Thao Nguyen fronts the trio Thao with the Get Down Stay Down with Adam Thompson on bass and Willis Thompson on drums (no relation) whose second album, We Brave Bee Stings and All, came out on Kill Rock Stars in 2008. With Thao’s airy, animated voice dancing over jangly guitars and light, poppy rhythms, you can’t help but feel a little happier when you listen to them. Thao headlines solo at the Swedish American Hall on February 26 and promises to find out what puts the “Swedish” in Swedish American Hall.
Noise Pop: Are you excited to headline Noise Pop?
Thao: Am I headlining?
T: Really? Holy shit! No one tells me anything, I swear. I better be better than I thought I would have to be.
NP: So you’re excited.
T: Yes, totally. Sorry, it's just funny. If you knew the amount of things I don't know about what I'm doing for my job it would crack you up.
NP: Did opening for Rilo Kiley and Xiu Xiu in the beginning of 2008 pay off when you went out on your own later in the year?
T: When we released [We Brave Bee Stings and All], if we had gone on our own headlining tour it would have been just a string of shitboxes. But when we did that headlining tour a lot of people showed up who would not have had they not seen us otherwise with these other bands. There's no way that we had any sort of footing or clout. We used to play so many places with "tavern" in the name and it's just not that cool.
NP: Taverns can be tough. Any artists you’d love to play with?
T: I have a very deep affection for Andrew Bird, but I feel like if we shared the same bill I would be paralyzed because I'd feel too inadequate to play. And Mirah, I've always been a really big fan of her.
NP: How much songwriting does the rest of the band do?
T: I would say that I write all the songs. It's weird, I'm not really into control but definitely with songwriting I want it, so I prefer that the guys in the band not even hear the song until I feel like it is complete. And they write their own parts because they're much better at drums and bass than I am. I love that collaborative energy, it's just that the song—I need it to be my own.
NP: How did you find each other?
T: Willis and I went to college together and he was pretty much the first drummer I've ever played with. He's like my first rhythmic love and I think he's amazing. I know that he's irreplaceable because I've tried before and it didn't work out.
NP: And Adam?
T: We dated for a minute a long time ago. They are the best musicians that I have had the pleasure of working with. At the same time, we gel enough personality-wise, and we're of the same ethos and the same goals so it works, for the most part, really well.
NP: Working and traveling with these two guys all the time, do you sometimes crave the company of women?
T: I swear, for every 14,000 men there's one woman. Other bands you play with, the people in crews, the staff at venues—everyone is a dude. I know a lot of great female musicians but for whatever reason there's just less. When you do meet a woman that plays music—a touring musician, which is kind of a weird lifestyle—the camaraderie is almost immediate because we have so much to talk about, grievances and triumphs.
NP: I hear you’re looking for a fourth member, now’s your chance.
T: Yeah, and I would love if it was a woman. Mostly they have to be cool, but think I need that balance. Sometimes after three weeks or two weeks with these two dudes I haven't talked about my feelings in forever.
NP: Speaking of feelings, what music do you love?
T: Motown, late 50s and 60s soul and some pop, rock, and folk. That era and into the early 70s is primarily what I listen to, which is why it's such a disability for me to talk about new music that I might be interested in. I also listen to a lot of hip-hop and R&B and want to incorporate that more into the next album (not in an embarrassing way).
NP: No freestyling.
T: I’m not cool enough to do that.
NP: Are you glad you game out to the West Coast?
T: I'll say this about San Francisco: I think I've been to a lot of cities now—actually I'm pretty sure that they all blur together—but I only want to live here.
- JESS HEMERLY