By Carly LewisGlen Hansard has come a long way from busking on Dublin's busy Grafton Street (although he does return once a year for charity), but he's never strayed far from his roots. Having spent the past two decades making records with the Frames and later the Swell Season, the Irish-born, Academy Award-winning songwriter has at long last made Rhythm and Repose, an album all his own.
Why did you need to make a solo record? I just needed time away. I needed time away from the people I loved the most. We had finished our tour up in Iceland and it was the last stretch of gigs for Strict Joy. And I remember just sitting with everyone and feeling that I wasn't there anymore. I was like, "I need to take a year away from being on a bus and traveling this much." And everyone was basically like, "Yeah, we all agree. Go and rest. Don't fuckin' work." Because I always work. I'll take time off and just keep working, which is kind of what I did.
I took time off and rented a little apartment on the corner of Bleecker and Bowery in New York. I spent some quiet weeks with my guitar, getting up late and going for coffee and doing that New York thing, going to galleries… I bought a bicycle. My friend Thomas [Bartlett, aka Doveman, who produced Rhythm and Repose] has this great session called the Burgundy Stain Sessions at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street, a few blocks from where I am. The whole idea of the gig is that you just go up and do something ― with the band or without the band, whatever you want. It's all about being present. So I got up and I said, "Alright, this song's in E, it's got a bit of a Levon Helm groove, a bit of a "Don't Do It" feel. It's got a C-sharp minor in it and the chorus is basically two chords repeated." And they were like, "Right, let's do it." And I was so impressed with the musicians. They just got it. They nailed it. I was so impressed that I said "Thomas, could we book a room? Because I'd love to live with these tunes." I didn't even know that I had that song. So we booked a studio and we went in, and I got seven songs that day. I didn't even know I had seven songs. I lived with it for a couple weeks, and then we went in and did a couple of other ideas. Then I booked another session where I did a bunch of solo stuff. And I sort of found myself in the middle of making another record. But I didn't know what it was; it sort of just seemed natural that this would be a Glen Hansard record, to further confuse my manager. He's like, "Okay, what is it called? The Frames? What are you called?" So now I've got a different name again.
But there comes a point in your life where you have to sort of own your own art. You just have to own it. And as much as the Frames or the Swell Season [are] an identity, when you call something your own name, it really, truly calls it into your own space.
You're such an integral part of the Swell Season and the Frames. What about this album, other than your name, made it so much your own? When you're in a band, there is this idea of democracy. There is this concept of partnership with the Swell Season. And those things do exist, whereas I needed to make a record where every single decision was mine. I just needed to do it. I needed to not argue. I needed to go get lost and come out the other end. It's not even a control issue. Sometimes you might end up going full circle and coming back to the beginning, but it was important that you did it, and that it wasn't the result of democracy.
So does the end result feel different? Yeah, more pressure. And all the joy, too. But you need to know who you are. You need to dig deeper into yourself. I've noticed that with Frames records, especially with the last one, I was kind of leaving it up to the boys a bit. I kind of wasn't there. My head was in Swell Season, to be honest. I was just about to leave the Frames and go be a Swell Season guy. My head wasn't in it. My heart wasn't in it. I found myself drifting, whereas with this, it's like, "This is you." You can't drift. It's about ownership. I'm 42; it's about time I owned my shit. It's about time I owned my feelings. It's about time I owned everything, and that I'm able to explain everything I write and everything that I do. I feel good about it.
As you should. It's a great record, by the way. Do you like it? Thank you so much. That's all that matters ― that people like it. If I could be selfish and want anything for this record, and for any of the records I've ever made, it would be that people find a song or two on it and actually have a relationship with the songs. That's all that matters.