Growing up and learning to love music in the early ’90s meant Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Nirvana was being pumped out of every radio station on the West Coast, and even though a young Dan Mangan had grown up with his parents record collection it was the grunge scene that taught Mangan to play the guitar.
Being mostly self taught with some guidance from those around him who knew more, Mangan went about learning as many Pearl Jam and Nirvana songs as he could.
“My parents had me in piano lessons from age five or so,” he said. “We all stuck with it for varying amounts of time and basically as soon as I found the guitar at about age 10 I stopped playing piano.”
As the youngest of three kids, Mangan learned a lot from his older siblings.
At six years old, his older sister took Mangan on an hour and a half long journey from where their family was living outside of Toronto into the city for a Christmas concert with Sarah Maclachlan.
“It was just exciting to see anything,” he said about the experience. “I was just a sponge for anything I could soak up.”
As Mangan got older, his love for music continued and expanded. In high school he and his friends formed a band called Basement Suites who played small shows at community centres around Vancouver.
“I mean it was totally crucial now that I look back, but we were really horrible,” he said. “We were pretty embarrassingly bad but it was so necessary to have that experience. It just seemed like the thing to do but as soon as high school was over everyone went off and did other things but I was the only one in the group who wanted to keep going with music.”
Despite his urges to avoid university and continue creating and learning music, Mangan’s parents offered to pay for his post-secondary experience and reminded him he’d “be an idiot” not to take advantage of the opportunity.
Throughout university Mangan continued playing open mic nights, coffee shops and any venue he could share his music.
“I was writing songs and playing them for my friends,” he said. “Eventually I gathered the muster to get real gigs and real recordings.”
Like countless other musicians, Mangan has experienced the bad gigs, but he said it is hard to pick the worst.
“The best gigs are where you feel a heightened sense of connection with the audience and the crappy gigs are where you feel like it’s hard to connect with the band and the crowd doesn’t care,” he said.
After performing around Vancouver at various bars, coffee shops and events, Mangan recorded his first EP, All at Once.
With the help of his mom’s friend who is an established guitar player in Vancouver, the pair recorded a demo of acoustic songs Mangan had put together.
Looking back on the experience, he said he realizes how little he knew and understood about the process.
“At the time I was just kind of clamouring,” he said. “I didn’t really know what I was doing but I was trying really hard to learn and make it good. It wasn’t good but you have to walk through the sludge to get to the grass.”
In 2005, he released his first full length album Postcards and Daydreaming.
For four years, Mangan toured with the album, released independently, he sold it at live shows and through touring met various other Canadian musicians on the way.
When Mangan decided to release Nice, Nice, Very Nice, he called upon the friends – like Hannah Georgas, members of Said the Whale, Major Maker and Elliott Brood – to help him create the album.
“I just invited a lot of them to be part of that album,” he said. “When it came out it made bigger waves than anyone had anticipated. It opened doors for me to start touring with a band and start doing more international touring.”
With Nice, Nice, Very Nice, Mangan was short listed for the 2010 Polaris Music Prize, iTunes Album of the Year for the singer/songwriter category, won three Western Canadian Music Awards and “Robots” was named Best Song by CBC Radio 3’s Bucky Awards.
With the acclaimed release under his belt, Mangan went from being a singer/songwriter on stage with his guitar playing acoustic sets, to sharing the stage with his band.
“It’s kind of the natural process of everything,” he said. “I can legitimately say I have a job and a career in music, and that stems from a deep love of doing it. Fortunately so far it has kept the rent paid as a byproduct.”
The acclaim of Nice, Nice, Very Nice also came with the recognition from the music industry and music writers.
Reviews and accolades became more of a reality for Mangan and he acknowledge how the boost could change how he made music.
“The important thing is where I’ve seen some bands get a few boosts and accolades and immediately they get a sense of entitlement and a sense that they know what’s going on,” he said. “My greatest assets an assumption that I still know very little at all times and that’s allowed me to keep growing rather than to stay sedentary.”
Mangan continued to grow and in 2011 released his third full length album Oh Fortune.
Like with Nice, Nice, Very Nice, Oh Fortune was met with critical acclaim and eventually awards came pouring in.
At this year’s Juno’s he was named New Artist of the Year and Oh Fortune was named Alternative Album of the year.
He also received Juno nominations Songwriter of the Year and Video of the Year.
The album was long-listed for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize and received three Western Canadian Music Awards.
“On a practical level things like reviews, especially positive reviews or awards, any kind of accolade on helps people get to know your music,” he said. “People who don’t know it might hear it which is fantastic when it comes to the business side of things. On the creative side of things it must stay – at least in my world – separate.”
Mangan said he really appreciates more people may hear his music because of the Junos, but if he started to write music that he thought was Juno winning, he would be lost.
Mangan plays a sold out show at The Royal on November 7 with Rural Alberta Advantage and The Abrams Brothers.
CBC’s Radio West will also be broadcasting live from The Royal on November 7 between 4 and 6 p.m. The show will feature news, stories, and interviews with various Nelsonites, Dan Mangan and The Rural Alberta Advantage. If you want to be part of this even come down early and get your name on the list. You must be at the Royal in person from 6 to 8 p.m. to reserve your spot. There is no cover charge for the CBC event.