Features Interviews Dan Mangan: A Year in the Life

Dan Mangan: A Year in the Life

Dan Mangan
Dan Mangan
Interview by: Sara Harowitz

It’s been less than a year since Dan Mangan and I last spoke, but boy has a lot happened.

Not only was his sophomore album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice, short listed for the coveted Polaris Music Prize, but he released his album in the States, toured Europe and the U.S., and won three Western Canadian Music Awards. Oh, and now the Vancouver indie darling is back on home turf doing a Canadian tour; and he’s as happy as ever to return to the land of his people.

“It’s been kind of wild, pretty intense year,” the singer told me over the phone after leaving none other than a Tim Hortons (he treated himself to a donut). “A lot of driving and a lot of gigs and a lot of movement, and I’m stoked to be back in Canada.”

For this tour, Peculiar Travel Suggestions, Mangan will be hitting up some of the country’s unlikely concert venues, such as churches and halls, for dry, all-ages events. It is a move he took on as an experiment and a challenge.

“We had been playing in bars since I started,” Mangan said. “It’s really fun, you almost feel, in a sense, like you’re conducting a party from the stage and its really great. And it brings a certain intensity that is really amazing and a unique experience. But I also wanted to have an opportunity to present a concert as a concert outside realm of a party.

“And that doesn’t mean it can’t be a party in a sense, but I guess taking the booze out of it is an interesting thing,” he continued. “It just seemed like right thing to do at the time, and for now I feel like it’s nice to create an intimate, direct concert experience and see if we can pull that off... And in a sense it’s all about creating new challenges for me and the band to rise up to and that’s exciting.”

When Mangan first started out on this road called music, it was just him and his guitar. But now backed by a full band, he feels a new level of empowerment on stage.

“It’s amazing to be able to have musicians to lean on, and really fantastic skilled people to be playing with to take your songs and manipulate them in a variety of different ways,” he said. “It creates a group mentality; as a unit it’s you against the world every night, playing your hearts out.”

For anyone who has heard Mangan’s honest, heartfelt folk music, it is no secret that he is a man who loves his job. His deep voice and twangy guitar leave a lasting impression.

Some might say Mangan’s recognition is long overdue. He has been in the business for many years, officially on the radar since independently launching his debut album, Postcards and Daydreaming, in 2005 (it was re-released in 2007). But for Mangan, honours such as being on the Polaris Prize short list – meaning he was in the final top 10 – still leave him speechless.

“I’m still in awe about that whole thing,” he said of the nomination. “Everything about it is kind of mind-boggling. To kind of end up there in that situation was really something.”

He had attended the short list gala in 2009 as a spectator. Going back in 2010 as a nominee had a whole different feel.

“The media circus that goes on around it is insane and the amount of exposure that the award granted me was pretty wild,” said Mangan. “When I was there the year before I had some friends who were nominated and I was just kind of hanging out and enjoying myself. I had hopes in mind of possibly being there some year as a nominee, and much to my pleasant surprise it was just the next year. So it was cool to return to the same place a year after and be more involved.”

Aside from the Polaris nomination, Mangan recently won three Western Canadian Music Awards, taking home prizes for Independent Album of the Year, Roots Solo Recording of the Year and Songwriter of the Year. As a born-and-raised westerner who often references Vancouver in his music, Mangan was excited to receive that kind of recognition back home.

“...to get that kind of support from your home base is pretty awesome,” he said. “Especially when it’s entirely possible that people grow and change [when they] tour internationally, [and] it’s possible for that movement to create venom back home for people who are spiteful. But it was really beautiful to be embraced by my roots.”

When this tour wraps up, Mangan plans to hit the studio to start recording a new album. Most of the songs are already written.

The biggest song off of Nice, Nice Very Nice is called “Robots.” Whenever he performs it at shows, Mangan makes the audience clap and sing along with the line, “Robots need love too/they want to be loved by you.” A tune that turned spectators into fans, “Robots” gave Mangan a fresh way to win people over. Still, he has no predetermined plans to write a new sing-along for album number three.

“I certainly won’t plan for that to happen,” he said. “If it happened organically and it felt right in the studio it would be one thing, but I don’t really feel that I would orchestrate around hitting marks. I think it’s about honouring each song and making the most interesting piece of work that you can.”

Yes, indeed, 2010 has been quite the year for Mangan. And hey – it’s not even over yet.

Dan Mangan will play an all-ages, dry show at Trinity St. Paul's Centre in Toronto tonight.