Interview: Glen Hansard of The Swell Season/The Frames

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

But in the U.S., the film — and the Oscar the romantically intertwined duo won for their song "Falling Slowly" — made Hansard and Irglova instant celebrities and won them a new legion of adoring fans.

Performing as The Swell Season, the lovebirds are taking their emotionally vulnerable balladry on the road this fall, including a stop tonight at the Palace Theatre that features an opening set from former Smog frontman Bill Callahan. Hansard took a break from last-minute tour preparations to answer some questions over e-mail.

Has winning an Oscar significantly changed anything in your life? How so? Of course it has. It's turned everything on it's head. Professionally speaking it's made a lot of doors open, but also meant you've had to deal with people you had no interest in ever dealing with to begin with, so that's a headache. Personally a lot more people know who you are and so you have to work more to find a balance that was never there before. That said it's been incredible and I feel so lucky and blessed cause all I ever wanted was more people to hear my music.

The songs from Once seem so crucial to the movie. How much overlap was there between John writing the screenplay and you writing the music? I guess what I mean by that is, was it a back and forth sort of thing, or did he hand you the finished script and turn you loose with it? John and I go back very far and have a relationship where we can know what the other wants without talking. We first talked about this many years ago and began mapping it out. His goal was to make a modern day musical cause he was tired of great songs being used for a few seconds or minutes. It was a bold calculate move on his part. So we talked about different scenes and in particular he had the romantic idea and them meeting in a music shop which is where “Falling Slowly” came out of. He would ask me about certain aspects of busking in terms of interaction with people and life on the streets so to speak. Then in turn he knew my own personal situation cause of our friendship. The script then combined all those aspects and when we got into shooting we were still tweaking things.

I always imagine writing music for someone else's movie would be a tricky business. Was it ever tough to strike a balance between what he was looking for and what you wanted to write? Honestly it wasn't cause John and I know each other and I was in on things from the beginning. I saw it as an amazing opportunity and was excited to try a bunch of different things to make the story work.

How is writing with Marketa different from writing a Frames song? It's really a question of personalities and people. With the frames there are more people and it's run like a democracy and we've known each other for so long that people fall into certain roles. With Mar it's just me and her and whomever we get to play with us. For the two of us it's more yin/yang and we go back and forth finding certain registers to sing in and so forth. I guess the one constant is that most of the songs start with me and grow from there. Except for those songs that are just Mar. And those songs are great.

Your character in Once is a busker, you started out busking and you've collaborated with a lot of bands that emerged out of the busking scene. Do a large portion of bands start out that way in Dublin, or is that just a niche you happen to inhabit? I think more of the bands you might be thinking of start out the traditional way of meeting thru adverts or in school or around the neighborhood. There is a long tradition though of buskers and travelers and folk singers which is probably the minority in Dublin. There are plenty of buskers and they definitely are out there cutting their chops on the street, but when they're not there they're likely in a pub at night trying to win over an even more difficult crowd. Nothing tougher then playing to a room full of drunks. I was in my uncle’s band when I was about 16 and he played in pubs around Dublin doing rebel songs and ballads and all the traditional stuff. There would be two sets a night and by the second set the whole room was sloshed. My uncle would have me get up and do a Van Morrison song and it was a real test your mettle kind of thing.

What does the success of The Swell Season mean for the future of the Frames? Are you hoping to do both indefinitely? I certainly hope so. We're painfully aware that this did not happen to The Frames, but to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. With that said it would be great if we could keep a portion of this audience along for the next few years on whatever road we travel. I realize there are folks that are just hear to see the Once people, but hopefully we can win them over and more importantly I think there are a lot of new fans of our music. It's those folks in particular we want to see take the journey with us. At the end of the day these songs are my songs and if you like them then chances are you'll like them presented in another form as well.

What about acting? Do either one of you intend to take on more roles? I don't have any interest in being an actor, but I'm not against acting. If the right director (Herzog, Jarmusch, Leigh) asked I would of course have to consider and see a) if I could do it and b) if it fit into my schedule. I'm a musician first and foremost.

What kind of setlist can we expect for this tour? I know you have an album's worth of material plus some covers, but might we expect some Frames songs or some surprises in the mix? Perhaps some new stuff? For the longest time the set list was different every night and then with The Swell Season we got into a certain place where each night we did the same set outside of one or two songs. This had a lot to do with the amount of new fans we were winning over the length a room would let us play. Now that I got the lads backing me we can pretty much go any direction. I'd say you're likely to hear the bulk of the Once record, a few new tunes, the odd Van or Dylan cover and of course, of course a few Frames songs.