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Photo by Norman Wong, courtesy of Arts+Crafts.

CITYFOLK: The Spontaneous Dan Mangan

By Josh Lemoine on September 12, 2016

To listen to Apt613’s interview with Dan Mangan, tune in to ‘Apt613 Live’ on CHUO 89.1fm on Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 6pm.

Like many Canadians, Dan Mangan holds a special place in his heart for The Tragically Hip. The singer-songwriter and foosball enthusiast (“I’m pretty good, I’m not going to say I could take down anyone, but I’ve got some skill.”) plays Ottawa’s CityFolk Festival with his band Blacksmith on September 17th. Apt613 interviewed the two-time JUNO Award-winning musician shortly after that already-legendary night.

“I watched it down at the CBC Toronto building, and afterwards, for the people who were streaming, I did a panel talking about the whole legacy of the Hip and the concert. They’re undoubtedly one of the most cherished bands, if not THE most cherished band, in Canadian history. They’re an amalgamation of art and thoughtfulness, intelligence, with something very guttural and visceral, and accessible and universal. They just sort of had a way about them. I grew up totally idolizing those guys. I knew many of their early records inside and out. In one sense it’s a total tragedy, because Gord’s only in his early 50’s, but who knows how long he’ll live. Maybe he’ll be with us for a while, who knows. At the end of it, people are choosing to make it a wake and not a funeral. There’s a sense of celebrating the Hip as opposed to mourning the loss.”

Mangan spoke about meeting a few of his Hip idols and not being let down by the experience.

“I’ve met Gord just one time, Rob Baker was with him. It was after one of their shows in Winnipeg. He was incredibly intelligent, kind, funny… Very funny… I don’t know him very well, I don’t know if he even knows of me or remembers that interaction, but he was everything that everybody says he is.”

Photo by Norman Wong, courtesy of Arts+Crafts.

Photo by Norman Wong, courtesy of Arts+Crafts.

Dan was born in northern B.C. and moved around a lot in his youth, but has lived in Vancouver for most of his life, and considers it his hometown. It was there that he first started making music.

“I started playing guitar as a kid, but I started writing music when I was 15 or 16, started a band in high school. We were terrible, but we played a bunch of gigs around the local community centres and played battle of the bands and stuff like that.”

As he got older and started making more music and booking more shows, Dan recalls needing a bit of a push from his former employer before committing to a music career full-time.

“I was lucky and worked at a restaurant where the managers were very supportive of me touring all the time, so they kind of let me come and go as I pleased. I’d play shows all around, then I’d come home for two or three shifts in between tours. Then there was a moment where I hadn’t worked a shift in about four or five months because I’d been too busy. The manager called me and said “I’m quitting for you.” At the time I was terrified to quit, because I was worried about not having enough money to pay rent or for food. They quit for me, and at that point it was sort of a now-or-never with my music.”

Three years ago, Dan and his wife had their first child, a son. He talked about how fatherhood affects the drive behind his music, as well as his creative process.

“I think it changes people as people. I feel like me as an artist is very tied to me as a person. I think it upped the stakes for sure in terms of feeling like I wanted to do something that had legs, that would be important and relevant for a long time. There’s pressure to the idea that, when he’s an adult he’ll have the opportunity to go back and listen to all the work that his dad did before he was born and when he was young. So you want it to be good. You don’t want it to be frivolous or just be music for the sake of making music.

“It just changes your life so much in terms of, you don’t have a lot of time, because every waking minute is dedicated to the household. You really have to make time to be creative, which is a new thing. Before that, I just did whatever I wanted all the time, and would write songs when I felt like it, or not write songs when I didn’t feel like it. Now I actually have to make time in my day to try to be creative, which is a different process for me, but it’s kind of the only way.”

If you’re a fan of Dan Mangan but have never seen him perform live, he says you can expect a bit of the unexpected on September 17th. While his club shows and festivals shows do tend to differ somewhat (“At a club show you might play 90 or more minutes, whereas it’s very rare at a festival to play that long. So on some level you do stick to the bangers.”), Dan says it’s living in the moment that drives him and his band.

“We thrive on a bit of spontaneity. I don’t like the idea of reciting music, I like the idea of playing it and trying to live it as if it’s the first time each time. So there’s certainly an element of spontaneity and some improvisation in the set. But it’s just interpreting the songs. You have these songs that are like your kids, you throw them up in the sky and say ‘here they are’ and try to live them.”

Lastly, we asked Dan what one artist or band he would perform with if given the choice.

“It’s been a lifelong dream to play with Radiohead. They’re innovators and creative. They’ve approached their careers with integrity. I have a lot of admiration for that band. I’d love to share a stage with that band, that would be a real dream come true.”

Listen to the full interview here:

Dan Mangan performs at CityFolk Festival on Saturday, September 17th from 4:30-5:30 on the City Stage. Tickets are available online.

For more on Dan Mangan, visit his website or find him on Facebook or Twitter.