Not just Once
Irish folk-rocker Glen Hansard is out to prove that there is more to him than the Academy Award-winning soundtrack of Once
Irish Folk-Rock duo the Swell Season is perhaps more commonly known as the duo from Once, the indie musical that won critical acclaim and a number of awards, including the Academy Award for best original song. But Glen Hansard, who also fronts Irish rock band the Frames, and his partner Marketa Irglova are determined to move past their 2007 film success with the release of their follow-up to the Once soundtrack, Strict Joy.
Out on October 27, the album features the single Low Rising, which sounds more like Van Morrison than the delicately melancholy acoustic songs that first made the duo famous.
You were just in Africa. What were you doing there?
Edward Norton is running this conservation camp for the Maasai Tribe in Kenya. Among many of the great people that we’ve come across in this whole madness of what happened to us after Once, there were a couple of people that stuck and became pals. I’m very happy to say that he’s one of them.
Strict Joy shares its title with a James Stephens poem. Did his writing influence the album?
James Stephens just hit me between the teeth on Strict Joy with the idea that the poet makes grief beautiful. When you really care for your grief and channel it through song or through art, if you do it right, oftentimes the art that you make doesn’t emit sadness but it emits beauty. I’ve often battled with the idea that I go onstage and sing about stuff that’s wrong with me and people pay money to hear those songs.
On the new album you worked with producer Peter Katis, who’s known for working with indie rock acts like the National and Interpol. Did he push Strict Joy in that musical direction?
Peter has a very strong personality, but he knows when to step down from a fight. He’s definitely an indie rocker, and we did have a little trouble with that initially. I wanted to make an Elton John record and was influenced by early-’70s stuff. There were times when Peter’s eyes glazed over for sure, but there were times when he would get really excited.
You’ve worked on two film soundtracks. Is writing for that medium something you particularly enjoy?
I completely stumbled into working on soundtracks. One of the first questions I was asked after Once got big was, ‘So when are you moving to LA? You’ve got to move to LA to write songs for movies.’ I was like, ‘No, no, no. I’m a guy in a band.’ Then I was invited to move to Nashville to be involved with one of those songwriting circles — to be a part of Tin Pan Alley, essentially — writing songs for famous people. I was asked to write for Miley Cyrus, and to me that was hilarious. I was delighted to be asked, but of course I didn’t. It doesn’t feel natural to the path I’ve always seen myself on as a musician.
You weren’t originally cast to act in Once and only did so after Cillian Murphy dropped out. Would you try acting again?
I’d be very happy to act again — I really enjoyed Once — but me, (director) John Carney and Marketa were pals. I wonder to myself if I would be able to act otherwise because I was pretty much playing myself. It was very natural for me to take out a guitar and play on the street and hang out with Mar, who was already a friend of mine. As proud as I am of Once, it doesn’t give me much confidence as an actor because we are just drinking and bluffing. I’ve had a few offers to be in films, but all of them have been for me to play a charming Irish guy who plays guitar, which I wouldn’t do again.
The Swell Season won an Oscar for the song Falling Slowly — and has been immortalised in an episode of The Simpsons. Which was more surprising?
The Simpsons, of course. The Simpsons is the one thing that binds the world together in a way. People don’t watch the Oscars necessarily in India, but they watch The Simpsons. What really struck me was that they were doing a little bit of a joke on Once, but Once was a tiny film in the world. It did OK in America, but in the world of cinema, it hardly got recognised. I said this to the people at The Simpsons and they said, ‘We don’t care. If we like something, we’ll parody it. It’s up to the rest of the world to figure out what we’re parodying.’ When you’ve been on The Simpsons, you know something has shifted.