Dan Mangan spends about six months on the road every year.
He recently toured Europe.
He’s driven all the way to Texas, “going a little bit crazy, kind of out of my mind.”
The indie-folk musician should be recovering after spending five days in Dawson City for the music festival.
But he’s in Alberta for the Calgary Folk Music Festival.
Wherever he travels, home is always on the mind.
“You’re kind of constantly dealing with the idea of being homesick and missing the people that you love and constantly trying to arrange time zone differences,” said the Vancouver native.
When he wasn’t busy in Dawson playing solo or with Fred Penner, Mangan’s stomach growled for variety and his heart yearned for his girlfriend.
“I think the thing that I will most look forward to getting back to Vancouver, aside from my girlfriend, is the food,” said XM Verge Awards 2009 Artist of the Year.
He misses the fresh produce and diversity of foods from his hometown.
“Vancouver is sushi and Vietnamese and Indian food and Mexican food. You can find anything there. That’s the one thing that would drive me nuts about living up North, I think, is the food.”
But he wasn’t complaining about the food he was treated to this weekend.
The festival’s performers were well fed in the hospitality tent with butternut squash lasagna, late-night sushi, pork tenderloin and fresh banana bread.
“The food I’ve had up here has been quite good, but just the diversity of food is something that I get used to in the city. But it’s worth it.”
The conversation about missing Vancouver and its eclectic culinary collection came after Mangan participated in a workshop about being homesick in the century-old St. Paul’s Cathedral.
With a mellow voice and soft strums on his acoustic guitar, Mangan performed Pine for Cedars, the tale of his longing for Vancouver.
“And I do like the road, but I’d be better at home. I will pine for the oak streets and pine for the cedars and you,” he sang.
He joined Whitehorse musician Steve Slade, who performed L’Hiver Yukonnaise, written by Grade 6 students in Dawson. Mary-Beth Carty sang about her hometown of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, shedding tears before she performed.
Vancouver is on Mangan’s mind so often that his most recent album, Nice, Nice Very Nice, turned out to have many home-themed songs.
“My last record that I made, a lot of the songs tended to be either about Vancouver, or about not being in Vancouver. That was definitely a vein throughout the record and I think that’s kind of what naturally just happened. I had spent so much time away, so to kind of use that frame of mind and put that in the song was fairly natural.”
But even when he’s far from home, he won’t fuss. It’s the life he chose.
“As soon as I start complaining about touring, I have to slap myself and say, ‘All I ever wanted was to be able to come and play a music festival like this.’ So why would I complain about not spending enough time at home? A good life is a life with lots of travelling.”
But a better life would be one with planned travels, a skill he needs to work on, he said. That’s where he found the inspiration for his song Road Regrets.
“I think regrets for me are just poor planning, like, ‘Oh man, I should have thought that through before I went and did it.’”
Road Regrets is about not planning time away from the road, he said.
After nearly five months of straight touring last month, Mangan wore himself to exhaustion.
“I was in bed for three days in a crappy hotel in Charlottetown and it’s kinda like, ‘Oh this sucks.’ But maybe if I had taken better care of myself then maybe I wouldn’t have gotten sick.”
But even when he’s plagued with homesickness or the flu, the musician finds enjoyment in what he’s doing, especially at music festivals.
“Coming to these music festivals, it’s always where you have these memories of, ‘Oh yeah, so and so from that band, we had a crazy night.’ It always happens at these festivals it seems.”
Smaller festivals, like Dawson, are often the most fun because the musicians have time to socialize.
“It’s in these tiny little places that you meet all these great bands because you’re all forced to kind of exist in this tiny little zone. You’re forced to get along and make friends and meet new people.”
Meeting and performing with the musician he was raised on was one of Mangan’s festival highlights.
“When I told people I was doing a workshop with Fred Penner, how many jokes did I hear about crawling through a log?” he said. “But he’s amazing. The guy’s amazing. He’s exactly what you would want him to be. He’s really holistic and just a beautiful soul.”
Together they sung Penner’s Sandwiches song and Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi.
Although Mangan doesn’t find inspiration in lunch boxes like Penner does, “any subject can be a box for a songwriter,” he said. “You kind of get stuck in one mode.”
So he takes the advice he got from one of his friends, also a songwriter. His friend told him, as long as your life is compelling, your lyrics will resonate that.
“If your life becomes really boring and you kind of stop having interesting experiences, then you might run out of gas. But if you keep creating for yourself an interesting life to perch on, then you’re always going to have interesting things to think about and to write and create.”
This past year has been very rewarding and accelerated in terms of exposure and attention, he said.
“Already at this point I’ve had some opportunities that a lot of musicians would dream of doing so I just try to appreciate these cool things I’ve been able to do.”
But he realizes it could all disappear one day.
“I remember my mother said this thing to me a long time ago, ‘You know, if this thing ended tomorrow, if something happened and you couldn’t play guitar and you couldn’t sing, you’d have to be happy with what had happened and the things you had done.’ So I try to live true to that, I try to appreciate and be very ambitious for tomorrow and try to appreciate right now as well.”
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