done solo gigs since 2009, when he first performed at Twiggs American Gastropub in St. Albans as part of local country sensation Keegan Nolan’s Young Guns series of concerts. Six years later he partnered up with Dylan Gombas, a fellow St. Michael’s College student, and they worked as a duo.
“I learned (Taylor Swift’s) Bad Blood with him to avoid a writing assignment in one of the classes we had together. We didn’t even know each other. We had to perform it for the class,” Millette says. “Then we became the weird St. Mike’s acoustic duo, playing twisted pop covers.”
Together, the pair won the Seven Days/Grand Point North local band contest in 2017. They took nearly a quarter of the 3,800 votes cast for a pool of over 70 local acts, including Twiddle and Kat Wright. The win allowed them to open Grace Potter’s popular annual summer music festival that year.
That same summer, they opened for seasoned performers including Rick Springfield and Richard Marx. Since then, they’ve warmed up crowds for acts including Counting Crows and Live.
“It’s really weird, you know?” he says. “We’re playing for Counting Crows one night, with like 14,000 people in the audience. Then we’re in Burlington the next night, playing for ten. You look at it and realize there’s more people on the stage than in the crowd, but you still need to play like you’re KISS.”
Millette pauses to take a sip of coffee, and a woman walks by and recognizes him.
“Congratulations on your album, Troy,” she says as she makes her way to the door. “Great job!”
He smiles and waves, says, “Thanks! I really appreciate it.”
And he blushes. Then he turns his attention back to the new EP.
Living With a Ghost consists of five tracks that owe a debt of gratitude to the pop rock of the 1990s, including the previously mentioned Counting Crows. Millette is well aware of this.
“I love that big, ‘90s, strummy sound,” he says. “It’s my wheelhouse.”
He points out that Christopher Hawthorn, producer on Living With a Ghost, describes his singing as Jason Isbell (Drive-By Truckers, The 400 Unit) crossed with Vertical Horizon, the late ‘90s pop-alt band best known for the single, Everything You Want.
With the new EP out, Millette has a few local shows lined up around the Burlington area. He hopes to also take his music further down the road in early summer for a few weeks while he has downtime from his day job as a behavior interventionist. And if things work out, maybe a tour of Iceland?
“I don’t know why,” he says, “but Iceland is the country with the second highest streaming rate for the album right now. Very interesting.”
Whatever happens tour-wise, Millette is happy to be sharing his music with the world and growing as an artist.
“Growing pain romances,” he says. “Those are my go-to for songwriting. But in the last couple of years I’ve also been able to step outside myself more and write character songs … You know, I joke at shows about how I started writing songs to impress one girl, and now I’m disappointing people on a much broader spectrum.”
And he laughs.
Heart, humor, and humility.
That’s Troy Millette.