Friday, January 30, 2009

Q&A with Thao Nguyen for Noise Pop 2009

I recently interviewed Thao (of Thao with the Get Down Stay Down) for this year's Noise Pop Festival. It was one of the most fun conversations I've had with an interviewee. The piece is up on Thao's profile page on the Noise Pop site here. [Band's official site and their MySpace page.] This is the super edited version of the interview. We talked for a half an hour and got into a discussion of mutual love of soul music, particularly Mr. Sam Cooke. Damn you, word limits.


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?

NP: Yes.

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.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Sketchfest Salutes The State

Koshi and I went to the Sketchfest tribute to The State yesterday at Herbst Theater, and while it wasn't "music" per se, it was on MTV long enough that I think I can justify posting about it here. And as the cast pointed out, the Spin Doctors came up at least once every episode.

While many think The State is one of the stupidest shows on MTV in a time when MTV still showed music videos, I liked it. A lot. It was unpretentious, absurd, and with its endless stream of catch phrases and recurring characters, it was extremely viral. And with present-day gems like Next and The Hills, even those who hate The State have to admit it's really not the stupidest thing MTV has ever aired.

Here's an MTV promo for the show using quotes from the abysmal reviews they got:

This weekend marks the first time that all 11 cast members have been on stage together in over 10 years. They did two shows of new sketch comedy at Cobb's on Saturday night but I was unfortunately out of town, in lovely Tempe, Arizona in a hotel on Mill Avenue at the corner of Slut and Douchebag. But I got back in time for the 2pm tribute at Herbst so dropped my stuff off at home and headed straight to the theater.

It was a hilarious and worthy tribute, and Janeane Garofalo was a fantastic moderator. In addition to making them talk about the end of times—their leaving MTV for CBS (they weren't canceled) to getting hammered in the Bahamas while making an album—she stepped back and let them sort of run their own panel. The audience even asked good questions!

We don't have any pictures because I'm a huge fan and just bought the tickets instead of trying to get in as press. But Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black both posted some shitty but charming iPhone pics of the rehearsal for Saturday night's performances at Cobb's on their blogs.

Fans of The State who haven't discovered this yet should know that you can download Season 1 in the iTunes Store. But if you need a quick fix, here are some videos from back in the day (the ones that Viacom hasn't pulled from YouTube yet, anyway, fuckers... PS Viacom, I'd be happy to buy the DVDs—yes, buy them with actual money—if you would stop being vindictive and just release them already).

Some more clips... And of course there are Barry and Levon, but embedding is turned off on this video and it looks like Viacom had all others pulled.