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Why Dan Mangan Feels Reborn on New Album 'More or Less'
Photo: Vanessa Heins
Fifteen years into his career, Dan Mangan feels like he's starting over.
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It was only six years ago that his career took off after winning two Juno Awards, thanks to his breakthrough record, Oh Fortune. It's not like he stopped there — his next album, Club Meds, came out in 2015, and he followed it up with the Unmake EP the following year — but the Vancouver singer-songwriter says he feels like a changed man these days.
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There are several reasons for that. One of them is that becoming a father has given him a whole new perspective on life. Another one is simply the effects of time — and the fickleness of fame.
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"There was a time, right after I won the Junos in 2012, I was touring all the time," Mangan tells Exclaim! "Right around the time I told my manager I needed a break, that I needed a year off, the phone was just ringing. I could go play as many shows as I wanted, and there was more to be had," he says. "And then I turned off the tap, thinking that at any time I could turn the tap back on and it would flood the sink again. And then I turned the tap back on and it was just kind of trickling out. It wasn't quite the same as when I left it. That was devastating at the time. But in hindsight, I'm very thankful for it, because I'm way more grateful for every little tiny thing that happens now."
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In Toronto to promote his fifth record, More or Less, Mangan gave some insights into what to expect from the new album, how he approached his songwriting this time around, and why he considers it the most "me" out of all his catalogue.
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"I think what people gravitated toward in my early work was that there was a sort of whimsy, or an earnestness to it," he says. "Nice, Nice, Very Nice is very gentle, natural. [The songs] aren't dressed up in a veil of trying to be cool or anything like that. There's sort of a comical nature to it, but it's not a joke. This record has a piece of that. It has a tenderness to it."
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After the critically acclaimed but less popularly received Club Meds, More or Less feels like a return to roots for the 35-year-old. It's gentle, simple and full of heart, emphasizing the age-old craft of songwriting over experimentation. But the record is still modern, forward-reaching and dynamic in subtler ways.
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"Club Meds was so important to me. That record was my life for six months. I believe in that record and I hope that it'll one day find the audience that it didn't find on its initial release," Mangan says. "However, it was a cold record. It feels academic, calculated, foreboding. And this record has a warmth to it. It feels like an embrace. At the same time, it's still kind of experimental. I feel these two worlds in me. My favourite band is Radiohead, and yet I love Paul Simon and Van Morrison, people who wrote these very direct, beautiful love songs. So I think this album marries those two things better than I've been able to do in the past."
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He gives a lot of credit to Grammy-winning producer Drew Brown (Radiohead, Beck) and his "vision of minimalism." While they were in the studio in Los Angeles — where at one point he got robbed and met Paul McCartney in the same 24 hours — Mangan would record a song and be itching to add a dozen more parts to it, but Brown would rein him in. "I handed him the keys. Throughout so much of it, I would want to do more and he would pull me back," Mangan says.
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"There's lots of space on this record. There are holes in it. It gives you moments to absorb what's happening. It's not an onslaught of sound."
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When he first emerged on the Canadian music scene, Mangan was in his early 20s and touring 200 days a year. Now, he's 35 with two kids at home. He says he recently came to the realization that he's not a young, exciting newcomer anymore — and that he's alright with that.
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"The music industry likes sexy things. It likes hot, young people. There's very little that's publicly cool about being a dad. I used to be part of the new movement. I used to be part of the youth. And then it was like, 'I'm not part of that, there's this whole other generation' — I closed my eyes and they're all here.
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"The thing that I care about way more than being cool now is, am I connecting with people? Am I doing something that's authentic, vulnerable, real and honest? And seemingly every time I channel that correctly, authentically and honestly, I have an experience with someone or with the crowd or with other musicians that makes me feel good, and makes me feel like life is awesome. There is something in me to give, and I will continue to try and give it."
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More or Less comes out November 2 on Arts & Crafts.