Dan Mangan, troubadour dad, heads to Nunavut’s capital May 20
“A connection at the deepest part of ourselves is really what anything is for"
Dan Mangan just dropped off his four-year-old and, cell phone in hand for the interview, is pushing his sleeping four-month-old in a stroller through the spring-blossomed streets of Vancouver.
That’s how you bury the myth of the rock star: catch him being a dad.
The Juno-winning, Polaris-nominated Vancouver-based musician and singer-songwriter who heads to Iqaluit May 20 for an Alianait concert, laughs a little when told May in Iqaluit is still winter by southern standards. But he’s still thrilled about going.
“Often with the media, we hear about the dire circumstances of remote communities and any sensible person should assume that’s not the whole story,” Mangan said from Vancouver in late April.
“So part of it is about painting a human picture on the pictures in the media and to actually meet real human beings who are dealing with those struggles but also leading their own lives. And to be around artists from the North and to have a cultural exchange—that sounds really exciting to me.”
For those unfamiliar with his music, and even for those who are, Mangan’s work is hard to define of late.
His early songs have been described as folk or indie rock, but his 2015 release Club Meds was a departure—darker-themed, more layered and ethereal, with obvious influences from bands he admires like Radiohead.
Club Meds resulted from 10 years of reading dystopian novels, he said, and the questions they prompted over how modern society was evolving.
But whether with a full band in studio or on stage alone with a guitar, what always stands out with Mangan is the song writing.
An astute observer who got a degree in English literature and then ditched academia for life as a couch-surfing, hand-to-mouth touring musician, Mangan mines the thoughts and preoccupations of his peers with even portions of desire and scepticism.
Like many great songwriters, he’s adept at making personal experiences universal and it seems like that’s intentional.
Over our 45-minute conversation, he keeps circling back to the way art—music, theatre, books, paintings—dissolves the space between people, connecting them so they don’t feel so weird and alone.
He talks about the books that changed him when he was young and the music he listened to, and how, at times, they interrupted his train of thought, “tilted his consciousness,” and pulled him out of the inevitable indignities, failures and frailties of growing up.
He says making music and other art is like sending up smoke signals: it explains how you feel and you release it hoping others might see what you see and feel what you feel. They usually do.
“A connection at the deepest part of ourselves is really what anything is for. Even love is a conduit to feeling connected and understood. And art plays such an integral role of getting outside the box of language,” Mangan said.
“I think as teenagers, often we just feel alone. And that’s the worst feeling, that nobody gets you, nobody understands you and your struggle.
“And yet that feeling of aloneness is the absolute connecting tissue of everything. That shared struggle of aloneness is almost like the greatest uniting factor that we have.”
Mangan spent his early years dragging a suitcase and guitar up and down dingy streets in North America and Europe playing for dimes, full of a “steadfast, kind of naïve optimism and ambition,” and fuelled by “luck and fortune,” which included family and friends who nudged him forward with back pats and money.
“I basically rambled around like a dishevelled hobo but it helped me feel really alive,” he writes in an online bio. “It was, at times, pretty dire, but also very eye opening.”
Back then, in his early 20s, music was art and he paid the bills with “real” jobs. Now, a decade and four albums later, Mangan wrestles with the strange notion that his “job” is to write songs and make music and that if he doesn’t, he can’t feed his family.
Being a full time musician is enviable but daunting, he says. Everyone expects you to keep making more music, even when the muse doesn’t come.
If you look for a tour schedule on Mangan’s website, you’ll find few dates listed there. Though he sometimes aches to be on the road, he has embraced life at home lately, helping to care for a new baby and young son.
But that home time has afforded him an opportunity to write—album number five is nearing completion, he said.
And despite what’s happening in Donald Trump’s America—with its disappointing loss of respect for truth and integrity—you have to find inspiration somehow, he says, when you become a parent.
“To be honest, the songs I’m writing now are a little bit more hopeful. Maybe that’s because I have a four-month-old and I need to feel like there’s hope,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve been to my darker zone on the song writing and I’m feeling more inspired by hopeful things now.”
You can see Dan Mangan perform at Inuksuk High School Saturday, May 20 starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, available at Ventures Marketplace and online, are $26 for adults, $15 for youth 13 to 18, and elders and children under 12 are free.
You can listen to his latest single “Race to the Bottom” here.