Canadian singer/song writer Dan Mangan has been plying away at his musical trade for years. Music has always been a central part of Mangan’s life, growing up in a household where musical instruments were always available to him and his two siblings.
He recorded his first independent EP, All At Once, at the age of twenty. What sets Mangan apart from the glut of ‘sensitive men with acoustic guitars’ out there? Mangan’s songs have a quiet, raw and at times naked human emotion to them. There is no sense of false emotionality to Mangan’s work. From Cat Stevens right through to Eliot Smith, Mangan has that same incredibly candid quality to his work that cannot help but fail to endear him to listeners.
He released his third album Oh Fortune last year. Featuring some great tracks like “Post War Blues” and “Starts With Them, Ends With Us”, the latest album is a really strong step forward for Mangan, with a great sonic world created by having a full band behind the artist. Mangan has visited Australia on numerous occasions, whether it be for the Woodford Folk Music Festival in 2010 or as part of the Byron Bay Bluesfest in 2008.
“People like Van Morrison, Paul Simon and The Beatles really inspired me on a musical front when I was younger. Later in life, I really got into stuff like Radiohead. I’m a huge fan of M. Ward and Bon Iver. Playing as part of a band has really opened my awareness. Making music with other people has really brought in some completely outside the box musical influences that are beyond my normal musical comfort zone. I really have a soft spot for all kinds of music. There have been periods of my life where I’ve listened to hip hop or other genres of music, not just folk. I love to be inspired by others in relation to making my own music,” says Mangan.
What sets the music that Mangan makes apart from others creating folk-based work? “As my career has progressed, I feel I’ve been getting further and further away from the traditional folk ‘solitary man with an acoustic guitar’ image and sound. That’s how I was when I first started out. It seems as the years pass I seem to be walking away from that architecture somewhat. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the music and form. I feel like I have explored my capabilities in that genre and now feel like it’s time for me to explore different things. This sense of focus is very much a part of what I’m doing these days. Especially with “Oh Fortune”, I feel like I am starting to reach in different directions,” explains Mangan. “I feel that an artist should have a body of work that mirrors their growth as a person. If you make the same album over and over again with different words, it doesn’t reflect a huge amount of growth.”
In light of Mangan’s English and Sociology studies at university, what inspired him lyrically?
“I feel like I can’t help but be influenced by the world around me and people’s conversations, trains of thought and ideology. All of those things and more work their way into the narratives of the songs. It’s a strange thing to be a songwriter because you’re in this constant battle in regards to revealing too much about yourself and convincing yourself that it’s okay to reveal yourself through music. You worry that, if you put your opinions down and out there, people will think what you have to say is trite. With the latest record, I tried to step out of myself and my own stream of thought and tried to put myself in the place of characters, be they fictional or otherwise. Slowly, I’m figuring out what my ‘voice’ is, both literally and figuratively,” says Mangan.
“As a band, we’ve been very fortunate in the past few years, getting to play some of the biggest festivals in the world,” Mangan explains when asked about career highlights. “Getting to play an annual big concert in Stanley Park in Vancouver, the biggest urban park in North America, was a standout. A free concert we played there to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Vancouver was something I will never forget. There were about fifteen thousand people there. Vancouver’s mayor onstage with us, shaking a tambourine. It was very surreal,” laughs Mangan in that rich Canadian brogue. “Our home town has been incredible in the way it has embraced both me and the band. It means a lot to us, having played every bar here and starting from very humble beginnings. One day, I’d like to look back at our career and be proud of our body of work. I never want to assume that I’ve got it all figured out and that I will always have lots to learn.”
What words of advice would Mangan give young and aspiring musicians? “Get in the van,” he chuckles. “I think that absolutely nothing will hone a musician’s talent like continually playing live. Once you’ve played five hundred gigs, there is nothing else that can really shape and develop one’s musical abilities, as well as teaching an artist to maintain a level head with regards to having any kind of artistic career.”
And so it is that Mangan commences his world tour in Australia next week. He has nothing but fond memories of his many visits to these shores, “I’ve always felt a strong connection between Australia and Canada. We drove through the Queensland floods and torrential rain last time we were here. Australia is a land of incredible contrast and change. We absolutely love touring there. It is such a beautiful place, both physically and spiritually. We met some good people there.”
DAN MANGAN AUSTRALIAN TOUR 2012.
Wed Feb 22nd – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
Thur Feb 23rd – Moonshine, The Hotel Steyne, Manly **Just Added
Fri Feb 24th – Notes, Newtown, Sydney
Sat Feb 25th – The Great Northern Hotel, Byron Bay
Sun Feb 26th – Black Bear Lounge, Brisbane
Tues Feb 28th – The Grace Emily, Adelaide
Wed Feb 29th – The Fly Trap, Fremantle