Fres Thao, a perennial player in the hip hop game, has been spittin’ metaphorical rhymes for over a decade, a love affair he ain’t quittin’ anytime soon. Therefore, to pay homage to the pioneer as a Hmong Artist striving to stay relevant, we, at Hmoodle, had a chance to get inside the think tank of Fres Thao; to get inside a mastermind that had engineered over a decade of work as a musician as well as a producer.
Hmoodle: Who is Fres Thao?
Fres: First of all, thank you for this opportunity. I appreciate the love from the Hmoodle staff and writers, whom by the way, effortlessly work to bring us the Hmong Arts and Entertainment scoop.
In a nutshell, I’m an Artist. In particular, a writer. More specifically, I’m a Hip Hop Poet.
Hmoodle: How did you get started in Music?
Fres: I’ve been an avid music lover since I can remember. I grew a liking to creative writing and began writing seriously in ’93. As a teenager with a lot of angst and identity issues, I found writing and rhyming to be my productive outlet.
Back then our version of the mp3 player was a Walkman, giving us access to reusable cassette tapes. With double tape deck boom boxes, I essentially had a multi-track recorder, allowing me to crudely record vocals on beats; beats created from experimenting with a whole lot of rewinding and recording cassette breaks. I won’t get into those details, but I basically learned to produce with whatever I could find, from cheap keyboards to random objects around the house.
About ’95 I saved enough from paper routes and fast food joints to invest in a real drum machine, and then eventually a digital multi-track. Since then, I’ve been writing, producing, recording and performing.
Hmoodle: Growing up, who were some of the most inspirational people in your life?
Fres: My family has always been an inspiration. Each of them in different ways; I’m sure I don’t tell them enough, but they are. My older brother indirectly influenced my love of art and music, by introducing me to good music at a young age. I remember, while he was attending school on the east coast, he would send cassette tapes of Artists he’d dig; Nirvana, Sex Pistols, Pearl Jam, etc. The diversity of music I was exposed to definitely contribute to my varied taste of music.
Artistically, I really dug Dylan, Naughty by Nature, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu Tang, NWA, Rakim, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Salvador Dali, and the list goes on!
Philosophically, I admired the words of Bruce Lee, Buddha and Albert Einstein.
Hmoodle: Aside from music, you seem pretty involved and proactive in your community. Tell us about the different organizations that you are involved in. What are some of your roles in advocating in what you believe in?
Fres: Thing is, I help where I’m needed, or where I can contribute best. Most recently, I was the Director of Youth Programs at the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT), facilitating and organizing the afterschool art programs. Most recently, I’ve been helping with the Soullections Collective, a group of dope musicians of color. Other than that, I put my efforts into where I can be of most use.
Hmoodle: Attending college and furthering your education, how has that helped or influenced your music?
Fres: Education has helped expand my knowledge and vocabulary, as well as creative writing skills. I’ve had to write so many papers in academic structures, my writing in general has improved. I also learned to write in formats necessary for the business and non profit worlds; grant writing, business and marketing plans, and so on. With this knowledge, I plan to work behind the scenes and handle the business side in order to further the career of Hmong American Artists.
Everything I’ve strived for, experienced as an Artist, and received education for has been intentional and directed towards the same goal. I haven’t strayed far from the same dream I’ve had since ’93. So everything works in connections in order to sustain a career in this area. As cliché as it seems, I advise everyone to pursue further education for your personal passion.
Hmoodle: You were also a Radio Host for the Minnesota’s C.H.A.T. Station, please tell us about your experience with having your own show?
Fres: I only had a short stint co hosting with the wonderful personalities, Kathy and Wameng; which by the way has been rebranded as HmongFM, and airing every Friday at 6:30pm on 90.3 and 106.7FM, or streaming online at KFAI.org.
The experiences I had on there have been enjoyable, but I had to leave it up to the professionals.
Hmoodle: In your new CD “Mind Full Of”, you left the title sentence opened. Can you elaborate on what that means to you?
Fres: When it comes to albums and songs, I find it difficult to come up with titles. With the latest album it wasn’t any different. Nearing completion, I needed a title that’d capture the essence of what I was writing about, and had been through. I came up with “Mind Full Of” because I felt the songs on the album reflected my gratefulness of being in the Twin Cities; immersed in the Hmong community, the Artist community, the LGBTQ community, the youth, family and friends.
I just really felt blessed to be able to do what I do, but most importantly the people I’ve been meeting have been very inspirational. Everyone I’ve crossed paths with contributed a piece of themselves to my current being so the intention of the title is the culmination of the song concepts; and the songs I feel have a general consistency of being mindful of everything, thus “Mind Full Of”.
The album is a “Mind Full Of” “mindful” songs. Also, as the listener, you get a “Mind Full Of” Fres Thao.
Hmoodle: In your Track 4 “Home” and Track 7 “Souls with Wings”, you integrated Blues and Soul into your songs. This is very original for Hmong Artists, what did these different genres mean to you as a MC?
Fres: I’m a music lover period. When I listen to music, not only do I focus on the lyrics, I also get critical with the details of the music. I’ve always wanted to incorporate non-traditional Hip Hop instruments with electronic sounds, and blend genres. Having the privilege to work closely with non Hip Hop Artists Chaochi, Tieng Hang, Shawn Mouacheupao and Chuefeng, we were able to make that come true. Each musician’s instrument style contributed to churning out these tracks that, although so different, still keep the album’s sound consistent. The instruments in collaboration with the electronically produced beats (by Boom Junction and Vibeself) complement each other, allowing me to vocally weave in between. This also allowed me to take my time with my delivery and play around with the melody.
Hmoodle: In Track 10 “Bad Kids”, you said “Bad kids can do bad things with good intention…;” what did you mean by this, and how has your life experiences shaped your music?
Fres: I grew up during a time when music, and knowledge overall wasn’t as accessible as it is now; when the Internet and all this advanced technology was still young. We didn’t have all these resources, organizations, after school programs, etc; the community we’re fortunate to now have.
A lot of what is mentioned in Bad Kids and Paperboy Mentality is what really went down. I don’t mean to say we were “bad kids” growing up; we were just confused kids looking for our purpose. As the lyrics go, we did bad things with good intentions, we backed each other up when confronted by ignorant folks, we did what we had to in order to get by; of course I can’t speak for everyone.
These experiences affected my lyricism no doubt conceptually, but also fueled my hunger for the expansion of the mind, body and spirit. My morals and values were shaped and formed from having to work hard just to get what privileged American kids were taking for granted. With the lower class-minority-refugee-immigrant beginnings, a sense of humbleness developed that still strongly remains to this day. In addition, a sense of self-motivation towards the pursuit of happiness is still very evident. These traits are definitely results of my experiences as a Hmong American youth growing up in the Midwest.
Hmoodle: You recently collaborated with LP Yang in “The Movement The Remix”; and, in Track 5 “Figure Eight Loops” you did with Hill Tribe. With more and more Hmong Artists emerging who are more open to collaborations, what do you hope to accomplish or see in the near future?
Fres: I wasn’t on “The Movement” remix, but I was on a track called “Cypher”. This was a collaboration with LP and a grip of talented Hip Hop vets. My homies Hilltribe and I have a few collaborative tracks out as well; and if you keep your ear to the ground, you’ll catch me rhyming on other albums circulating around.
I really hope to see vets and new comers collaborating and recognizing one another so that our timeline of musicians and Artists not only stay relevant, but progressive. It’s always great to support new Artists, but I think it’s just as important to recognize pioneers. On top of that, I feel pioneers need to reach out to new Artists, and give love and real knowledge. Vice versa, if as a new Artist, reach out to the vets to help history be known.
Hmoodle: Tell your fans something that would probably SHOCK them.
Fres: I don’t own a television, and haven’t for more than 7 plus years. I’m not sure if that’s shocking or not.
Hmoodle: Your Bio mentioned that you like to write during your spare time, do you have any plans to maybe publishing a book or write a script?
Fres: I recently wrote a play about time travel for Mu Performing Art’s New Eyes program. I workshopped it for about a year so, we’ll see where that goes. I’m also in the process of writing an illustrated children’s poetry book, along the lines of Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky and Dr. Suess. I plan to collaborate with a visual Artist for the illustrations. I’m hoping to wrap that up and self publish it within the year or so. After that I plan to continue down the path of writing outside of the Hip Hop world.
Hmoodle: Are there any upcoming Events or Projects that you’re involved with that you’d like to share to our readers?
Fres: For updates, click onto www.fresthao.com and like my page at www.facebook.com/fresthaomusic.
Also, keep an ear out for the vinyl version of the album, dropping soon.
Fres is keeping it fresh. Go support our Hmong artist out there, and go check out his websites.
We would like to thank Fres Thao for this interview, as it was a privilege to have you on Hmoodle! Humble in your service as an advocate in helping the young aspirants; we hope to see you inspire more people to follow in your footsteps for the future.
Any questions or concerns about this interview, please hit us up at [email protected]