On her debut record, Have Some Fun, Xuan’s twelve songs fuse garage rock and candy-coated pop intent on melting your heart. From the album’s infectious opener, the Strokes-inspired “Not the Man,” to the “Little Red Corvette”-inspired ballad “Sheila,” somewhere in that collage of break-ups, old cars and treasured moments, Xuan is, indeed, having a whole lot of fun.
The daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, Xuan (pronounced “Swan”) Nguyen grew up in what she describes as the “safe and uneventful” Dallas suburbs. “Everything was really good. But I knew I needed to go out and get my ego smashed and explore. I moved to Viet Nam and hosted a TV show. I traveled around Southeast Asia, Australia and moved to Ireland.”
Living in Ireland, Xuan was inspired to write songs by her then songwriter boyfriend. “He was worried about how were going to make a living. I realized that I could become a songwriter, too and we could tour together. I thought: ‘This is going to be easy!’” Of course it wasn’t, but when Xuan returned home, she continued to hone her craft undaunted. “I got up the courage to perform at open mic, and that’s where I met Salim Nourallah (producer Old 97s, Nicholas Altobelli, The Damnwells, Rhett Miller).” Nourallah invited her into his studio to put together a record.
The result is an impressive output of twelve hook-driven songs underlined by an authentic realness to the lyrics. “This record is totally me,” says Xuan. “Even the things I don’t like about myself!” It’s from Neil Young, Xuan admits, that her sense of authenticity found root. “He’s simple, honest and totally romantic.” But it was from the pop stars of her childhood that her songs took shape. “Growing up, I listened to whatever was on the radio. Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. So, my songs are pretty standard verse-chorus-verse-bridge. I like indie stuff, but I don’t sound like them,” Xuan confesses. “I always wish I was as cool as Lucius.”
But even as poppy as Have Some Fun may be, it is that vulnerability—that Youngian-derived authenticity—that gives these songs their strength. “People are always growing and changing and making mistakes. This record is a snapshot of where I was at that point in time. I don’t want to forget that. I want to appreciate it for what it is.”
Have Some Fun is a debut album from a strong, independent singer-songwriter. The album’s closer, “Night Drive,” is a hopeful, introspective endnote that celebrates the smaller, charming moments of personal freedom. A tonal leap in relation to the album’s previous eleven songs, it brims with the confidence of a woman finding her voice as a first-generation Asian-American. “I’d rather be rejected for who I am than loved for who I’m not,” Xuan says. A fitting way to sum up the feel and vibe of the album as a artist celebrating hard-earned self-acceptance.