Modern communication can be a tricky thing even if we constantly get told that it’s soooo easy to connect with the whole world whenever and wherever we want to. Well, the plan was ambitious anyway: Doing a joint interview with American songwriter Laura Gibson and her Canadian colleague Dan Mangan ahead of their joint tour. Timing is a crucial thing here. Laura was in Berlin for interviews which was the first puzzle piece but Dan was in Toronto, so we had to include different time zones in the planning plus his availability in general. And of course whenever you arrange these things something gets in the way and Dan was actually in another interview while I was waiting for him with Laura. That’s life.
In many ways these joint UK and EU tour dates by the two songwriters make totally sense. Within two weeks they both release new albums via label City Slang, their fan bases probably are pretty similar and they’ve been around for quite some time. Goners is Gibson’s sixth studio album while More Is Less is the fifth one in Mangan’s discography. Although tender and slightly melancholic indie-folk sound connects both records their lyrical content and key themes are quite different this time. Laura Gibson‘s Goners is a reflection on her past and present, focussed on the aspect of grief. ‘It’s an album that talks about sharing grief and pain with each other,’ she explains to me the notion behind the record. ‘I didn’t want to travel back to those moments of loss and pain but I wanted to explode what it meant to be shaped by it,’ she tells me. Dan Mangan‘s forthcoming LP sounds a bit rawer and reduced and takes his eyes into the future, finding his creative space also as a father. In the press release he sums up the character of this record pretty sweet accurate: ‘More sparse. Less meticulous. More kids. Less time. More direct. Less metaphor. More discovery. Less youth. More warmth. Less chaos.’
To a certain degree you can say that these albums work as narrative for life’s crucial moments – past, present and future. There’s big sadness and fear sensible in both albums but both artist are pretty keen to not let miserable mourning gain the upper hand. There’s also hope and a somehow pragmatic optimism that shines through, something that often happens naturally once you’re approaching the age of forty. So, as me and Laura sat there contemplating about life, loss, running (she does it whenever she can) and dogs (she loves them and there are plenty of dog reference on the new LP, including the obvious one on the cover artwork) the digital telephone is ringing and Mr. Mangan is calling. He greets us with excitement despite it still being quite early over in Canada. Considering our just finished talk about personal loss Laura is keen to greet him with a: ‘Get ready to dive into the deep end’.
Alright, so how was the idea of a joint tour originally born?
Laura: We were both new to each other’s music when Christof (Ellinghaus, City Slang label chef – editor’s note) suggested that we should go on tour with each other as we both had new records coming out at the same time. I heard Dan’s name for ages and we got a bunch of mutual friends, so there was common ground
Dan: It was an arranged marriage. (laughs) I also heard her name through friends. Then my manager send me her new album and I listened to it in my studio alone and it is a really, really beautiful record. And immediately after that I wrote him back: ‘Yes, let’s do this’. We’re trying to take this to a place where people think it was good idea.
You two also share the same band members, right?
Laura: Yes, they have to work twice as hard as us. (laughs)
Is there any favourite track of yours you’re looking forward to perform?
Dan: It’s pretty common to be excited about your new stuff the most, right Laura?
Laura: I agree, yes.
Dan: It’s like you have a new baby and you want to show the pictures to everyone.
Laura: And they push the old kids aside as they want to get more attention.
Dan: Yes, they are not really cute anymore. They are just gross kids. (laughs) But my favourite ‘kid’ on the new record is called Peaks & Valleys and I’m looking forward to play that. It also got a personal connection to some close friends of mine who live in London and we’re about to meet there, Lauren. Do you have such a song as well?
Laura: Probably the final one on the new album called I Don’t Want Your Voice To Move Me. But that usually changes on tour. Once you start playing with the band you get favourite live songs that are fun to play.
I love it as well when a song suddenly surprises yourself in the live context. (Dan)
Laura: Yeah, especially when they aren’t necessarily your favourite on the record. There’s a few songs I’m nervous about which are technically difficult to play so they might need a moment to become my favourites.
Old songs are like old photographs
During our ‘Facetime’ talk we had to switch positions in the room for a few times due to a slowly fading wi-fi connection and the photos you are seeing here sum up the improvised situation between the three of us pretty well. For me it was kind of interesting to see that the two aren’t actually long-time friends but probably about to become that over the next weeks as I already sense. The idea of joint co-headliner tours got a long and successful tradition over in the United States, probably due to the huge size of the country and the costs that go with such a logistic adventure. In Europe the idea of not separating between support act and main act is still a rarity and it can only work if both parties share musical common ground and mutual sympathy which truly is the case with Laura and Dan.
So, are there any songs of yours that you actually don’t like to play live?
Dan: I definitely won’t be playing Living On A Prayer by Bon Jovi. I don’t like that one. (laughs)
Laura: So I might be covering it instead. But no, I don’t have any songs I really don’t like. I tend to forget them if don’t play them for a long time. And then if somebody requests them I actually have to look up the lyrics again. I don’t know if you know that but whenever you look up lyrics on the internet they are just terribly wrong.
Are people approaching you regarding certain songs they would like to hear?
Dan: Audience requests happen a lot, yes. And the people always want to hear a song they liked in college. You know a song they wouldn’t normally like when they got introduced to it today but they have a nostalgic connection to it. Songs are like milestones to your life and when you play them to your audience they got a different meaning to them than to you. But as an artist you can’t help but seeing this like an old photograph of you. And you know how that can feel, right? Sometimes it’s embarrassing. So that makes a connection between listener and song even greater. The good thing about old material is that you don’t have to do anything. It’s already there and you can ‘use’ it for your purposes.
Laura: Although sometimes you have to relearn them. At least that’s what I do. Sometimes it’s nice to play an old song and remember the struggle you had to get through to come to this place. And that struggle can be the composition of the track itself but also the story you had to experience before you could write it. Often I am glad that I made it through these struggling emotions and that makes me quite proud, to share this with the audience.
Do you have any pre-concert rituals before going on stage?
Laura: Dan, we’re gonna teach you the cinnamon role.
Dan: The what?
Laura: It’s a special pre show ritual I established when I was on tour with Calexico. Everybody’s hands are invited to join in and I think the band later also adapted it; a secret handshake.
Dan: We keep things simple. We put on harnesses and lower down from the ceiling. Then we swing over the audience while mostly being naked. Then we do this high five in the air, above the audience and as we swing back from each other we all land on a different piano. And our feet land on the piano, we all hit one note, making the perfect chord.
Laura: What chord is that? C Major?
Dan: Yes, the middle of all chords.
Well, no you definitely set the stakes high. You both been on tour with other artists a lot over the past years. Especially Dan’s vita of touring companions reads like a who-is-who of the indie scene (Father John Misty, José Gonzalez, Metric, Sharon Van Etten, Vampire Weekend): Do you have any favourite touring buddies prior to this tour? Laura, you already mentioned Calexico …
Laura: Yeah, I think they’ll be my friends forever following our tour. They somehow kidnapped me back then as we were touring with a little van and they got that big bus so they invited me over. I sang a duet with Joey Burns of Calexico every night so that was fun.
Dan: They are the nicest dudes ever. I only met them once but we once had a great and really long hang together at an Austrian festival and they were the easiest folks to hang around with.
Dan, what’s your personal favourite out of that long list?
Dan: I mean I’ve been to various memorable tours but the one I remember the most was with this band called Blind Pilot. They fixed a school bus and turned it into a band bus. I remember it had a whole in the floor which was kind of tricky when we were driving.
Laura: Ryan Dobrowski from Blind Pilot is actually going to be our drummer on the tour.
Dan: Exactly. Touring with him is always fun.
For those who are unsure yet: What can the people out there expect from your tour? Two hours of sweet, sweet sadness?
Laura: (laughs) Yes, looots of crying.
If you can actually convey your own existential loneliness in a song and other people hear that and weirdly we all get united in that moment and feel less lonely. That’s the point. And that’s also why it’s such a rewarding thing to perform live. (Dan)
And both – Laura Gibson and me – couldn’t think of a better way to end our little digital interview. Both albums are destined to become great companions to you during the upcoming cold winter days, no matter if you are facing that existential loneliness Dan Mangan talked about. These two are honest and wonderfully crafted little folk music gems that probably work in any time zone of this world. Needless to say that skipping this ‘two for the price of one’ tour would indeed be a very stupid thing to do.
Laura Gibson’s Goners will be released on Oct 26, Dan Mangan’s More Or Less arrives one week later on November 11. They’ll be touring the following dates together:
Wed, Nov 7 – Festsaal Kreuzberg – Berlin, DE # // TIX
Thu, Nov 8 – Mojo – Hamburg, DE # // TIX
Sun, Nov 11 – Gebäude 9 – Cologne, DE # // TIX
Mon, Nov 12 – Botanique Rotonde – Brussels, BE # // TIX
Tue, Nov 13 – Queen Elizabeth Hall – London, UK # // TIX
Thu, Nov 15 – Paradiso Noord – Amsterdam, NL # // TIX
Fri, Nov 16 – Petit Bain – Paris, FR # // TIX
Tue, Nov 20 – Bogen F – Zurich, CH # // TIX
Nov 22 – Bluebird Festival – Vienna, AT # // TIX
Nov 23 – Conrad Sohm – Dornbirn, AT # // TIX
Nov 24 – Meet Factory – Prague, CZ # // TIX
All photos by Jana Legler for NBHAP
This article was made possible via the concept of ‘Smart Compensation‘ which allows to invest more time on specific editorial topics. Find out more about it in NBHAP’s Mediakit.