Spinning Platters Interview: Thao Nguyen of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

by Dakin Hardwick on September 11, 2015


Thao Nguyen is a hometown hero. She’s continuously pushing the boundaries of folk music, and making the acoustic guitar an instrument you can dance to. Her 2013 record We The Common is a beautiful and thought provoking piece of work. She’s headlining the 20th St Block Party this weekend alongside Nick Waterhouse, Dominant Legs and many more. This is a totally free event, so there is no excuse not to come.

Spinning Platters had an opportunity to chat with Thao ahead of this performance. Here’s a bit of what we talked about:

It’s been about two years since We The Common came out, and you are playing this pretty big gig. What can we expect from this show?

We just finished a new record… It’s almost done. We will be trying a lot of this songs live.

Your guitar playing is fascinating to me. You are a very percussive player. How did you develop this style?

I think it’s because, when I was learning to play, I didn’t have any accompaniment. So I didn’t want the songs to have a strummed backbone. And as I grew older; I grew up in Virginia and when I went to college I started listening to bluegrass and country-blues. Country-blues was the first thing I listened to when I got my first guitar and the sort of intricate , rhythmic mature of it was a big influence. And it just makes for a fuller sound.

I have seen you do a few random covers over the years. One of my favorite was when you did “Push It” opening for Portlandia. Is there anything you’ve every wanted to touch but haven’t been able to?

That’s a deep cut…Growing up, I’ve always been a fan of hip hop because my older brother was. There are a lot of elements of hip hop we try to incorporate into our music. That area is something I’ve always been a huge fan of, and maybe I’d want to incorporate songs in more directly.

What are your top three favorite hip hop records?

Um… A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders… The De La Soul album with “Betta Listen” (Stakes Is High)… And then Black Sheep’s A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing.

I’d love to hear you do “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo.”

Well, maybe on Saturday…

If you can work it out in time, I’d be blown away.

I’d be really impressed with myself if we can work it out.

Do you ever expect to do another Thao & Mirah record?

I hope so… It will be awhile, because Mirah lives on the East Coast. We are still in touch, but it’s hard with both of our schedules. I think it will be really fun! The vague answer is “maybe.”

I felt that the first Thao & Mirah record was a bit “tUnE-yArDs-y,” and then I noticed that Merrill Garbus produced the record. Any thoughts on a Thao & Merrill record?

Her and I are really good friends, and we are always looking for a reason to work together. So another positive maybe?

How did she come to be part of that album?

A mutual friend of Mirah, Merrill and I suggested that we make a record together. We were able to, but there wasn’t much time. It was a very free wheeling two weeks. It was intended on being a more casual attempt at making a record. Mirah and I both wrote five or six songs, and then we all co-produced the record. It was a very loose thing. I still can’t believe it happened, tour schedules as they are.

Your last record was kind of a concept album about women in prison. How has your involvement in this cause changed in the last two years?

It’s been hard to keep up as being part of a prison advocacy team while on tour… The nature of my involvement have been the same as they’ve always been. I feel very much a part of that community, and it’s in my life when I’m not on tour.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from prisoners?

Everyone that is a part of our group- either I visit or visited by a member of our time- they are really appreciative of it. There’s an emotional impact there, and acknowledgement and a respect.

Have you entertained any offers to play a women’s prison?

There’s a nonprofit run by Wayne Kramer called Jail Guitar Doors, and we’ve been working with them, trying to figure out a way to do it. I’d love to do one.



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