Thao Nguyen Talks the Sound of 'We the Common,' Her Joanna Newsom Collab, and... Rapping?

Thao Nguyen Talks the Sound of 'We the Common,' Her Joanna Newsom Collab, and... Rapping?
It's been four years since Thao Nguyen released a solo album as Thao & The Get Down Stay Down. It comes as no surprise that her songwriting – through working on various other projects such as her collaboration with Mirah on 2011's Thao & Mirah – has strengthened and changed since then, but a listen to new album We the Common evinces that the one thing that has changed very little is her grab-bag approach of combining folk, country, blues and pop.

"I used to say that my music was 'dirty pop', but I didn't realize that was an N*Sync record," Thao reveals to Exclaim! "So, I had to stop that!"

Nowadays, Nguyen is content with just labelling her brand of music a mishmash of genres, paired with "loose pop music" elements, which perfectly culminates on We the Common, her third full-length.

A highlight for Nguyen on the album is "Kindness Be Conceived," an Americana acoustic strummer led by harmonies by Thao and folk harpist Joanna Newsom. "When I wrote the song, it had a very country, Appalachian vibe which I really wanted and I knew I wanted strong harmonies," Nguyen says of the song. After meeting Newsom at a songwriters retreat, she asked her to sing on the track and she immediately agreed. "I thought Joanna's voice would sound amazing on it. She has an amazing ear for harmony and that style of music so she did a fantastic job."

Even though country and folk elements are an apparent presence on the record, one genre of music that influences Nguyen a lot might surprise some fans. "I'm really influenced by hip hop," Nguyen admits. "When I write lyrics, the cadence that I use is influenced by some of my favourite MCs." Her playlist, while recording We the Common, would include A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, early Outkast and Jay-Z. "We pay tribute in our own way," she explains.

Voted the best rapper in the third grade ("I was the only rapper," she confess), Nguyen can still been seen dropping a verse or two live, but don't expect her to drop a rap album anytime soon: "I have been known to throw in a rap every now and then, but just to keep the kids interested."

We the Common is out February 4, courtesy of new label Ribbon Music. Check out her North American tour dates here and hear the new album below.

Read our complete interview with Thao Nguyen here.