Vancouver singer/songwriter Dan Mangan has a certain air of intense calm and openness that permeates any conversation. Before getting into the interview itself, I chatted with him about life on the road, and it became clear that this was certainly not his first time out touring. He spoke the way your favorite pair of old jeans would: warmly, comfortably. We at Impact 89FM caught up with him about his latest album Nice, Nice, Very Nice, the Vancouver scene, and life on the road.
Matt Revers: Your songs are a really interesting blend of poeticism and casual conversation. How would you explain your writing process?
Dan Mangan: Iʼve heard other people describe it as almost like a train of thought. Iʼve never been good at writing things like devotion songs, you know, kind of love songs, so most of my stuff ends up being kind of conversational. Kind of like “here are a bunch of my thoughts in a row,” and sometimes itʼs more serious, and sometimes itʼs a little bit more kind of tongue-in-cheek. In general I just kind of like taking the piss out of humanity. I think that weʼre very fickle creatures, and weʼre doomed to make some of the same mistakes over and over again. I aim to rib human kind without being a jerk about it. I think overall Iʼd like to spread a message of optimism, but I do enjoy taking the piss, for sure.
MR: Nice, Nice, Very Nice is the second album youʼve done. How would you explain the differences between this album and Postcards and Daydreaming?
DM: I think when I made the first album, I feel like I was quite young, and more than anything it was kind of like a test to see if we could make an album. I think I had, like, twelve songs that I had written, so I was like, “Yeah, I think Iʼll make an album with 12 songs,” (Laughs) It was everything that I had at that time, so I took about four years between that album Postcards and Daydreaming and Nice, Nice, Very Nice of straight touring, and after making that first album I decided that this really was what I wanted to do, so if I was gonna do it, I was really going to do it full steam. I didnʼt want to half-ass it, so I spend a lot of time writing, and over those four years I wrote about thirty songs that I was feeling pretty good about, and we whittled that down to about 22, and then down to 12. It was very much a culling process, and we were kind of trimming the fat, trimming the fat, trimming the fat, and I feel like coming towards the second record I had a much clearer idea in mind of what I wanted it to sound like; not just the song part, but the actual audible quality of it–and the arrangements. I came out of it with a lot more confidence and I think what that means is that everything sounds less epic, less anthemic. At first I was trying to make everything so big and long and everything had to be so darn meaningful, and I think that with the second record, my maturity was able to let things stay small and intricate and kind of understated.
MR: I think all of those ideas work well with the song “Road Regrets,” so how would you explain that song?
DM: That song came as a result of about five or six days traveling on my own doing ten hour days in the car. I was driving to Austin, Texas and I was in western Texas and it was late at night and it started getting really stormy. Iʼd kind of been going crazy because Iʼd spent so much time in the car. I started wondering whether or not west Texas was a place tornadoes happened, and I started thinking, “Oh man, thereʼs going to be a tornado,” and I was kind of having one of those moments when youʼre kind of beside yourself and you donʼt know what to do–do you stop, or do you keep going, do you try to find some place to pull over and sleep? It was one of those affirming moments where I thought, this is what I signed up for, this is what I wanted to do, so Iʼll be coming against some adverse situations. The song was kind of me deliberating on the fact that sometimes being on the road seems like such a stupid thing to do, but at the end of it, if youʼre going to do it, do it full on.
MR: So with that said, what would you say your favorite place to play is and why?
DM: I have a lot of favorite places to play. I think that a lot of cities have really great rooms, and a lot of great people in them. I think that there are great people in every city in the world, itʼs just about getting those people to your show. There are hubs, like San Francisco, Montreal, New York, where there are these large creative artistic communities that are thriving and pulsating, but even in the smaller towns, the Pontiac, Michigans, there are bound to be a handful of music lovers. If you can narrow in on those people every time, thatʼs how the great shows happen. And we just played Norman, Oklahoma, to like 20 people, maybe. Probably more like 17. It was a super hot night, no a.c., everyone was sweating, and there were like 20 people there and it was one of the most fun shows weʼve played in a while. Itʼs more about making the best out of every situation, and never taking for granted that it doesnʼt matter if there are 10,000 or 20 people there, there are people there that are giving their evening to you and paying to go there and theyʼre supporting you, and theyʼre buying t-shirts and stuff. Itʼs a matter of giving respect to each audience, no matter what. Not grabbing on to too big a sense of entitlement to anything, really.
MR: So whatʼs the Vancouver scene like for you?
DM: Itʼs really thriving. During the 90ʼs Vancouver was kind of a hard place to be from in terms of music. In the last ten years weʼve had a few big bands blow up out of there. New Pornographers, Black Mountain, Ladyhawk, You Say Party!, Mother Mother, a lot of really solid indie rock bands coming out of there, and the scene is really thriving. Thereʼs a really beautiful community of musicians there right now, that are into supporting the community as a whole and supporting each other. Rather than getting silly and jealous when one person gets a leg up, everyoneʼs kind of helping each other up the ladder. I Just assumed I would have to move to Montreal or Toronto to make it happen in Canada. Now Iʼm feeling like I donʼt want to go anywhere. Now Iʼm spending so much time on the road, when I am at home, Vancouver is such a lovely place to be. Itʼs a beautiful, beautiful city.
MR: This latest album incorporated a lot more musicians this time. What was the recording process like?
DM: Iʼd spent so much time on the road meeting musicians, when it came time to start making the record, I wanted to invite everybody in and make it like a big collective of musicians so I started sending out emails and phone calls seeing who wanted to be involved and who was into it. We spent about six weeks in Toronto and I flew in a couple friends to be part of it, and at one point we actually came back to Vancouver, and did some recording there with some friends there. It was an administrative feat to try to orchestrate all the recordings and the different people. But it was really important to me to involve the greater scene, and involve a lot of friends to make them apart of it. And to lean on them. Canada has so many talented musicians; itʼs great to be able to play with and rely on them.
MR: So whatʼs next for you?
DM: We finish up these American dates. Weʼre heading out to the West Coast. Weʼre playing shows with the Walkmen, and Japandroids, and Okkervil River and then we go over to Europe for about a month. We play in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, France, the UK, and then we come back and go across Canada. Weʼre doing a lot of theaters and churches and some other alternative venues and halls across Canada. Thatʼll take us into about December, and weʼll start recording the next record. Iʼve got about 18 songs ready to go now. The band and I have been working on them, whittling them down, figuring out what kind of shape we want them to take. Then over the course of the winter, we should be able to get the album out by the end of the spring.