There’s nothing lacking in the energy at live shows by Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. A favorite with Oregon audiences at Pickathon, Music Fest Northwest, and many Portland club stages, their records strike a balance between earthy garage band grooves and soaring anthemic melody. They’ve also become identified with the Pac Northwest’s extended musical family, touring with Portland Cello Project and Mirah.
But their latest record, A Man Alive, is a striking alliance with tUnE-yArDs‘ electropop virtuoso Merril Garbus. Garbus, who’s been friends with front woman Thao Nguyen for years, produced the record, bringing a muscular electrified quality to the band’s sound. A reviewer for “Paste” called the song “Hand To God” (which Thao and the band played for us) “the best collaborative effort between perhaps the most talented pair making music in the Bay Area right now.”
Swirled amid those looped samples are some startling and personal lyrics from Nguyen. The record, she says, is about her father, who left the family when she was a pre-teen.
She told us about a conversation she had with a friend who also had a rocky paternal relationship, and the revelation that her friend’s father was gravely ill. “That was the seed for ‘Nobody Dies,’” Nguyen said. “It is about the urgency and the panic and the [feeling] of ‘I don’t know how this has happened my entire life — how we’ve been stuck in this impasse. Will there be any peace reached?’”
The resulting songs find the band stretching in new ways.
“It was really important and a priority,” Nguyen said, “Whatever energy was propelling the exploration of this content, that same energy was propelling us to try to make a vibrant, honest record where the sounds fit that level of intensity.”
Listen to the interview above, and watch all the videos from the session with Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, on the Portland page at VuHaus. You can also hear our interview with the band Saturday at 12pm on State of Wonder.
Audio recording and mixes: Steven Kray, with assistance from Zack Carver-Gustin, Randy Layton, William Ward
Interview: April Baer
Video editor: Jarratt Taylor
Videographers: Nate Sjol, Braden Spotts, Claudia Krogmeier
Executive Producer: David Christensen