Their Library: Dan Mangan

Literary influences explored...

In his native Canada, Dan Mangan is already a celebrated songwriter.

An analytic eye, combined with soothing acoustic textures have brought Dan Mangan across the board acclaim. Nominated for the Polaris Prize – Canada’s equivalent of the Mercury – the songwriter is now beginning to charm European audiences.

New album ‘Oh Fortune’ could be the tipping point. Dan Mangan’s second UK release in under 12 months, it finds the Canadian artist striking while the iron is hot.

Asking the songwriter about his literary influences, ClashMusic asked Dan Mangan to enter Their Library. Sending across a few questions as a guideline, what was received was an in-depth introduction to his output.

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The biggest tragedy of me touring all the time is that I get carsick if I read in the van (or vansick?). Some of the guys in my band car tear through books on tour, and I’m stuck trying to find a decent position to pretend to sleep in. I used to read all the time, and now it seems like a luxurious thing to do in my spare time – selfish, almost. Like watching a movie when I should be attending to interviews (*ahem*) or playing music. That being said, I keep going back to literary references, both in my music and otherwise. I respect books a lot. I want people, especially kids, to read lots of books.

I’m incredibly impressed by Kurt Vonnegut and George Orwell. I know that a lot of people like them. And for good reason. They both have this way of pinning humanity in short jabs, meanwhile not placing themselves above the masses. They understand all too well how they’re also culprit to all the crap they’re shedding light on, which makes it even more enlightening. Reflexive intellect. They undress the proverbial emperor, down to his ugly birthmark and weird-looking genitalia. And all the while, you imagine that they would love most passionately, fight most tenaciously, give most generously and live most humbly.

There are moments when Sacha Baron Cohen manages this. In between the gratuitous shock-factor gags are these moments of reflecting back at us the worst parts of our societal personality. We laugh because we recognize it in us, then we realize how absurd we are – not for laughing, but for being so transparent in our foibles. The danger is that some people won’t get it – they’ll think it’s just funny to make fun of people from countries we can’t pronounce the name of. But those people are idiots. A good artist forces us to look at the ugly in us, so that we understand it and know that it exists, and so that we may attempt to stray from it and be good to each other in spite of it.

I remember the first time I read Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. My teenaged mind was blown. There are so many layers to Vonnegut’s introspection, you imagine some of it must be accidental. I had the same response to 1984. How could anybody possibly have the wherewithal to create such a masterpiece? The same intense response can happen with music, but music is based on impulse. A good “take” in the studio is result of the honesty in that moment and where it sends us sonically and emotionally. When it comes to novels, there is so much deliberation in the words, and I can’t imagine ever being smart enough to write a decent one. Perhaps that’s why I respect books so much.

I appreciate questions. Especially when they’re not necessarily posed as questions. I studied literature in university, and took a lot of different types of courses. It wasn’t until the third year of school that I realized that it wasn’t about learning facts or quotable phrases or gaining skills to get a job. Being a student in the truest sense is about learning to ask questions and understanding that there are many ways to perceive anything and everything.

I get so much inspiration from books because they cause me to look outside of myself, my surroundings, my environment, my perception, and attempt to understand the world from another perspective – to question my motives, my understandings, my biases. I also like reading my thoughts exactly, but articulated by somebody else better than I’d be able to. That’s fun. The moment where you have to put a book down because it’s filling your head with so many thoughts and ideas and all you want to do is talk about it with somebody. I guess that’s why they have “book clubs”.

I want goosebumps as many times as possible before I die. Books help me get there. So does music. Books and music go together well. I want everyone to do awesome things and then die gracefully without regrets. Maybe I read that in a book once.

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Dan Mangan is set to release ‘Oh Fortune’ on Monday (December 5th). The Canadian artist has also confirmed the following show:

8 London Cargo (End Of The Road Christmas Party)

Click here to buy tickets for Dan Mangan!

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