Thao Nguyen is a tireless performer. She’s been touring with her band, the Get Down Stay Down, since she graduated from college, and is used to the rigors of the road, including backhanded compliments like, “You play pretty good for a girl.” Anyone who has ever seen her live, or listened to one of her records, knows how far off the mark that comment is. Nguyen is one of the most innovative guitarists around, with a style that blends grinding power chords, the jittery fills of a funkateer, a dash of country twang, clanging rock guitar pyrotechnics and staccato single-note runs that add a skewed melodic feel to her songs that’s halfway between bluegrass and hip hop. After hearing her 2005 debut, Like The Linen, Laura Veirs took her on tour and helped get her signed to Kill Rock Stars for 2008’s We Brave Bee Stings And All and 2009’s Know Better Learn Faster. Between tours, she moved to San Francisco and took a year off to write the songs that became We The Common (Ribbon). Nguyen and bandmates Jason Slota, Adam Thompson and Johanna Kunin will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on them.
Kunin: I grew up in Minneapolis, and in spite of (or is it because of?) the fact that I was 13 years into my life as a Pacific Northwest transplant, I still have a ridiculous amount of hometown pride. And that pride, of course, extends to the greatest of my hometown musical heroes, The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.
I became a Prince fan early, when I watched Purple Rain with my family as a kindergartener. I had no idea what a Corvette was—or what the hell the movie was about. But one thing I knew for sure was that I wanted a raspberry beret so bad, just as soon as my mom clued me in on the fact that it was a cute little French hat. Then my mom, sister and I got into wearing berets—kind of a silly thing to do in Minnesota truth be told. I mean, those winters are not messing around, and berets don’t even cover your ears fully. But apparently we were willing to risk frostbite. That was the depth of our devotion to Prince.
Purple Rain and Around The World In A Day were constantly on rotation in the tape deck of my mom’s Volvo station wagon. As a girl in the second grade at the time of “True Blue,” it seemed that Madonna was supposed to be my favorite singer. But no way. When an intense discussion broke out on the topic at Stephanie’s girls-only eighth-birthday party, I steadfastly resisted peer pressure and insisted that Prince was way better. No, not Cyndi Lauper. P-R-I-N-C-E, fools!
A couple years later, on a drive out to walk the bog trails at the arboretum with the intention of attempting to draw plants with my mom (only to quickly become bored and probably wander around looking for bugs), we noticed an odd building had appeared in the middle of a field in Chanhassen. I had never seen anything like it. The building itself was pretty ordinary, but then it had these purple, pyramid-shaped windows poking out all over the place. I couldn’t say why, but I just wanted to go there. Maybe it was my love of purple? I can’t say for sure. But I do remember finding out later that this building was Paisley Park. Whoah. Maybe he was recording “Diamonds And Pearls” as we drove by …
About 10 years later, I did find myself in the presence of the man. He happened to reserve an entire dining room for himself and his lady-friend one night in the restaurant where I worked as an extremely inexperienced and bumbling wait-assistant. After he arrived, bodyguards in tow, I was all set to make the most brilliant water-glass delivery of my life, when I learned that, inexplicably, he would only be served by men. Hrrmmm. OK … ? Ah, if only I had a penis, then I would have been suited to serve Prince his water! Oh well. It didn’t throw me for too much of a loop—I mean, he renamed himself a symbol, after all, so doing something inexplicable seemed par for the course. On the bright side, I was saved from the not unlikely possibility that I might accidentally spill a tray of water glasses over his fabulous head. And was consoled by the knowledge that it was entirely possible that the bread he was eating was—gasp—sliced by me! And the fact that I learned, from the mouth of his creepiest bodyguard, no less, one other totally weird, useless and little-known fact about The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince: He drinks his red wine with a straw. I shit you not.