Thao Nguyen's New Song, 'All This And More,' Captures 2020 In A Single Image Nguyen processes feelings of dread in her new song for Morning Edition's Song Project, written after the skies over San Francisco turned orange from wildfire haze.
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On 'All This And More,' Thao Nguyen Tackles Post-Apocalyptic Omens

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On 'All This And More,' Thao Nguyen Tackles Post-Apocalyptic Omens

On 'All This And More,' Thao Nguyen Tackles Post-Apocalyptic Omens

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. So here is another track for the MORNING EDITION Song Project. We've been asking artists to write songs about COVID times. But of course, 2020 gave us a lot more than the pandemic, like this one day in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: So everybody was looking at this orange glow across the Bay Area. Burnt skies clouded the Golden Gate Bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: This was around noon, the span darkened and shrouded in that orange haze.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: This is our shot from Pleasant Hill.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: Good grief.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Yeah. It looks like the fire is...

GREENE: Thao Nguyen leads Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. She wrote for us about this day when wildfire smoke blotted out the sun.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THIS AND MORE")

THAO NGUYEN: (Singing) All this and more - would you believe, can't hardly see, can't hardly breathe. All this and more...

It was September 9, and I stepped out onto the porch, and it was cinematically post-apocalyptic. The air is so polluted, and there's ash falling. At that point, we're months and months into a pandemic. We knew the fires were coming and it was fire season. But to see it manifested in the color of the sky - to just look at it, you would be quite taken by it - this vivid, supernatural, unnatural color, the color that my friend's kids called orange juice. And you didn't see the sun the entire day. But in lieu of the sun, it was this really eerie orange pall.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THIS AND MORE")

NGUYEN: (Singing) Look what we did - unnatural sun, unnatural shade. All this and more...

GREENE: Now, Thao Nguyen knows that compared to a lot of people, she had a relatively easy time with these fires. But given all that's happened this year, this moment seemed to signify so much.

NGUYEN: It just was this culminating event to capture unspeakable despair and defeat. You can't help but reckon in a more existential way, to ask, what have we wrought? What have we desecrated? And what is sacred, and how do we protect it? And are we willing to? You know, I mean that in the environment. I mean that in people. What lives matter? Where is our grace?

Anyway, That's what happens when (laughter) you look at the - kind of the physical manifestation of a deeply dark time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THIS AND MORE")

NGUYEN: (Singing) All this and more with you and me...

GREENE: Well, the title of the song, I wonder how it came to you. I mean, "All This And More" - I couldn't tell if there was, like, a little slice of being humorous there because that sounds like sort of positive or what...

NGUYEN: (Laughter).

GREENE: ...How you came to that.

NGUYEN: Yes, I did want to include dark humor in it because it is - I mean, at this point, we're beyond absurd. You know, it was a nod to not only the fires, to the pandemic, to our state as a nation.

GREENE: An ode to 2020 and like...

NGUYEN: That's right (laughter).

GREENE: ...Could all this really be happening all at once?

NGUYEN: Could we even - you know, what kind of Groupon discount did we sign up for? This is beyond.

GREENE: Well, I mean, thinking about the moment when you and I are talking right now, I mean, our country has gone through quite a political moment in recent days with this presidential election. How did you react to that?

NGUYEN: I was (laughter) incredibly stressed out. You know, I don't know what happens as far as moving forward and how divisive things are. And I, again, want to consider how I can be a more productive part of all of us moving forward.

GREENE: Well, I am so struck by your personal story and especially the image of you as a kid, preteen writing songs, playing your guitar while you were working with your mom in her laundromat in Virginia. She's a refugee from Vietnam, business owner. I mean, how do you reflect on sort of those beginnings and your journey since and your family in the context of this political moment?

NGUYEN: Thanks for bringing that up. I haven't taken much of an opportunity to pause and reflect on that. You know, I'll say that I was much more politically involved in this most recent election than I have been. And it was because I found this progressive Vietnamese American group called PIVOT. You know, I spent a long time more distanced from my family - for many reasons, but one was being queer in the culture. I wasn't quite sure how to navigate that. And then another was I didn't feel that my progressive values had a place in the culture. But then with this group, it offered me a chance to really appreciate who I come from and to be so proud of my family and my mom and how she built a life in which I could pursue my love of music and writing. You know, when I was coming up in music, I didn't ever reference my Vietnamese heritage. And I'm not proud of the fact that to avoid being reduced or distilled to it, I avoided it. And so it's been so gratifying and so overdue to come back and be quite open with what my heritage is and be proud of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THIS AND MORE")

NGUYEN: (Singing) Baby, I - my baby, I - I want to feel light. All right.

GREENE: I mean, I have to ask. At the end of the song, you say, I want to feel light. Are you feeling it?

NGUYEN: I am, yes. Yeah. You know, what's so funny is that I actually feel lighter than I ever have in my life, you know, outside of what's happening. But sometimes I think the service of a song is just to capture a moment or an emotion. And I really loved the catharsis of a more plaintive and plain statement. You know, that line is - one, it was I want to feel the sunlight. But also, yes, it's been so heavy.

GREENE: Well, listen. This - such a pleasure talking to you. And thanks for bringing us this song, and thanks for chatting.

NGUYEN: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THIS AND MORE")

NGUYEN: (Singing) Baby, I - my baby, I - I want to feel light.

GREENE: Thao Nguyen. Her song for the MORNING EDITION Song Project is called "All This And More." You can hear it in full at our website, npr.org.

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