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Prison activism inspired new songs for Thao & the Get Down Stay Down

For Journal Register Newspapers

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It doesn't take long to hear how Thao Nguyen's work with the California Coalition For Women Prisoners has impacted her music.

"We the Common (For Valerie Bolden)," the opening song and title track of the latest Thao & The Get Down Stay Down Album, comes directly from her experiences, according to Nguyen. "She was one of the first women I met," says Nguyen, who put the group together in 2003 in Virginia, subsequently moving to San Francisco. "She's serving a life sentence for defending herself against an abusive husband, and I just couldn't shake our conversation -- which was a lot of joking around and very lighthearted but punctuated with these really poignant moments about her kids and how she didn't want to die in prison.

"It was a very impactful conversation. And Valerie is an example of so many women who are in those prisons. Being around these amazing women and activists, people inside and people outside, I've felt this sense of humanity and optimism and of objective that I hadn't ever felt before and really wanted to get into the music."

On "We The Common," meanwhile, Nguyen and her bandmates combined that goal with a specific sonic mission. "We had a few meetings before we started recording, she recalls. "And even in the writing process and in conceiving the record, we had the idea that we would try to better convey the energy of the live show, that it would be more rock-sounding and more physically present, more of a bombastic tone.

"Those are the things we wanted to do going in, and we feel like we got there so hopefully anyone who hears (the album) will have a better sense of who we are."

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down and Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 28 at the Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor. Tickets are $15. Call 734-761-1451 or visit www.theark.org.

Web Site: www.theark.org

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