The other night I was on an endless bus ride to San Francisco’s Richmond District (all journeys to the Richmond seem sort of endless, don’t they?) and the song “Bag of Hammers” by Thao with her band Get Down Stay Down (video below!) came on my shuffle. “Man,” I thought to myself, “Thao is so awesome.” And then, “Why haven’t I written a blog about her?” And then, “I’m totally going to write a blog about her.” And here we are.
I started this blog wanting to talk about how fantastic Thao Nguyen is as a band leader, and how rare it is these days to see quality, intelligent, interesting music being made by female-led bands, and how often women are left out of being leaders of the independent music scene. (There are exceptions, obviously, but for the most part, bands are fronted by dudes, and girls fall back to bassist or keyboardist or something other backing position.) Then I started reading about Thao’s history, and I was blown away.
Thao Nguyen is kind of a hero, and by “a hero” I mean “my hero, but she should be yours, too.” As stated, she’s a brilliant singer, songwriter, guitarist, beat boxer, entertainer, and woman. What I didn’t know was that she formed her first band while she was pursuing degrees in Sociology and Women’s Studies (my heart is beating faster as we speak), that she’s a Sisters on the Planet ambassador for Oxfam America (faster still), and that she’s involved in all kinds of social justice organizations here in the Bay Area and beyond (I might pass out). Her blog regularly contains her thoughts on important and often undiscussed women’s issues, and she’s always intelligent and articulate.
Her music contains interesting stories about relationships, both familial and romantic. On “Body,” she chastises a lover who takes her for granted: “What am I, just a body in your bed? / Won’t you reach for the body in your bed?” In “Feet Asleep,” she sings about her relationship with her mother from her mother’s perspective, expressing the pride and sadness that come with watching a child grow up and leave.
My favorite, though, is “Swimming Pools,” off of her debut LP, We Brave Bee Stings and All. The song is a call for organization and advocacy now in order to create a better world for future generations: “We, we brave bee stings and all / and we don’t dive, we cannonball / and we splash our eyes full of chemicals / just so there’s none left for little girls.”
But even if you don’t like your music political, Thao is still fantastic. Her voice is quirky yet soothing, her lyrics are intelligent, and both of her LPs are just straight-up fun. So do yourself a favor and check out her two full-length releases, We Brave Bee Stings and All and Know Better Learn Faster. You’ll be supporting a great artist and a great woman, and you won’t be disappointed.