Dan in real lifeBy Andrea Warner
Dan Mangan knows plenty of people were blindsided by the critical acclaim and popularity of his second album, 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice. Suddenly, the 27-year-old Vancouver singer-songwriter was virtually inescapable, on radio and in print. But in reality, Mangan’s been toiling at his craft for 10 years — essentially, this city’s version of an overnight success story.
“I can see that to someone just hearing my name, [my success] would seem very sudden,” Mangan says with a laugh, over the phone from his Kitsilano home. “But it’s the same with anything. By the time there’s a really hip, successful restaurant that everyone knows about, it’s been there for six years, or by the time you’re a really great plumber with tons of referrals... you’ve been at it for six to eight years.”
Mangan’s comparisons are perfectly in keeping with his reputation for being confident yet humble, with a good-natured streak of self-deprecation. These qualities have also helped shape his sound and his storyteller lyrics, though Mangan admits that developing his own musical identity was a lengthy process. “It took me a long time to really figure out what my voice was and feel like myself inside of the songwriting and performing,” he says. “I think for the first number of years anyone is a musician, they just emulate their heroes... I feel like I wrote 100 terrible songs before I wrote anything that was worth keeping around.”
Following the break-up of his high school band, Mangan played around town for a few years before deciding the solo route was his best option. He laughingly refers to the experience of recording his 2003 demos as “a humbling process,” after which he embarked on six to eight months of touring, every year for almost five years. Often it was just him, his train pass, a guitar, and his luggage. “I did tours through Europe, the States, across Canada, even Australia — and, you know, just barely scraping by, going further and further into debt,” he says. “But I always had this blind optimism, this naive confidence that if I kept going, the ball would start rolling downhill as opposed to being pushed uphill.”
Mangan’s first glimpse of success was breaking even on his debut album, Postcards & Daydreaming. He then decided to go for broke, extending his line of credit to record Nice, Nice, Very Nice. The result? A string of sold-out dates, an extended tour, awards, and a coveted spot on the Polaris Prize shortlist. And after years of struggling alone, he’s now signed to Arts & Crafts, longtime home to Broken Social Scene, Feist, Stars, and other indie-rock giants. It’s a move that means he can continue to stay true to his roots.
“I grappled with the idea of moving to Toronto for ages and ages, and always thought that eventually I’d have to,” Mangan admits. “I know tons of musicians who have all, one by one, moved to Toronto or Montreal... [Signing] to Arts & Crafts, which is based in Toronto, was a big sigh of relief, like, ‘Okay, I don’t need to go anywhere.’ They’re on the ground fighting for me in Toronto, so I can just relax in my temperate, beautiful, lovely city that I adore to no end.”
The affection is mutual. Hometown support has helped Mangan from open-mic nights to this week’s two sold-out shows at the Vogue, and his long-held dream of performing at the Orpheum is poised to become reality. And, come December, he’s set to begin recording his third album. According to Mangan, moments like these feel simultaneously earned, phenomenal, and bewildering — just how Vancouver likes its “overnight” success stories.
Dan Mangan performs Nov. 11 & 13 at Vogue Theatre (918 Granville), 8pm. Sold out.