Two friends on working together, eating together, and making music personal
On A Man Alive, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down’s latest album, frontwoman Thao Nguyen goes back to the beginning. The “man” in the title is her father, who ducked out of Thao’s life around the time she was getting the hang of guitar as a kid. “A little slash / a little burn / a little never to return,” she sings. The lyrics on A Man Alive range from harsh to sweet, the vulnerability offset by Nguyen’s masterful guitar work and mercurial rhythm. To record songs so personal, Nguyen sought help from her good friend, the acclaimed producer Merrill Garbus, who performs under the moniker tUnE-yArDs. In Garbus’s sonic universe, you’ll find vocals and hand claps that loop and swirl around each other, frolicking beats, ukulele treated with punk-rock abandon. Nguyen and Garbus have run in concentric circles, playing shows and collaborating with artists like The Decemberists and Mirah. On the eve of A Man Alive’s release, the duo reflected on the perils and joys of collaboration and the near-telepathic quality of their friendship.