Vancouver indie artist Dan Mangan has created one of the most intimate and unpredictable tours out there – the Madic House Concerts. Instead of booking shows at typical live music venues, Mangan has created a tour that brings musicians into people’s homes. Talk about knocking down the fourth wall, this tour allows fans the chance to hang out with the artists before and after the show, witness performances in their own homes and even host sleepovers for the travelling musicians.
It’s about as indie as you get. Mangan is taking the simple act of sharing an artistic moment and making it as personal and honest as possible. His concept of the Madic House Concerts is to create meaningful and memorable experiences for both the audience and the artists.
The Madic House Concerts is a cross-country tour that began at the beginning of October and ends in Mangan’s home city of Vancouver at the end of the month. Headlining the tour is Calgary indie artist Astral Swans, the solo project of experimental pop musician Matthew Swann. Astral Swans is the first artist to be signed by Mangan to his indie record label Madic Records. Mangan formed Madic Records in 2014 in partnership with Toronto-based indie label Arts & Crafts after he fell in love with the music of the then-unsigned Astral Swans. Starting a record label was something he had contemplated for some time, but his desire to help propel Astral Swans to a wider audience sparked the formation of the label. Astral Swans’ stark, contemplative music is the kind of experience that you want to be up front and connected to – the perfect artist for the intimacy of the Madic House Concerts.
(Distance Bullock, Matthew Swann, Reuben Bullock and Jay McCarrol | Photo: Stephanie Horak)
Joining Matthew Swann on the tour is singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Distance Bullock (Port Juvee) who contributed drums, backing vocals and cello to Astral Swans’ 2015 album All My Favorite Singers are Willie Nelson. After beginning the tour in their home city of Calgary, the two musicians have played shows across the country in a variety of settings including old Victorian homes, rural artist community retreat centres, converted churches and keg parties. Last Sunday, Astral Swans played their Toronto tour date in a three-level house decked out with sound equipment in the Junction. As the house began to fill up with hipsters, hip hop and whiffs of weed, Astral Swans hung out in the basement drinking beers and chatting about the unpredictability of the tour. Swann laughed at the fact that “they’ve all been really different. Last night I played in Bancroft in an artist residency space in this community in the middle of nowhere with artists who were mostly 40 plus. Then tonight, it’s like a college house party where everyone is sitting around an X Box right now.” Bullock added, “Within the first three shows I think we saw like every variety of show. The first, Calgary, was the typical 25 to 30-year-old fan base, full hometown show and then Edmonton was an early character house with a young professional couple that was like, sit down, shut up, very quiet, very respectful. And then the next night, Regina was like a full-blown kegger house party where someone had a half pound of mushrooms. You never know until you get there.”
In the spontaneous spirit of the tour, the Toronto concert began with a surprise set by Jay McCarrol (Brave Shores, Hayden) who happened to be another favourite musician of the hosts. McCarrol set the tone of the night with an endearing set of solo songs and finished with an incredible Elliott Smith cover.
(Jay McCarrol | Photo: Stephanie Horak)
As joints were lit and beers guzzled, Astral Swans captivated the house-guests with a combination of humorous banter and one raw, gripping tune after another. Set up in a corner of the living room, they faced a small crowd of listeners who huddled around the band and quietly absorbed Swann’s often disarming and heavy lyrical themes. At the end of every song they eagerly cheered for more. Playing a collection of songs from All My Favorite Singers are Willie Nelson and a cover of Wolf Parade’s “You Are a Runner And I Am My Father’s Son”, the audience demanded a premature encore at Swann’s announcement of their final song.
(Astral Swans | Photo: Stephanie Horak)
After the show, Swann admitted it was their rowdiest crowd yet. But even an audience itching to party was held captive by the fragile intensity of Astral Swans. It was an experience that delivered exactly what Mangan intended the tour provide – a memorable and meaningful encounter between fan and artist. Astral Swans described how special this tour has been: “The best shows are house shows. [Typical] tours can be monotonous after a while and it kind of flatlines. It’s like, ‘Remember that show in Boston?’ ‘No…’ It’s just another show at another venue with the same band but then, always, the house shows are the memories that stick out in your head. To have an entire tour of that is pretty badass. There are so many specific details of every show so far that stand out whereas if we were playing a bunch of bars it would just be like, whatever, it’s just another night in a club. This is all very personal, very intimate and there’s a lot of distinguishing factors of every place we’ve been that usually just get lost.”
(Astral Swans | Photo: Stephanie Horak)
Reflecting on his experience with the tour so far, Swann said, “I think I’m only going to do tours like this. In Canada, anyway. It works for me. I like playing in a bar when I’m playing in a rock band but my objective as a musician is not ‘bigger is better’ and ‘I need to be famous and sell a million albums.’ I just want to have a sustainable, humble artistic practice where I can continue to make records. That’s what I want.” Once Astral Swans wrap up the first Madic House Concerts tour, Mangan hopes to continue the concept with other artists.
(Astral Swans | Photo: Stephanie Horak)
We sat down with Dan Mangan to talk about his passion project, Madic Records, and the future of the Madic House Concerts.
Where did the idea for house concerts come from? Have you ever done a concert in someone’s house before? If so, what was the experience like?
Dan Mangan: Yeah we’ve done a bunch. Especially in the beginning. They have potential to go pear shaped like any other show, but they also bring a special kind of community intimacy. It feels like you’re dipping your toes in the culture of that particular neighbourhood within a city, and sharing a beer with a slice of folks. Sometimes, it’s nice to perform without any amplification. The nice thing is that often you can crash with the hosts, and it makes touring very social – you end up with new friends. And it keeps costs down – you’re not dishing out hundreds of dollars a night in hotels.
With the Madic Records House Concert Series tour going from coast to coast across Canada and in settings that vary from rural to major city dwellings, what elements or experiences do you think will remain consistent throughout each concert? What are the challenges of this sort of tour?
DM: Logistics are tough. We’re still figuring out how to put together a tour so it makes sense for hosts and also for the band. I’d like it if there was a tighter schedule, less days off. But bars are used to being open 7 days a week, and here we’re shuffling and dancing between the domestic / work schedules of people in their homes, and sometimes it takes work to piece the tour together. That said, this Astral Swans tour is the first one and it’s going really well, and so I’m very excited about where this could go.
This tour is so unique in its sense of connection between the audience and the artist – there is even the possibility of the artists billeting with the hosts of the concerts – has anyone agreed to this arrangement yet?
DM: Of course. Probably nearly 100%. You have late night hangs, you save money. I’ve slept in a bed with a Bart Simpson comforter on top. It’s very endearing.
Crazy things can happen at house parties – are the shows on the House Concert Series tour going to welcome the spontaneous spirit of rock and roll? Are the concerts all-ages?
DM: Anything goes. I think if it’s in a barn in the middle of nowhere and they have a banging PA, you can go for it. Or it’s in a townhouse in a busy neighbourhood downtown somewhere and it’s you and a guitar. Every show can cater to the needs/wants of the host, and that’s why it’s special. Every night has the potential to be unlike any other night ever.
What are your hopes for the House Concert Series? Do you have aspirations to make this a yearly event for the artists on the label to participate in?
DM: I’d love for it to be a thriving year round entity. This circuit that is just full of great music all the time. I’d love to help musicians that I respect have careers. The landscape of how people make a living in music is totally shifting, and this is a bare bones, simple way for people to have successful tours and make long-lasting supporters by getting right in front of people. “Fans” will come and go based on buzz. But if people have a sense of who you are, and they believe in what you’re doing/saying, they’ll stick with you forever because they’re emotionally invested in your well being. It’s different than just attending a club show for a buzzy band.
Astral Swans is the only artist officially listed for the House Concert Series tour. Are there any other artists that will be joining Astral Swans throughout the tour?
DM: I know Matt is planning on having special guests along the way. Watch the @astralswans twitter feed – I think there’ll be some nice surprises. He’s well liked in the community. He’s a sweetheart.
Your European tour ends at the end of this month, do you plan on making any appearances on the House Concert Series tour?
DM: I might pop in at the Vancouver show and play a few songs, who knows. I don’t want to steal any thunder from Astral Swans, though. Same goes for any of the upcoming tours in the works. We’re working on Woodpigeon and The Crackling. Maybe Colin Cowan & The Elastic Stars in the spring, and maybe even a solo guitar/oud tour for my pal Gordon Grdina.
You’ve said that your goal with Madic Records is to bring attention to meaningful, creative music that isn’t getting the recognition it deserves. What was it about Astral Swans that caused you to sign him as your first artist on Madic Records?
DM: Honesty. He’s not a whirlwind artist who takes a room by spectacle. He’s a nervous wreck who can’t help but be himself. I’m attracted to people who don’t wear masks, who don’t veil who they are in hopes of projecting the thing that they THINK they’d like to be. I like his songs. He thinks they’re weird, but they’re not that weird. They’re pop music for those with a gritty pallet. And the words speak beyond their initial meaning. He taps into something special.
Are there any other artists or bands that have inspired you to consider welcoming a new member to the Madic Records family alongside Astral Swans?
DM: I have a running folder of bands I’m kinda listening and watching out for, but to be honest, I’m feeling overwhelmed as it is, and I don’t want to take on more bands until I think I can actually help them. It’s going to be a slow build.
The Yellow Bird Project collaboration album Good People Rock, is a project that strongly reflects your goal of creating and fostering a community within the label. The Madic Records House Concert Series is also a strong reflection of that goal. Are there any other events in the works to continue this cultivation of a musical community at Madic Records?
DM: That made a lot of sense because their ethic and their intention was so in line with my own. To promote some artistic goodness in the world and help connect people. I hope we helped them, but I also wish that release had garnered more attention. I’m learning a lot, and taking on a record label is more work than I at first anticipated. I’m always brainstorming ways of getting into peoples’ heads that doesn’t rely on the standard means of promotion. If anybody has great any ideas, I’m all ears.
Can you describe your role within Madic Records? Are you the final say for which artists will be signed to the label and what sort of projects the label takes on?
DM: I have an ongoing dialog with some of the folks at Arts & Crafts. We toss ideas back and forth. Like I said, it’s going to be a slow build. Astral Swans fell in my lap and I fell in love with the music. That’s a must.
Make sure you check out Dan Mangan’s Hidden Studio session below:
Stephanie Horak is a contributing writer to Indie88.com and is also the founder and editor of Stories Behind The Songs.