For Dan Mangan, the times are a-changin’.
That phrase sums up the Vancouver-based folkie’s worldview. From lyrics to performances to on-tour daydreams about his home city, Mangan is constantly focused on change.
On his latest album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice, songs like Tina’s Glorious Comeback reference the small differences that Mangan notices each time he returns home. The city’s development is increasing in scope and speed as the 2010 Olympics draw near, and as Mangan points out, some things get lost. And for someone who’s spent the last four years on the road, it is often these losses that stand out.
“With the Olympics coming to Vancouver, the city is changing a lot. I’m not anti-Olympics, and not pro (Olympics) — I’m just observing how it’s changing,” he said. “The line ‘We’re not us anymore’ is really about Vancouver … I love Vancouver, but I have a bit of nostalgia from when I was younger.”
Mangan points to Ron Sexsmith for inspiration, especially his observation that the goal of writing should be to find a unique take on an old theme. Following the adage to “write what you know,” Mangan’s favourite books and songs focus on revealing universal truths through slices of human nature. This detail-oriented approach is heard in songs that reference local diners, gas-station coffee and the awkwardness of budding scenester love.
“I really like people who think small — who can take these complex human paradigms and sum them up in lines that make you smile,” he said. “Jeff Tweedy from Wilco is great at that. Vonnegut too. He really puts humour into it, and can turn a phrase on its head so it leaves you with a smirk.”
Mangan, who recently claimed XM Verge Award’s Artist of the Year, is similarly focused on change when performing. For his upcoming tour, he’s shuffled the band, bringing in new instruments (an upright bass, trumpet, violin, and wooden percussion sticks) and new musicians. While the melody, chords and lyrics stay the same, he hopes the new dynamic will shift the feel and sound of the songs.
“My M.O from day one (has been) to surround myself with people that I think are better than me. It’s like snowboarding — you go with someone good, so that you get better,” he said. “A record is fixed, it’s like a snapshot of that moment of recording, but the songs on it are living and aging, and change in various ways … That really intrigues me.”