Dan Mangan is a very different person with a very different life than he had four years ago. He is now a father of two boys, an accomplished film score writer, a new independent business entrepreneur, and is admittedly “softer and more tender” than he ever has been. These changes are all reflected on his latest release More or Less, an album that marks Mangan’s most personal offering yet. His lyrics are crisp and clear, while the instrumentation is experimental but calmly soothing.
“I wanted people to think they could kind of cosy into this record and think of it as a soft, safe place to land,” Mangan says. “I think we need that right now because there is so much insanity in the world. So much pain and fear and vitriol and poison. I wanted to make something that would make people feel like there was other kindred people who felt like them so they could relax and feel okay.”
While many of the songs are tranquil, Mangan is singing about really heavy topics—like time, death, fear—that he continues to reflect on every day. But his attitude has changed and he has taken a more mature approach. He’s only 35, but this is all part of growing older.
It’s all summed up in the song “Peaks & Valleys” with the verse:
“So is it simple? Being older?
We’ve got all these kids upon our shoulders
See, I just get softer, the world gets colder …”
“That’s totally how I feel,” Mangan laughs. “I feel that as I get older I get more and more mushball and the world just seems to get more and more fucked up.”
And rather than screaming about that in a coarse, punk-rock register like he did in his previous albums Club Meds and Oh Fortune, Mangan sings it in a placid tone, almost like in a conversation between two old friends.
“I think my lyrics are less veiled now,” he says. “Like in the song ‘Peaks & Valleys’ when I sing ‘Hey, Steven’ I’m talking about someone I know in real life named Steven. I wanted less room for interpretation. In the past it was like I’m gonna spew out a bunch of words and whether or not you get what these words mean, it doesn’t really matter because that wasn’t my intention.”
Although, when he sings older songs live that are a little more frenetic, Mangan has to admit it feels really good.
“When we get going on a song like ‘Mouthpiece’ or ‘Post War Blues,’ I’m not gonna lie, it feels really good to yell and scream,” Mangan says. “It’s not like I don’t have any piss and vinegar in me left. There’s still plenty of that. But it’s cool ‘cause I’m on my fifth record so there’s enough of a catalogue that we can kind of create an arch [in the live show] that involves the tenseness, the softness, and everything in between.”
Mangan’s use of metaphor has always set him apart from other artists and on More or Less, his ability to communicate his feelings through song has definitely sharpened.
“Why do we keep repeating history and not learning anything? When we see a car accident we have to slow down; we have to look. We need to. There’s this constant state of outrage on the internet. Like, we just thrive on this insatiable feeling. It’s like a sore in your mouth and you want to keep tonguing it cause it feels bad but also feels kind of good … So I’ll try and describe that feeling in a song without using those exact words,” he says of his process.
His latest musical offering is also a haunting cover of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” for the brand new CBC Television show Unspeakable. The show chronicles the infamous “Tainted Blood Scandal,” a very dark period in Canadian history that resulted in thousands of people being infected with contaminated blood during the rise of HIV in the 1980s.
“Once they told me the premise of the show … and Robert C. Cooper [the show runner], he has a big personal connection with the story—which is that he is a hemophiliac and by some luck and action that his parents took in the ‘80s, he narrowly avoided contracting HIV—it was very clear to me that this was going to be an interesting project and it just kind of fell into place and you know, isn’t that kind of the way life happens?” Mangan says.
The singer-songwriter is also ecstatic for the full-platform launch on an app he co-founded called Side Door. The app is aimed at making the process of booking any kind of artistic show easier for both the host and performer.
“Any space is a venue if there’s a motivated host,” Mangan says. “So hosts and artists—and that can be comedians, musicians, artists, filmmakers, or anything—sign up and it kind of matches you, not unlike Tinder. You kind of say ‘I like you and you like me’ and you kind of put on a show. People have been doing underground shows forever and all we’re doing is making this whole process super simple.”
The app is still a few weeks away from a full launch, but hosts and artists can sign up and start using it right now. Currently, Mangan says there are upwards of “300 hosts and 800 artists” in North America.
From an artist perspective, much of the overhead costs (i.e.promoters, agents, etc.) that are required to play a show are extinguished with Side Door.
“The artists make way more money. It’s a far more efficient model and part of this grand model we have that is a world where artists make a living,” Mangan says. “We’re focusing on North America right now, but we already have hosts in Europe. And there will be amazing micro gigs happening all over town and around the world.”
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