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The Swell Season interview

| December 4, 2009

Ode To Joy

Photography By Conor Masterson +44(0)7930 406 559

“I find myself getting bored with the angst,” Glen Hansard admits. The words might come as a surprise to those intimately familiar with the Irishman’s back catalog. Sure, The Frames excelled in lifting its audience’s souls to the rafters of the world in the course of its 19-year history, the same way a preacher raises a congregation’s hearts toward the heavens, but scattered between the songs of anticipation (“People Get Ready”), revelation (“Revelate”), and self-examination (“Pavement Tune”), Hansard opened a vein with woeful tales of love — both ardent and unrequited.

Relationships remain the focus of Hansard’s latest release, Strict Joy (Anti), under The Swell Season moniker, but the ginger-haired singer’s outlook shifted over the last two years.

“I took a month off and during that month I kept getting these waves of good will. These waves of joy that came over me and the realization each time was I’m in the middle of a life. I’m in the middle of a really good life,” Hansard explains hours before taking the stage at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island.

The much-needed sabbatical served as a reward for a life-changing, whirlwind period. In that time, Hansard starred in the surprise indie hit Once with collaborator Marketa Irglova; both left the 2008 Academy Awards as the darlings of the ceremony with matching Oscar statuettes for Best Song in hand; and cultivated a new, rabid fanbase anxious to see art imitate life when the costars embarked on a romance off-screen.

Career highs such as an animated guest spot on “The Simpsons” followed, along with staggering sales of the Once soundtrack and an open invitation on the late-night talk show circuit. On a personal level, Hansard traveled to Kenya with Edward Norton for an eye-opening trip (“That was a very deep experience for me, I think it’s going to be years from now when I process that into song, somehow, I hope”) and considers the likes of Bono and Bruce Springsteen as more than mere acquaintances (“It’s been a real gift to me because as much as it’s inspired me, it’s also shown me that these guys are no different — they’re just very good at what they do”).

Strict Joy makes room for Hansard’s bandmates (“I . . . like drawing attention to the fact that I’m in a band called The Frames and that this band will come back and play again”) and two, mesmerizing Irglova-penned tracks. From the Van Morrison-esque opener, “Low Rising,” which sternly warns a lover that it’s time to sit down and lay all the couple’s reservations out on the table, to the swirling “The Verb,” the album is less stark than The Swell Season’s self-titled debut and expertly melds Hansard’s desire to write songs “about reaching for the moment when the unveiling happens, where you get to another place in your life” and the inevitable boy-loses-girl fodder. Just don’t call it a break-up album.

Those who care about such things have made a big deal about the dissolution of Hansard and Irglova’s romantic partnership (without ever rejoicing in the fact that their musical partnership remains intact). The interest in the pair’s private life hasn’t reached the fever pitch of say, Kristen Stewart/Robert Pattinson proportions, but the topic’s frequency causes Hansard’s eyes to glaze over.

“Some of the songs are about Mar and some of hers are about me, but that’s just songs. Songs aren’t flags for any particular idea. They’re not written in the moment. They’re not newspaper articles,” Hansard stoically relates. “Absolutely, Mar is in there. She’s in the fabric of everything I do and always will be, but I don’t ever want to tie a song to a particular . . . I don’t want to be a harbor for that kind of sorrow. I don’t want to be a harbor for that kind of cynicism. It’s not a break-up record. We were getting along great when we made this record.”

— Janine Schaults

For the full interview, grab the December issue of Illinois Entertainer, available free throughout Chicagoland.

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