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Glen Hansard makes the most of Frames and fortune

THERE’S a theory that you’ve made it as an artist when couples use one of your hits as their wedding theme. Glen Hansard is a little uncomfortable with that idea, even if the song that puts him in such an elite body, Falling Slowly, brought the 43-year-old Irishman his biggest success. By¬†IAIN SHEDDEN

“Take this sinking boat and point it home, we’ve still got time,” he says, quoting the lyrics to cast some reservations over the song’s romantic attractions. “I mean … really?”

That Falling Slowly is used by newlyweds (he gets letters) is less surprising when one considers where most people first heard it: as the theme song to the 2006 film Once, a love story in which Hansard starred as an Irish busker alongside another musician, Czech singer and multi-instrumentalist Marketa Irglova.

The two musos first recorded the song together for their album project the Swell Season in 2006 and that same year another version appeared on Hansard’s band the Frames’ album The Cost. In 2008, Hansard and Irglova, co-writers of Falling Slowly, won an Oscar for best song for the Once version.

“The song took on a whole other meaning after Once came out,” says Hansard. “There’s more of a romantic side to it.”

To add spice to the story, the two performers fell in love during the making of Once, although their romance was short-lived. The Swell Season released another album, Strict Joy, in 2009 and toured internationally, including in Australia, to great acclaim.

Hansard’s career has taken several tangents since he quit school at 13 to play music on the streets of Dublin. His most enduring role, for more than 20 years, has been as frontman for the Frames, who have also visited Australia several times.

Most recently it’s as a solo artist Hansard has been plying his trade, following the release last year of his debut solo album, Rhythm and Repose.

All of these guises will be represented when Hansard begins an Australian tour with the Frames this month, a trip that culminates in an appearance at the Byron Bay Bluesfest in NSW across Easter.

Hansard likes to chat, as many Irishmen do, and he does so with good humour and in humble tones about his many achievements. He admits that Falling Slowly was a pivotal point in his career, one that changed the perception of him as purely the singer in the Frames.

“It’s funny because that made me realise that over the years I didn’t really have a game plan,” he says.

“When you start out you’re in a band and you hope that your band is good and that surely every decent band gets its moment. There wasn’t any deeper thinking than that. So when Once came along, suddenly the whole thing found some direction. It all seemed to have this focus. I’m delighted for it but it was a big change.”

Since the Frames released their first album, Another Love Song, in 1991, they have earned plaudits and an international following without breaking into the mainstream. They have released six studio albums in all. Although it has been seven years since The Cost, their most recent effort, the Frames are still a going concern, which is why the upcoming tour features Hansard and the band’s name on the posters. And there will be another Frames album at some point, Hansard says.

“It’s a band of brothers … the people who understand you the most,” he says of his bandmates. “And I love their humility. I’ve put those f . . kers through turmoil. I’ve gone off and done other things. There has been a lot of patience on their behalf.”

The Australian shows will feature a 12-piece ensemble that includes strings and brass. The content of the performances will be tailored towards Hansard’s recent solo material, but there will be room also for songs from the Frames and Swell Season catalogues. He may even take feedback on song selection from the audiences.

“Whatever the mood is on the night we need to follow,” he says.

Hansard’s solo persona came to fruition just as the Swell Season was finishing a world tour. The singer needed a break.

“The Swell Season had just finished up playing in Iceland,” he recalls. “We all went our separate ways. There was a wonderful but very serious conversation at the end of it where I said I didn’t want to be on tour again for a while. So I went to New York and spent a month doing nothing.”

The sabbatical over, Hansard gathered musicians and producer Thomas Bartlett in a New York studio and, with little idea about what his new material would be, got to work.

“I knew it wasn’t a Swell Season record and I knew it wasn’t a Frames record,” he says. In that frame of mind the songs burst forth.

“To some people the process of songwriting is gruelling and to others it just pours out. For me with this record … one minute the songs weren’t there and the next minute they were.

“If you find yourself in the studio and the microphones are open and people are ready to play with you, usually you rise to the occasion.”

One of the tracks on Rhythm and Repose, What are We Gonna Do?, features Irglova. Hansard remains good friends with her, although it’s unlikely there will be a third Swell Season album.

“I haven’t spoken to her for a while, which is unusual for us,” he says. “She’s living in Iceland now. It’s time for me and her to do a few gigs.

“I don’t see the Swell Season as something that will produce another record, but I’d like to do some shows.”

Hansard, who studied acting in New York before the Frames took off, has had plenty of acting offers since his success in Once, few of which he has taken seriously. His last significant role before Once was in Alan Parker’s 1991 music feature film The Commitments. Acting is not his priority.

“It was something I never really had any aspirations towards anyway,” he says. “One would have a handful of heroes, [and] if any of them came and asked you to do something, you’d jump; but most of the stuff that has come my way is not stuff I’d be interested in doing.”

He does have interests outside of music, however, such as carpentry.

“Last year when I took some time off I studied a bit of carpentry and I got really excited about it,” he says. “I built two kitchen tables that I’m really proud of.”

The singer is back living in Dublin after a few years in New York and says he is happy to be closer to family and friends. Following his Australian visit he hopes to take another sabbatical.

“I like to work because I like the idea of making hay,” he says. “When things are good, you go with it. But I haven’t seen my mother for months and I haven’t hung out with my girlfriend for forever, so it might be time again. I’m going to get a few months this year when I can just be a family person.”

In the meantime, he’s looking forward to reacquainting himself with Australian audiences, even if it is under his own name for the first time.

“It’s essentially the same thing,” he says, “a bunch of friends on stage making music.”

The Glen Hansard with the Frames tour begins at Port Fairy Folk Festival in Victoria on March 9 and travels to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Byron Bay.