Dan Mangan is in a reflective mood. In a career that’s been defined by constant change, the last year has been in even more flux than usual for the Canadian indie hero. After releasing three increasingly acclaimed albums and winning loads of awards, he took a break from recording and performing, focusing on his young family.
Now, he’s back with a new album and a new-ish band, Dan Mangan + Blacksmith. Officially solidifying his stalwart bandmates in name, the move signposts his deviation from his acoustic guitar-slinging, singer-songwriter roots to a much more sonically dexterous approach. Club Meds, his latest album released in January is filled with electronic textures and orchestral flourishes. It’s lyrical concerns are an unease with modern life and consumer culture. So, yeah. Reflective. We caught up with the Vancouverite ahead of his upcoming London show.
The Metropolist: How are you feeling about life at this exact moment, on a scale of one to ten? And, what can be done to push it up a number?
Dan Mangan: 7. Pretty not bad. Actually got a decent night’s sleep. In Hamburg. We’re in a stretch of 14 shows in a row without any days off, so it’s pretty intense. Trying to keep my voice in order. Basically not talking much in the van throughout the day to preserve it, which I’m sure is welcomed by the band. A day off would put me up to 8.
TM: Club Meds is a departure from the singer-songwriter stuff from your early days. Did you have a clear direction in mind when you set out on a different musical path?
DM: I knew it would be different just because the demos and the songs I was writing were different, but at each step along the way, we just tried to trust our collective gut – not worry what other people might like or not like. There’s a lot of synthetic instrumentation on this album, so there was always the possibility it could start to feel box’y – the rule was that all sounds, synthetic or organic, had to elicit an emotional physical response. In the war between the humans and the robots, the humans had to win. Call me hopeful.
TM: What do you hope people come away feeling after listening to the record?
DM: Awake. Alive. Hopeful. The record has been labeled a bit of a downer by some, but I don’t think they get it. It’s not supposed to make you distracted from your life, it’s supposed to make you challenge the ongoing distraction with focused intention. Simply discussing how asleep we can be gives credence to the possibility of finding moments of true honest alertness.
TM: You’ve gone from being Dan Mangan to Dan Mangan + Blacksmith. In which ways has that changed the dynamic in the studio and on the road?
DM: It means I have to put up with more shit from the band. It’s been a while since you’ve played London. What do you miss about the city? I miss that moment when you’re about to go through the tube turn-style but you put your ticket in the wrong way and then as you’re trying to figure out how exactly to get in the damn station you hear a collective sigh of 40 people behind you pissed that you’re slowing down the herd.
TM: We’ve read that you’re not going to be playing Robots, your big early hit, for a while. Are you going to make fans wait for years like Radiohead did with Creep?
DM: We have played it a couple of times on the tour. Only when it feels right. What frustrated us about the song was not that it existed – we owe a lot to that song and have had a ton of fun playing it. The problem was that it was a “given”. It was like everyone was waiting for it to happen, and then it better be as crazy as the time they saw it before. Started to feel like dancing monkeys. Now we wait until the times when everything is just going off and people are going nuts and it seems like the perfect moment to drop it.
TM: You took a break from music to focus on fatherhood. What did you miss the most and the least about music during that time?
DM: It felt very normal. When you have a young kid you can’t go out much at night, so I spent a lot of time at home, watching movies and cooking dinner with my wife. It felt like what most people experience. White picket fence stuff. So there was some enjoyment of that normalcy, but I have to admit that part of me missed the chaos of touring. I think it’s about balance. Too much of one or the other isn’t healthy.
TM: We hear that you’re a keen poker player. So, in the poker game of life, are you up or down on your starting stack?
DM: I think it’s important to accept all the ways that we’re absurdly lucky. I’m a white male from a safe city in a wealthy country. How many head starts can you have? I don’t mean to suggest that those descriptors are better than anything else, but it makes for an easier journey. I don’t believe in the myth of the “self made man”. Nobody gets through alone. Acknowledging the lucky breaks are paramount to enjoying life. Not being defensive about our successes/failures. So, in short. I’m up. Big time.
Dan Mangan + Blacksmith UK Tour
27th April – Brudenell, LEEDS
28th April – The Thekla, BRISTOL
29th April – Komedia, BRIGHTON
30th April – Islington Assembly Hall, LONDON
[IMAGES: Shimon Carmel]