Dan Mangan might have been quiet over the last year, but he's had good reasons.
Since releasing 2011's Juno-award winning album Oh Fortune, he's married, had a baby and he's been working on a film score for a to-be-released Simon Pegg movie.
"We toured quite steadily for six straight years," Mangan says over the phone from a family vacation in Portland. "It was kind of time. We basically took this entire year off from touring. We've mostly been at home, doing the odd festival here and there... And I had a kid, so you know, figuring that whole thing out."
But good news for fans — and there are plenty of them, especially here in Canada — he already has about a dozen new tracks recorded as demos. He says he hopes to add a few more to that mix before culling the best and heading into the studio in December. "It's always helpful to have too much material," he says. "Then you can make the difficult decisions. Sort of like cutting kids from the team. You can only fit so many on the field. It's good because it means the album is going to be better if you're going to trim... We're probably looking at a late spring/summer release."
To understand his sneak peek into the forthcoming release we have to look back to his two most recent full-length albums. Mangan put out Nice, Nice, Very Nice, his second LP and breakthrough, back in 2009. The album is filled with indie-folk gems, some of which delve into quirky territory (his singalong hit "Robots" is a prime example), but mostly stayed true to the singer-songwriter genre.
For Oh Fortune, though, he seemed more confident to explore experimental sounds and darker themes of death and mortality. "I feel like that album was very inward," he says. "You know like, 'these are my thoughts on death. These are my questions about life.' I needed to get that out of my system. This time around — it's hard to say because it's not done yet, but there's this tone of sharp mockery in a silly way, in a tongue-in-cheek way."
He offers a very Canadian metaphor by way of clarification: "If you paddle a canoe down the river for long enough you start to feel like you know what the river feels like. It's the same thing for life. There's less wonderment as you go... you come to terms with the fact that the sense of immediacy with which you thought everything was going to fail when you were younger goes away and you realize that maybe it's going to be OK."
While he remains politically engaged (and receives an overwhelming number of requests to lend his voice to causes), and is still moved to write about those topics, becoming a father has softened his perspective in a way, he says. "It is a freight train. Having a kid is like staring directly into a really bright light for a little while then, when you look away, you look at anything else in the whole world and it's kind of fuzzy because you're blinded by this one light," he says.
The other (less blinding) challenge he took on this year was the aforementioned film score for Hector and the Search for Happiness. Used to having complete control over his endeavours, it's been a new experience creating music to please someone else, he says. He describes the film, which is about a psychiatrist on a journey around the world in search of happiness, according to IMDb, as "somewhere between Little Miss Sunshine and Forest Gump."
"I've just spent many hours talking to the director and trying to get into his brain and figure out what he's looking for," Mangan says. "It's a challenge because in my work I always have final say. This is not my baby. This is someone else's baby. If I didn't feel challenged, if I didn't feel like I was slightly out of my comfort zone I wouldn't feel like I was learning anything."