West Coast folkster Dan Mangan is a fortunate guy. In his relatively short career, he’s toured the globe, made the Polaris Prize short list, become a Glastonbury regular and joined the Arts & Crafts roster. It’s no coincidence, then, that his latest creation (to be released September 27) is titled ‘Oh Fortune.’ But it ain’t all sunshine, and the album is a bit of a digression for the plaid-clad acoustic-guitar-toting crooner (you can listen to the lead single here.)
“I think it’s kind of ironic that the title of the album is ‘Oh Fortune,'” Mangan tells Spinner from his homebase of Vancouver between tour stops. “I actually think it’s lyrically a heavy or sad album. In the song ‘Oh Fortune’ it’s the perspective of somebody not saying, ‘Oh fortune, this is great,’ but ‘Oh fortune, won’t you come and visit me.'”
The inspiration for the album came, in part, by way of a woman named Gertrude Ederle from New York who, in 1926, swam across the English Channel. Not only was she the first woman to do it, she blew the previous time record, held by a man, out of the, uh, water. Mangan had read about Ederle and something about her story stuck with him.
“When she came back to New York, there was an incredibly huge ticker-tape parade for her, and for a moment’s time she was the biggest celebrity in the United States,” he explains.
“What a cool thing that in the 1920s a female athlete gets so famous for beating a male record. So I was kind of thinking about that and thinking about when everything goes on pause, you know, and you kind of pause your life and you focus your attention on something that is clearly a defining moment in your society. I was thinking that there’s a lot of people who turn off and tune out for most of their life and they’re kind of just waiting for those moments. They’re waiting for those moments of ‘oh fortune’ to just capture them, because that’s some of the most exciting time, whether it’s good news or bad news. It’s this momentous distraction where a whole society turns its attention just to one thing for a moment — that was the moment in mind surrounding the title ‘Oh Fortune.'”
One of those “momentous distractions” recently swept through Canada by the name of Will and Kate, dishing up a strange twist of luck that may have given Mangan a deeper understanding of the significance of happenstance. He shared the stage with the Royals on Canada Day in Ottawa and got the chance, along with the other musical guests, to shake their hands and exchange some dignified how-do-you-dos.
“[They were] very sweet, very easy going,” he says, admitting that it didn’t mean much to him until after the fact. “I hadn’t really placed a lot of weight into that aspect of Canada Day. Then afterwards watching the news, seeing all these people coming out in hoards, waiting for hours and hours and hours just to get a spot, let alone to meet them, kind of gave me an appreciation for stumbling right into it.”
Along with the pensive backstory, the music on the new record has taken a turn towards the heavier side as well. “It is heavier but it’s not standard rock fare either,” he says. “I think it’s a little more chaotic, a little noisier. I think it’s probably a deeper listen. I think it probably will take people a longer amount of time to get into it.”
This shift, Mangan says, may not be a logical progression but it’s the only one he could make. His previous album, ‘Nice, Nice, Very Nice,’ was very much a solo effort and he only picked up a band as he toured afterwards. Having a band this time around from the get-go is a big reason for the new sound, and so too, perhaps, is a bit of confidence.
“I kind of just went with my gut on a lot of decisions and kind of fluked out,” says Mangan of his last record. “I mean, nobody was expecting the response to that record that it got, including myself. The amount of opportunities we’ve had in the last few years is mind-blowing — nobody appreciates that more than me.
“I felt like if we kind of fluked out before, we might be able to fluke out again. I think what we’ve come up with is interesting. And I don’t know how people are going to respond to it yet but I’m very curious.”