Dan Mangan talks new music and his foray into tech

Dan Mangan, 35, took decades to get his head around his own talent, he says.
Dan Mangan, 35, took decades to get his head around his own talent, he says. Photo Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

He’s been lauded for years as a tremendous songwriter, but for as long a time, Canadian folk-rocker Dan Mangan’s attention was somewhere else.

“When I was younger, I really loved the idea of Kerouac and ‘On the Road,’ at the corner of a bar, being that folky troubadour dude,” the 35-year-old says. “And then I fell out of love with that, because I wanted to do something far more complicated and ‘cool,’ or something. … [But] I’m not cool. I’ve never felt cool. I’ve never been a part of the most fashionable side of the music industry. So why am I trying to win anyone’s attention in a world that I don’t even really understand the rules of, when I know I’ve written these great songs? Why don’t I just go out and deliver those songs in the most honest way possible? And of course, that yields the best results. Digging into what’s real and what’s true inside of you will always deliver the best results.”

We recently caught up with Mangan to talk about how his craft has changed since his last album, 2015’s “Club Meds,” and his foray into the tech world.

“Club Meds,” with its more aggressive production and sound, seems a world away from “More or Less,” your latest.

[“More or Less”] became a more intimate album, a more personal one, focused on my voice, the lyrics and the songs. “Club Meds” was such a crazy labor of love, a project that I had so much of my heart and sweat into, and I think that, with everything, there’s always a pendulum swing. Each record has its own personality, and I feel like having gone down the path of “Club Meds,” it sort of felt like the organic thing to do is to make something more personal. … With “More or Less,” I was wanting more tenderness, more kindness in the world. 

You’ve been writing beautiful songs for more than a decade, but you’ve said that it’s a more recent realization that you’re a good songwriter. What took you so long? 

When I was younger, I was really obsessed with getting a seat at the table of music, feeling like I had a sense of what musicians were like. I think that I honed some fairly good songwriting skills almost by mistake. This is not a disparaging thing about my past work: I went through some personal growth that made me reevaluate my identity, as a musician. What am I good at? Why do people come to my shows? Leaning into that, and saying that it’s because of the songs, the lyrics — I don’t even have that great a voice, but I can use it to communicate something …. If the intention is to connect on a wavelength and to make all of us feel like we’re a part of something together, that is far more powerful than being impressed by a song or being entertained by a concert. That epiphany was crucial.

You recently got into the tech world with Side Door, which matches people wanting to host concerts anywhere from living rooms to traditional venues with willing artists. What was the impetus for that?

There is a huge group of people who are frustrated with the ticket industry, with the way it all works, so we’re trying to create something that’s just transparent, friendly, easy and efficient. It’s a win-win-win; the artists tend to make more money, because there’s less overhead, [and] they have the ability to develop such a strong, grassroots following. The audience has something unique, seeing an artist play in such a unique space. And when you look at a host’s face at the end of a gig and they know they have curated this experience for their community, it’s pretty remarkable.

Dan Mangan performs at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Mercury Lounge, 217 E Houston St., mercuryeastpresents.com, $18

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