Conversation with Dan Mangan [December ’15]

In followup to the 6Q interview, Dan offred some insight to a few more wonderings I’ve had about his career.

JK: which comes first: music or lyrics?

DM: my process has changed over the years. when i started i was better at playing guitar than i was at writing songs. now i’m basically the same level of a guitar player as i was then, but i’m better at writing songs, so sometimes the words and melodies hit first. i like writing on the piano too, or just messing around with noisy synths or midis and then seeing what comes from there. i’m trying to break away from the familiar places that my hands go on the guitar which influence the songs in similar ways.

JK: would you liken Mouthpiece (a song of statements) to Jeopardy (a song of questions), as a response? Or.  ending with New Skies, is the growth parallel stronger there?

DM: interesting connection. i suppose, to some extent, both songs are the opposite of what they are. jeopardy is full of questions, but feels rhetorical and manipulative, because there are answers implied (“what happens when all flags burn together? is that unity?). mouthpiece is chalk full of statements, but there’s a bit of a self awareness to the onslaught of self indulgent musings (even calling it mouthpiece), which opens up questions about where all those statements come from and how much should we be critical of their certainties? i guess what i’m saying is, questions or answers, it’s all a bit in the air, isn’t it

JK: similarly, how does set list writing compare to an album order, in flexibility and in permanence?
(How often does a uniquely political song like ‘starts with them, end with us’ end up in a show?)

DM: albums are totally self serving indulgences. it’s important to never ever think about what people might like because most of the time you’re wrong about what people like and you just need to trust your gut and try to imagine the rest of the world doesn’t exist. live shows are the opposite,.. you might not want to play particular songs but you have to check your ego a bit and realize that people are reserving an entire night of their all too short lives to be with you, and that some of them actually love your work (whether or not you think that work is worth loving) and they deserve some reciprocation.. so you play a mixture of what you want and what they want and hopefully there’s a lot of overlap.

– Aside from NNVN in its fifth year, are there any “career anniversaries” you celebrate? 

We played in Toronto on October 28th of 2010 and also October 28th of 2011. That level of consistency alone is worth adopting some OCD over.

– working with Dave Grohl.. what was the greatest takeaway? 

He likes microwave burritos

– who/what was one of your earliest connections to help you find your place, musically?

my first cassette was The Simpsons Sing The Blues. I’ve been trying to “Do The Bartman” ever since

– how do you navigate? google, tomtom, paper map.. 

phones and tomtom. mix of both. if anybody out there is younger than 50 and using a paper map, they’re trying too hard

– where do you still want to go/play that you’ve never been/played? 

Japan. Totally.

And, from the stage in a few capacities..first while reflecting on + Blacksmith during his solo tour, and again with the Nova Scotia Symphony behind him in Halifax:
– to any aspiring musicians out there, the best thing you can do to challenge yourself is to play with people better than you! (crediting + Blacksmith men, symphony partnerships, and variety of collaborations to continue pushing the limits of these simple guitar melodies)

Thanks again, Dan!!

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