Dan Mangan’s fourth LP Club Meds comes out today and the band (now monikered Dan Mangan + Blacksmith) isn’t playing it safe. The latest record is full of complex song arrangements, prog-y synths, and is tinged throughout with harsh socio-political critique (Club Meds is a tongue-in-cheek reference to self-medication). We caught up with Dan and the band in September when the band headlined the Indie88 Birthday Party and also performed an Indie88 Hidden Studio Session (coming soon).
We asked Dan about the new record, playing live, frustrations, and inspirations.
INDIE88: Club Meds has been a long time in the making. Was that something you consciously set out to do, to spend longer in the studio or was that circumstances?
DM: We had hustled for a long time and were playing 150, sometimes 200 shows a year for many years and there came a point that we were kind of burnt out a bit and our album cycle, Oh Fortune, was coming to a close. I had a kid on the way, these guys all play in a bunch of other bands that had kind of been back-burnering for a while so we needed some time.
They could focus on other projects, I had a kid, worked on a film score, and when we had reconvened it had been a proper year since we had played music together. And I think that that year was really important, not even to cool out from all the hard touring we had done but to sort of come back with a new energy and a new sort of essence of what the band was. The moniker changed to Dan Mangan and Blacksmith because it was clear to me that this was an ensemble, it’s a project this record and it just made sense. It’s weird to just have Dan Mangan on the marquee when it’s obviously a band, that just didn’t make sense to me.
INDIE88: Vessel definitely sounds like you guys but it has a different song structure and sound compared to the past records. Was that something that just came out in the studio or did you try and do something different this time?
DM: I demoed a lot of these tunes on my own and the restriction of not having these guys around when I was demoing meant that I had to use all these different access points of sound for the demos. And it was cool because on some level those demos lived through the album but in many ways they were totally thrown out. We came at the songs saying “what are we gonna do with them now that the song feels like a song?”
In that process, my perspective on song writing was less about intimate, folky, singer-song writer stuff which is totally where I came from. I still have a love for that genre when it’s done really well but I felt like I had done that for a long time. I don’t want to say it was like a super conscious change, but sort of a natural evolution. I just don’t feel like that anymore, that’s not how I feel music anymore. So let’s just go with our guts and move forward rather than trying to collect what happened behind us and bring it forward.
And the cool thing is we are building a body of work now. This ensemble has been together for a while and were starting to collect songs and albums under our belt and I wouldn’t want that body of work to all sound the same.
I feel really weird when people get on artists for changing. It’s like, the songs that you liked in the beginning aren’t going away you can always listen to those songs, but if bands just stagnate and do the same thing over and over again it seems like you’re asking someone you like to limit themselves, it’s a really strange idea. Don’t fear change. Don’t fear anything really.
INDIE88: Who are some of the artists that have inspired you, the artists that you look up to?
DM: Since I was a teenager I adored Radiohead not only in their ethics but their creativity. I loved that they kept creating and changing what they were doing way ahead of what their audience was ready for, and the people kept catching up, I think that’s really amazing. And it’s weird, even though you can’t understand half the lyrics in most Radiohead songs there is a political edge to them I think.
INDIE88: How proud are you of this record?
DM: I feel like it’s strong enough in new ways that I can separate myself from it and actually be really proud of it because I feel like I don’t even own it. We just did this thing and worked really hard for months and months and months and when it was over it’s just like, let it go. Let it fly. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this confident at the end of this process. I’ve always hoped people would like my records, even though I had second guesses about it. This time we did what we wanted to do and if people like it that’s a plus.
INDIE88: When you push yourself in the studio to do new things does that give you a real excitement and challenge on the road?
DM: There’s more technology in what were doing, there’s more synthetic sound on this new record and on these new songs. But I don’t want that to define it, I don’t want it to feel like a ‘throwback’ or I don’t want it to feel like were doing homage to a vintage sound or anything in particular.
When we play live, it’s that fine balance between trying to recreate the record and just letting the songs live. They need to live. If you try to match everything perfectly you get lost in a grid of trying to be perfect rather than trying to play.
INDIE88: Dan you’ve been called the nicest man of indie rock, the teddy bear of indie rock. But there is an anger and fierceness to your songwriting and some of the lyrics.
DM: Yeah, I feel like I have frustrations with the world and I think part of the reason why I’m able to let go of them is because I get to do this. I get to release them and put them out in to the world through songs and that allows me to not have it inside me anymore but to actually express it and let it go.
We also have an audience now which is crazy and so lucky. How many amazing bands never get the kind of audience we have? So we feel really lucky about that and I remember approaching this record being like okay we have this audience, which is nuts, what are we gonna say? What is it I have in me that I need to get out?
More so than ever with this record, there was a sense of urgency. If I didn’t say it I was gonna explode, so I just had to get it out there. The lyrics are more jagged, they’re more digging under the ribs a little bit.