In the movie School of Rock, substitute teacher Dewey Finn, played by Jack Black, taught his students math through music.
Monét Ngo, a rising Vietnamese-American indie artist who also happens to be a substitute teacher in Los Angeles, California, uses the same teaching method.
By strumming his guitar and singing along with his students, Ngo teaches his kindergarten students vowels and odd numbers.
That’s who he is by day: supporting the kids in reaching their dreams and his too in becoming an artist. When school was over, he would write songs and play shows. For a week, he left his job and rocked out in New York City.
“I just kind of have to do my best. It’s definitely a balancing act,” he told SoundStrip in an online interview. Ngo teaches all subjects at all grade levels, incorporating music whenever he can and even introducing to his students The Beatles by singing “Hey Jude.”
“Sometimes, I have to call in sick and focus on music and do a show. But usually, I can make it through,” Monet candidly said, adding that his students know he is an artist and some have been to his shows.
In his TikTok video, he shared he hated school when he was a kid because he felt like “playing an endless game of catch up.”
“I always wanted to help the kids who felt like me growing up, so I became a teacher myself. There’s nothing better than watching your students grow, learn, and challenge themselves every day,” he said.
He pursued what he wanted but becoming a musician has always been his dream too. So, he did both.
It took him two years to write and produce his first album called After School Club, inspired by his profession by day. It is also his coming-of-age story with his songs “Bleachers,” “Strawberry Fields,” “Lonestar” and “Ruby Sparks,” among others, telling some of his most personal experiences that made him who he is today.
“It’s pretty all over the place,” Ngo said, “but [it’s about] lost love, new love, moving to LA, and feeling like a loser.”
Monet’s hyperpop-influenced production such as vocal pitching, distortion, and electronic synths combined with alternative rock style chords and drum beats, creates a unique blend of alternative, rock, and pop punk.
Who are your musical influences? Since your musical genres are indie, alt-rock, and pop punk, did the music you listened to growing up influence how you write music now?
I listen to My Chemical Romance, Blink 182, Wheezer, and just a lot of rock bands that I really love. I also listen to Dominic Fike, he’s really great and he’s half-Filipino. Probably heavily guitar-influenced—that’s how mostly I think I was influenced by these artists. I just love the sound of a full rock band.
Your song “Tarantula Queen” is out now. Can you tell us more about the song? Why is titled “Tarantula Queen” and what inspired you to write this song?
This song is about a past lover, and I gave her a pet tarantula. It’s a very strange gift but I was just wondering what became of that tarantula, what happened to it, and if it is still alive. She was just a big animal lover. She loves animals, insects, and bugs. Most people find them disgusting and gross, but this person really loved them because of that—because they aren’t noticed, very underrated. That’s why I chose tarantula.
Since you’re a teacher, do you feel like you’re also teaching and shaping minds through your songs? If so, what lessons do you want to impart to your listeners?
Definitely. I think both teaching and music go hand in hand. I just wanted to make a difference and I think teaching does that, and music does that a lot too. For the lessons I want to impart: Just be themselves. No matter how weird or strange, just be authentically yourself.
You’re a Vietnamese-American artist. What is it like to become an Asian-American artist? Are there any struggles in finding your voice?
It’s pretty awesome because straight off the bat, it’s a unique mix to be an Asian-American artist but I think that there’s a lot of “unwalked” ground. There’s a lot of room for Asian-American artists to create a big following which we haven’t really seen in mainstream pop culture. Joji’s really big but it’s not that many other artists. I just want to show a representation for kids who look or feel like me.
What are your plans for next year? Will you go on tour or release more music?
Just more singles hopefully play some shows in Asia if I can afford it. Just a lot more stuff coming up. Thank you for listening and just following along.