Dan Mangan in The Province studio talking about the release of his new album entitled Oh Fortune.
Photograph by: Jenelle Schneider, PNG
A $25,000 Verge Music Award, a Polaris Prize nomination, three Western Canadian Music Awards, a mostly sold out theatre tour across Canada, prestigious international appearances and more — Dan Mangan had reason to title his third album Oh Fortune.
Listen to the Vancouver singer/songwriter’s latest release and you’ll wonder if he’s having you on.
His debut on Toronto’s Arts & Crafts label — home to Feist and Stars — is a different ride than 2010’s career-launching Nice, Nice, Very Nice. Backed by his exceptional trio of guitarist Gord Grdina, alternating bassists John Walsh and Colin Cowan and drummer Kenton Loewen, with an orchestra of other players under the baton of acclaimed Seattle violinist/arranger Eyvind Kang, the 11 tracks captured at The Hive in Vancouver are a near-total departure for the gravel-voiced bearded bard. The rousing strumming of “Road Regrets” is replaced with the lush, dense and layered indie rock of “How Darwinian.” The entire project heralds texture and mood over hooks and handclaps.
But is it documenting a downer?
“Yes, there are references to lighting yourself on fire, cancer and death directly in two of the titles,” says Mangan. “I’ve spent more time than most people in the kinds of vehicles that sometimes cause fatal crashes and it gets me philosophizing: I grew up in Vancouver, travel the world with incredible musicians, have this wonderfully supportive group of people behind me helping me lead this somewhat charmed life that I’m so appreciative of, so it only makes sense to anticipate it all ending, some kind of looming tragedy awaits.”
So those lovelorn robots are out and the single is now “Post-War Blues,” a driving atmospheric rocker calling for arising out the “the deepest sleep in my life” to catch fire from ennui-laden reality. Ultimately, like so much of Oh Fortune, the tune winds up a rallying cry for those cautious next steps ahead rather than ever wallowing in trendy regret. The way he’s relaying his message is deeply tied to the listener’s psychological responses now; less toe-tapping more head-scratching. Credit the company he is keeping and the way his life has changed with the new confidence to let his compositions breathe.
“I’ve been the solo guy with the guitar writing happy music with sad lyrics and always knew why the music felt good. But now I’m in a band with a bunch of guys who are very emotionally and musically tuned in and there is a lot of open dialogue when performing material with them, which found its way into the recording process, too. My musical vocabulary has grown leaps and bounds and that’s on this record.”
He feels the ups and the downs more on this album than any other and that is exactly where he wanted to wind up in the next phase of his journey. Having time to work over the material in studio with producer Colin Stewart (Black Mountain, Cave Singers) meant that when Mangan wanted “the mellotron strings to sound like they were rising over the sound of the heavy metal band tearing it up at the back of the cavern,” it was possible. He credits Stewart’s even-handedness with putting “what he wanted where he wanted it while keeping an overseeing role because I really stress out in studio.” At this point in his life, what you hear is who he is.
“All the artists I respect change album to album. That I’ve been able to work with musicians who possess such an unbelievable amount of calculated prowess that they can emote in these incredible ways with very little direction means that it’s my name on the package, but it’s a whole lot more than me. Where will we go next?”
For the next few months, back on the road is the answer. Mangan has toured tirelessly since his early solo artist days and has sights set on taking Canadian success to other markets, particularly the U.S., Australia and the UK.
“That last cross-Canada tour we got to see the insides of a lot of grand theatres and now we’re getting ready to do it again. I’m wanting to see what their equivalents are below the border and other places we’ve been touring. Looking forward to it, in fact,” Mangan says.
He may well indeed reap those rewards with Oh Fortune’s more cerebral, symphonic sonic tableau.
Dan Mangan, with the Crackling
Where: Orpheum Theatre, Seymour and Smithe streets
When: Nov. 9 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $36 at voguetheatre.com
© Copyright (c) The Province