Dan Mangan is basking in a morning afterglow.
The night before, the Vancouver-based artist performed a sold-out show at the Danforth Music Hall as part of his current tour in support of his fifth studio album More or Less.
To say it went well would be something of an understatement.
“It was one of those nights where everybody who usually would be like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m going to try and make it,’ everybody was there — my team, my family — and the gig was one of the most fun shows I’ve had in my whole entire life,” Mangan says.
“It kind of felt a little bit transcendent, it was such a special experience.”
He laughs. “You’re catching me in a good moment. I’m riding high. In the ebb and flow of life I’m in flow moment.”
Helping, too, with his high is that it’s also coming days after word that More or Less earned the artist yet another Juno nomination. But a signal of where he is in his life and music is the designation of “Adult” in the Adult Alternative Album of the Year in which he finds himself. Adult as in mature as in … old?
“And I’m no longer a breakthrough artist or a new artist,” he says and laughs again.
“Yeah, of course I feel old, I just wrote an album about feeling old.”
That he did. A truly beautiful one.
It’s about being a father, being a husband, being a man. But most of all, More or Less is an unflinching, unapologetic monument to being in the moment, to slowing down, looking around and seeing the beauty in the small things, seeing the beauty in all things, and most of all seeing the beauty in being. It simply is.
“It’s like you’re taking words out of the producer Drew Brown’s mouth,” Mangan says of the famed L.A. producer and engineer, who has worked with such notable artists as Radiohead, Beck, Blonde Redhead and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
“He really had a vision — I have to give him so much credit on this — he had a vision for minimalism, he wanted every element of the album to be laden with taste, that there wouldn’t be too much in the way of the song. He wanted the core spirit of the song to be the most important thing and that nothing, no matter how cool something sounded, it need not distract from the main thing.
“We’d get a great bed track and I’d go, ‘Man I can’t wait to add 50 million things to this,’ and he’d sort of say, coyly, ‘Well, I think you’ll be lucky if you can convince me of two things to add to this.’”
The songwriter admits he was more than happy and more than ready to trust Brown, and so he “handed him the keys” to his quiet and humble songs about love and life. Letting the producer bring in other musicians to complement things such as Jason Falkner and Joey Waronker.
It proved a wise thing, as More or Less sounds as if Simon kicked out Garfunkel and replaced him with Father John Misty.
It’s stripped-down, yet so full of warmth and feel, so comfortable in content, direction and substance with what it is, with who Dan Mangan is now, more than 15 years into his career.
It’s his cardigan and slippers album, and he’s cool with that.
“I think I spent a lot of time in my twenties really preoccupied with this identity of being a musician and that consumed my soul,” he admits. “I was this travelling musician, I would go all over the world, and play music and I would dress how I thought musicians should dress. I was partaking in a game of what was cool or what was the thing to do,” he says.
“And somewhere along the way — I think that kids humble you. It’s like a freight train in the face of humility, because they don’t give a shit if you’re cool or not. That’s just not what they’re concerned about.
“There was an identity paradigm shift of, ‘OK, really the most important thing here is that I’m a good person,’ and you move down the hierarchy of, ‘I need to be a good dad, I need to be a good musician,’ but the very top of the pyramid is you just have to be a good person.”
He says that has translated into these live shows, with him wanting only to deliver something that’s “true, honest, beautiful, relevant” and in the moment, and audiences are responding like they never have — to both the older material and the new material about being older.
“I think there’s a deep connection between me feeling in my own skin and not trying to exude an identity,” he says of the reaction.
“I’ve stopped reading reviews, I don’t really care so much — obviously it would be nice to have lots of blogs writing about me or whatever, but I’m not concerned about tastemakers any more, all I really want is to be onstage and feel the way I felt last night in Toronto.
“That’s all I want, is to feel like I’m a good person, that there is goodness in the world, and that despite the absurd fucking joke of existence, the pros do outweigh the cons.”
(Photo courtesy Vanessa Heins.)
Dan Mangan performs Saturday, Jan. 9 at The Palace. The show is sold out.