Interview: Dan Mangan on mindfulness and artistic expression

Dec 19 2017, 9:59 pm

In life, there are moments that take our breath away. Fleeting fragments of time where the world stops and everything makes sense. Then, as quickly as they appear, they vanish. Acknowledging that exchange is one of those things that’s part of a larger understanding of our existence — a component of our humanness that, recently, Dan Mangan has been ruminating over both in his personal life and his music.

“Accepting that things will come and that they will go is sort of a crucial point to harbouring moments of truth and moments of happiness,” the singer-songwriter says. One must, he maintains, enjoy them as they come and then “let them go and know that they’re going to be gone and be okay with that.”

Indeed, Mangan, a two-time JUNO Award-winner and two-time Polaris Music Prize listed musician, has had many instances of significance. For him, though, some of the most wondrous ones, the ones that have made him feel the best version of himself, exist when he’s been able to let go. It happens sometimes on stage, he reveals, and especially when it comes to his son, who just turned three.

“Holding a very young baby is a very centring thing to do,” Mangan says. “When you’re holding something so fragile and so new and beautiful, nothing else really matters. All of the heavy weight in your life or the anxiety is sort of gone and all you can do is appreciate each moment.”

Fatherhood has impacted Mangan as an artist in a way that can be heard in his most recent effort, 2015’s Club Meds. The album’s move from folk instrumentation towards more adventurous alternative arrangements and its compelling lyrical narratives were received with much critical acclaim. The birth of his little boy, Mangan admits, contributed to a creative urgency.

“It almost, in a sense, upped the stakes,” he says. “It sort of made the idea of making music as purely entertainment or fun seem like it wasn’t quite enough. That I needed to really try to push myself to do something that — you don’t want to use the word important because you feel self-important — but something that would have legs and that maybe was a statement or something that was, you know, an honest, vulnerable insight into my experience of living. In a weird way, having a kid sort of made me feel like there was going to have to be a longstanding relevance to the work.”

The insight that Club Meds offers into Mangan’s person is expressed further through his music videos, the latest being for “A Dolls House / Pavlovia” and “Forgetery.” In the Amazing Factory-produced cut for “Forgetery,” director Andrew Huculiak presents a series of vignettes that explore the duality of one’s inner self. One of the most moving performances in the video comes from actor Rainn Wilson, who, in a single second, is gazing wistfully at his wedding band and, in the next, is thrashing in a pool after he drops the ring in the water.

“A Dolls House / Pavlovia,” on the other hand, was emailed to Mangan one day from directors Jason Karman and Tyler McGrath. “It was a real pleasant surprise to be handed something that was really made with thought and beautifully shot,” he says, adding that the fact that it’s someone else’s interpretation is actually perfectly appropriate.

The track, penned by Blacksmith guitarist Gordon Grdina, features an entirely different melody that Mangan wrote to interplay both his and Grdina’s voices. “That was an interesting one there because here I am writing a song overtop of somebody else’s creation and then somebody else takes that combination and makes their own video for it,” he says. “There’s this triple effect of three different angles.”

Today, Mangan is in a different kind of place. Club Meds was very much an effort to make a record that flowed cohesively rather than just being an amalgamation of songs trying to stand on their own. Now, he’s spent the last few months working on new material without the pressure of trying it fit within the confines of an album. “I’m experimenting with what that feels like to just make songs and also really trying to expand sonically — where these songs go and how they feel,” he explains. “I get antsy, I get creatively antsy, and anytime I feel like I’m doing one thing for too long I have to change it.”

Like the true artist he is, Mangan is, once again, searching within himself to reassess his creative contribution — all the while savouring those breathtaking moments as they concurrently appear and disappear.


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