A lot's changed since the last time Dan Mangan rolled through Halifax. In October 2009, the gravelly-voiced singer was still pretty obscure. His sophomore album Nice, Nice, Very Nice had dropped only three months prior. And the fact that he came all the way from Vancouver for the Halifax Pop Explosion and sold out The Company House to a sardined crowd who knew the words to his songs was definitely a forerunner.
Now Mangan doesn't work a job on the side anymore. He's toured his acclaimed record around the world, been shortlisted for a Polaris Prize, played The Fillmore and rocked out at Glastonbury.
"I'm the envy of my previous self," he says on the phone from Vancouver where he's been, with the exception of scattered shows, since the end of January. Sleeping in his own bed for a stint this lengthy is rare for Mangan, who admittedly isn't one to turn down opportunities, hence why his life's been on the road since the release of Nice, Nice, Very Nice.
But thanks to this pause, he's just finished up his new album. And though its release isn't slated until September, it's all he's thinking about.
With an overflow of material to work with, and stronger relationships with his bandmates, Mangan will take step outside the box with this one, demonstrating his growth as an artist.
"I spent so much time on the road with the same crew of characters," he says, praising his bandmates Kenton Loewen, Gord Grdina, Colin Cowan and John Walsh for their enthusiasm and energy. "Those guys are just closer to me personally and also musically. They are just such fabulous players it's been such a thrill to seek their creative input and see what comes of it."
Months of touring Nice, Nice, Very Nice and the luxury of more time in the studio made for a much more collaborative effort. And Mangan says his music's sounding more like that of a band, rather than a singer-songwriter.
"I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's a different thing, which is indicative of some kind of change or revolution---so that's good," he says.
Mangan's folk-rock got an injection of brass, strings and woodwinds thanks to the help of arranger Eyvind Kang and the insight of heavy jazz players like Grdina, resulting in a bigger, textural sound.
"It's a really noisy record with a lot of different layers of fuzz and strange, weird creaks and noises," he says---a collection of fictional stories of loss and isolation. "I feel like since I've started making music I've been kind of on a path of slowly getting more weird...
"I think that I'm continually seeking to outdo myself and that process often portrays itself as kind of getting deeper into the cataclysm of self exploration."
While the forthcoming release will be a departure from his past two, Mangan's endearing truths, both lyrically and otherwise, will no doubt remain unmistakable.
"There are moments on the record that a lot of other bands would have cleaned up or re-recorded, but before we could let ourselves do that we found some moments in it of beautiful imperfection," he says. "There's flubbed guitar notes all over it and it's not a perfect- sounding record, it's as flawed as the humanity that it's describing, I guess."