Dan Mangan: No road regrets

Dan Mangan didn’t always have his hopes set on being a musician. “When I was a kid I thought I was going to be a vet,” he reminisced. “I kind of realized how many years of school were involved and I lost interest, right around the time I really gained an interest in playing guitar.”

His high school band dissolved to head off to separate universities, but Mangan stuck with music. “I recorded some painfully awful songs and terrible demos when I was 19 or 20 and started playing around Vancouver,” he told The Cord.

“I was filled with all these grandiose ideas of what it meant to be a musician,” he said, but despite years of experience and his increasingly realistic approach to the job, Mangan acknowledged the importance of dreaming big.

“There’s so many reasons why becoming a career musician is so nearly impossible,” he stated. “You need that optimism and that fantastical view of it all in order to get yourself through the steps along the way.”

More recently, Mangan was shortlisted for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize for 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice – an experience he described as a milestone in his career. Admitting that he has “a rich history of going a little bit crazy” whenever he makes a record, Mangan could not have been more appreciative of the nomination. After the personal investment and dedication that was poured into crafting the album, he claimed, “getting that critical feedback was really amazing and not something that I will forget or take lightly.”

But Mangan’s rise to a Canadian indie darling hasn’t been all about recording studios and award galas. Currently at home for the longest time in years — though, only a couple months — Mangan has spent the majority of his adult life on the road.

From “formative” solo tours across Europe to travelling across North America to performing at Glastonbury, one of the biggest music festivals in the world, he’s learned the ups and downs of working as a touring musician.

One of the most frustrating facets of touring is the quick pace of a “day in, day out, new city” schedule. “You go to all these amazing places, but you hardly get to see them,” said Mangan. “But it still excites me, we’ve got to do some amazing things.”

He recalled one of his favourite tour memories, sharing a story about getting the chance to play at the Fillmore in San Francisco alongside the Walkmen and fellow Vancouverites Japandroids. “There’s so much history in that venue and we had our own little green room up on the balcony,” he said as he fondly recalled “sitting up on our little perch” enjoying the show.

Regardless of the at-times less than ideal lifestyle, Mangan declared, “The tiring nature of touring will never, for me (at least, I hope) eclipse the awesomeness of it.”

As for his approach to music, Mangan has definitely become more pragmatic as he’s matured as an artist. He “kind of came up with this analogy” comparing a career in music to opening up a restaurant — from financially investing in the business to hiring staff to making renovations, he recognizes the need for a level of professionalism.

The singer-songwriter also explained that despite the aforementioned fantastical optimism necessary for an artist, he doesn’t have overly high expectations. “I just prefer to feel excited,” he said. “I assume that very, very little will happen for me and then when anything happens, it’s a small victory.”

Mangan is currently working on the follow-up to Nice, Nice, Very Nice in Vancouver, slated to be ready for fall of this year. He told The Cord that fans can expect a “noisier,” more experimental record, with a heavier influence from his bandmates.

When asked what he wanted people to take away from his music, Mangan reflected on the undeniably melancholy nature of his music. “I could be singing ‘Sugar pie, honey bunch’ and somehow it would still sound melancholy,” he quipped. “I can’t really escape that, it’s just kind of in me when it comes to making music.”

In spite of whatever underlying sadness emanates from his music, listeners can’t help but be endeared by the honesty of it all.

And if the music isn’t enough to charm you, then surely Mangan’s message will. “I think that people should be hopeful, they should be optimistic,” he concluded. “I want good things for people and for the world.”