Performing in 2009
|Also known as||Thao|
March 19, 1984|
Virginia, United States
|Genres||Folk rock, indie folk, indie pop|
|Instruments||Guitar, banjo, slide guitar|
|Labels||Kill Rock Stars, Trust Me Corporation|
|Associated acts||Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, Mirah, Tune-Yards|
Thao Nguyen (born March 19, 1984), also known as Thao, is an American singer-songwriter originally from Virginia and now based in San Francisco. She is the lead musician of the band Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, and has collaborated with Joanna Newsom and Andrew Bird. Outside of the band she has collaborated on projects with several artists including Merrill Garbus, The Portland Cello Project, and Mirah. Her music is influenced by folk, country, and hip hop.
- Early life and education
Born in Virginia and raised in Falls Church, Nguyen began playing guitar and writing songs at the age of twelve while helping out at her mother's laundromat. Her parents are Vietnamese refugees who met when they were resettled in North Carolina. She describes her father as "incredibly charismatic and ... unreachable and tyrannical." Her father left when she was 11 or 12, about the time Nguyen started playing music. She began performing in high school as part of a pop-country duo with friend Brenna Clerkin. She attended Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County and studied at the College of William & Mary, where she double majored in Sociology and Women's studies. After recording an EP that differed from her initial style, she began performing as a soloist with her acoustic guitar. With her fellow college students Adam and Willis Thompson she formed Thao with the Get Down Stay Down. After graduating she toured extensively, both with the band and as a solo artist.
- First albums and early collaborations
Her first album, Like the Linen, was released in 2005 and led to a tour as a solo artist supporting Laura Veirs the following year. In 2007 she collaborated with Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards as 'Merrillthaocracy' releasing the "Tuvalu" single. She subsequently signed to the Kill Rock Stars label, releasing the Tucker Martine-produced We Brave Bee Stings and All album in 2008. In 2008 she duetted with Zach Rogue of Rogue Wave at the 'Revenge of the Book Eaters' benefit show in New York City.
In 2009, Nguyen appeared solo on the nationwide Hotel Cafe Tour. She collaborated with labelmates The Portland Cello Project and Justin Power on the album The Thao and Justin Power Sessions, released in June 2009 and featuring versions of Nguyen and Power's songs.
- Move to San Francisco
Nguyen moved to San Francisco around 2009, and has been based there since. Over the next few years she began working with outreach projects including the non-profit organization the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, partly to help her to integrate with her new community.
- Thao + Mirah
In late 2009 Nguyen met Mirah and the two decided to collaborate. They performed together in early 2010 at the Noise Pop festival in San Francisco. The two later announced a 2010 North American tour, billed under the name Thao and Mirah With The Most of All. The album Thao + Mirah, co-produced by Merrill Garbus, was released in 2011 on Kill Rock Stars. The album allowed both artists to experiment with different instruments, with Nguyen playing banjo and percussion in addition to guitar.
- Recent years
Nguyen has also fundraised with Dianna Agron for Oxfam America. In May 2010, a video for the song "Body", directed by Agron, debuted on the website of humanitarian organization Oxfam America. The video features a prelude of Thao and Dianna talking about their friendship, the making of the video, and their work on behalf of Oxfam.
Also in 2010, Nguyen's song When We Swam is used as the title song for the Australian TV show Offspring.
In 2012 Nguyen performed as part of WNYC's Radiolab show's 'Radiolab Live: In the Dark' tour. This self described "nerd circus" also included Radiolab hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, comedian Demetri Martin, and modern dance troupe Pilobolus.
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down released their fourth studio album A Man Alive on March 4, 2016. The highly personal album primarily explores her relationship with her estranged father. The album was produced by Merrill Garbus, who also produced Thao and Mirah's collaborative album Thao + Mirah.
Nguyen's voice has been compared with Cat Power, Fiona Apple, Sinéad O'Connor, and Regina Spektor. Her music has been described as "country-tinged indie folk-pop", and a blend of folk, country, blues and pop. Her lyrics deal with relationships and childhood and on We the Common more political themes, including the Occupy movement.
A 2017 documentary by Todd Krolczyk, Nobody Dies: A Film About a Musician Her Mom and Vietnam, follows Nguyen and her mother as they visit Vietnam — Nguyen for the first time, and her mother for the first time since the Vietnam War. Over the course of preparing for and during the journey, Nguyen explores the sometimes conflicting cultures, Vietnamese and American, that informed her childhod and helped to shape her family, her music, and her relationship with her mother. Funded by the Center for Asian American Media, the short film has also been broadcast by a number of PBS stations.
- Like the Linen (2005), Trust Me
- We Brave Bee Stings and All (2008), Kill Rock Stars - Thao with the Get Down Stay Down
- Know Better Learn Faster (2009), Kill Rock Stars - Thao with the Get Down Stay Down
- The Thao & Justin Power Sessions (2009), Kill Rock Stars - with The Portland Cello Project
- Thao + Mirah (2011), Kill Rock Stars - with Mirah
- We the Common (2013), Ribbon Music - Thao & Get Down Stay Down
- A Man Alive (2016), Ribbon Music - Thao & the Get Down Stay Down
- "Swimming Pools" (2007), Kill Rock Stars - as Thao
- "Bag of Hammers" (2007), Kill Rock Stars - as Thao
- "Tuvalu" (2007), Common Cloud - with Merrill Garbus as Merrillthaocracy
- Emancipator - "When I Go" from Soon It Will Be Cold Enough (2006)
- Simone White - "Never Be That Tough" from Silver, Silver (2012)
- Duncan states that she was 28 in 2013, while Miller states that she was 25 in 2009
- Romanov, Petya (October 26, 2007). "Thao Nguyen Is Releasing a New Album, But Dat Nguyen Was One of the Most Underrated Middle Linebackers in NFL History". Tiny Mix Tapes.
- Spinelli, Lisa (November 4, 2009). "Thao Nguyen and The Get Down Stay Down at Middle East". The Phoenix.
- Wild, Matt (August 15, 2013). "Thao Nguyen on touring, taking time off, and this weekend's Lebowski Fest". The A.V. Club.
- Lau, Melody (January 9, 2013). "Thao Nguyen Talks the Sound of 'We the Common,' Her Joanna Newsom Collab, and... Rapping?". Exclaim!.
- Phares, Heather "Thao Nguyen Biography", Allmusic. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Miller, Dan (2009) "Thao Nguyen Rejects 9-to-5 Life for Music Career", Washington Post, April 17, 2009. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- "Thao Nguyen on Songwriting, S.F. and Sorting Through Her Troubled Relationship With Her Dad". KQED News. 2016-04-30. Retrieved 2017-07-03.
- "The Story Behind We The Common Archived 2014-01-04 at the Wayback Machine.", www.thaoandthegetdownstaydown.com. Retrieved April 27, 2013
- Maher, Dave (2008) "Paul Simon, Dept. of Eagles, Ira Glass Do 826 Benefit", Pitchfork Media, September 22, 2008. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- "Thao Nguyen, The Portland Cello Project: "Tallymarks"", Pitchfork Media, May 15, 2009. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Hyclak, Anna (2009) "Hot New Band: Portland Cello Project", Spin, July 6, 2009. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Brownstone, Sydney (2013) "The Revival of Thao Nguyen", Mother Jones, March 25, 2013. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Taylor, John (2013) "The Fruit of Thao Nguyen's Labors", Interview. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Duncan, Byard (2013) "Jailed Heart: Thao Nguyen Finds Inspiration in Prison", SF Weekly, February 27, 2013. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Rusli, Andrew (2013) "Thao Nguyen's Uncommon Life", Hyphen, April 4, 2013. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Pan, Arnold (2013) "First Person, Singular and Plural: Thao Nguyen's Collective Consciousness", PopMatters, March 31, 2013. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Jacobs, Justin (2011) "Two Cooks in the Kitchen", Billboard, April 16, 2011, p. 26. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Katzif, Michael (2011) "First Listen: Thao And Mirah, 'Thao And Mirah'", NPR, April 17, 2011. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Mirah and Thao to Tour Together
- Thomas, Fred "We the Common Review", Allmusic. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Grandy, Eric (April 27, 2011). "Thao & Mirah: Thao & Mirah". Pitchfork Media.
- "Radiolab Live: In the Dark". WNYC. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
- "Thao Nguyen Gets Down and Gets Personal: "Everyone Is Just Trying To Communicate"". Noisey. Retrieved 2017-07-03.
- Primas, Tyler (2016) "", 7X7, February 18, 2016. Retrieved April 9, 2016
- Phares, Heather "We Brave Bee Stings and All Review", Allmusic. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Allen, J. "Know Better Learn Faster Review", Allmusic. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Lau, Melody (2013) "Thao Nguyen Talks the Sound of 'We the Common,' Her Joanna Newsom Collab, and... Rapping?", Exclaim!, January 29, 2013. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Goldstein, A.H. (2009) "Monolith Q&A: Thao with the Get Down Stay Down", Denver Westworld, September 11, 2009. Retrieved January 4, 2014
- Bote, Joshua (2017) "Thao Nguyen Tells Her Own Story in Intimate Doc 'Nobody Dies'", KQED Arts, September 3, 2017. Retrieved December 31, 2017
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