Glen Hansard tells Simon Collins he is coping with fame thanks to Bruce Springsteen
It’s something I’ve never done before but I felt compelled to hand the phone to my wife, Myra, so she could chat with Irish folk-rocker Glen Hansard. At our wedding, she walked down the aisle to Falling Slowly, a song Hansard recorded with Czech musician Marketa Irglova under their guise as the Swell Season. “No way, f…ing hell, man, that’s amazing,” Hansard exclaims from New York before I pass the phone to Myra. “I’m blown away,” the Dubliner tells her. “What a great honour for a song to be used in such a big moment in your life.” Falling Slowly has had quite the life. The song, the heartbreakingly poignant centrepiece of the low-budget romantic movie Once, won the Academy Award for best original song at the 2007 Oscars. The shock win suddenly thrust Hansard and Irglova, who starred in the Dublin-set film, on to the world stage — an environment neither independent artist was particularly ready for. “There is a part of your soul that gets cheapened by fame,” the 42-year-old says in a typically philosophical mood as he watches the sunset over the West River. After quitting school at age 13 to busk on the streets of Dublin, Hansard formed the Frames in 1990, the band earning their place as Irish folk-rock heroes the hard way — relentless and always impassioned gigging. “All any artist wants is an audience, that’s all they ever f…ing want, and the Oscar definitely gave us that. And it doesn’t give it to you forever. “The Oscars basically meant that instead of playing the Metro (Theatre) in Sydney, we went down (to Australia) and played the Sydney Opera House,” he says. But along with all the “unfiltered and uncynical joy” surrounding the success of Once came a deep sense of sadness that Hansard couldn’t quite pin down until Bruce Springsteen sat him down for a chinwag. “You know what, Glen, the guy that you’ve been for 20 years, has just died,” the Boss told him. “The guy who was kind of struggling, the guy with all the potential, the guy running up against the wall, has just died. Now you’re the guy who has actually done something. “You’re just mourning the death of your old self. It’s just an adjustment period and you’re gonna be fine.” Hansard still can’t believe he got his own personal High Fidelity moment with Springsteen. “It was incredible advice,” he says. Touring with the Swell Season eventually wound down and nearly two years ago Hansard found himself living in the Big Apple. “Just to chill out and do nothing for a year.” He got up for a jam with a musical mate, Thomas Bartlett, aka Doveman, at his regular Burgundy Stains Sessions at Lower East Side club, Le Poisson Rouge. What they produced with a bunch of local musicians sounded great, so they booked some studio time and — to Hansard’s enormous surprise — knocked out seven songs in one day. “I didn’t know I had seven songs in me,” he laughs. “I was delighted with it, really delighted. And I suppose I realised ‘There it is, I’ve just started making my first solo record’.” Recorded in New York with Bartlett, and musicians that had toured with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Bon Iver and Springsteen, Rhythm and Repose features 11 mostly lovesick songs. They see the acoustic troubadour wear his heart and soul, and veer towards being maudlin at times, yet he insists: “I was in really good form making this record.” Concurrent with making the album, which features Irish painter Colin Davidson’s melancholic portrait of Hansard on the cover, a stage musical adaptation of Once sprung to life in New York. After starting out at a small East Village theatre last December, Once opened on Broadway in March. Helped along by a rave review from esteemed New York Times critic Ben Brantley, last month Once earned an incredible 11 Tony nominations, including best musical. While he has helped the lead actors learn how to deliver the songs for Once, Hansard says his involvement is minor. He wants to buy a place in New York but is planning to move all his stuff back home to Dublin while he heads out around the world again to tour Rhythm and Repose. Hansard hopes to play in Perth next March and reckons he’ll bring out his old Frames mates. “A friendship is 100 hours. We’ve been through it all together,” he says. “As much as I loved making this record with a bunch of New Yorkers, I feel like in terms of going on stage and being able to turn it on a dime, the Frames guys are the only ones who really get me on that level.” Our 20-minute chat now heading towards the hour mark, I ask the obvious question — where’s the Oscar? “My mother has it,” Hansard replies. “My mother keeps it by the bed. She got a little glass case made for it n’ all. The house got broken into and they stole everything — the TV and the video, everything — and amazingly, amazingly, they left the Oscar by the bed. “She doesn’t live in a mansion or anything. It’s an old council house in a (Dublin) housing estate, so I guess seeing an Oscar on the bedside table, they must’ve thought it was fake.” Rhythm and Repose is out today.