While Dan Mangan is most closely associated with acoustic guitar-oriented folk songs, the amiable Vancouver songwriter recently announced that he would be branching out by scoring the upcoming Simon Pegg movie Hector and the Search for Happiness. As he sets about developing his instrumental score with collaborating violinist Jesse Zubot, he's also been working on songs for his next proper full-length.
The film project came together after touring extensively behind 2011's Oh Fortune. The songwriter was feeling exhausted and in need of a break, and with child on the way with his wife, he opted to take a year off of touring.
"Literally the day after I made that decision, I got an email from a producer," Mangan tells Exclaim!
Since then, he's been working on short pieces of instrumental music for Hector and the Search for Happiness at his personal studio. "It's kind of like hitting your head against a wall a thousand times and then finally something comes through," he admits. "I swear I've written probably 40 mini-songs or something like that, and so far we'll probably use like four of them."
Naturally, the results have been sounding very different from his lyric-focused solo material and much of it is not based on guitar. That being said, the soundtrack material does bear some similarity to his early work, he says.
"I'm working on a new record and I'm demoing all of these new songs that are very much different from anything I've ever done before," he observes. "At the very same time, I'm being asked to write all these songs that are slightly more in more old wheelhouse. It's like this push and pull. The music for the film is getting more and more sentimental, and the music for my record is getting less and less sentimental, so it's an interesting dichotomy."
He's handling the bulk of the writing himself while maintaining close contact with director Peter Chelsom. Zubot's job will be to make the Mangan-penned elements orchestral. Once the music is written, Mangan plans to record some of it in town before heading to Berlin for a few weeks of orchestral sessions.
"There are classic Hollywood elements in these big sweeping score arrangements," he notes, "but then there's also some really weird, off-time electric elements."
He speculates that the score will likely be issued as an official soundtrack, but he's not sure how the release will be handled or if it will be digital-only.
While the music for the score is still coming together, Mangan says that he has "about a dozen" songs already written for his next album. These tunes, he promises, represent another step away from the gruff, earthy folk on which he made his name. He describes the songs as having a "Radiohead-y Peter Gabriel vibe" and reflects, "There's not much about what I'm doing that's cute anymore. I'm kind of over cute. There was a time that I was really into cute, and I did cute pretty well. That's not really who I am now."
Although he doesn't mention his signature 2009 hit "Robots" by name, it's clear that he won't be striving to recreate the warm and snuggly mood of that track anytime soon.
He further says that some of the new demos are entirely guitar-free, although this may change once he brings them to the band. "A lot of them are just bits of piano," he says, "I'm digging more and more into the sonic landscape of what exists digitally, so there's some synth-y stuff. It's not like electro-pop or anything like that, but there's definitely that element."
Although Mangan now writes by stitching together parts in his studio, he hopes not to entirely lose the organic feel of his past works. While Oh Fortune had lush orchestral elements, he plans to use only his core band in the upcoming sessions; the group may even be given a name, and the album might be credited to the group ("Dan Mangan and…").
Colin Stewart is once again on board as producer for the as-yet-untitled studio album, and sessions are slated to begin in December. Hector and the Search for Happiness, meanwhile, is expected to hit theatres sometime in 2014. Stay tuned for further updates as they emerge.