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Glen Hansard Interview

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2010 Interview: Since 1999, we have written about Ireland’s Frames and Glen Hansard who we firmly believe are up there with the very best rock musicians and song writers in the world. In more recent years, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s first Swell Season record has at last generated the level of worldwide recognition Hansard and his fellow musicians deserve, after twenty turbulent recording years. The Swell Season’s debut album was our album of the year when released. It contained songs from the movie ONCE which established Hansard as an important and key musical figure following the 2006 Oscar win for a song from the movie (and album) called ‘Falling Slowly.’

The Swell Season’s second album, STRICT JOY, is out now and is also included in our top 20 albums of 2009.

On 17 January 2009, we will be reviewing our first Swell Season live gig in Manchester. As background to the performance, which is part of an extensive world tour, this is an interview  which appeared in the Sunday Tribune.

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For now, let’s talk about The Swell Season. It’s a remarkable record, a searing collection of intimate torch songs, alternately achingly tender and nakedly brutal, all recorded over a single, intensive four-day period. What’s more, its creator insists that it all came together in the most unexpected, unlikely fashion imaginable. Yes . . . Glen Hansard is The Man Who Recorded A Solo Album By Accident. And who are we to doubt him?

The Swell Season came into being when Oscar-nominated Czech filmmaker Jan Hrebejk asked Hansard . . . a regular visitor to the Czech Republic in recent years . . . to re-record some Frames songs for a forthcoming movie project. He agreed to do the session in exchange for some session time in a Prague recording studio . . . enter Markéta Irglová, the daughter of an old friend, who had accompanied Hansard on a series of Czech shows.

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“Markéta is an amazing song writer, ” he says, “and we had this great experience playing these gigs there. The initial idea was to get a couple of the boys from the Frames over to record her songs, knock out an album for her. Then she said ‘Look, I have a better idea.” Irglová and Hansard had already sounded out a few ideas for the next Frames record, when they decided to commit some of their rough musical sketches to tape. “What was meant to be her record became our record, ” he says, “which . . . if I’m going to be really honest . . . became my record, because most of the tunes that ended up on the thing are mine. The whole session went in a totally different direction altogether to the one we had intended. And I had honestly never planned on making a solo record. It just came together.”

The bandleader admits that Frames recording sessions have, largely due to his own perfectionism, proved somewhat tortuous; the casual way in which The Swell Season fell together proved an enlightening experience. “For the first time in my life, ” he says, “I suppose I felt like I was genuinely collaborating with someone. When I work with the band, sure, I’ll bring in a song, or at least a definite idea. I’d rarely, if ever, start over from scratch. That was the great thing about working with Mar, because she was like, ‘What are you trying to say with this?’ And I’d be like, ‘Well, I’m just kind of feeling it out’ And she’s like, ‘No . . . sing about your life.’ This girl’s young, she’s totally unconnected with me, and I’m really liking where she’s going. She said, ‘I like the band, but you tend to be a bit depressing, to dwell on the sadness a bit . . . and you’re not a sad bloke. You’re pretty happy go lucky.’ And I’m, like, ‘F**kin’ hellf’ [laughs] It was a complete eye opener for me.”

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The immediacy of that initial recording session created an urgent forward momentum, one that brought The Swell Season from studio to your local record emporium in . . . for Hansard, anyhow . . . record time. Hence the quick stopover in New York to hang in his favourite NYC hotel, do a final mix on the album and play a few low-key shows with Irglová. Spontaneity is of the essence . . . he was advised to leave the Swell recordings in as raw a state as possible, after all, by none other than seasoned musical visionary Brian Eno, who gave the tapes a quick listen. “I’ve never done this before, ” he says.

“Never written three songs in the studio, on the spot, before.”

He likes to compare the process to falling unexpectedly pregnant . . . once the Prague sessions were done, it was time to come home and inform the other parents . . . his band . . . that he’d just had a child out of wedlock. “It was a little awkward, ” he says. “I was like, ‘By the way, I’ve got an album done’ They didn’t have a clue. I played it for them, and I said, ‘Look lads, the last thing I ever want to do is get into competition with my own band’ That’s just counterproductive. Everybody was really positive about it, which was a massive relief.”

Here’s the thing; Glen Hansard is a lovely bloke. Genuinely.

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And he wears success well. The years of toil and struggle have finally begun to pay off big time, and he exudes the aura a man at peace with his past . . . meaning it’s finally okay to mention The Commitments again, for starters. For years, Hansard studiously avoided (and rather wisely so) anything to do with the film role that brought him into the public eye hand in hand with the Frames’ first album; now he’s belatedly returned to the acting world for his old mucker John Carney. Due for release later this year, Once couldn’t be more playing to his particular strengths; he plays a busker, after all, with musical compadre Markéta Irglová as his character’s muse.

(FYI: While they do share an on-screen romance, they’re just good friends) In fashion with the current spirit of things, the project came together somewhat organically; Carney had been developing the project, and roped Hansard in to write the songs; he’d been looking for a foreign female lead who could sing and play keyboards, so Hansard suggested Irglová. It was only when original star Cillian Murphy couldn’t do it, however, that Hansard then came into the running as a potential leading man.

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“I really, really didn’t want to do anything in terms of acting again after The Commitments . . . it was a great experience, but not for me. I’d spent years talking my way out of the whole Commitments thing, and now I was being asked to go back in. People were going to think this was a Glen Hansard vanity project, he’s playing himself, singing his own songs. I said no. Then I thought about it, and thought about it, and said, ‘F**k it . . . why not?’ I had been in a band with John, and knew that he wouldn’t bullshit me. I wanted to be a collaborator, not just an actor, and John was very into that idea. My whole fear was: I will not be involved in bad art [laughs]. So we just did it. I’m not going to make a movie for fear of what other people might think. You can’t live like that.”

Thus the man strides boldly forward, exploring new avenues at every turn. Where once upon a time Hansard was inexorably entrenched in the murky mires of the Dublin music scene, these days he’s embracing the bigger picture.

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