Posted by Tobias Carroll
San Francisco’s Thao writes smart pop songs: catchy and unpredictable and instantly memorable. Her most recent work with The Get Down Stay Down — 2008’s We Brave Bee Stings and All and 2009’s Know Better Learn Faster — have an ability to get under your skin and stay there. Her latest album, a collaboration with Mirah, is due out on April 26th; collaboration, memorable literary moments, and the works of Grace Paley all turned up over the course of this interview.
What was the songwriting process like for your collaboration with Mirah?
It was pretty separate but very supportive. We decided we’d each write half of the record but we were writing at the same time in the same place and had snacks and breaks together and I’d ask things like: Should i finish this song? And Mirah would say: Yes. (Not all of the time.)
What was the initial impetus for said collaboration?
Mirah had just moved to the Bay Area and our mutual colleague/friend Lauren Ross suggested we work together. I was playing SF Noisepop and asked Mirah if she’d like to do a collaborative set with me. Months later and days before the show we learned each other’s songs very quickly.
Have books — either novels or nonfiction — had any influence on you as a writer?
YES. Grace Paley has been an incredible influence on my writing– she is a true favorite of mine. I love her short stories in general– the collection Enormous Changes At the Last Minute in particular and then: Birds Of America by Lorrie Moore; The White Album, Play it As it Lays by Joan Didion; this one book – a collection of essays from a newspaper journalist in the 40’s and 50’s, will find the book, he’s amazing…
What have you been reading lately?
Townie by Andre Dubus III, Nine Lives by Dan Baum.
What are some of the books that have stayed with you over the years?
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley, Birds Of America by Lorrie Moore, the memoirs of Tobias Wolff, Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
Lord of the Flies (only because the first song I ever wrote was in 8th grade-I wrote about the characters in lieu of writing a book report on it– the song was very dramatic, very heavy strumming, in A minor); all of the Choose Your Own Adventure books; Rich Man Poor Man— (I read that in middle school and I was way too young and I learned about too many adult things); The Great Gatsby; a Django Reinhardt biography, can’t remember the author.
(Photo by John Vanderslice)