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Musician Dan Mangan gets all despairing

“WHAT IS THIS sorrow?” sings Dan Mangan on the closing track of his third full-length release, Oh Fortune. It’s a question that winds its way through the entirety of Mangan’s album, an exquisite testament to his lyrical honesty, forthright delivery, and a soaring instrumental accompaniment.

“In a grandiose way, the record has to do with time and fate and the magnificence of living,” says Mangan.

“[It’s] a celebration of a momentous occasion; it’s an acceptance that things are complicated; and a respect for how time affects the way we perceive each other.”

For the new album, Mangan traded the acoustic, indie-folk sounds of the Polaris shortlisted album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice, for themes of death and isolation.

“It might not catch people as quickly as some of the songs on the last albums, but I hope that it hits deeper, given time,” he says.

With lyrics like, “Oh and death does walk you home” and “If this is all too much / you know death and such / what’s the rush?” it would seem that the album comes across as desolate and depressing, but the release is optimistic and a celebration and victory of life.

“There’s a lot of death in the world,” explains Mangan. “Understanding that helps me feel great about living. [Finality] is a pretty good kick in the ass to go out and do all the things you want to do.”

Lyrically, the inspiration for this record came from the long stretches on the road only occasionally peppered by isolated people, which is a characteristic of the long drives between shows. He attempts to portray a life that was stuck in the middle of nowhere, without no way out.

“This record focuses on lives that are totally different that mine,” he adds.

Despite its dark overtones, Oh Fortune is more percussive and upbeat than Mangan’s previous album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice. This much is evident throughout the record, but most obvious on the first single, “Post-war Blues”, a track that touches on post-traumatic stress disorder, notions of abject vulnerability, and ill-conceived war. Still, the song—and the record—manages to retain a resounding sense of triumph.

Mangan, who was backed by a band for the production of Oh Fortune, believes that the addition of the band helped to push the limits of his earlier efforts, as many of the group’s members came from more experimental groups. The new release can be deemed largely a collaborative effort, and Mangan notes that the approach was simple.

“[We wanted to] get into the studio and make the coolest record we [could],” he says.

While playing solo, it’s easy to have the power to be spontaneous. Mangan believes, “With a full band, it’s a matter of bringing that spontaneity and power with the live show.”

For an artist whose notoriety has exploded in recent years, Mangan finds the motivation for the live show similar, regardless of the size of the room.

“It’s important to live the songs every time you play them, not just recite them. [We] talk a lot in the [band] about honesty and sincerely representing whatever is going on through the music,” he says.

All the fame Mangan has experienced hasn’t gone to his head. The Vancouver-based musician remains as humble as ever.

“I still find it amazing that people would give you their night, so it’s important to just give a 1,000 per cent every night, every show.”

Dan Mangan plays at the Bronson Centre on Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. For more information, visit

—Jessie Willms