Interview: Dan Mangan

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There are few venues in London that can compare to the unique nature of the Union Chapel. It stands tall, looming magnificently tonight over the heads of Dan Mangan and the crowd before him. “It’s so nice,” he jokes, “after all those expansive, beautiful venues with natural acoustics to be back playing in a dank, dingy bar like this.” He’ll later claim to FFS that the choice of venue is serendipitous, as he “will only play venues with stained glass windows.” This is, it turns out, rather typical of Dan Mangan – he is not only a great deal more care-free and down to earth than most other musicians, but he is terribly funny as well.

It’s an approach that has worked well for Mangan on numerous occasions. When it came to recording his first album he was unable to gather the money necessary for the enterprise and so, in a moment of startling logic, decided to simply go to the bank. “My dad told me that if I was going to try and get a loan,” Dan says, “I would have to treat it like an actual business, and go in with some sort of thing to show them, to show I was serious.”

And that’s precisely what he did. Dan Mangan, aspiring musician short on money, walked into Van City Credit Union with a business plan scribbled down on a side of paper and then, not long after, walked out of Van City Credit Union with a loan that would serve as the funding for his debut album, Postcards and Daydreaming. The album was picked by a small indie label but didn’t garner much attention beyond his hometown of Vancouver. And so Mangan found himself once again in Van City Credit Union trying for another loan to fund what would become his second album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice.

It’s this effort that caught the imagination of Canada, and soon the wider North Americas, getting Mangan radioplay and a coveted nomination for the Polaris – the Canadian equivalent of the Mercury. Nominated against albums by Broken Social Scene, Caribou and The Besnard Lakes and beating The New Pornographers from the starting blocks of the original longlist, FFS asks how it felt to be in such good company with an album he’d funded with a bank loan. Mangan is typically down to earth about it. “I think, it was more just the honour of being nominated at all, that was good enough. I don’t want to seem like I’m putting down the prize, but it’s one of those things where being nominated is almost enough itself.”

The record, Nice, Nice, Very Nice has a title that at once describes the music present and underplays the intelligence and wit inherent in Mangan’s writing. The title itself is taken from a poem featured in the 1963 Kurt Vonnegut novel Cat’s Cradle. It’s the work of an author Mangan fully relates to. “Reading his writing is like hearing my ideas voiced far more articulately than I could ever hope.”

It’s clear that Dan Mangan spends a lot of time thinking about what he’s trying to say, and how he’s saying it and though he may lack the articulation of Vonnegut he remains more than capable of talking about the big ideas under the pretences of songwriting. “I write less about love, I think, than others do because I don’t feel I have anything meaningful to say about it that hasn’t been said before. I can’t write about devotion, or romantic love.”

The closest he comes to a song about love is his track ‘The Indie Queens Are Waiting’ which, he says, is “about prodding and annoying my girlfriend just to try and get a reaction and see that she’s still paying attention”. He smiles wryly and it’s easy to see that he’s not only telling the truth, but he knows that it’s something he’s not alone in doing.

He has also written a song called ‘Robots’, which closed tonight’s set with the crowd, deep beneath the Union Chapel’s vaulted dome, singing in unison ‘Robots need love too/They want to be loved by you’. As the crowd is drawn into the technological chant Mangan leaps from the stage, running about the pews of the chapel coaxing his crowd into joining him, bouncing up onto the seats and screaming at the top of his voice semi-serious chants of encouragement. “This is beautiful!” he shouts, voice hoarse with enthusiasm, “I can’t hear you!”

Later in the evening Mangan tells FFS that he believes the content of music and the contrast between the music and the lyrics shouldn’t matter, as long as it’s all honest. And he’s right, too. Jumping from pew to pew, struggling to finish his cheers without a laugh slipping out, and with a grin across his face so grand it might well have been the inspiration behind the huge curved architecture of the venue, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Dan Mangan doesn’t mean every single word he’s singing.

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