4 to Watch: Thao

The Graduate

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Hometown: Falls Church, Va.
Fun fact: The title for Nguyen’s European single, “Bag of Hammers,” was snatched from an Inside the Actor’s Studio episode featuring Michael J. Fox.
Why she's worth watching: After Nguyen contributed a track to the Kill Rock Stars compilation The Sound the Hare Heard, label founder Slim Moon asked to manage her, setting her up with producer Tucker Martine.
For fans of: Feist, Modest Mouse, Laura Veirs

Thao Nguyen’s scrappy folksongs—a blend of acoustic strums and brainy lyrics—have already earned the 23-year-old songwriter heaps of critical acclaim. She’s still waiting for the fallout: “You know when you get that feeling, like something’s coming? I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but it’s gonna be bad,” Nguyen laughs.

Nguyen grew up in the strip-mall-addled suburbs of Washington, D.C., fleeing for San Francisco promptly after ?nishing school. “I hate Northern Virginia,” she says. “The objective was to get out as soon as possible.” She released her debut LP, Like the Linen, in 2005 while still an undergraduate at The College of William and Mary; her second full-length, We Brave Bee Stings and All, explores the awkward, post-collegiate shift into adulthood. “It’s all incredibly autobiographical,” Nguyen says. “It was a transitional time in my life, having just graduated, trying to ?gure out how to interact in the world as an adult, with people. It was the ?rst time I was really living on my own.”

Nguyen has toured extensively with her band, The Get Down Stay Down, including a short stint opening for the Indigo Girls. “I think you have to be wired for [touring], because it makes no sense. You drive 10 hours, play for 45 minutes, you get back in the car, and you do it again,” Nguyen sighs. “But we all love it. There’s a transience to it that’s incredibly interesting. You know where you have to be the next day and when you have to be there, but everything else is up in the air. At the end of the day, the only reason you do it is because you love those 45 minutes when you get to be on stage.”