Interview with Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

Thao Nguyen, of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, talks to Cindy Howes about her new album We The Common.

Thao Nguyen grew up in Falls Church, Virginia.  Thao began to play guitar at the age of 12.  She was raised by a single mother who owned a laudramat, where Thao often practiced guitar.  Thao released a solo EP and performed as a soloist before she formed Thao & the Get Down Stay Down.  

Cindy and Thao discuss the support and help that she her and the band received from her mother.  “She has been amazing, she always was supportive. Early on, on our first tour actually, my mom gave up her minivan so we could take it on tour,” explains Nguyen.  Even after the minivan was totaled on the second day of the tour (hit and run from a drunk driver), Nguyen’s mom offered to pay for the plane tickets even though she could not afford it at the time, “That really sums up my mom's unwavering support for us and me. She’s a great lady,” Thao adds.

The new album, We the Common features a track recorded with the well-known piano and harp player Joanna Newsom, “Kindness Be Conceived.” “That song I wrote probably a month before I met Joanna.  So it existed already.  I wanted more of that old-time feel in the vocal harmonies.  So when we met I shyly asked if she would demo.  She did an amazing job, I’m so glad and grateful to have her on the record,” explains Nguyen.

The title track for the album, We the Common (For Valerie Bolden) has an interesting story attached to it.  “Valerie Bolden is serving a life sentence without parole now at CIW, which is the California Institute for Women, which a state prison.   Last year I started working with the California Coalition for women prisoners.  Valerie was one of the first people I met.  I had never been in jail or inside a prison and certainly never talked to anyone who is sentenced to life.  That song is inspired by our first conversation,” states Nguyen.

The album, We the Common, features a lot of tracks about social issues.  Cindy and Thao discuss how she goes about attacking social issues in her music and the difficulties of doing so.  “What I found most difficult was staying as respectful as I could of business that wasn’t mine or wasn’t really anybody else’s.  So the challenge was to focus on the humanity and emotion of it and present it in a way that’s relatable and stay out of the details of whoever’s situation.  Also is how to stay respect of people’s business and their situation and scenarios while still hoping to shed some light on it,” explains Nguyen.   The new album, We the Common, is stores now and available online.  You can find ticket information for Thao & the Get Down Stay Down’s show in Pittsburgh on our concert calendar.