Yes, So On and So On with Thao Nguyen

by | Jul 10, 2009 | MUSIC

Ages ago, there was a wonderful event that took place at Café Gutenberg entitled A Light in the Attic. This idea was spawned from the mind of Adam Thompson. His eclectic musical outfit, The OK Bird, acted as the house band while guests from around the country were invited to play on these inspired Sundays. Besides the OK Bird, he spent time playing bass for Prabir and the Substitutes, as well as a group that had recently been signed to Kill Rock Stars. This was how I became introduced to Thao Nguyen.

Ages ago, there was a wonderful event that took place at Café Gutenberg entitled A Light in the Attic. This idea was spawned from the mind of Adam Thompson. His eclectic musical outfit, The OK Bird, acted as the house band while guests from around the country were invited to play on these inspired Sundays. Besides the OK Bird, he spent time playing bass for Prabir and the Substitutes, as well as a group that had recently been signed to Kill Rock Stars. This was how I became introduced to Thao Nguyen.

Instead of the OK Bird, Thao with the Get Down Stay Down performed on one of these Sundays. In the most intimate of settings, I was spellbound by the wonderfully creative and whimsical presence the band and front woman Nguyen delivered to the crowd. With a mix of songs from her first full length Like the Linen and the then soon-to-be-released We Brave Beestings and All, I had to let the world know about this wonderful gift of a songwriter. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who took on this mission.

Nguyen is that rare breed of a musician that approaches the craft with incredible ease and maturity. Her voice is one that demands to be heard, and will leave remnants of hooks and introspective lyricism in your head for days on end. If you missed out on We Brave Beestings and All last year, don’t hesitate any further. Pick up a copy immediately and check out this fantastic band as they play the National this Friday.
Shannon Cleary: From my understanding, you started playing and writing songs at an early age. What artists at the time were large influences on your approach to songwriting/lyrical styles? 
Thao Nguyen: I was and am a huge fan of Motown. I didn’t know what Smokey Robinson was responsible for when I was that young, but all my favorites were written, if not also performed by him. I loved the juxtaposition of brighter sounds with more melancholic lyrics. I also was intrigued with the Reading Rainbow theme song, because it sticks to your bones but it is not necessarily a good song. I wanted very much to focus on gleaning the catchiness and sparing the potential annoyance of a hook.
At what point, or moment, was it for you that you decided to take music more seriously? Was it before or after you entered William and Mary? 
After my sophomore year at William and Mary I started to notice a declining interest in pursuing a career in anything but music. After the first month of my senior year I narrowed it down to just that one egg in my basket, and I intentionally forewent any registration for GRE testing. 
How did the experience of growing up in Virginia affect your perspectives on all things few and far between? 
I grew up in the suburbs, in Northern Virginia. I had a lot of time to myself because I couldn’t get a ride to any friends’ houses, (not that I had that many) and I wasn’t really much for organized sports, and in the summers it is so devastatingly humid you can’t leave the house anyway. And really, how often can you go to that one Starbucks close by, or shopping at Old Navy? So I stayed in my room a lot and played guitar and wrote songs. 

Your rhythm section is very Richmond-based. I have read a few tales as to how you met these members, but I’d love to hear how you came across Willis and Adam. (Also, I think it’s neat that Adam still refers to himself as the OK Bird. That was easily one of my favorite Richmond-based musical projects. I felt honored to play alongside in my own musical endeavors.) 
Willis and I met at William and Mary. He was a man about campus. I stayed in my room a lot from habit. We had mutual friends and I would play shows around the college and he eventually started guesting and making everything sound better. His friends would come to the shows and that would exponentially increase the crowd. We met Adam in Richmond at the Harrison St. Cafe. We were on the same bill with the highly revered and esteemed OK Bird. We took to him immediately. Months later we asked him to join as bassist for the below mentioned Kill Rock Stars Compilation tour. Normally I am not so handy with segues. 
The big break for your band must have been the Kill Rock Stars compilation and tour, which helped offer your group exposure. How did this change everything? At least, now looking back on it.
It solidified my, and our, relationship to Slim Moon, our great friend and manager. Moon had set up a week of recording with Tucker Martine. Martine signed on to produce four tracks for a demo, which was an incredible coup for us. Then Portia Sabin, the head of Kill Rock Stars, signed us, and Tucker worked on the rest of the record (We Brave Beestings and All) with us, and now here we are, still riding around in a van.  
One of the greatest tools that I have witnessed in the exposure of your group has been NPR podcasts and the Daytrotter sessions. What were the experiences like participating with both of these mediums that have such a high respect for the independent music community, and do you see outlets like this as being what keeps the interesting facets of the music community acknowledged and recognized?  
We are so grateful for the support of both NPR and Daytrotter, and it is always positive to be affiliated with something people trust and are excited for. I have great respect for their tastes and their mission to promote and support independent music, and if they find us worthy of their exertions, then I am flattered and we are just glad to have a float in the parade. And overall, yes, I think both mediums are at the forefront of offering exposure to the maybe underexposed. 
Your first release was just under your name. How did the name The Get Down Stay Down come about? 
The Get Down Stay Down did not form until necessity arose, in the form of the KRS compilation tour. I had wanted to have a rock band for a while before that, but my tendencies are more reactionary.

How did your approach to storytelling in your songs evolve between releases? From my own perspective, the first release is very relationship-centric, but it keeps you involved and it evokes a scene. Whereas the second release seems to be more like “this is the world around me, the history of what made me Thao, and how I perceive relationships and the ways people treat one another.” 
I’d agree with that. For the first one, my songwriting style was a lot more direct and plaintive, which I used to attribute to being younger. That is peculiar reasoning, because I think I have revisited that approach lately with my newest batch of songs. Also for the first record, I blamed other people more, and for my second record I blamed myself more, and for this next record I just give up more.  
When do you expect a second release on Kill Rock Stars to come out?
Our new record will be out on Kill Rock Stars on October 13th. 
With a label like Touch and Go ceasing their distribution, does that become a concern for any band that is supported by an independent record label? Like, how are we going to sustain being a band if every label around us goes under? 
To be honest, I haven’t really considered this because making a living in music is so precarious, if one thought about everything that could go wrong and leave us all destitute, one (I) would never recover from angina. In addition, I think we have hit the era of “the record label is irrelevant” for those who have the gumption and the drive and the Internet to record and market and industriously propel their own music. I only have the Internet, so I’m very grateful for KRS.  
Lastly, what have been some memorable or favorite tour experiences? Whether between David Shultz and the Skyline, Xiu Xiu, Rilo Kiley, or so on and so on? 
On our last tour in the spring we were down south with our friends Sister Suvi and we played tag in the parking lot of the venue. That is a terrifying game, all the chasing and fear. Why do kids like to do that? 

David Schultz and the Skyline are dear friends and they let us borrow their rehearsal space in Richmond because ours is a homeless band. They are coming with us on our fall release tour. My favorite is when both our groups combine to become Super Band for our last song. And we hang out backstage and drink whiskey and giggle and debate where will eat after the show.

Rilo Kiley was such a great opportunity for us and they were so kind and hospitable. I thought Jenny Lewis was incredibly gracious and dignified and I have such respect for how she handles her job. And all the gifts we were asked to deliver to her were pretty cool, but we never skimmed anything off the tops of those goody bags. 
Thank you for participating with this interview and good luck with your Richmond show.
Thao with the Get Down Stay Down will be opening for the Avett Brothers this Friday, July 10th at the National. Tickets are $25. The doors open at 7pm and Thao with the Get Down Stay Down will take the stage at 8pm.

RVA Staff

RVA Staff

RVA culture rag since 2005. #RVA

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