Son Vo is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with a fascinating life story, who feels at home in a multitude of musical worlds: rock, pop, blues, jazz, country, reggae, and beyond. This is reflected in his songwriting, where he embraces catchy melodies, surprising harmonic twists, rock 'n' roll swagger, acoustic intimacy and theatrical elements with equal openness. “I think it's from listening to so many different kinds of music growing up,” he says. “I loved the 50's pop with its cool arrangements, 70's rock with epic middle parts, big sounding Latin songs with strings; classic country pop, and also the crazy ideas of Frank Zappa.”
A perfect introduction to Vo's adventurous musical universe is his song “Silver-footed Queen.” While the female backing vocals and epic jamming might evoke a Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers vibe, it's much funkier and the catchy intro sounds like a perfect theme for a late-night TV show. The lyrics here are quintessentially “Vo” as well:
She spoke about the ways of mankind,
Tea beside her hands of drift wire.
She couldn't argue with a dry mouth,
She told the world she left us lying - In the sunshine.
Not a brushfire
For miles around.
“I like to drift between solid story ideas, so you don't lose the listener, but also take them out a little with poetic concepts,” he says.
Born in Saigon, Vo escaped Vietnam two weeks before it fell, came to America as a child and was raised in Harrison, Maine. “I moved from a foster home to another home, where the family happened to be musicians, and they required me to play an instrument,” he remembers. Vo started out with piano lessons at age seven, got obsessed with The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and The Police as a teen, and was inspired to expand his craft further after discovering Zappa, Miles Davis and Talking Heads. By the time he hit his mid-20's, he had also learned drums, bass, guitar, and vocals.
After honing his chops with different bands on the east coast, Vo decided to move to Venice, California, where he became a key figure of the LA jam band scene, playing thousands of shows with bands like Mother Jones and Freshly Baked, and also as a sideman. “I gained so much live performing experience, and on top of that I produced a lot of shows to promote other talent, but eventually I got burned out,” he says.
Vo now records all the guitar, bass, keyboard, drum and vocal parts by himself in his home studio in Los Angeles. “When you record alone, the gut check is your most important tool,” he says. “But I completely love working alone. Mind you, working with a band is a different creature. I miss the accidents that create great parts while interacting, but I don't miss waiting for someone who's an hour or two late. I love having the ability to go deep into a song, finding the right tone for one guitar, or obsess over drum parts and making them feel just right.”
In the new year, Vo plans to create a couple of compilation albums with previously released songs; write new music with singer-songwriter (and Mother Jones bandmate) Halina Janusz, and continue recording his solo material until the pandemic ends and live performances are back. “It'll be a huge release to play alongside great musician friends again,“ he says. “I can't wait to stare at COVID from my rear-view mirror. That'll be the greatest present of 2021!”