This time, Dan Mangan will be stopping in Revelstoke for more than just lunch.
For the first time in his career, the Juno award-winning musician and songwriter will be performing here as part of a tour of small cities and towns in the west.
It’s been a long time since Mangan has performed solo, and it feels like he’s returning to his roots.
“It’s like I’m proving I can still do it,” he told me over the phone from Vancouver. The musician had taken the last two years off after a protracted seven-year stretch on the road with his bandmates.
And it was while taking this step back and getting some fresh air that the musicians regrouped and renamed themselves “Dan Mangan + Blacksmith.”
“It’s sort of a new era. The name Blacksmith is very symbolic,” Mangan said. “The name would have come earlier, if we’d had our wits about us.”
Although the song crafter and his band had been recording and touring as “Dan Mangan” full stop, their latest album Club Meds clearly required something more.
“It was kind of disingenuous, it felt more and more like a band, it was more collaborative. Before, I’d show my ideas and the band would expand on it. But this time, I’d just come in with a rough idea and we’d go from there,” revealed the eponymous musician.
So he told his co-musicians, “the name can’t come from me. You have to think of it, and I have to like it.” And lo, Blacksmith was born as a text from bandmate Kenton Loewen in the small hours one morning.
“It made so much sense in so many ways,” remarked Mangan. “The dark toiling, the type of musicians these guys are: they’re lifelong musicians. They’ve done the proverbial 10,000 hours and then some…It’s like practising an old-school trade your whole life, that’s the kind of musicians they are. And it’s the romance to forge things, the meeting point of craftsmanship and art.”
So with hammer and tongs, Dan Mangan + Blacksmith have forged their latest, Club Meds. And although the album does represent the beginning of some new elements for Mangan and his band, in some ways it’s clearly a continuation of other things.
“Well, I’ve been an opinionated and political person my entire life, but I think it took all this time to put those politics into music in a subtle way.” But Mangan is not interested in bellowing from a soapbox. The songwriter says he now feels more confident that he can express himself the way he would like.
“It’s about asking the right questions,” he told me, “and for people to come up with their own answers to those questions.”
And what did he make of the recent election?
“I’m very pleased with the outcome of the election. I wasn’t a huge Trudeau supporter before, but I have to say I’m wonderfully pleased with how things have gone,” Mangan admitted. “He seems to be plotting a course full of radical-ish ideas. It’s great. The country was ready for a change.
“All my voting life, I’ve had these shadowy, dark, cynical feelings. For 10 years, it’s been like we’ve been having the wind knocked out of us. I’m very impressed with how human Trudeau is. I mean, he’s a politician who hugs people.”
And humanness is a consistent theme in Mangan’s work, humanity versus the automated, the robotic, the corporate, the inhumane. Club Meds juxtaposes the “imperfect human sounds versus the electronic,” as characterized by the musician. After the recording of the bed tracks, there were months of “intense meddling” with MIDI sounds which added layers of complexity.
“Even though it’s very calculated, it still breathes in a very human way,” said Mangan.
Ensuring that humans, or more importantly, their humanity, is what wins out appears to be a major preoccupation for the songwriter. The recent album is about sedation in its various forms, what the liner notes refer to as the “great vacation” from reality. So, what’s the alternative to joining “Club Meds?”
“The alternative is to be awake, alive and connected. But the extremes of both ends are dangerous,” said Mangan, “It’s a balance between having your head in the clouds and having your head in the sand.”
You’ll find Dan Mangan with his guitar at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre on Nov. 27 at 7:30 p.m.