Drake, Feist, City and Colour, Hedley, Nickelback -- and Dan Mangan.
Letâs just say one of these things is not like the other. Mangan isnât besties with Lil Wayne or the Muppets. He doesnât budget for pyro walls when he goes on tour. He never competed on Canadian Idol. But the Vancouver singer-songwriter has at least one thing in common with all those other names: Mangan has four Juno nominations going into this weekendâs event, and with the aforementioned company excepted, that puts him up for more categories than any other contender. Still, the 28-year-old is the only one whoâs a first-time Juno nominee, and so, included in his haul of nods (for Songwriter of the Year, Alternative Album of the Year and Video of the Year), heâs also up for Best New Artist.
âItâs pretty wild,â says Mangan from Vancouver, days after returning from his fifth SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. âIâve got the same amount of nominations as Justin Bieber.â (Actually, The Biebz only has two, but who's counting?)
âItâs kind of a level of mainstream -- notoriety, I guess, is the word -- that Iâve never really experienced before,â explains Mangan, who released his third album, Oh Fortune, last fall. He shudders -- then chuckles -- at the notion of suddenly being dogged by ET Canada, eTalk, or whatever infotainment programs trail Can-Con celebrities.
Still, since the nominations announcement in February, Manganâs Juno story has had some traction. In early March, for instance, there was some noise from Manganâs label, Arts & Crafts, when the musician wasnât given a performance slot at this yearâs broadcast, despite his top contender status. (âDan Mangan hasn't been asked to perform on the show, and you know, that's frustrating to us,â A&C president Jeffrey Remedios told Canadian Press, going on to question the Juno organizersâ decision making.) For his part, Manganâs cool with it. He wonât perform, but heâll present during the April 1 telecast, in addition to playing the non-televised awards March 31 and hosting the Juno Songwritersâ Circle the afternoon before the big show. âPersonally, Iâm not as frustrated as they are,â Mangan says of his friends at A&C, âjust cause Iâm a little flabbergasted at getting nominated in the first place.â
Flabbergasted. Thereâs a good word. Because for every time Mangan says heâs âexcitedâ about the Junos, heâll temper his statement with something about how profoundly weird this all is.
âI donât want to be unappreciative,â he says, âItâs a whole new thing, and itâs really cool, but itâs,â he sighs, âjust strange. Itâs being honoured by something you never expected to get honoured by. â¦ People who wouldnât normally pay attention to the indie, Canadian music scene are all of a sudden talking about you.â
But oh, what fortune.
Whatever your take on the Junos, itâs a national audience. (Last yearâs broadcast, for instance, was viewed by 6.5 million people.) Manganâs not entirely unknown to Canadian music fans -- heâs a 2009 Verge Awards artist of the year winner, a 2010 Polaris Shortlist nominee, the gravel-voiced dude behind âRobotsâ (CBC Radio 3âs 2009 Bucky Award winner for song of the year and your favourite tune about cutesy automatons). But as many a nominee will tell you, the Junos is the one Canadian music event that even your grandma will see, and what luck Manganâs found that spotlight while equipped with Oh Fortune.
The record marks, quite simply, a growth spurt -- even if Mangan has been bearded, six foot something, and baritone-voiced for some time now. While 2009âs fan-beloved Nice Nice Very Nice was largely a record in the guy-with-a-guitar aesthetic -- its forcefulness of sound frequently reliant on how hard and/or fast Mangan could strum a guitar -- the Mangan on Oh Fortune is now making noise with the luxury of a full band. From the opening track, âAbout As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At Allâ -- which is among the compositions being recognized under Manganâs Songwriter of the Year nomination -- the album flutters awake with the sound of an orchestra. That isnât to say this is an album of nothing but chamber-pop -- because it isnât -- but thereâs an attention to gut-grabbing arrangements on Oh Fortune that was missing in the simplicity and foot-stomping of Nice Nice Very Nice.
Around the time of Oh Fortuneâs release, Mangan would often mention -- in interviews and on-stage banter -- how the album marked an evolution from his âguy with a guitarâ persona.
âYeah, yeah, certainly,â Mangan confirms. âItâs been a really natural process and it feels like itâs been happening at the right rate of speed. I really honoured that time in my life, of being an acoustic troubadour, singer-songwriter bloke kind of thing. It was very important to my kind of education on the road. I spent a lot of time travellng alone, and it taught me a lot about, you know, how to be a travelling musician. But since I kind of started collecting players in a band Iâve just been wandering further from that.â
Manganâs band includes Gord Grdina (guitar), Kenton Loewen (drums) and, depending on the circumstances, John Walsh or Colin Cowan on bass. âThe guys are just incredible musicians,â says Mangan. âVancouverâs got such a vibrant kind of outside thinking experimental jazz scene, so the players are largely from that community.â (Grdina and Loewen, for instance, also perform together in jazz group the Gord Grdina Trio.)
âItâs a community that thrives on improvisation and thrives on just spontaneous performance. And I love it. Iâve learned so much from playing with these guys,â he says, crediting much of Oh Fortuneâs next-level sound to their involvement. (Well, that and exhaustive practice. Mangan played more than 200 shows last year. âYou know, you spend every part of your life trying to get better at something and you get better at it,â he says. âAnd once the band kind of came around, it was like, âWhatâs next?ââ)
âProbably at first, when some of these guys were in my band, musically the things that were going on was probably not the most exciting thing for them. But they enjoyed it because maybe it was just a good experience overall -- it was sort of a good scene, or a good hang or something like that,â says Mangan, recalling the time around Nice Nice Very Niceâs 2009 release. âThen slowly, the music I was writing became more interesting to them, and at the point that that happened they all dug in and doubled down on their investment into this project. So you have these people who started as you know, just session players, just guys I knew could play, and I asked them to play and they did it. And then as we progressed and as more tours started unfolding, all of a sudden they were getting really invested in it, and they were really taking some ownership of the project.â
Mangan knows the results didnât go unnoticed. âI think people came at Oh Fortune saying it was super weird for Dan Mangan, which was great, because Iâm not interested in making the same record over and over again,â he says.
âIt doesnât seem weird to me that I would start as a guy with a guitar and then not want to do that anymore. It doesnât seem like a stretch,â he says. âIt just seems like a guy whoâs working out exactly what he wants to say and how he wants to say it.
âI feel like every record has gotten progressively weirder and thereâs no -- thereâs no expectation that that will cease.â
Dan Mangan is nominated for Best New Artist, Songwriter of the Year, Alternative Album of the Year and Video of the Year. The 2012 Juno Awards are broadcast live from Ottawa, Sunday, April 1 on CTV.