BY George Halas
There is a rich treasure trove of original music being created in the Fox Cities and some of it fits into pre-existing categories like rock, jazz, country, pop, alt-rock, alt-country, etc.
Then there is Miss Molly.
The Menasha-based duo, comprised of keyboardist Molly Conrad and guitarist Michael Theroux, incorporates so many different and appealing elements into their music that it fits in only one category: outstanding.
Just a little more than two years after the successful release of their debut album, “Fly Tonight,” Conrad and Theroux are in the studio putting the finishing touches on “Snow,” which is targeted for a mid-March release. It is a CD that developed organically into a concept album.
“We did not set out to do a concept album,” Conrad said, “but as the songs started coming together, we noticed that they fit together and had a flow. We then wrote an intro, an outro and a number of instrumental passages that connect the songs together.”
“The album is not just a bunch of songs thrown together in random order,” Theroux added. “I was listening to “Animals” by Pink Floyd when we started – it has a concept aspect to it – and our concept started to emerge as we were recording. We thought it would be cool to tie the songs together.”
In addition to jazz, folk, rock, Irish and Celtic influences, the duo cite Bruce Hornsby, Steve Winwood, Sarah MacLachlin, Tory Amos, Amy Winehouse, and Willy Porter as influences on the songwriting as well as ethnic influences from the British Isles, Spain, India and Africa.
The songwriting process is a collaborative effort.
Conrad writes most of the melodies and lyrics for the original songs.
“I start with piano, find chords that I like, and the melody comes next,” she said. “The lyrics usually flow when the melody has been worked out.”
Theroux writes the guitar parts and vocal harmonies as well as creating the intros and outros, bridges and any instrumental passages the song might need, much of which is initially improvised and later worked into a solo that fits the song.
Performing as a duo developed organically as well. In 2011, Conrad wrote a song called “Down.” Theroux heard her practicing it, and joined in on guitar.
“It worked really well, so we wrote a few more and formed “Miss Molly,” Conrad said. “Michael was really into playing Irish music at the time so we worked on several traditional Irish tunes for our repertoire, and this helped us land our first gig on St. Patrick’s Day at Cannova’s.”
They’ve been playing as ‘Miss Molly’ for about four years now.
“Since that first show on St. Patrick’s Day 2012 at Cannova’s in Neenah,” she continued. “We were both playing music at the time, but just not together. We started messing around with some original songs and found out we really clicked musically, so we quit what we were doing and joined forces. The rest is history. We still play every other Sunday at Cannova’s.”
Conrad is originally from Appleton. She was listening to music, taking piano lessons and writing songs at nine years old.
“Before I got my first guitar at 10, I was strumming on a badminton racket and singing,” she said. “My friends and I wrote songs together on the weekends for fun. Our inspirations were ABBA and Elton John as well as a lot of 80’s music and alternative stuff. I was always in choir and jazz vocal groups in college.”
A graduate of Appleton West, she studied briefly at UW-Fox Valley and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design before getting a degree in Art Education from the University of Minnesota. She played music in the folk scene at the Uptown Bar, The Bryant Lake Bowl, 7th St. Entry and local coffee shops.Both Conrad and Theroux teach music in the Fox Cities area. She teaches piano and composition at their studio in Menasha while he teaches guitar, bass and several other stringed and percussive instruments at Island Music in Neenah.
Theroux grew up in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He got his first guitar at 12 years old, inspired after attending a Christopher Parkening concert with his mother. He studied classical guitar for a short time, but was really enamored with 70’s prog rock bands like Yes and ELP, “with a large helping of the Stones and the Beatles.” While in high school, he went to the public library and discovered the records of old blues masters like Son House and Robert Johnson and dedicated much of his playing to learning the blues.
He joined the Marines right after high school and landed in California four years later. While in Northern California, Michael began studying Celtic, Middle Eastern, and Indian Classical music – those influences can be heard in much of his solo playing.
A self-taught computer programmer, he got a “lucrative offer” to do IT work in Minneapolis and moved there on 2000. Six years later, a job as a technical writer for Plexus brought him to the Fox Cities. He also began playing guitar in Unity The Band at the time.
In addition to being a musician, teacher, IT consultant, artist and researcher who is going to school online to become a certified homeopath, Theroux is also an author whose new book, “Meetings With Remarkable Kooks,” will be published very soon. One of his previous books, “Rhythmic Formative Forces of Music” is available free at his web site, michaeltheroux.com.
In addition to releasing “Snow,” their long-term objectives are straight forward.
“We want to keep writing, playing, and performing music together,” Conrad said. “We want to be an inspiration for other musicians to write their own music and share it with others.”