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Released April 12, 2005

SOUTHERN MISS ALUM RELEASES NEW ALBUM, STAYS TRUE TO SELF
By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG -- Her new album “Shoot The Sky” will soon be available for purchase, but after a moment’s conversation with Molly Thomas, you’ll learn quickly that the Nashville singer/songwriter is not for sale.

A University of Southern Mississippi alumnus, Thomas is passionately committed to staying true to her musical self, and she continues that commitment on her new album, resisting what she sees as the pressures of the corporate music world to shape her into an image other than her own. Her musical heroes – including Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits and Loretta Lynn among others - follow the same course, in Thomas’ view.

“I’ve always admired musicians who stick to who they are and what it is that they do, not sellouts. People who aren't afraid of doing whatever it is they do, instead of what the popular demand is, not allowing themselves to be molded into whatever someone else might want them to be,” she said. “Why not just be who you are?”

Who Thomas is has been shaped by music since she was three, when she was picking up on her older sister Susan’s piano lessons and copying her performance. However, in what may have been an early sign of her independent streak, she added her own twist.

“We had two pianos in the house at the time,” Thomas said, with one belonging to the family, and the other to the parsonage where the family lived (Thomas’s father is a Methodist minister). “My grandmother always loved telling the story about the time my older sister was practicing piano and there was a sound coming out of the dining room, where the other piano was, and lo and behold, there was little ol’ me copying the same tune, except I had transposed it into another key. My grandmother always got a kick out of that, as she too played by ear and was my musical inspiration in addition to my mother.”

Growing up in the Methodist church where religious music was also an early influence, Thomas was surrounded by music, whether it was singing hymns or singing in the church choir, in addition to her mother’s work as founder and director of the Mississippi Boy’s Choir. “She (mom) kept us in music lessons and always corrected our singing when we were growing up,” Thomas said. “Of course I went in the opposite direction (musically), but she’s my biggest fan.”

Thomas began live performances as a child living in Hattiesburg, when she was a Suzuki violin student at Southern Miss at age 6. Her family moved to Gulfport when she was 13 and then to Jackson at age 16, where she graduated from Murrah High School. Along the way, she continued taking music lessons from various teachers and performing in concerts in every town the family lived. While in high school, she traveled from Jackson to Hattiesburg to take violin lessons from former Southern Miss music professor Dr. Jerri Lucktenberg, and also performed solo with the Jackson City Orchestra and The Mississippi Youth Orchestra. “That was all back in my classical music days,” Thomas explained.

When she arrived at Southern Miss, she came in contact with several musicians and began to venture from classical into what she was listening to on the side, which was folk/rock/independent music. After meeting fellow Southern Miss students Pascal Balthrop and Bobby Moreland, the three formed a band called the Picardi Three and performed folk songs in various Hattiesburg nightclubs and at university events. Later, Thomas joined an all-girl band known as Watermelon Sugar. “At this time, I was only playing violin/fiddle and singing only an occasional backup vocal,” Thomas said. “I always had the desire to sing, though, and sing my own songs. But I guess I had to start somewhere.”

After graduating from Southern Miss, Thomas got a call inviting her to join a band in Mobile, Ala., known as Slow Moses, and traveled and performed with them for years around the Southeast. After the band broke up, Thomas started her solo career in 1998. “Shoot the Sky” is her first full-length solo record.

Thomas credits, in part, her experience as a student at Southern Miss for her personal ‘Declaration of Musical Independence.’ Originally on scholarship at the university as a music performance major, she changed her degree program to sociology with a minor in music. The move helped Thomas learn not only musical lessons but lessons in life, which come out loud and clear in “Shoot the Sky.” And just as sociology attempts to determine the rules governing human behavior in social contexts, so Thomas seeks to identify the calamities of human frailty, as well as show the necessity for hope, in her new album.

The ballads on “Shoot the Sky” tell of those calamities – and renewals of hope - from retrieving one’s sanity after sitting in the emotional abyss of a failed relationship, in “Blueprint”; the self-destructive nature of humanity in “Shoot The Sky”; finding hope in the light at the end of the tunnel of self-loathing, angst and misery in “I Hear A Symphony,” written with Matthew Ryan; the dangers of obsessive love in “Crack Cocaine”; and a call for the simplicity of thinking for one’s self and resisting societal and media-driven pressures in “The Easy Side.”

But it’s important to Thomas that the listener find meaning in each song that works for them - not just a few tunes to enjoy but to help them understand and deal with similar issues in their own life.

“I don’t really like to share with people what my songs are about because I think they reflect several meanings depending on the listener, and what they are going through at that time or what they’ve been through in the past,” she said. “There are some songs that are just plain and obvious, like, ‘Crack Cocaine.’ But, a lot of my songs tend to be a little more abstract, and with those songs, I think it’s important for the listener to make up his or her own mind and for them to find their own meaning/ identity/truth (in the song).”

Thomas praises her Southern Miss professors, both in music and in sociology, for having a profound impact on her life and musical career, as well as her development as a person committed to critical thought.

When speaking of Lucktenberg, Thomas beams with admiration, expressing gratitude for a teacher whose ‘tough love’ pushed Thomas to be her best. “She was absolutely amazing. She expected her students to practice at least four to five hours a day. She could go from making you cry in her lessons to opening her home to her students for great social gatherings.”

Thomas spent her first two years at Southern Miss majoring in music, but “I later realized I didn’t have it in me to practice four or five hours a day.

“I was into socializing and meeting boys,” she said, laughing. “So, I said to myself, ‘I can always play music. I don't have to major in it.’”

Though still committed to music, it was an introductory course in sociology that changed her academic career and gave her a new perspective about the world around her, and at the same time making her realize that she enjoyed learning. “I loved USM,” she said. “It was there that for the first time in my life I actually enjoyed academics. I never had the confidence in myself when it came to schoolwork, I guess because I was an artist. I had other things on my mind.”

Thomas said sociology came naturally to her. After taking introductory sociology, she changed her major to sociology with a minor in music. “I loved all of my professors and the things I learned in their classes. Sociology really opened up my mind to the world and the issues that face humanity, and it also made me realize that I have a brain.

“I still use my sociology skills when it comes to my song writing. It was the best decision I made in college - it gave me the confidence that I needed at that time.”

Southern Miss anthropology professor Dr. Jim Flanagan, one of Thomas’ favorite teachers and a popular area musician famous for his Irish ballads, says he’s proud of what Thomas has accomplished - not only as a student and musician but as a person.

“The two things I remember most vividly about Molly when she was an undergraduate student here, was that she was a very good, bright, inquisitive student and that she was a rather quiet and shy person,” Flanagan said. “In later years, after she had moved to Mobile, I met her both at gigs where she played and when she came to hear me play at O'Rourkes. My impression then was very different. On hearing her, I realized how brilliant a fiddle player she was. On having her come to my gigs, I was scared that someone of such talent was in the audience. But, Molly is kind and she is gracious, and she was always supportive.”

Flanagan said he also sees in Thomas a person who is not only an accomplished musician, but someone committed to what she believes is important and who carries herself with integrity. “What Molly always had was a clear vision of her priorities and her goals, and the will to invest the time, energy, and hard work necessary to achieve those goals,” he said.

Find out more about Thomas and her new album at www.mollythomas.com.

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May 16, 2005 3:22 PM