Mike Mangione is an enigmatic character. The musician, philosopher, and podcast host piled his life into a van and spent years living and touring in all corners of the country (and beyond). Now back in Milwaukee, the well-traveled troubadour brings unmatched experience and road-shaped wisdom to his music. This spring, longtime frontman of Mike Mangione & The Union and namesake of his current project, Mike Mangione & The Kin, went to a Los Angeles recording studio and piled his unique perspective, soulful voice, and distinct musicianship into But I’ve Seen The Stars, a 10-song album Mangione’s new project will formally release at Anodyne’s Walker’s Point Roastery on Friday.
Instead of trying (and ultimately failing) to analyze Mangione’s latest batch of sage “orchestra folk” compositions, we figured we’d seek artistic explanation from the man himself. He kindly obliged. Before this weekend’s release, let Mike Mangione take you on a tour of his latest and—in our humble opinion—greatest record, complete with a description the singer-songwriter crafted to accompany each song.
I never really begin songs with the whole narrative in mind. They’re usually based off an idea or a concept. The concept is what informs the chorus and the chorus is the thesis. I picture the thesis to be the telephone poles, and the verses would be the wire that connects them. The narrative then begins to come together. The wire (verses) is the narrative that fleshes out the story stringing you from one chorus to another. Verses aren’t always in a chronological order either. Sometimes they can be more like vignettes, each supporting the chorus. It is not the only way to write songs, but it has worked for five records and my chaotic lifestyle. I hope in some way, this new record can speak to you, affirm you, and join you on your journey.
Thesis: We desire to see and be seen fully by others.
Narrative: The protagonist is on a journey looking for others who see him. By “see” I mean receive him truly as a human being and honor his dignity. He looks in places he expects to find it, and is shocked to find whitewashed emptiness. He is hounded by shallow encounters, judgment and objectification. He longs for a “home” where he is fully loved, can be vulnerable, and love in return.
Thesis: A man and woman’s life and love together
Narrative: This song takes you on the full journey of their life together, from courtship to death. It’s a happy tune!
Thesis: There will be unrest, until we find what truly satisfies, which this song is proclaiming to be love…like true love. Not counterfeit love. Not objectification. Not abuse. But actual sacrificial love where somebody sacrifices for you, and you sacrifice for him or her. Until you encounter that, your heart will be restless.
Narrative: The protagonists are drifting through life, bumping into obstacles, consuming plenty, but rarely listening. They crave fulfillment, reaching for creature comforts and discover the hard way that true love is all they have subconsciously been on the hunt for. The guy eventually realizes this towards the end.
Thesis: We are a part of something bigger.
Narrative: Protagonist endures pain, scorn, and suffering by focusing his eyes on something greater. He has a strong sense of who he is, and where he has come from. He endures his path and is given strength by his desire to reach his destination.
“If You Let Me”
Thesis: Forgiveness can cause rebirth.
Narrative: This guy has done something and is looking for forgiveness. He is at the point where he ain’t too proud to beg. He is pleading to be let in despite his brokenness. There is honesty and remorse with a side of desperation. “I will change for you if you let me” kind of sums that all up.
Thesis: The song is about someone breaking free.
Narrative: The protagonist is looking to break free from those riding on his trail. He eventually jumps a train and skips town. On the metaphorical level it’s a song about freeing ourselves from that which limits our true potential as humans. Addiction, relationships, occupation, regrets, up bringing, history…whatever the case maybe, the things that keep us chained. Sometimes what we mistake as freedoms can turn on us and take control. This is more applicable to the addiction and indulgence side of things. The character in this song is attempting to stay one step ahead of all of it and fully become himself.
“Lady By The Shore”
Narrative: A man committed a crime and will be hanged. He will die a criminal, but knows he was not born one. He desires to get back in touch with where he came from and remembers a time when he was young and encountered something truly beautiful. In the town where he grew up, there was a woman who would sing by the shore and it pierced him. To him, her voice represents purity and innocence and he longs to hear it once more. His last request is to hear the Lady By The Shore.
“Better Gone Today”
Thesis: Some things must be let go.
Narrative: This song moves in vignettes. Each verse expresses our need to let the weight drop so that we may move forward. We can’t take it with us, so hold close that which builds us better and drop the rest behind.
“The Question & The Cure”
I’m going to leave this one a mystery.
“Nothing Lasts Forever”
Thesis: Nothing lasts forever.
Narrative: Though it’s all fleeting, we participate in a birth that moves on, through us, and beyond, forever.
Mike Mangione & The Kin will release But I’ve Seen The Stars at Anodyne’s Walker’s Point Roastery on Friday, November 17. The show begins at 8 p.m. and costs $10. SistaStrings will play in support.