Conversations & Transformations with Astral Swans & Dan Mangan

astralswans1Vancouver’s dreamboat Dan Mangan realized his dream on March 3 with the creation of his own label, Madic Records, a collaboration with Arts & Crafts. The question on everyone’s mind now is, who is this Astral Swans who has signed as Mangan’s first musician? You may remember Matthew Swann of Astral Swans from Extra Happy Ghost!!! (EHG!!!), an experimental, psychedelic sound worth researching. It might be time to grab a ticket for the Media Club this Saturday (March 22) to check out the buzz at the debut and “You Carry a Sickness”/”Park Street” 7″ release show. To answer some cursory questions, I had an educational three-way (e-mail) with Swann and Mangan to provide the curious with a bit of a pre-show snack.

Vancouver Weekly: What genre would you classify Astral Swans as?

Astral Swans: I wanna call it psychedelic folk, but it’s not really that. It’s maybe easiest to talk about influences. I’m drawing a lot from 60s psych folk – a lot of women performers lately: Karen Dalton, Linda Perhacs, Vashti Bunyan… And I really, really love Sibylle Baier. For dudes: Tim Hardin, Nick Drake, Donovan, etc. But then that gets mixed with a lot of 90s influences: Drag City stuff like Smog, Silver Jews, etc. And I love Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey. I love punk/post-punk too, but it’s less sonically apparent. I wish I could call myself more punk, but I’m really just a hippie.

VW: So why the swap from Extra Happy Ghost!!! to Astral Swans?

AS: Touring solo is cheaper than touring as a band. These songs were all written and arranged to be performed live without a band, which makes it sooo much easier to tour. EHG!!! is still a thing too! I wanna make it heavier, more anti-aesthetic, now that I don’t have to balance it with this more conventional song-based thing.

VW: Astral Swans has been described as ’90s sludge’, and I agree. Do you?

AS: Haha, yeah, I wrote it. [Swann wrote this description in his bio some time ago and has subsequently been labeled by reviewers everywhere as ’90s sludge’, something of a tongue in cheek self-fulfilled prophecy.]

VW: Tell me about your connection to Dan Mangan. How’d you two get into cahoots?

AS: We were both on [the record label] File Under: Music like six years ago. I played in a post-punk band called Hot Little Rocket, and he was just getting started. Then he became this massive Canadian thing. Dan is a really good human. He’s at a level that’s weird career-wise – like, I know people that adore him, and I know people that think he’s a pussy. It’s funny, he’s reached a level where people project all sorts of shit on him. Haha, to me, Dan is a grounded, genuine dude who works his ass off and doesn’t cheat on his wife, in spite of being adored by legions of admirers. That shit’s rare, and kinda fucking beautiful – but what do I know? I’m a hippie.

Dan Mangan: I am a bit of a pussy sometimes. But fuck me, I’m just a bunch of particles.

VW [directed at Mangan]: The music community is all abuzz over your first signed musician. Why did you chose Astral Swans?

DM: I’ve known Matt for a long time. He’s himself. He doesn’t chase whatever is “working” in popular music. He has an honesty to him that I find really appealing. It comes through in his music.

VW: Give me three adjectives that describe your record, “You Carry a Sickness”/”Park Street”.

AS: Suicide. Nihilism. Laid back.

DM: Echo. Analogue. Alone.

VW: Suicide is repeatedly mentioned in reference to your music. Is that an intentional theme?

AS: It’s informed a lot of my art. A lot of what I write is my own dark.

VW: What is your dream venue? Who would open for you there?

AS: My dream venue was the Canmore Hotel, but they switched management and wouldn’t have me back ’cause I suck at covers, and nobody comes to my shows, haha. I got a form letter. I’d play there again in this thought experiment though! I’d open for Willie Nelson, the Kinks (circa 1967), Townes Van Zandt, Marianne Faithful, Nico, and Ghost (the Japanese Ghost, not the Swedish one). Apparently it’s a festival: Lazer-Eyed-Hulk-Hogan-Fest, and it’s free!

VW: Are you still working at Village Square library? Tell me a library secret or story. Tell me about that job; I find it fascinating.

AS: I love the library. I’ve been with CPL (Calgary Public Library) for six years, and they are incredibly accommodating to artists. I believe deeply in libraries, and universal information accessibility, and all these things that are a part of my job. I also bartend at a rad venue called Commonwealth, and those folks also treat me like gold!!! Serious shout out to both of my employers!!!

Astral Swans opens for Jay Malinowski & the Deadcoast at the Media Club this Saturday, March 22.