Philosophical wonderings have been Dan Mangan’s blessing and curse for the extent of his career. he’s redefined what we can or should expect from radio play by questioning our expectations of ourselves. Self-indulgent lyrics became self-aware serenades with longstanding teamwork alongside the men of his complete band (newly titled + Blacksmith).
This fall he forged a solo version of newest compositions as offerings of growth next to old favourites and softened his setlist with proper introductions to songs not often given the spotlight. Focusing on admonishing others producing valuable music, the tour focused on returning to bard-with-a-lute songmanship. Dan reflected on the importance to leave the band behind for this quick low-key tour. “i like that people can hear all the lyrics. i think it’s important to have variety. you go crazy doing the same kind of show over and over again.” Balancing solo shows with monumental orchestrations (Halifax January 2016), this philosophy is given life.
Whether referring to leaving Robots to fight for their own love, or revisiting the humble power of a single guitar, these words are penultimate to the work Dan has created. His intention to contribute a voice with value to the maddening soundscape informed Club Meds, the 2014 touring break, and film scores for Hector and the Search for Happiness and The Valley Below.
JK: how does set list writing compare to an album order, in flexibility and in permanence?
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.
On stage between songs, Dan’s poignant storytelling recalls moments from early solo tours as being less forgiving. These boyish habits of sneaky-kind-of-selfish double-sided comments informed 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice; but figured out honest success comes from giving it everything you’ve got. He’s not everyone’s favourite pop star. His “sweet summer jams” aren’t professing love or pretending to. Comfortable in uncertainty, his voice resonates from dark, vulnerable places of personal anxieties wry with clever wit.
In present day, he supports as he was supported. By individuals who give a damn. Always making time for a chat and an autograph, it is with sincere gratitude and a moments of human connection he still sustains his fan base. An audience extending to digital connection thanks to insta-updates and quick twitter quips, fulfilling our need for internet chatter.
JK: Does it get overwhelming?
DM: “It can. Everyone loves receiving compliments. So I take it in, express thanks, savour that moment.. When I’m home I set the experience aside and savour the present, try to forget about the rest…”
A friend to melancholy lyrics and experimental sound, the emotion rising from Dan’s growing discography resonates with hope. And despair. But a despair offering comfort, in the humanity of it all. My curiosity and attachment to this soundscape was due to this vulnerability exposed and explored, resonating with my own insecurities.
I grow more curious about the intent of messaging in each fragment of lyrics I choose to digest. When I first began absorbing the complicating statements of this discography, they eroded such damning complacency of sociocultural patterns from adolescence. Existential, intelligent lyrics promised hope, beyond stifling rural simplicity and shrouded media messaging of the early 2000s.
I asked Dan about the particular lyricsm and context of his body of work relating to the dynamic changes involved in this newer album’s composite flair since adding + Blacksmith as an equalizing moniker. His response reaffirms a progressive songwriting style, as well as having independent value and meaning.
would you liken Mouthpiece (a song of statements) to Jeopardy (a song of questions), as a response?
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
Club Meds’ casual genius reflects personal and professional growth in musicianship. It doesn’t sound recycled from anything else, yet is a simple culmination of influences. He cites Margaret Atwood as post-apocalyptic literary guidance for lines “books we tried to burn” and claims his spirit animal is a bookshelf. (link) His art remains smart, with a smattering of self-indulgent reflection… bringing clarity to those of us on the receiving end overwhelmed by conflicting biases of living.
Dan’s hope carries political musings as rooted storytelling to various niche baskets of ‘wicker-enthusiasts’ around the world, and exposes vulnerability and acute awareness of our sedation. If it means spending the next 5 years with Club Meds underscoring our cultural understanding in an updated version of Nice Nice Very Nice pleading love for robots, I’ll buckle up for the ride.
“‘Cause when I taste it – just one moment of TRUTH – what I’m wishing would linger seems to leave me. And I fear that distraction ever near me. So I’m open and broken. Feels like teething. The sweet pain of the PROCESS. Forgetery. Forgetery alive and well.” – Forgetery, CLUB MEDS. (2015)