How do we love Thao Nguyen? Let us count the ways. From her stellar sense of folk-pop to her recent forays into social work, the fearless songwriter and NPR darling has earned her rightful place as the reigning queen of San Francisco’s indie scene. A tireless touring act, she fills her summers with festivals—this year including the likes of Bonnaroo and Newport Folk—and we’re so glad to be one of them.
In anticipation of her headlining spot at this year’s Phono del Sol, we caught up with her on a rare return home to San Francisco before heading back out on the road.
The Bay Bridged: You recently tweeted that playing Newport Folk was a “pre-teen” dream of yours. Can you elaborate?
Thao Nguyen: I was always into it. I grew up playing music from folk and blues to country blues. As a pre-teen I was really into those things and the Newport Folk Festival is such a fixture of that genre. I remember reading about when Newport Folk went electric…and you know, the kind of prestige and history it has. Just a pipe dream I had when I was a kid.
TBB: Your music has always been considered folk, and you’re from a folkier part of the country—are you received different out there than you are here?
TN: It’s more of a home-region pride. I think we’re very lucky to have very kind fans.
There’s more cigarette smoking and drinking (out there).
TBB: How has settling in San Francisco influenced your work?
TN: I have always, ever since I was young, had this dream I would live in SF. It’s always just been a nice place to come to. A lot of We The Common was influenced by the Bay Area’s social justice. I think that kind of vitality and energy, especially given the backdrop of ever-increasing stratification, influenced this record a lot. Obviously we live in a beautiful city; being close to water helps a lot with writing. The fresh produce, too.
TBB: You are really close with your family, especially your mom. Does she come out to see you often?
TN: She was just here! I’m leaving in a couple days and I had a chance for my mom to come visit. We played bingo.
TBB: Finally—and this is a very important question—best burrito in the city. Go.