Catching Up With... Glen Hansard

Music Features Glen Hansard
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Glen Hansard had already established himself as a man of musical integrity before 2007

. As the singer and guitarist of The Frames, he forged his way into many independent music loving hearts. But the release of a little film called Once (Paste's #2 of the year) blew his fanbase wide open. The support has been so momentous that he and his co-star, Markéta Irglová, have been able to take the music that they wrote and performed in the film and tour on it as The Swell Season.

When Hansard spoke with Paste in early December, it was after a day full of photos shoots and press junkets in promotion of Once’s arrival on DVD. There was a slight rasp of exhaustion in Hansard’s voice, but the songwriter-turned-actor still possessed a sense of fervor when he spoke.

Paste: How did you get involved with Once and how did you go about composing the music for the film?
Glen Hansard: John Carney, the writer/director of Once, is an old friend of mine. He came to me maybe two and half years ago with a 16-page outline for a film. He told me, “Look I’ve got this idea. I’ve got Cillian Murphy that’s gong to play the busker.” He wanted sort of anecdotal things for me, fill in stuff that had happened in my real life that he could add to the script. He had based this character fairly loosely on my past and the past of The Frames.

So, John asked me if he could use a song of mine called “Say It To Me Now,” and I said of course. [I was] very happy to let him use it, because getting a song in a film is a great chance for any songwriter. And he said, “Do you have anything that you could give me?” I said, “Well, look, let me take the outline home and see what I can come up with.” So I spent a couple of weeks with it, came back with a couple of ideas, and he loved them. I came back to him with “Falling Slowly,” and he immediately wrote a scene around that song where the two characters would have their first musical connection. [Eventually], he asked me to write all the songs for the film, which for me was a great honor because, again, as a songwriter, it’s the best thing in the world to get a song in a movie, but the idea of getting like nine songs was wonderful! We ended up using “Say it to Me Now,” which was an old song from The Frames, “Falling Slowly” and “When Your Mind’s Made Up.”

Then, he wanted a song for Markéta for a scene when she walks up the street because her batteries had died on her Walkman. He basically gave us a recording of Alanis Morissette’s [“Thank You”] and said, “Would you be into ripping this off for me? I really love this song. I’d love to use it, but obviously I can’t because I can’t afford it.” So we toyed around with the idea of the song and Markéta came up with “If You Want Me” in the middle of shooting. And we needed a song called “Once,” so we wrote a song called “Once.” It was a very creative time. It was three weeks of filming, and in those three weeks I think we wrote three or four songs. Sometimes we’d give John ideas and he wouldn’t necessarily bite. He would say, “Ah, I like this, but, you know, I just don’t like it enough.” He was pretty hard on us, and we just kept on bringing him tunes.

P: Was there ever a moment when you were filming that you realized this project would connect with and affect audiences to the extent that it has?
Hansard: Absolutely honestly, no. John had sent the film out to Sundance and to Toronto and like every film festival, and everybody had kind of officially turned it down. John wasn’t really sure how he was going to move forward with it. The film ended up getting into Sundance by total freak chance. Someone had come to a screening of it in Ireland and worked for Sundance and basically asked us if he could take a DVD. When he asked us if he could take the DVD to Sundance, we didn’t tell him that it had already been refused. So, he took it there and we got officially selected. The whole life and trajectory of this film has been incredibly fortunate and sort of crazy luck, as well as the fact that I think we made something that was just very, very simple. I guess what people are saying about it most is that it was believable, and I guess that’s what has been its strength through this time because it certainly wasn’t the technical end of things. It wasn’t how it was shot. It had a certain amount of believability, and people really liked the music, thank God. So I’m over the moon, and we’re all over the moon, but we had no real expectations with all this.

P: Once actually ended up being Paste’s #2 movie of the year. Do you have any top picks for music or film of 2007?
Hansard: Film is easy. Control, the film about the story of Ian Curtis, shot by Anton Corbijn, that was a wonderful film and the one that impressed me the most. I also loved the Cohen brothers’ movie No Country for Old Men. But, let’s see, music’s tougher. That Charlotte Gainsbourg record is wonderful, but it came out [in 2006]. 5:55 is the name, and it’s a great record. I love that Cornelius album, Point. I’ve been listening to that quite a lot, and I’ve been listening Mary Margaret O’Hara's Ms. America, and to Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson, which is a wonderful, wonderful record. The National record I think is really good. I haven’t listened to the Radiohead record yet, but I know I’m going to love it.

P: Getting back to Once, the film in a lot ways is a love story. Not only between two people, but between the characters and their love of music. Was there ever a specific song or event that made you fall in love with music?
Hansard: I remember when I was five years old we had just gotten a television and my mother rushed us all in to the living room [to watch] that classic footage of Dylan singing “Homesick Subterranean Blues” where he keeps dropping the plaque card on the ground. So, for me as a child, that was a very defining moment. My mother was a huge Dylan fan, and to see this guy who was like super-cool standing there in all black and white footage and me as a kid just thinking, “God, I’d love to do that. I’d love to look like that,” that was kind of my first thought that I’d like to do that.

And then when I was five years old my mother taught me [Leonard Cohen's] “Bird on the Wire,” because my mother was just really into music, and I guess it was really her. I mean, I remember every Sunday she she’d play like Tammy Wynette records and Buddy Rich, all those great old country songs, at full volume over the Hoover. But she’d be vacuuming the house and she’d play the music louder than the vacuum. The whole house was just vibrating with this music. I loved all of it. All those songs were just wonderful as a kid.

P: Now, with the film hitting DVD and your tour with The Swell Season coming to an end, do you think you’ll be heading back into the studio?
Hansard: Yeah, we’ll make another record. But I’ll tell you, I think between now and then a bloody holiday is most important on our agenda, to be honest. When you work a field very hard the soil can go fallow, and right now I’m feeling a little like that, just feeling a little burnt out. They say it’s really important when you have any success in your life to crack a bottle of champagne or go and have dinner with your mates or do something that marks the celebration so you can sit back and get a bit of perspective with everything. Sometimes the day your ship comes in might just be another day at the office and you might not even notice. What I would really like to do is just take a bit of time off and really try to absorb all the great things that have happened to us this year.