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In 2006, Glen Hansard was once again touring Australia with the band that had put him on the international map, The Frames, but during that visit, he was also fielding interviews about a little independent film directed by former Frames bass player John Carney called O nce, essentially a bittersweet love story about a Dublin busker, played by Hansard, and a striking young Czech immigrant, played by Markéta Irglová.

Hansard had originally met Irglová when she was still only 13. Already a precocious musical talent, Hansard did what he could to help her develop as an artist, but there was no hint of anything more until romance emerged while the pair were promoting Once around America. Irglová was aged 19, Hansard was then 37. By 2009, after recording and performing together as The Swell Season, the couple had broken up, Irglová briefly marrying American bass player and producer Tim Iseler. The film has since been adapted for the stage by Irish playwright Enda Walsh.

All this is by way of providing something of a context for Hansard’s debut solo album, Rhythm And Repose, which, while not specifically about their affair, carries a lot of the heartache that Hansard inevitably experienced at its demise.

“I guess in a lot of ways I’m still drawing on that same chapter,” he admits, on the line from Savannah, Georgia, midway through a US tour with Eddie Vedder. “And I think it might have been the last record of that chapter… You don’t ever set out to write songs about a particular time or period of your life.”

The remarkable thing about the album is the quiet dignity, gentleness and resignation of the songs, for all the poignant bittersweetness of the emotions and experiences expressed, the sign of an artist able to make the personal transcend to the universal, so that opening song, You Will Become, which looks optimistically at the potential of ‘the other’ to bloom into something greater, could just as easily be about a father talking to a child as a lover wishing a lost love well.

“As I travelled more and more with Markéta – I mean, I’ve always been shocked at how great she is, as a thinker and as a soul… I remember writing that song – and it’s really just a tribute to her, saying, you know, ‘All of this, this whole thing that we’ve gone through together, is a very interesting and powerful chapter in our lives so far, but you’re really on your way and whatever you want I really believe that you will manifest it because you’re essentially a great person’. So it was just my way of saying good luck, you know?”

The album is also something of a chronicle of the year and a half Hansard lived in New York City before he recorded it.

“I was on time off,” he admits, “but ain’t that always the way. You know, you set your compass for north and before you know it, you’re headin’ east. But that’s alright – sometimes that’s exactly where you needed to go. And sometimes it’s just a statement that’s important. I wanted to take a year away from everything, so I announced to everyone around me, ‘I think I need to take some time away from this whole thing, just to figure out where I’m at,’ and everyone was like, ‘Great, yeah, do it man, and do it for real because we’d love to see you take a bit of time to yourself.’ And I did.

“But then of course, the minute I did, I found myself excited about getting’ back into it. New York is a city I’ve always enjoyed taking time off in, a city I’m drawn back to over and over. What I like about New York is that it’s a place you can kind of get lost in – you can kind of disappear in that town – and it can be a lonely town or it can be an incredibly entertaining town, and I needed all of those [things] at my disposal for this particular chapter.”

Glen Hansard will be playing the following dates:

Friday 8 to Monday 11 March – Port Fairy Folk Festival, Port Fairy VIC
Saturday 16 March – Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide SA
Wednesday 20 March – Recital Centre, Melbourne VIC
Thursday 21 March – Recital Centre, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 23 March – Recital Centre, Melbourne VIC
Monday 25 March – Opera House, Sydney NSW
Friday 29 March – Bluesfest, Byron Bay NSW

Michael Smith