Interview: Dan Mangan is cool and doesn’t even know it!
If you’ve ever read this blog before, you know that I have a looooooong and documented history of enjoying all things Dan Mangan. Despite numerous attempts, I’ve never actually seen him perform in a non-festival capacity. So when I heard that he was doing another western Canada tour, I knew I would have my chance to see the show and better yet, interview him. Unfortunately, I think the record company was wise to my burgeoning obession with Mangan’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice album and I only got a phone interview.
Let me tell you something, when you get the chance to chat with Mangan, you instantly feel cool. It resonates off him and you are lucky enough to pick it up through osmossois. The best part is that his coolness, like his success, is organic. It’s real. He is a product of working your butt off, taking risks and allowing yourself to write really great music. After all, you don’t pick up three West Coast Music Awards, get shortlisted for the Polaris Prize and sell out shows across the country, without a lot of hard work.
It seems like you’ve been touring non-stop for two years. How tired are you?
It’s been an amazing year and I feel like every time I come home and have a little bit of time to relax, I end up getting sick. The last couple of days, I’ve just slept a TON. It’s been nice to do everything at my pace. When you are on the road, you have the constant feeling that you are going to have to rush somewhere.
It can be hard to eat properly on the road, do you try and stay healthy?
I certainly try. The longer we were on the road, the more the band emphasized that we ate healthier. There were also these epic band runs, where everyone would encourage eachother to go for a run, just before we got in the van. There’s definitely things you can do like drink lots of tea, sleep as much as you can and exercise. In the past, I haven’t done those things and I’ve totally burnt out.
Every career has what we call “The TSN Turning Point.” What was yours?
After I recorded the first album and toured for a couple of years and before I started recording “Nice, Nice Very Nice”. I had a big shift with the team that I was working with, so all of a sudden I was very much working alone. I didn’t have a manager and I was completely, utterly broke. At the same time, I knew that if I wanted to keep doing this, I was going to have to make a new album. I remember going through this huge period of reflection, wondering is this what I wanted to do with my life, if it is where was I going to get the money and how was I going to record this album. Through a series of conversations with my parents and friends, I made a business plan and approached a couple of family-friends and extended family and went back to the bank and I just went back in the hole and recorded the album. Looking back now, it is really amazing because so much has changed since recording that album. I realized that I couldn’t just stop, doubled down on my bet.
It can be really scary to try to be a musician, do you consider yourself a risk-taker?
I’ve always been a calculated risk taker. My mom says that I was never a kid that climbed too high in a tree, I was never going to put myself in a lot of danger. I had blind, naive optimism. I would take on projects that were seemingly huge in scope and would have no trouble in engaging with adults in serious conversation. In terms of taking the world on, that’s always been there for me. And just figuring out the pieces in between has been apart of the learning process.
Does the success of your sophomore album intimidate you when you start thinking about number three?
Sort of. More than anything, I get excited. I had had several years to reflect on the previous album but it’s just coming out in Europe and it just came out in the States. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the songs and the words and I feel really prepared to move forward. The band I’m with has never sounded better and we have lots of momentum, they’re as excited about the new music and the materials as I am. Right now, I’m feeling like there are things that the last album didn’t accomplish, that the next album will. I want to keep evolving as an artist.
As a songwriter, do you find it hard not to try and turn everything into a song?
I write really slowly and feel like I’m always kinda writing a song. I’m always editing them slightly and constantly reviving songs. But at the same time, I don’t have sessions or plan time to write, it just happens naturally. It’s a happy medium. When I’m writing, I’m writing and when I’m not, I’m not. There’s always that fear that all of a sudden, you’ll lose your creative ambition. But you just have to trust that is what you do, that is who you are and that’s what you’ll continue to do.
You pick up new fans every time you tour. If someone has never seen a Dan Mangan show before, what should they expect?
I feel like every show is slightly different, I think that is the goal with being a performer is to try make each show special and unique and as soon as you start regurgitating, that’s when things start to feel stale for me. I always try to bring in some level of audience participation. When I first started performing, I tried all sorts of things. But the way I had the most fun and the way the audience had the most fun was through participation. I’m really no different than I am on stage.
Dan Mangan is currently playing shows across Western Canada. Tonight he’ll be playing a sold out concert in Calgary.
Photos via Dan Mangan’s Website.