Canadian indie folk-rock singer-songwriter Dan Mangan is a man with a talent that has been recognized many times. In an entirely positive way, at just 29, it feels like he has been in the Canadian indie music scene forever. That’s because Dan Mangan’s talent shone through at an early age. He released his first record; an EP titled All At Once, at just the age of 20 and his first full length album, Postcards & Daydreaming, at just 22. He followed that up with 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice and 2011’s Oh Fortune.
Mangan has played at many notable festivals including Glastonbury, Sasquatch and many more in countries such as Australia, Germany and of course, Canada. So with that kind of sought after talent, it was fantastic that Dan was available and willing to play at the first ever Keloha Kelowna music festival.
The hill that surrounded the Island Stage was packed as Mangan and his band took to the stage and he put on a performance worth every positive word penned about his ability to put on a fabulous live show. The heat was high, but so was his performance. He attempted to engage the crowd and the crowd duly responded. He asked the audience to join him in singing the lines “Robots need love too, they want to be loved by you” from the song Robot, and the whole hill seemed to join in, in unison. The lyrics must have been repeated nearly a hundred times as Dan presented the microphone to the crowd and engaged in some crowd surfing (much to the mild chagrin of event security.) The performance was tight, full of energy and emanated a positive glow that not even the hot Okanagan summer sun could match for warmth. Dan and his band played every song tightly and with passion. It was a brilliant performance.
Dan Mangan's "Robots" singalong
Dan Mangan does some crowd surfing
So with that said, it should come as no surprise that Mangan has won two notable awards in the last twelve months. At the 2012 JUNO Awards, Mangan took home two awards, New Artist of the Year and Alternative Album of the Year for Oh Fortune. As such, I was very fortunate that I got to have a chat with him prior to him taking the stage in Kelowna. Valaura Vedan of Welcome to Kelowna was also on hand to snap photographs. Humble, thoughtful and intelligent, Mangan had a few insightful comments to make.
Vincent Jones: I feel like I have a personal connection to you for two reasons, actually. I have been to Smithers a few times…
Dan Mangan: That’s funny. I think on the Wikipedia page it mentions that I was born there. I actually haven’t really been there since I was about two years old. [Laughs]
There’s a lot of really great photos of my young family at the time and I was in arms standing next to our house with six feet of snow against it. It’s blizzardy north BC.
VJ: How many times have you been to Kelowna?
DM: When I first started touring this was a really steady place. It’s the biggest place in the interior, so we’d always come through every time, so I have probably played here about five times. I haven’t been here since maybe 2010. It’s been a few years and I don’t know why we kept missing it. We kept going [from] Calgary right to Vancouver [on tour.] It’s nice to be back. It’s beautiful weather right now. It’s unbelievable. It’s a good thing that this festival is right on the water too, so everyone can just jump in the water.
VJ: Is there a special spot in Kelowna that you like to come to or play at?
VJ: Good choices…
VJ: Do you have any passions outside of music that you’re really into?
DM: I find, as I get older, I get more opinionated about things. So keeping tabs on society, political stuff, and I guess that’s been something that’s creeped into my daily thing a little more.
I really like films. I like really good movies and paying attention to all kinds of art, visual art, or theatre or dance or whatever. I feel like being open to the expression from other people all the time in whatever medium or format they happen to be giving it is a very enriching thing for the soul, and it makes me a better artist. I try to maintain an openness to that kind of stuff.
VJ: Talking about your art now, your music, when you put a record out, how much of the critical reception or the reception of the fans influences how you feel toward the record? Or is it mostly, you put it out, you’re proud of it, that’s all that matters?
DM: I think once you’ve made a record you’ve lost all objectivity. You’ve gotten so deep in it that by the time it is actually finished and ready for other people to hear, you’re kind of done with it. I think you hear a lot of artists talk that way. It’s sort of like as soon as the albums out, they want to work on the next thing, they want to move on. I think that’s just, if you put enough caring into anything, it’s going to drive you crazy. I feel like every time I am making a record and I don’t feel a little bit unstable, I am not trying hard enough or something. It feels like it’s too easy.
I feel with the press we’ve been really fortunate. We’ve got a lot of really wonderful critical response to the last record and it’s opened a lot of doors for us. We’ve travelled all over the world. The press can be so amazing and open doors, because it helps people get involved, and it helps the momentum grow and it helps people hear what you’re doing. In terms of saying nice things or not nice things, I try to appreciate the press, but not believe it. Does that make sense? It’s like if you believe the nice things then you have to believe the bad things too. The truth is that all of it is a little bit true and all of it is also totally just perception. I feel like for me to sleep at night, the best thing to do is to kind of pretend the press just doesn’t exist. If you start basing your self-worth on what other people think, or what other people are saying then you are going to spend your life trying to live up to what you think people are [expecting.] Whereas if you just listen to your internal compass and to what your gut is telling you about who you are and what you want to do, more often than not, people will feel magnetized to that. You just have to believe what feels honest. You have to surround yourself with people who don’t bullshit you. It’s easy to surround yourself with people who start telling you lots of nice things when in fact the best thing you can do is maintain a core group of people who will give you honest feedback.
VJ: When you play a festival like this, how much of the crowd interaction/involvement influences your performance?
DM: The crowd is such a part of any show. Is it a quiet crowd? Is it a loud crowd? Is it a quiet, engaged crowd? Is it a loud engaged crowd? I would rather play to a 100 people who are really into it than 10,000 who didn’t really care. To me, it’s not really about numbers so much as just engagement…
VJ: The energy and the feeling…
DM: Yeah, and y’know what happens is a band gives everything they have and if a crowd gives it all back then that gives more to the band to work with and then it just kind of reciprocates. That’s when a show can hit those sum greater than the whole of its parts kind of things. Some shows are just magical and it’s not just because of the band, and it’s not just because of the crowd, but it’s because the crowd and the band become something bigger than both of them. That can’t happen every single night, but that’s certainly the goal. To get on stage and drop the veil, I’m not better than anyone here, I’m not cooler than anyone here, I’m just me and I want to play some music. When the crowd takes that energy and says, “okay, we’re here to support that and we want to have a good time”, it’s those times when you realize you have the best job in the whole world. It’s just living for those moments…
VJ: I was just saying that before, because we didn’t think we were doing any more interviews, we went home for a beer and then we got the text saying “Dan’s available”, so we had to come back, well we wanted to come back…
DM: Sorry to interrupt your beer!
VJ: It’s all good! But we were just saying what an amazing job you have. It’s the dream, right?
DM: It is. When you first start out you just want a gig. You just want a gig, anywhere that’ll take you and then as it proceeds you’re like “well what does success mean to me?” Success to me just means doing this for a living. I feel like we’re so lucky. We’re so fortunate to even live in a place where we get to do this. Rather than working in a sweatshop or being a child soldier somewhere. There’s just so much stuff going on in the world, the fact that we have the luxury to choose what any of us want to be doing with our lives is incredible and it blows my mind. That’s why it’s important to not take it for granted, to really appreciate what we’re doing. Also, to make the best body of work that we can, if people have supported us thus far the least we owe them is to really stick to our guns and to just try and make the best music for as long as possible. If we get less popular or more popular, at least we’re doing what feels right.
VJ: As someone who is involved with the local scene, What sort of advice would you give to bands just starting out, or guys trying to break into the industry? I know it's a question that you probably get asked all the time, but...
DM: I always say the same thing. I say, "Surround yourself with people who are inspiring, always be writing. Buy yourself a van and go play hundreds of shows and hire a publicist." There's this thing that young bands have where they're like "Oh, we just want a manager!" or "We just want to get signed!" or "We just want to get an agent", and the truth is none of those things are going to make you better at making music. All of those things will help you get heard. So, the thing is, anyone who does those kinds of things, is looking for new music all the time. Even if they're not looking, if something blindsides them, they're going to go crazy for it. So, the best thing you can do, is do everything yourself and learn what it means to cover all the aspects of what it means to have a career in music. And then, magically, by the time you are exuding something that is magical, in some way or another, people will find you and because you've done it all yourself, you will know if they're doing a good job or not.
DM: Because you have experience in it, if you just get signed to some huge company out of the gates at 16, you have no idea what you're doing and you could get fleeced. Maybe you won't. You know, maybe everyone has the best intentions. If you kind of blow-up over night because this huge machine turns all the gears in your favour, and all of a sudden, you have this big audience... You know, climbing a mountain in two seconds, also means that you could fall down that mountain in two seconds. Whereas, if you have a really steady climb to wherever it is that you are going, no one can take it away from you, No one can pull the rug out from under your feet. And that to me is beautiful, because it gives you a little bit of sustainability in this. I mean it's a fickle business. People get popular and unpopular all the time, but if you just keep making music for the purpose of making music, you'd be amazed how people are drawn to that and how they will stick with you, if they feel like you're being honest. The reason why some bands lose their popularity quickly is because people move on. They're not connected with that band anymore. They don't feel that band anymore, and it's because maybe what that band was doing was fickle or "du jour", and kind of "of the style". So, as long as you just keep pushing yourself to make interesting, relevant, and thoughtful music, people will keep staying with you. Sort of like, if you're worried about the end, all the time, then the means is going to get lost.
VJ: Well, I think you make a really relevant point, because when I said in the very beginning that I feel like I have a connection with you, I say that for two reasons. First of all, the Smithers thing which we've gone over [Laughter]. But recently, I went back to the UK to see my family and my favourite song of yours is "Basket". Obviously a very personal one, I would imagine…
DM: Very, yeah. It's one of the more kind of sentimental... yeah.
VJ: Absolutely. I went home, and I haven't seen my Grandma in 6 years, and unfortunately, she's got dementia now. And before I went away, I liked that song for reasons completely different. I come home, and I listen again, and I almost feel... part-owner of it. Like, I have an ownership of the song. And I don't mean any offense by that.
DM: Amazing! No, no, no, no. That's beautiful! I've been asked a lot, "Do you feel vulnerable, writing songs that are emotional" and I feel like, my emotions can't possibly be that precious. Like, if I have felt this way, if I have felt jealous or angry, or whatever, at any time, or blissful, everyone else, also has felt those things at different times, different days and at different points in their life. And so, if I have felt a [certain] way, sometime, chances are someone else will relate to that, and that's amazing. I would hope that on an emotional level, people would feel ownership over it. People say things, like I've said, that I've listened to a song by an artist I love and gone, "Wow! It's like they wrote it for me."
VJ: Yeah, that sort of thing, I suppose.
DM: And, that's beautiful. That's beautiful. There are so many reasons in this world to not feel connected and so many reasons for us to feel guarded and jaded and closed. So, if there is one tiny little reason to feel connected, that's great. And as many moments of connectedness that you can feel in a lifetime, the better.
VJ: So, with that in mind, and I don't mean to be flippant about it, but is there a song of your own that is extra-special to you, or is a favourite? Maybe extra-special's the wrong word. Is there one that you really like to listen to or really like to play?
DM: There are certain songs that I'll get more excited about when we play, but they change all the time, you know? Maybe we haven't played this song in a few months and then we go back to it, and I'm like, "Oh yeah! I forgot about that one. I like that." And then you'll have one that's your favourite and you'll play it a million times in a row and it recedes, so, it changes. But, "Basket" has been one that has been steady in the set, all the time, and I think partly, it's because it always reminds me of my family and what it means to grow old. It's a reminder that there's a time limit and that you have to do all the things you want to do, because you're not going to be around forever.
VJ: Is it going to be in the set today?
DM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We'll play it today.
VJ: Is "Sold" going to be in there, as well?
DM: Yeah, we'll do "Sold", for sure.
VJ: Just thinking ahead to the show!
VJ: So, getting towards the end here now. I'm sure you've got time constraints so I won't keep you too much longer. When you're on tour, or when you're in the van, who does Dan Mangan listen to?
DM: [Laughs] Well, I've been a massive Radiohead fan since I was a young teenager, so that's been a real go-to. But, these days... M.Ward, especially... Right in the middle of his body of work, there's 3 or 4 records that just kill me. I really like Bon Iver. There's a lot of bands from Canada. Chad VanGaalen, I'm a huge fan of Chad VanGaalen. Colin Stetson recently, the sax player. His latest record is incredible. Fortunately, I'm working with a label and I love a lot of their bands. Zeus and Timber Timbre. Plants and Animals, they're a great band. There's lots of good stuff coming out of Canada right now [that] I'm excited for. Aiden Knight has a new record that's almost done. I like to support people from my own community and also, there's a lot of great American stuff and a lot of great British stuff over the years.
VJ: It's funny, when I went to Britain, people were asking me what the Canadian Music scene is like, and everyone just seems to know Shania Twain and Nickleback.
VJ: No offense to those artists, but there's other great music in Canada as well that needs some exposure. So I was happy... I threw your name out there a few times.
DM: Well, thank you. I appreciate it.
VJ: So, with everyone that's on the bill here at Keloha, who were you most excited to play with, or who did you look at and go, "Yeah, I'm really pleased to be on the same bill as..."
DM: Well, my confession is that I haven't really, in-depthly, looked at the line-up...
VJ: I like your honesty.
DM: We're doing like, ten festivals this summer or maybe a dozen or something…
VJ: Fair enough, man.
DM: Which is beautiful, because you get to go out and meet... and you always run into friends that you didn't know were playing at the festival and you're like "Hey!" you know? I've been pals with the Said The Whale guys for years.
Dan stands to the side of the stage and takes in "Said The Whale"
VJ: Yeah, they mentioned you a few times [in our interview earlier…]
DM: So, it's nice to see them again and it's great that we get to share a stage again. We haven't played together in a long time, so that's nice.
VJ: Cool. The only thing I'd like to ask you, is what's next for you? Obviously you've got the ten festivals coming up. What do you see on the horizon?
DM: Well, lots of festivals this summer. I'm getting married in September.
DM: Thank you. And then, we'll do a big Canadian tour in the fall. I think we're actually going to come back to Kelowna.
DM: And then next year, we're going to keep touring, but we're going to take it a little bit easier. I really want to start focusing on the next record again. Then, I think we will start next fall. We'll record the next record.
VJ: Who knows, you might have a little baby by then! It's possible.
DM: Anything is possible, right?
DM: Yeah, I'm looking forward to a lot of different things.
VJ: Life's good?
DM: Yeah, life's good. You know, it's a really exciting time. The band, you know, we're really clicking. I'm very, very fortunate, I've got the most amazing band to play with, and every time we go on stage, I'm excited to play music with them.
VJ: That's brilliant. Well, I think that's everything we've got time for so…
VJ: Thank you very much, Dan.
[Editor's Note: Dan Mangan has announced a new fall tour today. The tour will see him play several dates across the country with The Rural Alberta Advantage. He is scheduled for November 8th, 2012 at the Kelowna Community Theatre]
For more photos, head over to Welcome to Kelowna's Facebook Page
Want to talk to Vince? E-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org