DESPITE the accolades, award-winning musician Glen Hansard seems modest about his own achievements and determined to emulate the songwriters he most admires. ”Life’s great goal,” says the Irish singer-songwriter, in Melbourne this week with his band, The Frames, ”is to write a bunch of good songs.”
He talks about songs that transcend creators, including Bob Marley and Van Morrison. ”It doesn’t really matter who wrote it,” he says of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. ”The song matters more than Leonard …”
Bob Dylan’s Forever Young and Blowin’ in the Wind are ”not necessarily my favourite songs but they … have entered the pantheon”.
”It’s like Stand by Me,” says Hansard, who was nominated for a second Academy Award for his song The Gift from the Disney film, The Odd Life of Timothy Green. ”Now, you and I both know that Ben E. King wrote it but most people don’t know … or give a f—.”
Falling Slowly, which he wrote with Czech singer-songwriter Marketa Irglova (pictured), his co-star in the movie Once, won an Academy Award for best original song in 2008. The film’s score won a Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award and the 2011 stage show, a musical based on the surprise hit about a romance between a busker and east European migrant, collected eight Tony awards.
Just because he’s won ”some races”, he sings on his solo debut album, Rhythm and Repose, doesn’t mean he’s the fastest, or best. ”The idea that in your life you could write 10 good songs,” Hansard says, ”… I think that’s a pretty f—ing tall order.”
He has returned to his native Dublin, where he quit school at 13 to busk, and is happily untroubled by fans. He had been based in New York, where he recorded Rhythm and Repose.
His private life was in the spotlight after he fell in love with Irglova. ”Once I guess that it became public that we were together there was all this pressure on us to be something,” Hansard says.
He remembers their romance as ”a golden period” and talks of ”a wonderful magic … that I will never forget”.
Critics note that Rhythm and Repose sounds similar to his collaborations with Irglova, including a 2009 album, Strict Joy. ”Oh absolutely,” he concedes. ”I mean, it’s the same songwriter … You would hope that you are getting a little bit deeper [and] you are saying a bit more.”
Hansard played a guitarist in Alan Parker’s 1991 film, The Commitments. It once irked that some people thought he had come to music through acting.
The Frames opened for Dylan on a 2007 Australian tour. He was first invited to support Dylan after an early 1990s encounter near a rehearsal venue in Dublin, during which he told the veteran singer-songwriter it meant as much to him as his own first meeting with his hero, Woody Guthrie.
Cohen was playing at the Sydney Entertainment Centre in 2009 when he and Irglova were performing at the Opera House. They took a taxi across town after their encore. ”And, oh my god man, myself and Marketa just sat there and cried,” he says. ”We were so privileged to be there.”
Cohen’s guitarist, Javier Mas, had enjoyed Once and flew to New York to play on Rhythm and Repose. Mas invited the Irish musician to sing in Gijon in Spain in 2011 when the Canadian singer-songwriter received the Prince of Asturias Prize for his songwriting and poetry. Hansard sang two favourites, Famous Blue Raincoat and So Long Marianne. ”I got to play for my hero,” he says.
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