Dan Mangan: no more Mr. Nice guy
Proving nice guys sometimes get exactly what they deserve, Dan Mangan has spent the past couple of years living the kind of impossibly charmed—and completely surreal—life that few in the business of making music ever get to enjoy.
Sipping coffee at South Granville’s Bean Around the World on a sun-soaked summer morning, the Vancouver-based DIY success story is happy to divulge some of the more bizarre moments of what’s been a wild ride. There was the business of meeting Prince William and Kate Middleton in Ottawa on Canada Day a couple of months back, this coming after playing to a crowd of 300,000 on Parliament Hill.
At the opposite end of the celebrity spectrum, there aren’t many who can claim to have spent time with Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg on their tour bus. Other believe-it-or-not stories to tell his future grandkids include doing SXSW with Elijah Wood, and meeting Radiohead, a band that ranks high on his list of all-time favourites.
Mangan’s 2009 breakthrough album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice—featuring his amazingly infectious single “Robots”—didn’t just have him hobnobbing with the rich and famous. After years of playing open-mike nights in tiny coffee shops and half-empty clubs, the singer suddenly found himself thrust onto a much larger stage, an ace backing band in tow. Think Glastonbury (twice!) in the U.K., Sasquatch in the U.S., and the massive Woodford Folk Festival in Australia.
Tellingly though, as Mangan gets ready to release his excellent, career-reshaping third album, Oh Fortune, none of this seems to impress him much.
“I’m not a celebrity—I’m not some big Hollywood star or anything like that,” says the 28-year-old who’s earned a well-deserved reputation as one of Vancouver’s most likable musicians. “What we do every day is very simple and real and matter-of-fact. We show up to a gig, and then we’re sound checking, then we’re eating, then playing, and then signing things after. That becomes your life.
“And that brings about new challenges,” he continues. “Rather than just worrying about trying to get a gig or an agent someday, you learn new things to freak out about. Like ‘Am I going to totally exhaust myself? Am I going to have anything left at the end of this tour? How am I going to be able to sing tomorrow if I scream tonight? Am I eating well enough that I’m not going to turn into a waste case? Am I ever going to have time to relax? Am I ever going to have kids? Or be a reasonable partner for my girlfriend to be with?’ ”
Consider that fair warning that Mangan had some heavy things on his mind while he was writing Oh Fortune, which hits the streets on September 27. The biggest one—as you might infer from song titles like “If I Am Dead” and “Regarding Death and Dying”—was the final curtain call that awaits each and every one of us on the planet.
“There are a lot of images of death on the record, of burning, of grand exits,” Mangan suggests. “There are lyrical throw-outs to setting yourself on fire and other grandiose gestures. Lyrically, it’s kind of a morose album.”
Mangan has a good idea why he might have been obsessed with the dark side, that having something to do with the fact that he’s been on the road constantly since the release of Nice, Nice, Very Nice.
“I spend a lot of time in quickly moving vehicles,” he says simply. “So many, many times I’ve imagined my own demise—I’ve got a vivid imagination in that sense. I think about it a lot. Also, the last few years have been utterly nuts—I’ve gotten to do a lot of things that many people do not get to do. I don’t mean that to be taken in a vanity sense as much as in a bewilderment sense. Like ‘Look at me singing up here—surely this has all got to end soon because it cannot last.’ ”
As he’s perfectly happy to acknowledge, there are no made-for-the-masses sing-alongs like “Robots” on Oh Fortune.
“It’s a very different record from Nice, Nice, Very Nice,” he says, picking at a breakfast burrito. “I think that Nice, Nice, Very Nice was the best record that I could have made at the time—it really opened doors for me and the band, and changed my life. I feel that this record is less flashy—right out of the gate, it doesn’t have as polished a feel. But I feel it’s a deeper record. It takes longer to get to know than Nice, Nice, Very Nice, but in the end I think it’s going to be a longer-lasting record.”