Hybrid Music Magazine - Glen Hansard - December 2005
It's been a bit more than a year since Hybrid Magazine last caught up with Glen Hansard from Irish musical dignitaries The Frames and sat down for a cup of tea (or in this case, coffee). Way back in September, the band had begun its North American tour for fall of 2005, and David DeVoe had the opportunity for a quick sip with Glen, to discuss the year, the pitfalls and joys of touring, great Bob Dylan moments in history and what the future holds for the Frames.
It went a little something like this:
Hybrid Magazine: How was Australia?
Glen Hansard: It was tough, actually. I mean, the first couple of times we went down there all the shows were sold out and we had an amazing tour. And then this time, all the shows were sold out again, and we were in bigger rooms again… you know, everything was moving forward. But for some reason, I don't know if it was that last time I didn't notice it or what, but it struck me this time that even though, you know, we weren't playing the enorma-domes or anything, we were playing like 2000 seaters, but it struck me that all our tickets had sold out way in advance… this is a classic first world complaint I'm going to give you now, but you know… they were all Irish people. I won't say one hundred percent, but definitely eighty percent of our audience in Australia was Irish. Which, for me, kind of disheartened me a bit… not because we weren't playing… but for me it was like, what's the point in coming all this way to play for people you can play for at home?
HM: So it was Irish tourists?
GH: Well, basically Australia's become the new New York, if you like. Instead of getting the J1, nowadays, what they do is they go to Australia, because the work opportunities are better and so on. So, you know for Irish people, Australia has become the new place to go for a summer job, you know, because it's such a beautiful place. It just really struck me this time that it was all these people that were coming to see us, and buying up all the tickets. Which meant that even though we were playing really big rooms, Australians weren't really getting a chance to come and see us. Because they wouldn't be so interested in coming to see The Frames until they heard it on the radio or they were convinced to go buy a ticket… and then they'd go buy a ticket. But by the time they kind of got themselves together to go buy a Frames ticket, they were all gone. So, all I'm saying is… Australia was cool, you know. The gigs were great, we had a great time, but for me it was more a reflection of how big we are in Ireland than how big we are in Australia. Do you know what I mean? And it was kind of frustrating to me, because it's kind of a long way to travel.
HM: Yeah. That's very interesting.
GH: Whereas, over here it doesn't happen as much. Over here it's been gradually less and less Irish people at our concerts in America. Or if they are here, they are blending into the audience more. They're not making so… 'cause basically, you'll always know an Irish person's in your audience, because they're always the loudest. And it's a good thing because their enthusiasm is unparalleled. I meet American bands all the time who come to Ireland and say that Irish people are the best audiences in the world… them and the Scots, because they're just so enthusiastic. And as much as that can be a great thing, it can be destructive, also. Because you can get people in the audience shouting at you, you know, about your hometown or some kind of local colloquialism… and basically what it does is it ends up excluding the rest of the people at the gig. Because these people are almost saying, "I know you. I know you better than everyone else in this room." And if there's enough of them, it can often destroy the atmosphere of the gig. But, you know, I've spoken to Steve Earle about it and he's telling me that it's the same thing that happens to him. I spoke to Jeff Tweedy about it and he says exactly the same thing happens to him. Where you get these frat boys who come to see him play in… Hawaii. Well, not Hawaii, but I'm trying to think of someplace he would play… Just somewhere, and it's just again, the same thing.
HM: Yeah, I would think that that would be a little bit unsettling in some ways.
GH: It's a really good thing for any band to play in front of an audience… the last thing I would ever do on stage is complain about it or wince about it. But there are times when… when you come to Denver, Colorado, you'd like to play for people from Denver, Colorado.
HM: Right. That's kind of the whole idea behind touring.
GH: The point, yeah. I mean, if we were the kind of band that depended only on an Irish audience, we'd be playing in Fado… not at a theater. And it's something that we've not consciously pursued, but it's something that whenever we've been offered a gig in America at an Irish bar, we've always refused it. Because we know what happens when you play at an Irish bar in America. People will come out and it will be a great night, but you won't have come all this way to play in front of people from the town. And that's really what we want to do. So Australia was really good, but on the other hand it was frustrating. We get played on the radio there, and we sell records there, so all that adds up.
HM: What about Austin City Limits? How was that gig, the first of this fall tour in America.
GH: It was amazing. Absolutely amazing. I didn't really know what to expect, to be honest… I'd heard about it and I'd heard that it was a really good festival, but I was kind of thinking to myself after playing South By Southwest, would it be any good or what would the atmosphere be like. It was outstanding.
HM: It seems to be better anymore, than South By Southwest…
GH: It's better in that it happens all in one place, and there isn't that secret gig happening two miles up the road, and you can't get a ticket for love or money because the place only holds a hundred. But you know, South By Southwest is all based on the gigs that you can't get into… that's what makes it sort of intriguing, if you like. Whereas this thing was just a sort of big, open festival. I flew in from Prague and I got in to New York and made my flight to Denver, and from Denver to Austin, sped in a car and made it within three minutes of going on stage. So within three minutes to stage time, I made it from Prague… 26 hours of traveling, but we made it. We had a really great gig, really enjoyed it. It was a fantastic atmosphere.
HM: Did you get to see some other good music?
GH: I got to see a couple of things. Of course, because I was so… fucked… I kind of just pretty much flaked after we played, I went back to the bus and kind of just laid down. I saw Bloc Party, and I have to admit, I'm just… I'm shocked at how popular they are.
HM: I'm a little bit shocked at how that entire sound has been forced back on the listening public.
GH: I don't mean I'm shocked at how popular they are. I just couldn't… I just didn't like them, at all. And usually I can find something in a band that makes me go, whoa. Whereas with them, I was just like, Jesus…
HM: Honestly, with them… they were a huge buzz band I think at South By Southwest this year, and I've still never really heard them. I think I've maybe heard five or ten seconds of a song here or there.
GH: I can understand all that. I can understand the buzz band thing and getting behind something that's kind of new and fresh… But I saw them and I watched their set and I thought, "Okay, this is doing nothing to me. So I'm going to watch it even more intently. Give it my attention." And I didn't see… I don't see it at all. I don't get it. Which is quite rare, you know. I get most bands.
HM: Well, they're doing that whole disco pop thing, right?
GH: Yeah. It's kind of up-tempo tunes.
HM: Like the Franz Ferdinand, Bravery thing.
GH: Well, Franz Ferdinand has songs. Franz Ferdinand are a band that… you
know, you can see what Franz Ferdinand are doing. They're not pulling any
punches, they're not calling it high art. What they do is pretty much straight
up rock in kind of an 80's style. And it's really good. I like Franz Ferdinand…
but the Bloc Party thing went totally over my head. There just doesn't seem to
be any songs in there at all. Unless I'm just missing it completely. I was
probably just jet-lagged. That's probably what it was. Probably shouldn't even
put this in, I'm just…
I was standing there with my band, and I was like, "Does anyone else… is anyone getting anything from this? At all?" And everyone was like, "Nope." Very strange.
HM: That's a fairly good consensus. So, Austin City Limits started your fall tour here in the States… the gigs have been good so far?
GH: Yeah, really good. From Austin we drove down to Tucson, because we've been recommended to take some time off there. It's a beautiful place, but I must admit, I couldn't breathe down there. The heat was insane. Really enjoyed it though, had a great couple days there. Hung out with Joey [Burns] from Calexico and he showed us around a bit. We played in Tucson and we played in Phoenix, then went north to L.A. We had a great show in L.A. The best show we've played in L.A. hands down… at the El Rey theater. Then went north again to San Francisco and we played the Fillmore. Had a great show at the Fillmore.
HM: I don't think you can have a bad show at the Fillmore. I think that takes a lot of work.
GH: Yeah, it's just such a perfect room. Did the Fillmore and then went north again to Portland. Had an amazing gig in Portland. One of those… it was a Monday night, the audience was full, everyone was there. Everyone had come up to the front, just stood up front, but everyone was just in… It was almost like a workshop more than a gig. Everyone was, "I like that song. How old was that?". It was one of those shows where the audience and the band became sort of a living room scenario. And then we went up to Seattle played the Showbox and we had a fucking amazing gig there. I wasn't sure it was going to be a good gig after seeing the venue, I wasn't sure I liked it, and we got in there and the place was packed, the atmosphere was amazing, everyone was listening. So it's been an incredible tour. And Josh [Ritter] has been really great as well. It's been really good for us to play in front of his audience and for him to play in front of ours. It's been a really good choice to bring him out, because it's been a really nice mixed bag of people.
HM: That's good. I would assume that that can really make or break a tour when you are touring with the same opener. Having compatible audiences is kind of a big deal.
GH: As far as I know, his audience has been very gracious to us. As in, there's no talk when we're on stage and it's not crazy… it's been very nice. And then we did a thing yesterday that was absolutely brilliant. I was really happy to have done it, and it was a great diversion. We did an in-store in Boise, at the Record Exchange, that was absolutely wonderful. Just played for an hour in this record store, maybe a hundred people showed up… and again, just that really nice, no expectations, no… it was really nice. It's been a really easy tour so far, it's been great.
HM: Well, that's good. There's nothing wrong with that.
GH: No, it's been the easiest tour so far… and maybe it's because I'm sober. I don't know whether it's that or not. It just seems to be coming…
HM: That shouldn't make it easier…
GH: No, well… The only problem I have is that I want a beer after I play. But apart from that it's been great for me.
HM: Playing mostly songs off of Burn The Maps? Are you breaking out a few new songs? What should we expect tonight.
GH: We're breaking out some new stuff, yeah. We played four songs… mostly four songs a night of new… We're doing about five off Burn The Maps, maybe three off Dance The Devil, maybe three or four off Fitzcaraldo… and four off For The Birds. We're doing a good mix. Whereas on the last tour, there were a few gigs where we just did the whole Burn The Maps album from top to bottom… which was kind of risky, but it worked in the places we did it.
HM: How's that record been doing?
GH: Good, I think. I don't… I actually don't know.
HM: I guess, more than numbers, more than sales, how do you feel about it now that it's been out for a while. It's been almost a year now.
GH: I feel great about it. I feel it was the best we could have done at the time, and it's our there and it's doing its thing. You know, people generally keep saying to me that it's a slow burner, but they like it.
HM: I think everyone that I've talked to, everyone that I know, feels that same way. It takes a while to hit you.
GH: Yeah. I can't see us changing that too much on the next record. I think that's kind of… we hit a pattern. Maybe it's just getting older, we're doing it a certain way… you'll hear a couple new songs tonight and tell us what you think. But I really felt good about that record. I don't want to make it again; I'd like to make something that's slightly different next time. But I really liked what we hit upon there. It was a nice collection… Making records is a bit like clearing yourself, you know. It's a bit like clearing your closets or getting the ghosts out. And when it's all done, then a few months pass by, maybe six, eight months pass by, and you're totally clean, you're feeling good, and it's all out and done. And then the dirt gathers up again, you know, the dust and cobwebs, and before you know it you've got another album in your system. So that's kind of where I'm at now; just ready to go into the studio and knock it all out. So we booked it for January… Generally speaking the best way for us to work is book the studio time before we even have a song written, just so we have a deadline to work with.
HM: It's that college mentality… You know when the end of semester is, so you have to get everything done by then.
GH: Exactly. It's like, book the launch party before you've even written a
HM: We've talked a lot in the past about books. We always tend to speak a little about books. And I know a couple of years ago, you had been reading John Fante. And two… three, actually… three British or Irish people that I've spoken with, whether to interview or just met and talked with, in the past year, are big into reading John Fante.
HM: Yeah. The one that comes to my mind most readily is Johnathan Rice…
GH: Don't know him.
HM: He's got an amazing record out. Anyway… a lot of things he had to say about Fante were very parallel to things that you've said… I think that's kind of odd that musicians - I can't comment on the general populace of Great Britain or Ireland - but the musicians I talk to, there's something in his writing that kind of…
GH: Well, he's so lyrical… He's almost kind of like Mark Twain in a way. He draws a line right out, and seems to do it so naturally. It seems, whenever I picture John Fante writing, I see him pounding a typewriter… I don't see a guy sitting there pondering. I see a guy just burning, you know. And I see a typewriter just fucking murdered. And his books read that way, they just come straight off at you. And yet, there'll be a line that'll catch you in the way it's written, it just flows so correctly that you just… you know, stop. He's the only person that I put pencil lines under lines in his book, because the line just comes off so clear. So, yeah, I'm a huge fan of his.
HM: What else have you been reading?
GH: Reading a book right now about the Celtic underworld. I've never really thought about Ireland in any kind of deep, mystical way and recently I've felt this kind of hankering towards knowing about it. Mysticism. So I'm reading a book right now called Meeting The Other Crowd. And it's basically a book about people's encounters with faeries. And it's an incredible read because it's written in the vernacular of the local people, and it's just very powerful. Just simple light stories about how in the everyday working life of a farmer, there is this otherworldly magic that he absolutely accepts. Perhaps there are certain bushes you don't touch, there are certain places you don't go in the field… The way these really common, simple people absolutely, without question, believe that there are certain laws you must follow as a farmer living in this land that's million of years old. You know, millions of years older than you know. And basically, the belief is that Ireland's earliest people, the Tuatha de Danaan, went into battle with another tribe, and instead of winning or losing they just changed form. And that now they live in Ireland as another energy; as the energy of the elements. For me it's fascinating that in my country, and as a country becomes more modern it's kind of hard to grasp it, but it's so… for me, I'm really happy that I live in a country that accepts magic so readily… doesn't question it at all. It's fascinating. That's a good book. What else am I reading? I haven't read a book in a while. I actually almost bought On The Road yesterday, which is really strange. I've got this real hankering to read it again. I haven't read it in years and I remember it having a big impact on me… I want to go back to it. I guess I wanted to go back to it after reading the Dylan book, Chronicles… which is probably the most inspiring book I've read in recent times. I mean, I didn't even read it… I just breathed it in. And Fante and Dylan have a lot in common as well. The book didn't stop for a second; there was no breath in it. That book absolutely knocked me out. Because I'm such a Dylan fan, I didn't even care if it was true or not. I just took it at its face, the same way I take Fante at his face. I know there's truth in it, I don't need to know how much. Dylan's a good man for not spoiling a good story with the truth. He just lets it flow.
HM: Yeah. That's a magical trait that too many forget.
GH: I also read Walter Yetnikoff's biography. He's the guy who basically worked himself up from the bottom at Sony Records. He was the guy who signed Michael Jackson… He was responsible for Michael Jackson's career, you know, and Madonna. Oh no, not Madonna, actually. I lie. But a bunch of amazing, like huge, artists… Springsteen and people like that. And it's basically his own story and it's an absolutely stunning read because it talks about how he just didn't care. And how he just let himself personally go to pieces and how he just lived sort of by the seat of his pants for so many years and was hugely successful. He was hugely successful, but really unhappy. And how eventually he crashed and got himself into rehab and got his head together, and now he doesn't work at Sony anymore, he works at a homeless shelter. How, basically, he went from being a corporate giant to working with homeless guys; and that's where he is now. And he's just like, "that's where I found myself. That's where I want to be." It's very interesting. And it talks about phone calls with Michael Jackson during certain periods of his life and, you know, if you're interested at all in the mindset of the head of a record company as big as that, then you'll… and it's a very human story.
HM: It sounds like the kind of story I can get behind… the story where success isn't found in the big stuff, but in the important stuff.
GH: Yeah, exactly. He was unhappy. You should get that, I think you'd really like that. It's called Howling At The Moon.
HM: I'll check that out. Right now I'm dipping into this… it's not really a biography of The Who, but it's this book about this thick, and it's called Before I Get Old. It's the story of the early Who, and it's been a lot of fun to read. There's the story down the middle about The Who, but there's also the stories on either side; The political stuff going on, and the cultural stuff going on in Britain - especially Britain, with the stuff I've read so far.
GH: It's good to get a book that shows you a sort of slice of the nation at the time.
HM: And I just finished a book called How The Scots Invented The Modern World. It's really fascinating, you should read it. Everyone should read it. It deals a lot with the philosophy… To me, it's very interesting because as an American it sheds light on a lot of how their culture created so much of early America, and Europe.
GH: Interesting. I'd like to read that.
HM: It's an amazing book. How about music? Are you listening to music?
GH: Ummm. Yeah, you know… my relationship with music is kind of developing,
like anyone's I suppose… I'm trying now not to own any records that I don't
need. I've got a lot of CDs at home, I've got a lot of vinyl, and it came from a
period a few years ago where I suppose I was much more idealistic. I was
collecting every Magnetic Fields, every Will Oldham e.p. I could find… all the
SMOG records. I was just basically gathering up objects because whatever was
going on in me, I felt the need to collect these things. And somehow, for some
reason, owning these objects would somehow make me a better person or would
somehow make me a cooler person… and would mean that I could dip into it at any
time and be inspired. Now, I'm like… I only need one SMOG record, I need Red
Apple Falls, and I don't need any of the rest. I need maybe three Will Oldham
records, I need all the Bob Dylan records…
HM: Everyone does.
GH: Yeah. I need all the Leonard Cohen records; I need all the Van Morrison records… That's the stuff I need. I only need the medicine that's good for me. I only need the stuff that's going to make me better. Self-prescribed music, if you like. Joni Mitchell Blue, Fleetwood Mac Rumors… records that have had a huge part in my growing up and records that I will always go back to. And they're the ones I want to own; they're the ones I want to have in my life. Like Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis or Gorecki… solo piano. All records that are medicine. Only medicine is all I want, I don't want entertainment anymore. I'm not interested in music that only makes me want to dance… I only want music that makes me feel fucking good. And because we spend a lot of time as a band… and I don't mean to be whiney, but we spend a lot of time touring, and I only ever need music that makes me feel good. Music that salves me; Music that sort of takes the place of your mother's arms or something… the rest of the music is unnecessary. So, recent music that's sort of been medicinal - I'm trying to think of stuff that's really hit me, stuff I really want. The Arcade Fire record is a record I really want in my life. It has it… whatever it is, it has that thing that I come back to.
HM: I don't really get that band either. That's one band that everyone is all gaga about and I don't quite get it.
GH: Yeah, I get it. I saw them live before I heard them on record, and I was floored. The energy is… huge.
HM: I mean, they're obviously brilliant records, from my point of view I can't argue that, but…
GH: That's actually very interesting. We played Sasquatch and they came and they gathered up around the stage just before we went on and it was really sort of shocking because I'd seen their set earlier in the day on the big stage… and the guy came up to me and said "Are you Glen Hansard?" Yeah. "Dude, I emailed your website, I fucking love your band." And it was really amazing to have a band that - you know they're all like 21 or 22 years old, but to have a band that really blew me away, genuinely blew me away, come to us and tell us that we blew them away, it was amazing. It's a powerful feeling.
HM: You're a rock and roll statesman.
GH: It was weird. It's the first time that it's ever happened to me where I
was kind of shocked by something like that. I was like, "Nice one. I'm really
glad you've heard of us. That's really cool." What's more, you like it.
But, yeah. They're really good. And I haven't had much of a chance to get into the Sigur Ros record, the new one, but I'm looking forward to sitting down with it.
HM: I haven't even opened my copy.
HM: Those guys, I have to sit down and listen to. And I have not had the time to sit down and listen to, and fully digest, a record in a long time.
GH: Yeah. The other thing I've been listening to a lot lately is The Life Aquatic soundtrack. I bought it because I saw the film and it really made me feel really good. So I bought it for the Brazilian guy…
HM: Yeah, yeah… doing all the David Bowie songs.
GH: Yeah. He just floored me. I've ordered all of his records now.
HM: He has a bunch of records?
GH: Well, I think he's got three maybe, and that soundtrack. So, maybe when I get home they're waiting.
HM: To me, that was definitely one of the highlights of that movie. But it was a very… compelling movie.
GH: No script. No real story line, just sort of…
HM: The fact that there was really no acting.
GH: Just Bill Murray being who he is. Owen Wilson… that guy. I can't think of his name, the Brazilian guy. He was in City Of God, as well. Let's pretend we knew his name… Just those people, the way they are… the atmosphere of the film just made me feel really, really warm. It's the kind of film I could watch over and over… it wasn't about making sense of it, it was just an atmosphere. Like The Royal Tannenbaums. Another film I just absolutely adore, but have no idea why. It just makes me feel good. He's a very talented guy, that director. The colors… There's an incredible moment in Royal Tannenbaums where Owen Wilson's climbing out the window and Gene Hackman says - hey! I know who you are. And Owen Wilson just looks up and goes… and it's one of the best moments on film that I've ever seen. It just completely compels you. And it's only a moment… it flashes past.
HM: Yeah, he's a great director, sure…and I think that his films are fairly universal in their appeal. There's enough cinemagraphic stuff to appeal to the art crowd, there's enough weirdness to appeal to the off-center crowd, and somehow, also, there's stories that somehow appeal to the mainstream crowd as well. I think that there's a lot of stuff there. But I think that's good… it's that wordless feeling, you know? That's a good thing. It's nice for me, having known you for a while and having spoken with you over the years to kind of hear you talking more about comfort.
GH: Yeah. Well, it's important, you know? I'm going to make a fool of myself in January… I'm going to act again.
HM: Are you?
GH: Yeah. Me and a few friends, very small time, we're making a film about a busker. And I'm going to play the busker. He's basically a guy who is in his early thirties, he's kind of disillusioned, but he's good, you know. He has something. He has some songs… and his girlfriend's gone away… And myself and Damien Rice are writing all the songs for it. And basically he meets this Eastern European girl who's selling this magazine, and she somehow inspires him to get off his ass and to get into the studio and make a record and basically go see his girlfriend in London… to get her back with these songs that he's been writing because she's been floored by these tunes he's been writing. It's a very simple story… but we're going to start shooting in January. The script is really good, I'm really happy with it.
HM: So you and Damien Rice are friends? You're tight?
GH: Well, yeah. I mean I guess like anybody, we're the same animal so we both love and hate each other. Well, don't love and hate each other, but we like being in each other's company and at the same time we're a little cautious of each other. It's kind of strange, man. I like him a lot, though.
HM: The tour that you did with him last year, was that the first time you'd met him?
GH: No, no. Geez, I've known him years. He toured with us, he opened up for our shows when he left Juniper first… That's how he started. He first started touring with us, just him and his guitar. So I've known him for a long time.
HM: I didn't realize that he had been in a band before.
GH: Yeah, he was in a band before.
HM: He's another one I don't quite get. Some of his songs I really enjoy, but…
GH: I know what you mean. He's kind of an acquired taste.
HM: I was hoping that seeing him live would help, that it might make it all click… and it didn't. Maybe I just wasn't in the right frame of mind… you know, so much of that kind of thing is frame of mind.
GH: No, I know what you're saying. A lot of my friends do not get him. I guess if I'm being really honest, I go to myself, his music isn't the strongest element of my friendship with him… he just does what he does, and I do what I do, and somehow we end up getting on in the middle of it. I don't think we ever really talk about each other's music to each other. We just talk about cooking, or…
HM: So how is that going to go, writing these songs with him?
GH: So far, it's been really good. We've sat down and written together, and basically taken the guitars out and… right, here's the scene where I'm playing this song for the first time on the street. This girl walks by and she hears it. What kind of song is it? Where are we? Okay, what have we got? One of us starts playing some chords and we kind of take it from there… and it's been really organic, really simple. You know, what he has to offer and what I have to offer are two very different things, and when they combine they seem to work really well…
Sunday Tribune - The Ticket - April 30 2006
"Out Of Frame"
SITTING in the lobby of New York's Chelsea Hotel, waiting for Glen Hansard, is as good a time as any to consider the unlikely career trajectory of a man you could justly describe as Ireland's most tenacious singer and songwriter. Two decades into a musical career that has seen more ups and downs than a seesaw factory, Hansard finds himself in a strange new place, indeed . . . he's not the underdog anymore. The band he's seen through thick and thin, the Frames, have finally made a global breakthrough with their Burn The Maps album . . . a record, ironically enough, greeted with a rather cool response back home.
Released globally on cutting-edge indie label Anti, Burn The Maps has taken things up several notches worldwide for the Frames; for starters, the US edition of Esquire magazine has just awarded the band their annual Esky Award for Best Musical Import . . . to offer a little more context, last year's winners were Coldplay. Esquire said that Burn The Maps "has the hallmarks of timelessness; range, passion and confidence".
It's a record worth another listen. This summer, the band get to co-headline New York's Central Park Summerstage alongside critical darlings Calexico and the New Pornographers, then perform at the legendary Lollapalooza festival.
In the midst of all this, Glen Hansard has found the time to make his first solo record . . . of sorts, anyhow: a collaboration with Czech pianist Markéta Irglová entitled The Swell Season. The duo have made a movie, too . . . they both star in a forthcoming low-budget feature, Once, from Bachelor's Walk creator (and former Frame) John Carney. But we'll get to that later.
For now, let's talk about The Swell Season. It's a remarkable record, a searing collection of intimate torch songs, alternately achingly tender and nakedly brutal, all recorded over a single, intensive four-day period. What's more, its creator insists that it all came together in the most unexpected, unlikely fashion imaginable. Yes . . . Glen Hansard is The Man Who Recorded A Solo Album By Accident. And who are we to doubt him?
The Swell Season came into being when Oscar-nominated Czech filmmaker Jan Hrebejk asked Hansard . . . a regular visitor to the Czech Republic in recent years . . . to re-record some Frames songs for a forthcoming movie project. He agreed to do the session in exchange for some session time in a Prague recording studio . . . enter Markéta Irglová, the daughter of an old friend, who had accompanied Hansard on a series of Czech shows.
"Markéta is an amazing songwriter, " he says, "and we had this great experience playing these gigs there. The initial idea was to get a couple of the boys from the Frames over to record her songs, knock out an album for her. Then she said 'Look, I have a better idea.'" Irglová and Hansard had already sounded out a few ideas for the next Frames record, when they decided to commit some of their rough musical sketches to tape. "What was meant to be her record became our record, " he says, "which . . . if I'm going to be really honest . . . became my record, because most of the tunes that ended up on the thing are mine. The whole session went in a totally different direction altogether to the one we had intended. And I had honestly never planned on making a solo record. It just came together."
The bandleader admits that Frames recording sessions have, largely due to his own perfectionism, proved somewhat tortuous; the casual way in which The Swell Season fell together proved an enlightening experience. "For the first time in my life, " he says, "I suppose I felt like I was genuinely collaborating with someone. When I work with the band, sure, I'll bring in a song, or at least a definite idea. I'd rarely, if ever, start over from scratch. That was the great thing about working with Mar, because she was like, 'What are you trying to say with this?' And I'd be like, 'Well, I'm just kind of feeling it out.' And she's like, 'No . . . sing about your life.' This girl's young, she's totally unconnected with me, and I'm really liking where she's going. She said, 'I like the band, but you tend to be a bit depressing, to dwell on the sadness a bit . . . and you're not a sad bloke. You're pretty happy go lucky.' And I'm, like, 'F**kin' hell.' [laughs] It was a complete eye opener for me."
The immediacy of that initial recording session created an urgent forward momentum, one that brought The Swell Season from studio to your local record emporium in . . . for Hansard, anyhow . . . record time. Hence the quick stopover in New York to hang in his favourite NYC hotel, do a final mix on the album and play a few low-key shows with Irglová. Spontaneity is of the essence . . . he was advised to leave the Swell recordings in as raw a state as possible, after all, by none other than seasoned musical visionary Brian Eno, who gave the tapes a quick listen. "I've never done this before, " he says.
"Never written three songs in the studio, on the spot, before."
He likes to compare the process to falling unexpectedly pregnant . . . once the Prague sessions were done, it was time to come home and inform the other parents . . . his band . . . that he'd just had a child out of wedlock. "It was a little awkward, " he says. "I was like, 'By the way, I've got an album done.' They didn't have a clue. I played it for them, and I said, 'Look lads, the last thing I ever want to do is get into competition with my own band.' That's just counterproductive. Everybody was really positive about it, which was a massive relief."
Here's the thing; Glen Hansard is a lovely bloke. Genuinely.
And he wears success well. The years of toil and struggle have finally begun to pay off big time, and he exudes the aura a man at peace with his past . . . meaning it's finally okay to mention The Commitments again, for starters. For years, Hansard studiously avoided (and rather wisely so) anything to do with the film role that brought him into the public eye hand in hand with the Frames' first album; now he's belatedly returned to the acting world for his old mucker John Carney. Due for release later this year, Once couldn't be more playing to his particular strengths; he plays a busker, after all, with musical compadre Markéta Irglová as his character's muse.
(FYI: While they do share an on-screen romance, they're just good friends. ) In fashion with the current spirit of things, the project came together somewhat organically; Carney had been developing the project, and roped Hansard in to write the songs; he'd been looking for a foreign female lead who could sing and play keyboards, so Hansard suggested Irglová. It was only when original star Cillian Murphy couldn't do it, however, that Hansard then came into the running as a potential leading man.
"I really, really didn't want to do anything in terms of acting again after The Commitments . . . it was a great experience, but not for me. I'd spent years talking my way out of the whole Commitments thing, and now I was being asked to go back in. People were going to think this was a Glen Hansard vanity project, he's playing himself, singing his own songs. I said no. Then I thought about it, and thought about it, and said, 'F**k it . . . why not?' I had been in a band with John, and knew that he wouldn't bullshit me. I wanted to be a collaborator, not just an actor, and John was very into that idea. My whole fear was: I will not be involved in bad art [laughs]. So we just did it. I'm not going to make a movie for fear of what other people might think. You can't live like that."
Thus the man strides boldly forward, exploring new avenues at every turn. Where once upon a time Hansard was inexorably entrenched in the murky mires of the Dublin music scene, these days he's embracing the bigger picture.
And, it should be said, enjoying the ride. At home in the Chelsea, where Brendan Behan and Dylan Thomas used to hang out, and Leonard Cohen once got it on with Janis Joplin, he's brimming with enthusiasm and confidence.
And why shouldn't he? He's just made a great record, after all.
"There was a certain point, " he says, "when I stopped looking at the Frames website, stopped connecting on any real personal level with my feelings about what the audience expect and what they don't expect. And that's the opposite of where I was at for so many years. I'm 36 now, and I'm not looking for anyone's approval any more. That guy's gone.
We've all changed. The band who were always looking for approval have, I suppose, found it in themselves."
'The Swell Season' is out now on Plateau Records. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are currently on tour around Ireland. The Frames play the Cork Showgrounds on Friday, 30 June The Commitments: 15 Years On.
Tina Whelski - August 2, 2006
The Frames - Glen Hansard Interview
“If you trust in the moment, if you’re willing to be the fool and make the mistake and get it wrong, then you’ve great potential to get it absolutely right,” says The Frames’ Glen Hansard (vocals/guitar). And for the record, The Frames “get it absolutely right.”
Dublin’s acclaimed rock quintet Colm Mac Con Iomaire (violin/keyboards/vocals), Joseph Doyle (bass/vocals), Robert Bochnik (guitar), Johnny Boyle (drums), and front man Hansard use that risky philosophy to create brilliant albums, like Burn The Maps released via Anti- Records early last year and when it comes to live shows, that’s “a completely different animal.” The band hits a place with audiences that can only exist when everyone throws caution to the wind.
“When it really breaks down to it, people generally go to a concert, not necessarily to hear the album or because they like the sound or whatever, but I suppose to be touched by something that is some kind of energy,” says Glen Hansard. “When a band is in the right headspace and you’re present and you’re living the sound, then there’s an alchemy that can take place sometimes. Something can transcend for both the audience and the band. I think that magic can only happen at any concert, in any situation, if both sides are completely willing to allow the moment to be the leader, or the guide if you like. So at a gig for instance, if we’re standing there playing our music and the audience is there, it’s almost like all I need to do is be absolutely present, then whatever’s going to happen, will happen. If I’m not present, we go through the motions, nobody experiences anything great. Everybody leaves saying, ‘Yeah I heard the songs. I recognize the songs that I know. The band was ok.’ Nobody leaves that situation feeling in any way uplifted or that they’ve experienced anything new…Where the real magic is in any gig is in the audience’s experience. If the audience is experiencing it in a really good way then the atmosphere can only build and whatever energy is in that room can only grow.”
The Frames find commonality with their audiences by understanding that music is more conversation than show.
“It’s a discourse rather than a performance,” says Hansard. “The whole idea of ‘entertainer’ sort of denotes this trickery, this idea that there are certain things that you’ll do. If I do ‘x’ and ‘y’ it will result in action ‘a’ and ‘b.’ Often that can be a thing that people can fall back on, but for me the most interesting gigs are those where no one in the audience knows your band and there isn’t any expectation. Somehow we all catch each other in a moment…I love playing for strangers because that’s where I started, playing music on the street for people who walk by, so there’s definitely an excitement about playing in front of a few thousand people who don’t know who you are.”
Don’t miss The Frames perform August 3 at Central Park Summer Stage.
Originally published in The Aquarian Weekly (8/2/06).
The Irish Echo Online - February 9 2005
A Cathartic Release
Frames hope new album will put them on the map in U.S.
Colm Mac Con Iomaire has some busy days ahead of him. Aside from fixing up a nursery for his second child, who is due any day, the Frames' violinist is resting before joining the band on a tour that will take them around the world.
The paternal leave is a welcome break for Mac Con Iomaire before the Frames' new album, "Burn the Maps," hits stores in the U.S. on Tuesday. The album, which has been out in Ireland for months, has left the Dublin band awash in praise from the Irish press, and if advance reviews from America are any indication, they will be greeted with similar accolades here.
But speaking with the Echo via phone from his new home in Wexford, Mac Con Iomaire is wistful about where he has been able hang his hat recently.
"Burn the Maps" was pieced together during studio sessions in Ireland, France and Chicago, the last of which, Mac Con Iomaire said, is a second home to the band while in the U.S. Indeed, with friends and family there, the Frames, who, in addition to Mac Con Iomaire, comprise Rob Bochnik, Glen Hansard and Joe Doyle, are well acquainted with the Windy City, playing and staying there whenever possible.
Aside from having a manager based in town, there was another reason why the city made sense for the Frames -- producer Steve Albini works out of the area, giving the Frames access to one of the best in the business.
When it was time for Albini to work on the engineering of "Burn the Maps," there were a total of 25 songs, which by the last session had been pared to 10.
"Usually, the songs that don't make it have a stigma about them," said Mac Con Iomaire, who adds that they will probably turn up on the next album. "We've been able to reconcile that process."
Personnel have been an integral part of the Frames' success so far. Mac Con Iomaire said it has helped to keep a steady roster of the same people with similar musical ideals to ensure that the music they make it a product they stand behind.
"We're at the sharp end of that process," he said. "We're acutely aware of what not to do."
His own recording process is one he has recently worked on with his bandmates. While trying to do the string arrangements, he would sneak off with a computer and work away, "unbeknownst to the lads," he said, laughing.
While the violin has a featured spot on most Frames songs, Mac Con Iomaire is careful not to overdo it.
"It is easy to be twee with the violin," he said. "It is a fine line to walk."
Though not many bands are able to use it as a full-time instrument, critics and fans alike fawn over his prowess with the violin, and make note of how integral it becomes to the sound of the band as a whole.
The power of the violin first clicked in his head thanks to Scarlet Rivera, a player on Bob Dylan's "Desire" album and most notably the song "Hurricane." Mac Con Iomaire was changed the first time he heard Rivera on the album.
"It terms of coming to a signpost, it was Scarlet Rivera," he said. "I was transfixed."
Coming from a musical family didn't hurt, either. Mac Con Iomaire's mother and grandmother played, along with his brothers and sisters.
A group dynamic also came into play when recording "Burn the Maps," one Mac Con Iomaire says was "a lot more band-based" that previous outings.
"This was very from the roots up" he said.
The result is a bare, moody work, contained within the 10 songs, and still bursting at the seams.
Some critics have already cited the melancholy feel, and when questioned what was behind the mood, Mac Con Iomaire is philosophical.
"It's hard to look back at where you were at mentally when writing and recording, then playing it in the present," he said. "But you can catch glimpses of where things came from.
"I think we're speaking of things that need to be spoken about. So much of the medium is so pop-driven. It's all very, 'take your Prozac and smile.' "
Mac Con Iomaire has embraced his recent respite, he said, taking the opportunity to delve anew into the rather heavy offerings on "Burn the Map." He realized that dealing with unpleasant topics, as the songs on the album do, and trusting one's feelings is sometimes a good thing.
"There is a real level of catharsis about it," he said.
The Frames' next record, already in the planning stages, "will end up being much more joyful," Mac Con Iomaire said. "But to get to that, we had to make this music."
The freedom to make the music the foursome heard was due in no small part to their status as a premier rock outfit, and hopes are high for their slow burn in the U.S. to pick up.
"It was a slow natural unfolding of much performing, among other things," Mac Con Iomaire said of their status. "We're not a very fashionable or hip band. But we have a very good relationship with the audience and with the fans."
Their star has risen considerably thanks to word-of-mouth and the outlet the Internet has provided.
With word spilling over into the U.S., it ensured that their last full tour here, with Damien Rice, filled large concert halls.
Mac Con Iomaire said it took Irish media a little convincing to get on board.
"Our concept of success is day-to-day living," he said. "To move a million records, that's brilliant, but at the same time, so is moving a couple thousand. "We're at a very interesting place. We operate on a practical level. . . . We don't pitch everything on cracking a chart."
Their new label, Anti, a small imprint of the Epitaph record label, offered the Frames creative freedom as well as worldwide distribution, something they had been aiming for.
"They're very likeminded," Mac Con Iomaire said. "It's a great feeling."
While on dad duty, Mac Con Iomaire will be watching his own children's development. Could there be, perhaps, a future violin virtuoso?
"Kids are sponges," he said, explaining how there is always an element of father-like-son growing up. "Music is and always will be available to them."
This story appeared in the issue of February 9-15, 2005
ThreeMonkeysOnline - June 1 2005
Excreting Songs – Glen Hansard of the Frames
Firing questions at anyone for a half an hour about their motivations and identity is bound to produce contradictions, but an interview with Glen Hansard, chief songwriter from Irish band the Frames, throws up more than its fair share. It’s not that he’s confused, or indeed confusing. Rather, the context that he and The Frames are working in is bizarre.
We’re talking in the bar of a hotel in an out of the way provincial Italian town, a couple of hours before the final gig on an exploratory tour through Europe. “I got that overwhelming feeling that ‘I’m too old for this’”, laughs Hansard, talking about playing a free televised gig in Milan two nights before. “There are situations that we find ourselves in now,” he continues –“that you think a band that’s a year old should be doing this, not a band that’s been going for a long time. For the want of a better term, we’ve earned our stripes, we’re not apprentices any more, we’ve moved out of that”. And yet, with the worldwide release of their latest album Burn the Maps, they have become precisely that – apprentices, albeit with 14 years experience and a back catalogue of songs that have made them one of Ireland’s favourite bands.
The night’s gig is lined up in a venue that is to all intents and purposes a huge disco. It’s hi-tech and impressive, with video screens aplenty, but a disco nonetheless. It’s also host to “British Night”, a weekly disco specialising in brit-pop. To book an Irish rock band, with a sound influenced more by Radiohead and Van Morrison than Oasis or Blur, and ask them to play in a room festooned in Union Jacks, would elicit a strong response from an apprentice band. Instead, the Frames sigh and get on with it. A room is a room, and a chance to play is a chance to play.
The band, formed in Dublin in 1990 by Glenn Hansard, then a young songwriter in possession of a recording contract with Island Records. Their first album, Another Love Song failed to set the world alight and the band were unceremoniously dropped (a chain of events shared by a number of Irish bands in the ’80s and ’90s).
“Another Love Song” says Hansard, openly, “was from a very young man, who took the first record deal that came his way. It happened to be a very bad record deal. They say that boxers and musicians are the two most abused groups in entertainment because all they want to do is go out there and get in the ring and fight, and it’s so true. All I wanted was a contract. When I saw the contract it wasn’t money I was thinking about. All I saw was a big stage, and loads of people. Me, guitar, song [laughs, wide eyed]. All I saw was the opportunity to go out there and become Bob Dylan, which was what I left school to do. I got out there and made my mistakes! I wanted the guy who produced Surfer Rosa to do the record but I didn’t even know his name. I knew the Pixies, and loved the record, but I was never the sort of person who read sleeve covers, or who knew the bass player’s name on Harvest by Neil Young. So they said ‘we can get the guy who did Doolittle‘ [Editor's note: Gil Norton], and I thought fine. But all my songs were country songs, or –[correcting himself] not country but folksongs. I grew up on Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Van the Man [Editor's note: Van Morrison], so I was basically doing a very stupid thing first off by wanting to make a rock album as my first album, because I didn’t know how to write rock songs. They weren’t part of my vocabulary at the time.”
Finding themselves dropped, the band licked their wounds and continued writing and gigging. 1995 saw the release of Fitzcarraldo, their second album through Trevor Horn’s ZTT label. Prior to signing with Horn another version of the album was released in Ireland – now a collectors item. If Another Love Song was a false start, Fitzcarraldo was a confident return. Songs like Revelate and Monument combined Hansard’s poetic sensibilities with an unambiguous harder sound. The band had incorporated rock into its vocabulary. While a fans’ favourite, it’s an album that Hansard, looking back, is often puzzled by: “When I was younger there was a lot of desperation, it was very anthemic. There was one point, when I hit 31, when I looked back, and I listened to Fitzcarraldo and wondered ‘what the hell was I on?’ [laughs]. What was I so hungry for? It’s funny, as you get older your ambition hones and clears until you eventually realise that all any man really wants is to have children who are proud of them. I think I’m finding my way to that place, where you want a good wife, a nice house. You want to be able to provide good meals etc. I’m not at that point yet, but I like saying it because I know I’m getting there. I know that at some point I’ll do it”.
The anthemic sound and ‘blistering’ [™ Music Journalism Clichés] live shows signalled a band with a bright future. At gigs in Dublin it was not unheard of to glimpse Hollywood stars like Matt Dillon. A shoestring video for Revelate was nominated for an MTV Europe music video award. Things were, it seemed, on the up.
The bands next album Dance the Devil, had a more considered sound, produced for the most part by the band’s then guitarist Dave Odlum [Odlum has since moved entirely into production, working on albums by The Frames, Mic Christopher, Gemma Hayes, and Josh Ritter]. It was met with critical approval, but there were obvious ‘artistic differences’ between band and label surfacing. The independent release of the I am the magic hand ep, which contained alternative, lo-fi versions of both God Bless Mom, and The Stars are Underground, two of the three tunes produced directly by Trevor Horn, suggested a band unhappy with the radio-friendly direction envisaged for them by their label. The feeling was mutual, it seems, and band and label parted company.
The problem with the Frames, from a record company perspective, was surely that they were/are consistently unwilling to produce one type of song. Had they allowed Trevor Horn to produce 12 songs in the Revelate mould, perhaps things may have been commercially very different for them. It’s not something, unsurprisingly, that Hansard would countenance: “I’ve always had this problem with the notion of art and commerce. You know, I’ve met so many people, craftsmen, potters etc who make one thing brilliantly, like a pot, and they hit on a formula and they spend the rest of their lives making, reproducing the same thing. They spend their whole life repeating that moment of inspiration, where they hit on one thing that’s commercial, in the true sense of the word, that brings them money. They then spend the rest of their lives marketing it, and I’ve real problems with that, with endorsing that.”
And so, in what was becoming almost a pattern, the band re-grouped to work out their next step. It was to be the self-financed, and largely self-produced album For the Birds [A number of tracks were produced by legendary producer Steve Albini]. The sound was stripped back, the songwriting introspective, and above all, it refused the temptation to ‘rock’. The album was a critical and commercial success in Ireland. Not only was it a recognition of the album’s merits itself, but it was also a significant example of the power of word of mouth marketing [record companies had yet to discover the 'street team' concept]. For years the band had been playing brilliant live gigs and producing complex and dynamic albums. For the Birds arrived at the right moment to capitalise on the growing audience interested in the band.
Which pretty much brings us to the current album Burn the Maps. Recorded in Chicago, with a significantly changed line up, after the departure of Odlum as guitarist [Hansard and violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire are the only two original members], the album signalled a different approach from For the Birds, which, as bassist Joe Doyle suggested to Three Monkeys Online, was less band orientated and more a case of Hansard’s songs with the band playing a backing role. “I kind of took a step back” admits Hansard, in relation to Burn the Maps. “I took a step away from my usual role, which is kind of the ‘Van the Man’ role, demanding that things have to be my way – the classis singer-songwriter pose of every now and then having to pull out that line ‘it’s my fuckin’ song’ [laughs]. On this record I was really into the idea of letting the band members take songs away and fix them up, because I really like the band at the moment and the way everyone contributes. For example Sideways Down was a song I wrote in a couple of minutes, a total doodle, and then Joe [Doyle, bassist] went off and did something with it. Underglass was another one where it was just an idea and then Joe went off and took it somewhere else. Fake was another one – twenty minutes in someone’s back garden and the lads all said ‘yeh, that’s a good tune’. I didn’t even think it should be on the album, yet we released it as a single and it topped the charts in Ireland, and weirded our audience out! No-one who liked the Frames liked that song. We sold about 15,000 copies of the single in Ireland, which is more than we’d ever sold. So we had a whole new audience through just one song, which was very weird.”
To many, the success of For the Birds, followed by their signing of a worldwide deal with anti records, has paved the way for . The plan should be simple, to go out and get their return on that. “I suppose if I could have anything in the world,” responds Hansard, “a kind of ‘dear Santa’, it would be to be able to go anywhere in the world, and play to a room full of people, and not necessarily a room full of drunk people wanting to hear Revelate. Basically to have patrons all over the world. That’s the goal – not the rock star thing. That’s never fit. I agree with you that For the Birds has opened up a new chapter for the Frames, and it’s great, but I’d be very foolish to think that we could now go out there and almost elbow our way into chart positioning, or compete. I wouldn’t want to. It’s something I’ve always hated, and it’s something you see all the time in the English music press for example, where one band is being pitted against another. Even the charts themselves as an idea are reducing music to the level of a sport where there’s a winner and a loser. I really don’t think that music or art, or anything that involves creativity should have to be compared. You can prefer music over other music but it’s not a competition.”
The Sacred and the Profane
There are two types of music fans, I suggest: the first is the evangelist, who, having gotten into a band, wishes global success on them; the second is the purist, who checks their favourite band’s performance against an unwritten list of artistic regulations. Hansard is quite probably both. “It’s a weird one”, Hansard says, talking about the pressures between different types of audience. “People want you to be big, and at the same time they don’t. I’ve been through this with people that I’ve liked, where you love them and they’re yours, then they go off and become big and they’re not yours. It’s not even that, though”, he pauses. “For example, I loved AC/DC when I was a kid, and they were huge at the time, so I was into a really commercial band. I loved that band so much though. I remember going to see them in the RDS [Dublin music venue] in 1980, I think, and I was so upset because everybody else was there, and there were people there to see [incredulously] Y+T. I wanted everyone to realise that this was AC/DC, to completely understand just how special and important this was to me! I was almost upset with the audience that they didn’t all turn around and reverentially nod ‘this is AC/DC’! It was just another gig at the end of the day, but for me it was one of my first gigs.”
Hansard’s attitude to music, to success, and to his audience is complicated and contradictory, but all seem desperately genuine. He’s involved in promoting and selling his music, the spinal tapisms of touring, interviews, award ceremonies etc. You get the feeling that he’d be delighted to play stadiums as well as clubs, but only if everyone in the audience was passionate about the music. Much of it comes back to his concept of what Music is, and does: “Without wanting to sound too ‘arty’,” he says, “I think music is basically medicine. I realised this last year when I got an i-pod. All the band had one, so I got myself one and spent about a week loading all my songs into me [sic] computer and then on to the thing. I though ‘this is so cool’, having all my records on this. Then, there’s a thing on the i-pod, your most listened to tracks, and I realised that I only ever listen to Radiohead or Pink Floyd, and mostly Pink Floyd. Even though I have this device that allows me to listen to any of my tunes, and I’ve so much music, but I only ever listen to what I need. At home I’ll stick on whatever – a bit of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan or a bit of Van Morrison while I’m making the dinner, and I’ll buzz off that in a really light kind of way, but on tour I go into that thing where I need my mother’s breast, where you’re in that foetal position. You’re out in the world and your skin is getting thinner by the day, and it’s almost like travelling wears your defenses down because your soul is usually fuckin’ miles behind you. So it gets to a point where you just need music. It’s like today, for a half an hour in the hotel room earlier, it felt like being on the verge of falling off. At that point, instead of reaching for a guitar, you reach for the music that you know heals you.”
While the band couldn’t be accused of a complete change in musical direction, à la Radiohead, they have though included more experimental sounding tunes over their last two albums in particular. It’s interesting that Hansard mentions Pink Floyd, as there seems to be a tendency towards lengthier, more instrumental tracks appearing in the band. “There’s definitely a side to all of us, where we’d ask ourselves in the studio, ‘what would the Floyd do now?’. When songs come easy to you, not that they do necessarily, but when songs are something that you have, you know how to do that. Writing music or extending music is something that’s exciting, it’s inspiring. I suppose, a couple of years ago I got really into instrumental music, and that really influenced a song like Santa Maria.
Santa Maria, from For the Birds could very well be the flagship, excuse the pun, for where Hansard would like to go with his songwriting. Gentle, lyrical, experimental, dynamic and long, it’s as different from songs like Fake or Revelate as you can get. The genesis of the song is interesting: “Santa Maria was a strange one. There are different types of songs. Yesterday, for example, I was sitting in the bus, rambling lines in my head – something like ‘Coming home from the hospital after removing the stitches’, and I was thinking about The Third Policeman, or something, and that stopped me in my tracks, then the line, ‘Voices in the ditches’, and I thought ‘I can work with that’. It’s like an idea that takes hold. More often than not though, with me, it’s holding the guitar and something falls out of your mouth and you have the wherewithal to recognise that you like it, and work from there. With Santa Maria, I was trying to write a song about Egon Schiele, and about him and his girlfriend, while they were both dying from Spanish flu. I wanted to think about what that must have felt like, ’cause they were both young, and both passionate. There would have been a lot of madness. Also, knowing that he was a great painter, and wondering was he aware of his own legend at that point? Whether his art would live on? I was just trying to get into his head, ’cause I’d just finished a book about him. Then the Santa Maria chorus fell out of my mouth, and I knew it worked. We wrote it in Ventry Harbour in Dingle, and weeks later I found out that there had been a Spanish ship called the Santa Maria that got trapped in the bay and couldn’t dock, so maybe a hundred Kerry people in the early 1900's would have seen a Spanish ship rocked back and forth by the waves for two days, killing everybody on board. The house we were recording the album in sat at the mouth of the bay, and I didn’t really know what it meant, but I’ve always enjoyed religious language and imagery, it’s very beautiful and rolls off the tongue. Then later on I found out that, which was a coincidence. It’s like if your aerials are up and you’re lucky enough to catch something, it makes you happy, if that exists.”
There are songwriters who speak in awed tones about the inspiration for songs, as if the artistic muse were really a Goddess who may become offended by a lack of respect and leave. The lead singer of the Frames has a more earthy interpretation of where his songs come from: “Basically all songs are residue. They’re just bits of muck, for me. They’re not craft. If you imagine a snail that leaves a residue then goes off and dies, and for years there’s a silver path of residue across the wall of your garden shed. It looks gorgeous, but [pauses] I always imagine that people who make art just live a life. It doesn’t matter if they lead a good or a bad life, but they leave behind these increments in time, little bits and clues as to what emotional landscape or emotional mapping was going on at the time. Sometimes you’ll just drop a song out of you, literally like you’ll excrete the song. That’s how it works. You don’t sit and craft it. The songs that I have crafted, I generally don’t sing after a couple of months. I’ll go out and play them live but they don’t have a resonance. They’ve been built, not lived. Songs that you excrete are with you forever, for some reason. Whatever way you sweat it out of your pores, it means something to you.”Unsurprisingly, metaphors come easy to Hansard: “Sometimes you’ll write a song and you won’t have a clue what it’s about, you’ll just know that you like it. Songs are like saddles, you can put it on and it just sits right. You can ride that song, if you know what I mean, if you can imagine a song as a horse. It feels right. Then other songs just feel all wrong, and they’ll die. They have a short life and then die.”
All of which is not to say that Hansard doesn’t recognise and respect craft in songwriting, rather that, for him, it’s not the way to write songs. “I think the craft of songwriting is spectacular”, he enthuses. “Some people will sit down, with a cup of coffee, and say ‘today’s a work day’, and between the morning and mid-day they’ll construct a song. I think that’s fuckin’ brilliant! People who can do that are gifted. I can’t. I fall out of bed at four in the afternoon, I have me food, I go out. I avoid it. I avoid music as much as I possibly can. Until it grabs me. To be honest I’ve always avoided it, and it’s always happened anyway. As time’s gone by, I’ve applied myself to it a little bit more because now it’s my living. It’s what I do. It’s a strange relationship though because I don’t ever want to turn it into a thing that I have to do. I don’t ever want to have to produce records, every year in order to sustain myself.”
It goes back to need: “When we’re not touring, to be honest, I never pick up a guitar until I have to. Until boredom or depression bring me to the point where I pick it up [mimes gripping the guitar with a furrowed brow]. That’s when music comes naturally to me. I don’t go to myself ‘OK, now I’m depressed, I’ll write a song’. It’s not like that, that relationship doesn’t exist. I’ve never had a deadline thing where somebody’s saying to me ‘I need you to go home and write some songs for the next album’, though I know how to do it. All I have to do is go home and turn off the TV, turn off the radio, because the darkness is always only two steps away, or 24hours in a building on your own before you start seeing the demons, before the walls start crawling, you know? For me it’s always been accessible. Like I said, if you get home and the walls are buzzing with the sounds of children, and dinner’s being cooked, you’re not going to write a song, you’re going to sit there like a happy man, with a big belly smiling!”, he concludes, patting his abdomen maybe anticipating the pleasure of that evening meal in the local restaurant.
The Frames have a wide and broad collection of songs, ranging from the purely personal lyric, through to intricate storytelling like the aforementioned Santa Maria. I finish with a question that, it seems to me, never loses validity with songwriters. That is the perennial question of whether lyricists should mix music and politics in their songs.”I’ve never had a great interest in politics, to be honest”, he answers almost automatically, before continuing: “I hear it all going on beside me, but it’s like it’s just a buzz in the background. I don’t know whether I’ve been fortunate or unfortunate to have lived a life where I don’t need to engage in it. It doesn’t nourish me. It doesn’t exhaust me. It’s just there. I know a little bit about it, I can talk shop in that area, but I’m not passionate about it. Politics and music?[musing For me, and this might seem pious [hesitates], but fuck it, maybe I am [laughs]. Music is medicine and dreams. For me that’s what music is, when it’s at its best. It makes time stop. It’s salve. For me music is a moment of peace, and quietude – ironically. Poetry on the other hand is different. Poetry stirs the blood. Poetry makes men go to war. If you listen to any of the speeches from Bush or the statements from Al-Qaeda, it’s all poetry, and that’s what makes men kill. For me singing a political song is like me trying to sell you a Volvo, only because it’s like selling an idea. If I write a song about a situation, some people can do that very convincingly, but I don’t think that I can. It’s something I admire. I admire Damien Dempsey for example. It’s not even that he writes political songs, he writes songs about social situations and his people. You have to be very strong to write and sing songs like that. If you can see someone like that as a troubadour or a herald, that’s not what I am. I’m more like a little cinema. I’m a little world cinema in the corner of the town square, inviting you in to look at something. Follow the story and forget about the politics for a little while. I’ve always had a real problem with people standing up on a stage and singing those songs. As much as I love Dylan, and as much as I love so many other singers who’ve done that, for me selling an idea is like using music to sell McDonalds. It’s wrong. Not that commerce is bad, it’s not, but it’s not in the same realm as music. It’s like using naked women to sell beer. Naked women are beautiful, they’re sacred. They’ve been depicted through the millennia as being the source of all man’s inspiration, and yet you put a woman in an American flag bra and put her with a bottle of Budweiser – you’re taking something sacred just to shift some units.”
Late that evening, in a Union Jack festooned hyper-disco, somewhere in the heart of nowhere, questions about politics, about ethics and the music industry fade away, as the band rip through a set of classics and new songs, which for the majority of the audience are the same. The fans, some of whom have travelled from Austria, others from different parts of Italy, are relatively few in number but hugely enthusiastic. Those who have drifted in to watch the show, drawn by the pull of britpop, are tapping their feet. While there may be conflicts and contradictions in their heads, when the Frames are on stage these aren’t apparent.
When they’re on stage, they are extraordinary.
Anti - Biography
Go to enough extremes and you’ll find a kind of balance. Until now, The Frames’ music favoured bi-polar swings, violently loud on one song, violently quiet the next. On Burn The Maps, their fifth studio album, the band have reconciled their various personalities into one volatile organism, synthesizing gorgeous melancholy with full-blown anger.
If 2000’s For the Birds seemed to capture the Dublin/Chicago quintet playing in a small room with nobody watching, Burn The Maps turns on the arc lamps. Served by their most faithful production job yet (courtesy of ex-guitarist Dave Odlum and new guitarist Rob Bochnik, who formerly spent eight years working at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio Studio) and recorded in Black Box studios in France, the new record is a skilful mix of widescreen scale and magnifying-glass detail, sort of like putting a Herzog still under a microscope.
So, you get the self-questioning psychodrama and martial rhythms of the single ‘Finally’, featuring a hackle-raising vocal from Glen Hansard and typically panoramic string arrangement from Colm Mac An Iomaire. You get spiky, nasty pop songs like ‘Fake’ and ‘Underglass’, with its dum-dum bassline worthy of Kim Deal. You get the seraphic boy soprano melodies of ‘Happy’ and ‘Sideways Down’ and the graphic 4am truth-or-dare drinking games of ‘Caution’. And you get epics like ‘Keepsake’, distinguished by the sort of sea change dynamics associated with Mogwai or the Dirty Three. In short, here’s a world where Spector collides with Steve Albini, Arvo Part with Sparklehorse, open-heart surgery songs that deal in love and hate, mourning and ambition, art and blood.
But then, The Frames’ career (and one uses the word in terms of careering wildly as much as any overarching strategy) has always followed the music. The platinum-selling For The Birds, released on their own Plateau label in the summer of 2000, marked the end of major label bad marriages, and fired with newfound independence the band set about forging a sound based on fidelity to their instincts. The result: an earthenware collection of skewed avant-folk songs that sounded like they’d been written in a hole in the ground and recorded in some hi-tech coastal cave.
Nobody could’ve predicted what happened next. Slowly at first, but with increased velocity over the next year, things began to snowball. The album went from gold to platinum, and in its wake, renewed sales of previous Frames albums such as Fitzcarraldo and Dance The Devil. Somehow The Frames went from being Ireland’s biggest cult act to one of its top selling bands full stop. Plus, they were starting to sell out tours all across Europe, the US and Australia. Glen did a stint presenting the music television series Other Voices: Songs From A Room.
Meanwhile back home, they could cherry pick slots on any festival bill they chose to play (particularly memorable were a Dublin Castle headliner and brace of consecutive Witnness sets) and by the summer of 2003, were co-headlining the Lisdoonvarna extravaganza in front of 30,000 people. Funny thing was, they looked like they always belonged on that stage. The Frames were no longer noble underdogs. Now they were the main event.
While preparing their fifth studio album, the band released the live album Set List, at last capturing their incendiary stage sound on tape. The Irish public responded by sending it straight to number one in the charts, making it their third platinum album. Hot on its heels, the top five single ‘Fake’ was released in September 03, spending months in the singles charts.
2004 saw The Frames sweep the Hot Press Critics’ and Readers’ Polls, and they also won their first industry gong in the shape of the Meteor Award for Best Irish Band. More to the point, the band confirmed a new international deal with Californian mavericks Anti, arguably the only label in the world that could claim to be the band’s spiritual home, boasting such artists as Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Merle Haggard. They celebrated this by touring America with Damien Rice, and spent the last few months putting the finishing touches to the new album.
So, Burn The Maps, is at once a musical tour de force and a statement of intent, an album whose campaign begins with typical Frames-ian audacity – an outdoor headliner at Marlay Park in front of some 17,000 people.
“With The Frames, it’s the throwing your arms around the room thing,” says singer/guitarist Glen Hansard. “When our gigs are at their best, you throw the energy out and it gets thrown back twice the size. I mean, I find myself saying things on stage that I would never say in my life, it’s almost like a whole new character or creature is born when you walk on. If you trust in the moment, if you’re willing to be the fool and make the mistake and get it wrong, then you’ve great potential to get it absolutely right. And I think that can be the scary thing about a Frames gig and the great thing about a Frames gig.”
Shake'n'Stir - Sydney, October 2003
The FRAMES in AUSTRALIA
"Our Sheila in Australia caught up with one of our favourite bands in Sydney.
We were sitting at a bar drinking and the guy serving us started talking about some friend of his that was in a band that had played the Metro (in Sydney) last week. Then Colm said, "Oh, we're playing the Metro tomorrow." And the guy was like, "You're not the fucking Frames are you? Fucking hell man. You look like a bunch of backpackers!"
That story says it all really. The Frames entered quietly and almost anonymously into Australia, but left an indelible impression upon the minds and hearts of all who saw them live. The crew at Shakenstir know all too well how incredible their live performances are, so I knew I was in for a treat. I also decided to track down frontman Glen Hansard who didn't look a bit like Brad Pitt as I had been to led to believe - he was looking decidedly worse for wear after a night on the tiles. But after a strong black coffee and a comfy chair, he was right to have a chat about the tenacity of the Frames and their trudge to world domination."
How’s your experience in Australia been so far?
It seems and feels remarkably easy being here. There’s a great ease in the way we’re moving. From talking to bands who’ve toured here, they’re overwhelmed by reactions here. You know, I was a friend of Jeff Buckley and Jeff was like, “Australia was where I fucking loved being.”
We’re going to come back in March. If something’s going well you’ve gotta give it attention. If we didn’t come back till late next year we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot. Any progress we make now just disappears. And we’re lucky in that we’re not a world-scale corporate rock band. So we can go, “We went to Australia and it went well, so let’s write that into our plans next year and let’s concentrate on that area for a while.” Because at home in Ireland we’re okay, we can play gigs and that can finance our tours. We’re not bogged down.
What do you think of your support for the tour, Jodi Martin?
I saw her last night for the first time and she blew my mind. Just how relaxed she is, the way she does it - just her whole approach. But I’m not a big folkie fan. I’ve never liked politics in music. I’ve never liked people singing stuff that isn’t the heart.
At your gig the other night, it felt like a good three quarters of the audience was Irish…
That’s what’s happening; our Irish fan base is spreading. It’s a great indication of how Irish people can actually make something happen anywhere if they put their minds to it. It’s interesting because we don’t pitch to the Irish market. We don’t do Irish Echo interviews. We don’t talk to the Irish newspapers in my town because I don’t want to mislead anyone. I don’t want to travel all this distance to do an interview with an Irish paper and play to an exclusively Irish audience. We don’t plan to do the Irish thing at all. And yet it seems to be very healthy.
So what’s the Frames status in Ireland then?
It’s funny in Ireland. We’re kind of like a very big independent band. We don’t sell anything near the numbers of records that other Irish bands sell, but our gigs are huge in Ireland. It’s strange. We’ve got a very specific audience and they all own a copy of our record. It seems to be getting bigger and bigger now. We just played a gig in front of 8,000 people; that was in our hometown. It was amazing! I got other independent Irish musicians that I liked and put up this amazing bill of bands doing it for themselves. And it kicked ass. It was really good because the press had been ignoring our climb at home because we’re not ‘industry’. There’s nobody there fighting to get us in the paper, there’s no one fighting to get us on the cover. But this record has done a lot for us [FOR THE BIRDS]. We’ve sort of moved out of being very small to being something else. We’re kind of considered a part of the new breed of bands who are doing it in a different way.
In a recent issue of Rolling Stone they listed the Frames as being influenced by Radiohead’s OK COMPUTER…
They’re fucking legends of course; I’ve got all their records. OK COMPUTER I loved, but KID A I adored. It’s a fucking incredible record. But I’m not a devout fan. There’d be certain bands that I’m a devout fan of. They’d be Pixies, Deus (a Belgian band), Gillian Welch… they’ve had much more of a profound influence on me. We did gigs with Radiohead in the very beginning ’cause both bands are the same age. We’d be touring England and be on a four band bill and Radiohead would be on a couple of them. That was before PABLO HONEY, a long time ago. And you know it’s amazing; they’ve since come to us saying, “We really like your record.”
So who do you think makes up your audience?
When people ask us that, we kind of say “Oh, just everyone”. But from the very beginning we’ve always attracted an older audience than we are. Don’t know why. If you put the Frames in a rack of CDs with Silverchair and The Smashing Pumpkins, I feel like we don’t come up very strong in that group. Do y’know what I mean? Whereas if you put the Frames CD alongside Radiohead, Tindersticks, Dirty Three, then I think we stand up okay. I’m definitely more comfortable being somebody who plays songs than be somebody who’s in a rock band.
I think the whole concept of traditional rock bands is quite conservative. It’s all based on selling units to kids and we’ve never been about that. And we have sold units to kids if you like. But it’s never been something that we target or tried to. Take U2 for instance, they play to an audience that are both older and younger than us. But they’re always pitching for the younger and catching the older on the way.
The Frames don’t seem to tour England anymore - why the glaring omission?
Don’t like it. For us, it’s all about the amount of energy you put in versus the amount of energy you get out. And if you tour a place and it makes you tired and you don’t seem to be getting anywhere with it… you can choose to battle on and to keep on fighting it or you can just think “Fuck it, I’m going to conserve my energy for places that we’re appreciated.” England’s based on something that’s so shallow which is a cult of personality over anything to do with your music. It’s a very strange thing. You know, it really is about wearing the right clothes and saying the right things in the press. That’s what garners the attention. It’s never been about the songs. So therefore we don’t tour there. It’s got nothing to do with ancient Irish and English history.
I think we’ve sold about maybe 7,000 copies of FOR THE BIRDS which is surprising since we’ve done no work there. It’s a good figure. I mean, 7,000 records is a blip on the map compared to what other bands are selling but we don’t care. It’s a dead market for us. We go back and play London though ’cause it’s always packed. Everywhere else we just ignore. We travel through the country and it’s like, the energy in that country is spent. We get there and people are jaded. And I will always try to avoid people who are jaded after the first few tries.
But you do tour a lot in places often overlooked by other bands…
We’ve toured in the Eastern Europe and Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria; we’ve toured there quite a bit in the past couple of years, just because I love going there. I’ve got friends over there and it’s like, “Let’s go over there and do another one!” So we go over there and do two weeks of gigs. It’s really easy and fast to set up over there and there’s lots of press. So the band have become quite big in those areas and that’s seeping into America. There are people coming to our gigs in America going, “I saw you in Prague”, or “I saw you in Vienna”. What happens is you get this consciousness thing that spills over. Cities are basically full of foreign people; very few people are actually from a big city. So in New York, half of our audience was Irish and a third of it was Eastern Europe. The remainder were New Yorkers.
So the Frames have been well received in America then?
Well, before we came here we did 28 gigs in 30 days in America: New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle. We sell all those gigs out. It’s all very strong, 600 - 700 people each place. So that’s really positive. Everywhere else it’s a struggle. So my philosophy has always been simple: if you can do well in a big city that’ll spread. Outside the big cities you won’t do well until you’re big. So generally speaking we just prefer to focus on where things are good. Again it’s the amount of energy you put in versus the amount of energy you get out. The only problem with America is New York Boston Chicago is okay because it’s like a 10 hour drive. But getting across to Seattle and San Francisco is expensive. So the best way to do it is to tour across - which is what we do. Drive across and do gigs on the way picking up a bit of cash here and there.
You’ve actually relocated to Eastern Europe haven’t you?
I’m living in the Czech Republic. Right now Dublin is just too expensive; it’s just based on money. The whole culture is all about money and I’m kind of a bit disgusted about it. Dublin’s become a sort of little London. Anybody who doesn’t like London is bailing. I mean, Dublin’s my town and I fucking love it; I’m just waiting for it to stop wanting to be somewhere else and then I’ll come back. Dubliners now wear sunglasses and expensive clothes. Irish people don’t look well in sunglasses, we don’t look well in good expensive clothes. We’re not that kind of nation. What’s really great about Ireland is how uncool we are; that’s what makes us so fucking cool. Irish people have always been the type to stand back from the limelight, and I just think at the moment Irish people are getting our confidence. That kind of confidence is great, it’s very cool. But with confidence comes risk taking and I think that’s beginning to look gaudy and I’m not interested. I’m still caught in the old ways.
That’s why Eastern Europe is great because it feels like Ireland twenty years ago. It’s not that I’m seeking nostalgia. I just want to be somewhere where I don’t feel like money is absolutely the most important thing. I’m 32 and I don’t have a fucking bank account. I don’t have roots. I don’t want to own a house, I don’t want the things that I own to own me. So maybe I’m running away from anchors.
Given that you’re such a nomad, do you compose on the road, inspired by your travels?
Yeah. Because that’s what my life has become. I think when you’re writing songs, when you’re doing any sort of art, it’s 90% living and 10% doing. So all you’re doing is filtering your life, squeezing it through an instrument in a way or through a piece of paper. I try to avoid pens whenever I’m feeling it because pens try to make emotions eloquent, and they’re not. That’s the problem with poetry sometimes, it totally misses the point. With songs, it’s all about emotions. Words can be like barb wire in front of the emotion. Sometimes you write a line trying to get your point across and it sounds like you’re a bit more intelligent or whatever and then suddenly bang, it’s got no emotional content… but great lyrics. And people just don’t respond to it.
What comes first then, the music or the lyrics?
Music’s always easier. The words are something that I sort of just let happen. I’m not an English student type at all. I kind of open my mouth and it’s whatever comes out. If I’m lucky to remember what comes out I write it down. For me it’s very much, blah blah blah, you know.
You’ve been quoted saying that you thought FOR THE BIRDS might be your last record…
I sort of panicked when we made this one. The closer you are to something, the more you hate it - and the greater the lack of confidence. FOR THE BIRDS was absolutely and completely our making from start to finish. There isn’t one note on that record that I don’t recognise as my own playing, or as the playing of the band members.
It’s really intimate sounding. You can even hear barking in ‘Fighting on the Stairs’.
That was basically recording in the middle of the kitchen with all the kids running around and my ma making dinner and my dog barking. And I love that about it. That song was recorded in my bedroom at my home in my ma’s house. Years ago actually, though we did a lot of work on it to try and get it up to where it is (laughs).
The Frames have had a hard time with record companies over the years…
What we’ll never do again are certain things that have caused us trouble. One of them is paper. The only reason our records are unavailable to both us and our public, is because there’s a small label in England who have the full rights of my music and my songs. And I can’t do anything about it. It’s all deleted and you can’t get it anymore… it’s 2 years out of your life and you can’t find it. Which I know gives it this exclusive hard-to-get quality but fuck that man I’d rather have it on the shelves. Y’know what I mean? We absolutely want to sell records, we absolutely want to get out there. We’re not just sabotaging our own success by running away from it. We’re not trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, not at all.
That’s the amazing thing about being a musician. You give your music away to small corporations, to businesses. You hand it over to another business and that business then owns it. All we ever wanted as a band was to have our records on shelves. You say to them, “If you don’t do anything else for us, just put it on shelves and we’ll do the rest. You know that’s the least you can do.” And they can’t even do that. FOR THE BIRDS is the one record where we’ve said ‘right, we’re not signing any contracts for anybody’. This is our record. You want to put it out? Absolutely put it out. Everything’s on a handshake. I’m never signing another deal in my life.
When we were dropped by Island I spent about a year crying into my sleep going, “Why? Why is my dream shattered?” ‘Cause for me it was like, being a young lad, all I wanted to do was make a record. That’s every young musician’s dream. And I made a record and wasn’t very happy with how it turned out, but was happy to go on and try and make a better one, but didn’t get the chance to. The business is just how it is. We just didn’t make money for that company so we were one of the casualties on that label. And we had the choice to give up or try again. Sometimes you hit a brick wall in your career and it seems insurmountable. But then you realise that the only way to win is to go right around the world until you’re on the other side. And you’ll get to the other side but it’ll take you years.
What do you think of some of the bands that you’ve had the opportunity to tour with?
We did some gigs with Dirty Three and they are probably one of my favourite bands of all time. Incredible, great people as well. I really like Tindersticks as a live band but they can be very hit and miss sometimes. We did a couple of gigs with Mercury Rev - I fucking love them, but I’m not into them live. They’ve fallen into this thing where they reproduce their record on stage, and a live band is all about the audience. It’s all about spending your energy, giving your life force to the moment. It’s always a pity when that happens. It happens to us too. For instance on the tour that we just did, the first four songs are always the same in our set. It’s just one of those things we’ve fallen into - it’s almost like we need the security. And then after that we kind of busk it.
You’re good mates with David Gray aren’t you?
Recently at the wedding of a DJ friend of ours, myself and Dave were the wedding band - he played a song and I played a song. I watched years of him getting shafted. Eventually he said, “Fuck this man, I’m doing it in my bedroom. I’m not signing any deals anymore.” He was a real inspiration to us. He was the only one who didn’t do it on a label and WHITE LADDER just went crazy big.
But you have a lot of friends outside of the music world?
Oh yeah, Jesus Christ. Industry people are nice and I do have a lot of friends from there but I think you can become institutionalised if you only mix with people in the business. I totally avoid it when I’m at home. I hang out with my real mates as well.
Will your new album expose your talent for heavier rock?
I don’t think it’ll be heavier rock stuff. It’ll just have a different feel again. It’s very hard to explain. It’ll be more intimate but it’ll stand up more I think… I hope. We’re working on it now and we’ll be working on it through January. But it won’t be ready for a while. I’m very happy with the songs. They just need a lot of care; they need clothes that fit them. By the end of the thing I’ll be licking my hands. And when it’s all ready the little family will get sent out and I’ll say, “Go make your dad some money. Or go make your dad proud at least.”
Hot Press - The Frames, July 1995
Though he was busking in Grafton Street at 14, it's taken Glen Hansard more than a few shakes of the lamb's tail to reach the plateau of success which his songwriting talents have, for so long, threatened to take him - but after the colossal success of 'Revelate', THE FRAMES are, finally, set to enjoy their day in the sun. Here, Glen and guitarist, Dave Odlum, put Niall Crumlish in the picture.
As is his wont, Glen Hansard wrinkles his brow, tugs pensively at the much-talked-about ginger goatee and cuts to the chase.
"When you're down," he says, reboarding for a while the somewhat spiritual train of thought that first led his rock'n'roll band The Frames to the smash hit single of the year 'Revelate', "and when things aren't going right, and life is shit - 'cos life is shit! And I'm not being a pessimist but life is a constant up and down thing, it's not linear - you're drifting. But when I think when you're down, and when you get so far down there's only one thing you can do..."
He tosses a quick, furtive glance towards the ceiling, and eye-balls me again.
"...And some people don't! When you're so far down, you put your hands together, you look into the sky and ask, y'know 'Is there a God?', 'Are you there?', and these kinds of questions, y'know, 'What's is all about?' I'm not much of a pray-er myself - I think that's one of the things the song are there for - but I think that's kind of where 'Revelate' is coming from."
Glen takes a brief breather, and the nervous flicker of a smile he allows himself is that of a man by whom and for whom many, many decades of the Rosary have been trudged wearily but ever-hopefully through; not only this, but the very same thoroughly inscrutable Creator of the Universe who day in, day out refuses with a chuckle my plaintive pleas for the hand of Sharon Ní Bheoláin has finally decided to plug the old hearing-aid in.
Quite simply, the astonishing and massively heartening turnaround in the fortunes of Glen Hansard’s group would make a believer out of Beelzebub: ‘Revelate’ is this year’s ‘Everybody Hurts’, The Frames are The Band Of The Moment and their stone cold classic second LP – due out any day now – looks set to make them The Band Of The Moment for the rest of their working lives.
In short, there is a God, after all, it appears, and – wouldn’t ya know it? – He’s on our side. Well, Amen to that.
However, amidst all the back-slapping and idle talk of multi-platinum solo side projects it should be remembered that a comeback – as this, I think, is, with bells on – is not worthy of the name unless you first have a vale of tears from which to return, Lazarus-like. The Frames have had their dark moments; we’re almost lucky they’re still with us.
Glen: “Yeah, and I think if there was a word for all the songs on the new LP they’d be, like, redemption songs, or songs about not giving up.”
While the last LP was, of course, chock full of manic, unrequited love songs.
“Right. That seemed to be the general thread that went through it, whereas now it’s more about picking yourself up from somewhere you might you might have been, y’know, or I have certainly been.
“Like, I went through the whole Commitments experience which was all very big and I had to somehow validate my career, which was The Frames, which was so much smaller. So, when our album came out (1992’s Another Love Song, an occasionally flawed, mostly mighty record, and the recipient of a not inconsiderable 12 on the dice from the legendary and always, but always spot-on Michael O’Hara – NC)) it got drowned, basically, in the fact that I was in this film, and we could never measure up to it ‘cos it was Hollywood superstardom, beyond your wildest dreams. It’s very rare you hit that on your first record. So, em, the whole thing sort of went into the background, and we got dropped, we didn’t sell many copies of it, and then our bass player (John Carney) left us, who was a very important member of the band.”
As you might expect, all this adversity got them thinking, if not drinking.
“And basically, things got really … things were kind of falling apart and it was a kind of a sink or swim situation. So we decided to swim. And when we did, that was when the whole momentum and good feeling started to come back into the situation, and we started writing a bunch of songs that had to be written, y’know, about the situation.”
Was there ever a moment when you thought we’d seen the last of you?
Glen thinks for a minute. “Em, no. We never really sort of talked about
Dave “The Rave” Odlum, lead guitarist extraordinaire and favourite son of the home of rock’n’roll, Ballinteer (home also to Revelino and, ahem, me), continues: “… there was almost a sense of, that’s the subject you don’t bring up (laughs).”
Glen, with a glint in his eye, glares: “Yeah, that’s right.”
I apologise profusely; I’m just doing my job, guv.
Dave: “No, no, back then! It’s OK now!”
Glen: “Once we decided to stick together, the whole thing became OK. Even now, it would be OK for the band to split up at some point. It’s not a problem anymore. We’re all intelligent enough to sort of say ‘Now, we’re gonna do this, and if it doesn’t work…”
Dave: “We tried.”
Glen: “Yeah. We tried. We gave it our best shot. So, in a way, we’re quite realistic, ‘cos it could all fall apart again. I’ve seen some of my favourite bands split up without ever making a record at all, so things could go that way.
“Or,” he goes on, lifting the pall of gloom which has mysteriously settled over the last few paragraphs, “things could keep going the way they are now, and we could naturally progress into selling records, and doing quite well. I hope it goes that way.”
The thing is, though, we’ve never going to lose Glen Hansard, so stop worrying! Songs are the only thing he knows, he admits sheepishly; should the stock market plunge into the abyss and the entire rock’n’roll business crumble to its very knees in the morning he still won’t sell us out and join the Civil Service. For starters, as he himself explains, they wouldn’t have him.
“I’ve been doing this since I was fourteen, that’s – what – eleven years? I wrote my first song then, it was about my granny, ‘cos when you’re that age, you’re not worried about matters of the heart, you’re into growing up, getting old and all that, it’s all such a mystery, y’know? So it was around then I told my Ma I wanted to be a singer, and she didn’t stop me! She went, ‘Well OK, but if you’re going to be a musician, you’d better do it, and don’t just talk about it’. And she bought me a guitar, straight away, and I went straight away busking on Grafton St.”
Excuse me? Does Glen Hansard, role model to all of young Ireland, really mean to say that precisely one year into his teens, one year before his Inter Cert and with the full, unadulterated blessing of she who brought him onto this earth, he abandoned his full-time education for the dubious delights of banging out rickety old Beatles numbers to streams of horribly disinterested, recession-stricken clients of Mr Burger and suchlike? Like really?
“Yeah,” he laughs, a little ruefully. “It was mostly Dylan and Neil Young, though, and I had two songs of my own. I mean, I was in school in Ballymun, and there were fifty-four kids in my class, so it made no difference really if I stayed or left, y’know?
And I didn’t get on with them, ‘cos I was into music and playing guitar and that kind of stuff, and they weren’t (laughs), so I didn’t like my schoolmates, and they didn’t like me. I didn’t have many friends. I was glad to get out, y’know? I’ve worried about it since because I really have put all my eggs in one basket. This is all I know, I’m a full-time Frame.
“It was a mad time, though,” he goes on. “I met some amazing people, some of whom are still my friends. I have some great friends, and I love them – they’re my only other passion besides The Frames; like Jimmy Judge, who’s still my best friend, who saw me on Grafton St. back then, eleven years ago, and told me early on to keep it up, that I had a gift. That was brilliant. It was the first encouragement I got, I mean, y’know, apart from my Ma, the first outside encouragement. I loved it, like, I started at 14 and my life completely changed in two weeks. It was mad.”
Glen’s eyes glaze over nostalgically.
“I pretty much left home then: I’d go out in the morning with my guitar and my lunch and I’d see my Ma again in a fortnight (laughs). Everyone on the street knew each other, y’know, we’d busk and then we’d go off to someone’s place for the night.
There were some mad sessions. There was always somebody’s floor to sleep on, y’know?”
Thus was born our Glen Hansard, writer and singer of some of the most sweepingly romantic, unashamedly passionate love songs in rock’n’roll.
“Well, em, I didn’t write my first love song until I was, maybe, sixteen or seventeen. But I was staying in other people’s homes all the time, there was always a crowd, and there were obviously plenty of girls. I had a lot of girlfriends, at a young age, a lot of serious relationships. Like, I moved in with my first girlfriend when I was sixteen, and we were together for a year.”
So, my admittedly hugely uncorroborated theory that the most beautiful, spiritual love songs are written by people who’ve had very few relationships, and so have the otherworldly idea of love and sex to cling to and write about rather than the sometimes mechanical and grubby reality, that’s all bollocks, is that what you’re saying, then, Glen? Eh?
He smiles again and ponders awhile, does the man who broke a hundred thousand hearts with “And I told her as the ship sank/That I loved her/And I told her as we walked off the plank/That I was all hers…”
“Yeah,” he nods bashfully but wisely. “I’ve been in love.”
No more need be said.
All of which brings us, I think, to ‘Revelate’, a smitten song if ever I’d heard one. And I have. What more I there to say, though, you might wonder, four months after it’s unleashing upon a visibly stunned and obviously ravenous public? One third of a year after Glen first peeled off those tights, scrunched up that face and wildly, gleefully bellowed “Sometimes it’s easy just to hate, YEAH!” into a very inexpensively rented security camera in Donnybrook Post Office, like the misanthropic humanist Bill Hicks was and all the sane people aspire to be? Well, there are a few things.
‘Revelate’ is Ireland’s finest gospel (Yes!) songs since ‘Dropkick Me
Jesus Through The Goalpost Of Life’, and maybe ever. Not that it need
necessarily have anything to do with He who (some would have us believe)
must be obeyed, but testifyin’ of the order of the finale, “Redeem
yourself! Redeem yourself!” comes along only very rarely outside of the
grooves of an Al Green record, and when the tense, gritted-teeth verse
blossoms into the flowing and, it just has to be said, cleansing chorus
of “Sometimes I need a revelation,” it’s just a release. Like ‘Everybody
Hurts’ or lashings of Deep Heata, it calms frazzled nerves, unties nasty
knotted shoulders and lets on that all is groovy, for a while at least.
Glen, worryingly, stares bemused when the G-word pops up: “I mean I take that as a complete compliment, like, but I do it in the sense that I’m talking about a relationship; I’m talking about a relationship with myself, pretty much, if you know what I mean.”
He has a fascinating, somewhat off-the-wall take on the theme of spiritual renewal that the song slaps you in the face with, though.
“I am a believer,” he confirms, “I know about religions because I’ve made it my business to read up on them, and learn about them, but… I think, y’know, I remember reading somewhere about this, about people travelling to exotic places for ‘space’, or sitting in churches or hiking around Tibet to get in touch with their needs, or God, or whatever. And I’ve always found that the most revealing moments to me about spirituality or when I’ve had real realisations in my life, it’s often been… on the road, or, y’know, in a shop (laughs). It just comes. And I think that, I mean, sure, being around beautiful scenic places help, but most often with me it’s happened on buses, or crossing the road and stuff.”
Quite apart from all that, ‘Revelate’ is also a blinding love song: whoever’s on the receiving end of “Sometimes I need your revelation” (Translation: when I’m drained, when I’m stuck in a rut, when I’m lifeless and about to pack it all in, you are the one who brings me to my senses and reminds me that it’s just good to be here, you and no-one else) should be suitably flattered. It’s just such a gorgeous, flabbergasting thing to say to someone; it reminds me a bit of Big Star’s ‘Blue Moon’ (“Let me be your one light/And if you’d like a true heart/Take the time to show you’re mine/And I’ll be a blue moon in the dark”) and that comparison doesn’t trip lightly off this here tongue. Then there’s the grinding guitar, bringing fresh meaning to the word ‘visceral’; also, in case I forget, the snare sound is magic. Nice one Binzer. (And I never, ever, ever notice that kind of thing.)
Happily, and kind of inevitably, ‘Revelate’ has struck a crashing chord with the plain people of (so far) Ireland, selling in Celine Dion-threatening quantities and winning, with the world’s cheapest promo ever (about which you’ve heard enough), fifth place when shown as part of the MTV Euro Video Grand Prix, for the bewildering but madly enthusiastic perusal of 160 million of our EU neighbours. At long last, it’s becoming fun to be a Frame.
“It’s exciting, yeah,” confirms Glen. “The past few months have been fucking amazing.” He’s beaming now.
“I didn’t expect it all, like,” shrugs Dave, smiling.
Glen goes on. “When we released the single, we got an amazing response to it, like, straight off. We were on all the TV shows you can be on in Ireland. And people were coming up to us, other songwriters were ringing up, going ‘This is a great song, where did you come up with it?’ or ‘Well done, fair fuckin’ play to you, you’re doin’ it on your own.’ We released it ourselves, on DC, and there was a great sense of people sticking up their thumbs and going, ‘Fair fuckin’ play! to us, all over the shop. There’s been an amazing positive feedback to the song, and then the crowds have been getting bigger and people know the words and stuff. It’s great to get a crowd in your home town, y’know, and it’s amazing to be filling the place (Whelans). It just does your esteem a lot of good.
Dave: “The way I’d look at it is, you go to, say, the gig last night and there were hundreds of people in the place and they’re all going mad and, like, alright, not everyone in the place is going to like the gig, but I’d say the vast majority of people that were there liked it. And, it’s like, any more success than that, all you’re doing is doing the same thing in different places. In a funny kind of way it doesn’t get any more than that. If you get people that genuinely like it…”
Glen nods vigorously: “That’s success.”
And they’re absolutely right. The only tragedies in Pop (aside from freak incidents like the Kurt thing and the Richey Manic mystery) are when a glorious group has to throw in the towel to stop the old tummy rumbling. It’s OK to worry that A House or AMC may have to become brickies for financial reasons, but hits? They’re the cherry on the icing.
“I would totally agree with you,” avers Glen. “Ultimately, I mean, I believe in the community thing where the potter makes pottery and the people in the town buy the pottery so the potter can make more money, d’you know what I mean? I believe in that method, in that way of thinking. And as regards success, I’d just like to be able for people to be given the opportunity to hear us, because when our first LP came out, it was put on shelves, it didn’t reach people, and we’ve realised through all this that it’s all about playing live. So wherever we play, we know we’re reaching people. And then they’ve got the choice to like us or not, and that’s OK.”
But, convincing as it superficially sounds, this is not the whole truth, HOT PRESS can exclusively reveal. Pushed as to what his very wildest dreams for the Frames are, the not-very-rock’n’roll reality of the situation presents itself.
“Well, when I left school at fourteen, my Ma bought me that guitar, y’know? And it was on condition that, she kind of said ‘If you get anywhere, I’m expecting a house in Howth, alright?’”
“Yeah. So I can’t go home until then,” Glen Hansard, quite possibly Ireland’s next globe-straddling rock’n’roll demigod, whimpers. “There’ll be trouble.”
The Pete Briquette-produced follow-up to Another Love Song remains, at the time of writing, untitled – Angel At My Table and Monument are possibles, while Glen, with impeccable taste, is pulling hair, poking eyes, stamping on feet and generally fighting tooth and nail in his attempts to call it Fitzcarraldo, an improbably cool title, you will agree. (Also, it’s the name of the epic standout track). Homages to Klaus Kinski movies are always welcome in these parts.
“Have you seen it?” splutters Glen, as animated as he gets (which is really quite animated). “It’s an amazing movie. I saw it completely by accident, I was feeling lazy one afternoon and just sat in front of the telly, it was on BBC2 and I caught most of it, and got it out on video the following day again.
“There’s this Irishman, Fitzgerald – that’s Klaus Kinski – he’s a trader but his passion is opera, and he has this dream of building a big opera house in this tiny village deep in the Amazon Basin. And the authorities are going (waves hands frantically) ‘No! No! You can’t! No-one’ll go!’, but he ignores them and goes and does it, ‘cos it’s his passion, y’know?
“And so, without their help, he has to finance it himself, and he takes his old ship way down the river to extract rubber from trees, for money. But he goes down the wrong branch of the river and ends up in a village full of hostile natives, like, and the crew are, like, ‘What’re we doing here?’ They’re pissed off, they’re in trouble.
“But Fitzgerald’s passion is opera, he loves Carouso, so the natives are there beside his ship and so he whips out this Carouso record and plays it real loud; the natives can’t believe it, they stop and listen, there’s no more danger. They have this real communication, without words, y’know? And then, the end of the film is, he gets the natives to actually lift his big ship out of the water and over the huge mountain onto the river they’re supposed to be on.
“It’s not my favourite film, but it was the kind of film I needed to see then, I think. You know, it’s about doing your own thing, taking the long way round but getting there eventually. It struck a chord.”
This tale is telling, and the resonances pretty obvious. If there is one thing that links everything on the LP – and there is – it’s this admirable, even enviable lust for life and point-blank refusal to let anything come between you and what you need to do with your life; whether it’s ‘Revelate’ (which I’ve already mentioned), the sweet strength of ‘We’re In This Boat Together, Babe’ (“If I had a wish/I’d give it straight to you” – it sounds simple, but I love all that shit) or the serene but determined ‘Say It To Me Now’, it’s a record made for, but not by, the faint-hearted.
‘Fitzcarraldo’, with it’s groovy baseline courtesy of The Bass Police, Pete ‘Works With Tricky These Days’ Briquette and graham ‘Son Of Brian’ Downey (“the least rock’n’roll person on the world,” according to Dave), it’s marvellous, overcoming-insurmountable-odds lyric and Glen’s typically unstinting delivery takes the individual honours but there are eleven contenders out of eleven songs; the LP as a whole is far less breakneck than the Black Francis-borrowing Another…, and Pete’s elegant, rhythm-centred production comobined with Glen’s slower, flowing vocals gives the whole LP an incredibly warm, deep, soulful feel. You can lose yourself quite easily in a record like this; it’ll emerge towards the middle of June, and we’ll all be submerged by the end of the month.
Rumour and vile, not entirely unfounded gossip has it large amounts of cash and not inconsiderable distribution deals are about to be foisted on The Frames by an exceedingly large major label – another malicious rumour has it that the name of the label in question starts with ‘War’ and ends in ‘ners’ - you can only wish them well, this time, and drooling, pray for the day that corporate incompetence and the poor taste of the punters (no longer a problem) ceases to prevent The Frames from springing their gorgeous, inspiring way to seeing things onto the unsuspecting world at large.
Think of it: to wander into a second-hand record store in Bogota and happen upon a bootleg ‘Revelate’ 12”l to venture into a – let’s not be gready – medium-sized arena on Continental Europe, while five thousand recently rejuvenated rock’n’roll fans gasp as ‘Monument’’s mad, obsessive, big, big love love boom’s out, and Glen Hansard and Noreen O’Donnell’s voices waft up, swerve, loop and clamber all over one another, interlocking like double-stranded DNA; sure, all you can do is dream.
Splendid Ezine - "Avoid Cynicism" - March 2003
The Frames are so good that it's almost ridiculous that a great deal of my interview with singer, guitarist and all-around swell dude Glen Hansard is devoted to the discussion of their lack of commercial success over the past ten years. It seems completely inexcusable that dunderheaded major label machinations could prevent a talent as extreme and natural as Hansard's from capturing the attention of the masses. The Frames are that rare combination of a charismatic, tremendously talented frontman aided and abetted by an extremely sympathetic, proportionately talented band. They are not a group to inspire casual fandom, as their performance in Seattle earlier this year amply demonstrated. It seemed like every person in the Emerald City who had ever heard a Frames song was there that night, singing along to songs old and new with boozy gusto, yelling out requests and generally soaking in one of the best live shows of the year. Hansard has the air of someone who was born to be a performer -- as if there's really nothing else he could do.
During our conversation, Hansard was talkative, friendly and genuine (he paid for my girlfriend's donut and soda at the market where we conducted the interview) -- but once he got onstage and started playing with his band, something changed in his persona. He was completely in his element. For the two hours that we watched him perform, he was like a little kid, completely in love with the world and totally sure of his place in it. It was a thrilling experience, and I'm actually quite honored to have been able to sit down and have a chat with a man possessed of so pure a talent.
· · · · · · ·
Splendid: So how's the tour been so far?
Glen Hansard: It's been amazing. The east coast was so good, you know? Like, everywhere apart from New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco was kind of hard work. But those places, the pattern has been very constant. Like, we've only been to San Francisco twice, but we sold the place out. It was a small club, but for us, that's very, very...it's the result of your work, you know?
Glen Hansard: I kind of wonder to myself why we have to tour the rest of the country. I don't love America, I'm not passionate about being here, I'm not a young guy in a rock band in love with the world and in love with rock music. I'd much rather be in Europe or somewhere where I know we'd get better gigs.
Glen Hansard: But I'm really enjoying this trip, because there's this certain mental state you get into, which is just "fuck it". If there's someone there, we'll play a good gig, if there's not someone there, we'll play a good gig.
Splendid: Well, you're playing for yourself at that point.
Glen Hansard: So we're doing the 28 gigs in 30 days -- "yeah, cool, let's do it".
Splendid: Is this the first full-scale US tour that you guys have done?
Glen Hansard: We did one in January, opening up for the New Pornographers.
Splendid: Right, right.
Glen Hansard: But it wasn't as full scale as this -- that was like 21 gigs. I see the word "gig" isn't used over here as much as the word "show", is it?
Splendid: It depends on who you talk to.
Glen Hansard: I said the word "gig" and someone was like "aah, snooty!", and I was like "fuck 'em"!
Glen Hansard: They said only jazz musicians use the word "gig".
Splendid: I don't really think that's true. So, has it been mostly headlining for you guys on this tour?
Glen Hansard: It's been all headlining on this trip, except for the very first gig in Detroit, where we were opening for the Waxwings because that's their hometown.
Splendid: Maybe you don't know this, but the people who come out to the shows, are they longtime fans, or are they people who have just gotten turned on recently?
Glen Hansard: It's been a really interesting mix. There've been a lot of people who have seen us in Europe, and are now living here for some reason. Or people to whom we've been highly recommended -- you know, people who are like "I got a call from a guy I know who implored me to come to your gig". Wow, that's amazing! It's amazing to me that people talk about us in a way that's really genuine, like "this is a really good band, you should go see them", or whatever. 'Cause the whole American club scene just reeks of apathy. Just reeks! Like you go to these clubs and...
Splendid: Nobody gives a shit.
Glen Hansard: ...the guards are like "load your gear in there, get on stage, don't bring that cup outside, show me your ID, and get the fuck away from here by 2:00 in the morning." You know, these places, it's kind of hard, that side of it, like, "aw, fuck off"! I come from a country where, you know, you go in, you set up your gear, and people are cool -- where music's appreciated for something that's not...you know...I'm not here to sell jewelry.
Splendid: It's kind of more than a job. It's something else.
Glen Hansard: I think it's really good if you show up to a gig and someone gives you a cup of tea and says "hello". They don't have to fuckin' kiss my ass.
Splendid: Well, that's what I've heard from friends of mine who have toured Europe -- that people are just so friendly over there, and the fans seem to be much more appreciative of the music, whereas here, it can be really hard.
Glen Hansard: It's hard work to be a band in America! If you're an American indie rock band, you've chosen one of the hardest loads, certainly, in music.
Splendid: Oh yeah, for sure. Well, that's funny that you should say that. All I know of your stuff is from an American perspective, which is fairly frustrating, because your records haven't been promoted here, and you've been mishandled left and right, and American fans of the Frames would probably say that you guys have gotten something of a raw deal all in all. Do you feel that way?
Glen Hansard: Um...raw deal. I kind of think everything is how it's meant to be.
Splendid: Well, are you happy with how your career has gone thus far?
Glen Hansard: Well, you know, it could have gone better.
Glen Hansard: There could have been more money put into us touring. Every time we've toured in America, it's only been the East coast, or Chicago, but every time we've come to America, it's always been on money we've borrowed. Because the super-duper major label over here wouldn't give us shit to come and do anything. And being signed to the major label, we weren't even able to get our records on the shelves! I mean, we were one band in a roster of thousands! And yeah, it's a big label, and they promise you big things...
Splendid: And they fork over a bunch of money at first...
Glen Hansard: And we've always been uncomfortable with that route anyway, because when you play that game, it's all about the pyramid theory, which is "there's only room for one at the top", and the whole idea of success, the whole idea of pop music, is that the moment you reach the top, it's over! You know, the whole idea is that the very minute you hit the top, it ends, and I've always been much more interested in the idea of a career in music. So the concept of pop music to me is that a bubble rises for a long time from the bottom, and it hits the surface, and the moment it hits the surface, it explodes! And that explosion is what people celebrate. They celebrate the death of something, rather than its formation and its growth. So in a way, you see it with bands when it's like "bang!", they're there, in everyone's face and in the media, then "bang!", they're gone! And I've always been excited by the idea of bands like REM, or bands like the Cure, or bands like the Pixies if they hadn't split up, God, why did they ever do that? You know, bands that were just great, great bands, who were sustaining and enduring. For me, it was always a career, it was never a case of "we'll have a hit, I'll make some money, and I'll get married!" It was never about that, it was like "this is monastic. Heading out on the road again."
Splendid: Labels don't seem to believe in artist development anymore.
Glen Hansard: Well, that's what they were telling me when I was 18, and I was signed, and they said "We see you as a sort of Van Morrison type of character. We'd like to develop you over five albums, and maybe then we'll start demanding that you have hits." You know, "but up until that point we'll give you freedom." And I thought that was amazing!
Splendid: Yeah! Sounds great!
Glen Hansard: And then the guy who spieled all that to me left the record company the next day!
Splendid: (much laughter) That's classic, that's beautiful. Do you know the band Spoon?
Glen Hansard: I know of them.
Splendid: It was pretty much the same exact story.
Glen Hansard: No matter how you look at it, the bands are being shafted 99 percent of the time.
Splendid: So how do you feel about your current label, Overcoat?
Glen Hansard: They're great! They've delivered the basics. The basics are: your records go on the shelves. There is no more. We've never asked for anything more from anyone. Put our records on the shelves, organize us a tour, put us in front of the people, and let us do the rest. That's always been the philosophy we've had.
Splendid: Yeah, really, that's all you need, and anything else is just money spent that didn't need to be spent.
Glen Hansard: Absolutely. We're not a glamorous band. I'm not James Dean. We don't have the "sell, sell" angle. We never have had. It's always been about songs. If we can get the songs to do the work, then we're golden, but the only way to get the songs to work is to get them in front of people. And the radio, we've never depended on. Maybe we have, maybe we haven't written "radio records", but it's never been a concern of the band to do that. We've always hoped that the music would sell us...and obviously it's a bit more than that.
Splendid: It's always a bit more than that! So, does being in the Frames pay your rent?
Glen Hansard: Being a songwriter pays my rent. Being in the Frames doesn't. Being in the Frames is an expensive...
Glen Hansard: Yeah. Basically, touring a five-piece in America is like dragging a whale around. You have to hire a van, pay a sound engineer -- for us, those luxuries we afford ourselves. At home, we can all play a gig and split the money and pay our rent, there's no doubt about that. But being able to go on tour on my own is where I actually get to pay the rent. And that's something I do at home, or in Europe, and I can earn money that way. But I can't do it with the band, ironically.
Splendid: How do you like the dynamic of solo versus playing with the band?
Glen Hansard: I love the difference, because I get to bring the song wherever I want to bring it in the moment I'm in. 'Cause a lot of playing for me is renditionism. You know, you take the song somewhere, and if it feels good in the moment, you take it somewhere else. And so doing the solo touring, for me, it's just an opportunity to take the songs and tell stories about them. It's much more of an intimate experience. With the band, I can go off on a bit of a spiel here and there, but more often not. It's pretty set, a pretty focused concept -- "the gig".
Splendid: Have you considered putting out a solo record?
Glen Hansard: Yeah, but it would have to be a live one. I couldn't really see going in and spending a lot of time in the studio, 'cause I'd want the band on it. And if I had the band on it...
Splendid: It may as well be a Frames record! So, you guys are recording a new record now, right?
Glen Hansard: Yeah, we're in the middle of a new one.
Splendid: Each new record of yours seems to get quieter and quieter.
Glen Hansard: Yeah.
Splendid: Is this one sort of following the trend that way?
Glen Hansard: No, this one will...we've started out with this one trying to capture some real violence. Not to make rock music, necessarily, but to make violent music. And I don't mean that in a sort of "rock out" way, just to make something that sounds --
Splendid: -- more dissonant?
Glen Hansard: Not even dissonant. Just...emotionally violent. That was kind of one of my tips at the start. I said "I don't think we're going to pull it off".
Splendid: Well, your stuff has always been really intense, especially the early stuff.
Glen Hansard: Yeah, but I don't want intense, 'cause when I listen back to that guy, I think "Jesus, poor kid!"
Glen Hansard: Shoutin' his head off, you know? I don't miss him. I don't miss that young fool, because I'm not him anymore, and that's the other thing that's really been nice about making music, is that you're only ever where you are. You're never anywhere else. When I was making that stuff, that was the best I could do, man! And I still play those songs -- we still refer back sometimes, but I don't miss that yokel at all.
Splendid: There's so much more experience that you gain just in living your life.
Glen Hansard: I always think, for me, that we'll make another record, hopefully people will like it, then we'll make another one and hopefully people will like that -- but for me it's always a personal thing. If I think it's better than the last one, I think it's worth releasing, but if I don't think it's better than the last one, then we're just going to spend a longer time making it -- just get it until it's right. And at the same time, part of me is like "be flippant, just let the records come out". If we were really flippant, we would have made a bunch of records by now. A whole bunch of records. But I'm always like, "aww, it could be better. We should hold off". It's more a case of me wanting to release a good record rather than just a fresh record.
Splendid: Well, quality control is definitely a good thing. I mean, anybody can just...well, look at Guided By Voices. I don't know if you're a fan...
Glen Hansard: Do they fire out the records a lot?
Splendid: Well, Bob Pollard, the singer/songwriter guy -- his whole thing is just writing hundreds and hundreds of songs...
Glen Hansard: I have a friend in Songs:Ohia, this band from Chicago. Jason releases like three records a year. And I think to myself, "wow, that's a fucking amazing amount of output!" But that's how the indie rockers survive, because every record that Jason releases, he'll definitely sell 15,000 copies of. He won't sell any more, but he'll definitely sell that many. So if he releases three of them a year, you know, he's doing alright.
Splendid: In the case of Guided By Voices, it's like Bob Pollard has a bunch of "side project" bands, and he releases solo records, and all this stuff, and the problem is that the Guided by Voices stuff is usually really good, but the other side-project stuff is mostly really bad! It's like he can't separate the wheat from the chaff
Glen Hansard: I think that if you're a dedicated fan, though, or if you're the kind of musician who inspires dedication -- and which there aren't that many, I don't think, who inspire real fans, someone who will fight for your corner -- then you have the opportunity to make a living off anything you release. But then you're just being unfair.
Splendid: Yeah, it's true.
Glen Hansard: Rule number one is "don't take the piss out of your audience".
Splendid: Don't take them for granted. Definitely. Are the Frames' songs your songs, to which the band adds parts, or is the songwriting process more democratic?
Glen Hansard: Predominantly they're mine. I'm like B.A. from the A-Team. Collect all the rubbish and have the band put together the vehicle -- then we go save the day. (laughter) Yeah, it's primarily my ideas. It's all mine. When I say it's all mine, though, I don't mean to say that I'm the Sting in the band. The Frames are definitely a band.
Splendid: Well, the distinction between The Police and Sting's solo material is pretty dramatic. You look back on the old Police stuff and think "Damn, Andy Summers was great! And so was Stu Copeland!"
Glen Hansard: Yeah, bands have a chemistry, you know.
Splendid: Exactly. You've had a lot of lineup changes over the years. Do you think that's had anything to do with holding you guys back at all?
Glen Hansard: Oh, no, no, it's always been a very positive thing, thank God. Because it always pulls the music in a different way, depending on which musician's playing on it. I think you can get very, very bored if you're playing with the same musicians for ten years. All the moves, all the positions, you've got covered after a few years. But then again, you get into that classic situation where you just read each other. Me and Colm, we're the only two original members now, and me and him, we don't even have to look at each other.
Splendid: Was that kind of the case with David (Odlum) leaving?
Glen Hansard: With Odlum? Yeah, that was hard. That was the hardest.
Splendid: 'Cause he was there from the beginning, right?
Glen Hansard: Yeah, he was there from the beginning, and also he was like my right-hand man. I bounced everything off him. So him leaving was fatal. Well, almost. It almost made me pack it in.
Splendid: Well, you're still here, so...
Glen Hansard: Yeah, and the guy, Rob, who's covering for Dave, is really really good.
Splendid: That always helps.
Glen Hansard: Yeah. But it feels really good. It's an omen. For me, it's always a case of The Frames are in good shape if we're playing well or we're writing good songs. If we're not writing good songs and we're not playing good gigs, then we're not a good band. There isn't any other way of looking at it. And right now we're a good band, so it's okay.
Splendid: So he left to do more production stuff, was that the case?
Glen Hansard: Yeah, well, he fell in love with this girl Janna, and he made her record with her and now he's living with her and touring with her. And so, yeah, he just fell in love. It's the one get-out clause, isn't it? (Laughter) You know what I mean? "I been with ya for twelve years, and I love ya and you're my best mate, but look, man, I'm in love!" (much laughter) If he'd have told me anything else, he'd have been a bastard!
Splendid: Yeah, that's a tough one. Have there been other times when you've been ready to just say "fuck it" and throw in the towel?
Glen Hansard: Oh, yeah. Actually, the only other time I ever left the band...well, I didn't leave the band this time, but the only time I ever left the band was just before For the Birds came out. I thought it was the worst album we'd ever made. I just thought "Jesus"...
Splendid: Was that before you got Albini in on it?
Glen Hansard: No, just the day before it was released!
Splendid: Oh, okay.
Glen Hansard: We were in Amsterdam. We were opening for the Tindersticks, and I had a total fuckin' nervous breakdown. I just thought we'd made the worst album of our career, and that this would be the one that would make us lose everyone. And losing everyone, for us, meant losing a fairly small number of people.
Splendid: What made you think that?
Glen Hansard: I just thought it was a terrible record! I though it was just morose, and depressing, and far too inward-looking. And as much as I went out to make that record, I just panicked at the last minute. But then I thought "fuck it, it's you, it's real, you're speaking your mind." And Dave was a real help, saying "Con, you've made a great record here, don't be fuckin' shy, Get up and stand beside your art." And so I went on thinking "Oh shit, oh god, everyone's gonna hate us." I thought we'd lose 75 percent of our audience.
Splendid: Did you have any kind of reaction from anyone about it before it was released?
Glen Hansard: No, we didn't play it for anyone. We were very good with it. Maybe a few close friends, whose opinions I trust, but don't value. Because they're my friends.
Splendid: And they're not gonna tell you your stuff is shit.
Glen Hansard: Well, they are -- they'll tell you "You did really good on that one and maybe not so good on that one" -- but I'm kinda like "Lads, fuckin' tell me straight!" I guess your best friends' opinions are important, but I didn't think it was good, and that was the most important thing of all.
Splendid: But you like it now, right?
Glen Hansard: Now I'm proud of it. Now I'm proud of the fact that we did something, got it out of the way, now it's time to move on.
Splendid: I was really kind of shocked by it. In the first place, I hadn't heard anything about you guys having a new record or even having a record deal, and then I get this record in the mail, The Frames. Okay. Then I see "Steve Albini". And I'm like "What the fuck", 'cause he's about the last guy in the world I would have thought you guys would work with.
Glen Hansard: We're the only band I know of who have recorded with both Trevor Horn and Steve Albini!
Glen Hansard: The two fuckin' extremes, man.
Splendid: That's awesome.
Glen Hansard: Within a year.
Splendid: So how did you come to work with Steve?
Glen Hansard: I had spoken to Steve years ago, when we were recording Fitzcarraldo, our second album. I had wanted him to record our first one, because I was a big Pixies fan from the beginning. That's what ruined our first album, because it would have been a real folky, country record, actually, if I hadn't discovered The Pixies, like, a week before we started recording! And then tried to stick on this bunch of songs. I used my first electric guitar in the recording of that record. Learning to play electric guitar is very different than acoustic guitar, but I was treating them the same.
Splendid: Yeah, it's really loud.
Glen Hansard: There's a couple of moments on it that are sad. They're not sad, actually, but unfortunate. They're the sound of a young lad trying to emulate something that he needs to grow up into instead of...you know. It's a difficult record for me to listen to now, but there are some parts of it that I'm proud of.
Splendid: Well, there's a lot of heart in it. It's very earnest.
Glen Hansard: And the irony is that all the faster songs that are on the album, I actually scrapped, but the record company was like "Well, this is the fast, uptempo pop music that we want!" So we ended up having to go with those songs. The final draft of Another Love Song is sort of a folky, country record, but they went for all the sort of unfinished songs. Like if you listen to the fast songs on Another Love Song, there's no lyrics, 'cause I just didn't write any! Cause I was basically just jammin' the stuff out in the studio.
Splendid: Interesting. I wanted to ask you about a few songs specifically. What is "God Bless Mom" about?
Glen Hansard: Ehh. It's kind of about my mother basically staying with my dad when she shouldn't have. My mother and my father haven't been getting on for, you know, a couple of decades, and it was kind of a case where my mother always went back to him. And it was kind of saying to her "you're amazing!"
Splendid: So it's pretty literal, then.
Glen Hansard: Yeah.
Splendid: The juxtaposition between the verse and the chorus is really interesting -- where the chorus is loud and emphatic, and the verse is so quiet as to be almost inaudible.
Glen Hansard: Well, that version was a total concoction made up by Trevor Horn. The album version's the worst version. The best version of it is on an EP we released, I don't know if you have it, called I Am The Magic Hand.
Splendid: No, I don't have that. (NOTE: I have since acquired this version, on the UK Headlong EP, and Glen's right -- the album version doesn't hold a candle to it.)
Glen Hansard: ...which was the version of the song that we wanted to go on the album, but it wasn't "intense" enough for them, so they didn't go for it. It's the version we play live, though, so you'll probably hear it later if you stick around.
Splendid: Yeah, definitely.
Glen Hansard: It's a different version than what's on the album. Just very slightly, but you'll hear it.
Splendid: So, some of the songs on Dance the Devil are really tweaked out sonically, like "Hollocaine". Was that more the producer's doing?
Glen Hansard: Naw, that was just us goofing. I had a Public Enemy record, and I was just home, and it's like...aww, fuck, I'm trying to remember the name of the song. I can't remember it. Anyway, there's a Public Enemy loop, on their second record, I remember just really liking it and playing acoustic guitar over it and coming up with "Hollocaine". Total jam. Bitsy little weird jam. And then going and putting it on the record. We called the publishers, basically we called the Public Enemy people, and they said "well, we stole that loop from some '70s record, so you can't have it, 'cause we never got clearance for it either, and if you use it and find success with it, then we're in the spotlight, so fuck you!" (Laughter) So we had to scrap it and rebuild the loop, with sort of My Bloody Valentine-style guitar loops. "By the Time I get to Phoenix", that's the name of the song. So if you ever listen to that Public Enemy song, that's the loop that Hollocaine was based on. But it was just a jam, and actually I don't like the lyrics on it -- the lyrics are really crap. It's like "Got no need for the bible, it's all in here, it's all in here / All I need for my survival is hollocaine, hollocaine", which is actually the word "Hollow". It's a very sad lyric, because it means nothing -- it just means nothing. I find it's one of those times where the devil got the pen and wrote the lyrics.
Splendid: Well, speaking of that... Especially on Fitzcarraldo, there's a lot of spirituality sort of hinted at, not necessarily addressed directly.
Glen Hansard: Yeah, and it's funny, 'cause I'm not a particularly religious guy, but all of my songs, all of them have a reference. I don't question it, and I don't try to disguise it. If it comes out of me mouth, I write it down. That's how I write songs. I never pick up a pen, I just sing, and transcribe what comes out.
Glen Hansard: And a lot of the time, what comes out is questionable, religiously questionable stuff.
Splendid: So you don't ever just sit down and write?
Glen Hansard: No.
Splendid: It's all just practising with the band?
Glen Hansard: Practicing with the band, or if I'm at home, I'll just press record and sing. For me, often times in the studio, when it's time to cut the vocal track, and I'm like "right, okay, press record." And I just go in there and go "whoo! (sings nonsense syllables...you had to be there)", then "I like that bit, we'll keep that." And I'll write the song around that bit, or just keep on goofin' til I've got a full take. And generally speaking, whenever I pick up a pen, I turn into a snob. Like, "Does that make sense, am I being 'artistic' enough here?"
Splendid: Overanalyzing it.
Glen Hansard: Yeah, and it's like, "Who cares?"
Splendid: Yeah, it's kind of fascinating to think about how many different ways there are to approach songwriting. It seems like everyone does it slightly differently. How about "Pavement Tune" -- is that a reference to Pavement, the band?
Glen Hansard: It was initially. Because the song, initially, was like a real loose jam. Really loose. So the original version of the song was...I called it "Pavement Tune" because it sounded like Pavement in the beginning, and it was just one of those stupid things where a name just stuck. The final version sounds nothing at all like Pavement.
Splendid: No, not at all!
Glen Hansard: But the initial versions of the song did.
Splendid: So, getting back to lyrics, it seems to me like the newer stuff is more direct -- like you're not tackling as many lofty themes as you used to. Your newer stuff seems more personal. Like "Headlong". I can't see a song like that appearing on any of your first few records.
Glen Hansard: It's funny you say that, because "Headlong" is actually the oldest song on For the Birds, which means I would have had that song written -- (at this point the tape ends, and we miss a few seconds of conversation. Glen is saying how even though "Headlong" was an older song, it's only recently that the band has opened up to his slower songs). A funny thing in our history is that there's always been a huge resistance to my slow songs in the band. It was almost like when I wrote faster songs, the band could play them with confidence, but when we start working on my sort of folksier, quieter stuff, the band didn't know how to read it.
Splendid: Well, there's a lot more subtlety involved, and it's a lot harder to do than to just bashing away.
Glen Hansard: And it sounds like a songwriter and his band, sort of. But for For the Birds, I was like "fuck y'se, man, this is important, this record. I wanna make it really quiet. I wanna make something that's really...I wanna play it slow. I wanna get right down to it on this one, either that or I'm making a record on me own. I have to do this." And everyone in the band was so fuckin' cool, they were like "Yeah, this is exactly how we need to make this record."
Splendid: Well, I don't think it sounds like "a songwriter and his band" at all.
Glen Hansard: No, I don't. Not that a songwriter and his band sounds bad; it doesn't. I love being in a band.
Splendid: But I know what you mean, though. I just think it's very organic. It all comes together as a whole. All the pieces fit together really well. Getting back to a bit of what we were talking about in the beginning, how do you feel about bands like, say, Coldplay or Travis, that have just sort of sprung out...
Glen Hansard: They're lucky! I don't think they're bad. I definitely would have a hard time calling any band a bad band, unless I really didn't like their music. But Coldplay and Travis, they're doing something that's quality. I mean, you listen to it, and...at least they're good bands! And in a way, it's kind of strange for me to hang out with bands like Ash, who are friends of ours from Ireland. They're signed to a huge major, and they're touring with Bowie and they're touring with Coldplay, and they're getting all these huge opportunities. It's strange, because the Frames have the ambition of a major label band! We always have! We want to be a big band! I mean, I don't want to be fuckin'... The indie rock thing makes a lot of sense. But at the same time, touring America nine times a year does not make any fuckin' sense at all. It makes no fucking sense! And you know, I'd rather be at home! And so, first we're in a strange position where the indie rock approach -- putting out the records through smaller labels who will actually give us what they promise -- makes a lot of sense. But it would be really nice to play with some bigger bands to sort of develop our crowd. 'Cause we're not the sort of "troopers of indie rock" who will sabotage our own fame, you know? We'd like to sell records! We'd like to have a radio record, sure we would. We've just not had the opportunity. And we're not crying about it, it's just the way it happens.
Splendid: Alright, one more. What's the scene in Dublin like right now?
Glen Hansard: Very healthy. Very very healthy.
Splendid: That's good to hear. A lot of good new bands coming up?
Glen Hansard: Yeah. And also, independent music in Dublin has really taken off again. 'Cause for a long time all the major labels had offices in Ireland. But over the last five years all those major label offices have closed down. The Irish wing of Sony isn't really happening. There isn't really anything in Ireland that they're working on. Which is really healthy for the bands, because the bands have to make more of an effort.
Splendid: To do it themselves?
Glen Hansard: Yeah. Basically, careers have been ruined by some young guy in Sony liking a friend of mine, signing him up for whatever amount of money, spending three years making his first record, and then dropping him. My friend could have made two records, and could have building a really healthy crowd to support his music, and that's kind of what's been happening with a lot of our friends. The Frames survived the major label existence twice now, and now we've been more successful as an independent band than we've ever been, which is partly the result of being a major label failure.
Splendid: Well, you've got a lot of experience under your belts.
Glen Hansard: We're older. We're definitely of the older generation of bands in Dublin. We never asked to be that, but that's what we are. Now we're sort of like...people gauge their career moves on our path. You know, we'll talk to anyone who wants to talk about it. We're not bitter. And that's the one thing I'm really proud of, is that we're not scowling and calling people names.
Splendid: Well, you're still out there playing music.
Glen Hansard: Exactly, we're still doing it. And basically, to avoid cynicism has always been my personal hope. Not even goal, just hope. And I'm cynical, but hopefully to a healthier degree. I think cynicism's very important. I mean, I go through times where I think "Fuckin' hell, man, I'm 32, what's going on with this?" But then I think, "Fuck it, man, I'm going to be doing this when I'm 60, whether things will be better or not." I've no choice in this. I put all my eggs in one basket when I was 14. They're still in there, you know? I haven't broken too many!
The Phantom Tollbooth - 2002
The Beautiful and Damned - An Interview with The Frames
frontman Glen Hansard
Auntie Annies, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Glen Hansard plays with the Irish band The Frames. The night of this interview, he performed solo, equipped with an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, and an effects pedal that did many wonders.
Even the good stars
Can fall from grace and falter
Lose their faith and slide
But I can't get an ocean
That's deep enough
The Frames, Fitzcarraldo
Irish band The Frames have been ploughing their own individual musical furrow for eleven years, but are yet to achieve as much recognition and kudos they rightly deserve. Of course, ploughing of any kind demands hard work, and a great deal of patience, but it is an unjust world where a band of genuine merit and capable of great songwriting beauty are passed over for the vacuous pop that normally clogs up the radio playlists.
I foolishly thought that I was the only person in the world who listened to bands like The Frames. However, judging from the swelled crowd of people that have packed out the venue for the Glen Hansard solo gig tonight, it transpires that I am not the only one with own secret music that no one else knows about. As Hansard opens up with a lilting version of the song "Plateau," a hush falls on the crowd, who are seemingly hypnotized by the singer's presence alone.
It is difficult to describe the music of The Frames, for the band has evolved naturally across four albums of increasing artistic creativity and songwriting strength. Grunge was just starting its mission to pummel the mainstream charts in the United Kingdom, but the album Another Love Song emerged this debut as more sophisticated than that. It could be described as folk rock, but even that mantle does not seem to fit right. That term is too suggestive of bearded men in Aran sweaters with electric guitars, if you can imagine such an abomination.
Another Love Song had hummable tunes in spades, such as "Masquerade" and "The Dancer," riotous bursts of the best of The Pixies fused with a distinctly Celtic sound. But it was the quieter songs that touched base with me. The impassioned honesty of frontman Glen Hansard's lyrics traversed the traditional rock cliches that were so prevalent at the time. Singing with emotion about the L word was just not done. I was also intrigued by the fact that this record boldly alluded to spiritual themes. Such behavior was reserved for the likes of Amy Grant and Cliff Richard. Surely, if a band wanted to be taken seriously by the music journalists and air-punching audiences in rock arenas, they would not admit to being sensitive and fallible.
However, Hansard has maintained this willingness to wear his heart on his sleeve across subsequent albums. Each record has moved one step closer to an understanding of both the ways of the heart and the workings of the spiritual realm. Before I met Hansard, I was wary of imposing any religious interpretations on his music for fear that I might be imagining what I wanted to see. I also did not wish to second-guess any faith that he may or may not have.
I should not have been apprehensive. Hansard was happy to speak with a lowly punter, and did so with friendliness and candor uncommon in the traditional rock star. His enthusiasm in discussing the issues which others may consider trivial made the experience less like an interview and more like a casual chat. After much hanging about feeling like either a deranged stalker or a very unfashionable fan, I finally pinned him down for some questioning. I should have been wearing an Aran sweater to make the look complete.
It is very late at night, or early in the morning depending on your point of view, and still he was merrily signing ticket stubs, beermats and whatever else members of the audience could find. Hansard's set finished about an hour ago, after numerous encores, but he was still beavering away on handwriting souvenirs, posing for photographs, all that malarkey.
Some critics have lambasted the informality of a gig with Glen Hansard, the fact that the audience sing along with nearly every word of the songs, or fill in the instrumental bits with whistling and clicking fingers. Those critics said that the nights are too familiar, too cozy, but this is missing the point entirely. Glen Hansard gigs are supposed to be familiar and cozy. From the moment he ambled onstage, there was a sensation of kinship and warmth between the audience. It was this reception that enabled him to play for two hours, to tell the stories behind his songs. These are probably more like tall tales, woven from gossamer truth, but all the more entertaining for it. It is this atmosphere that drove him to break off into unlikely covers of George Michael's "Careless Whisper" and Phil Collins' "No More Lonely Nights."
You really had to be there.
And it was Hansard's cheery, welcoming demeanor that enabled me to ask him questions about faith. Sitting across a table sticky with spilt beer, I asked him if he is at all interested in spiritual things, or if I am just making it up.
"Oh yeah, that's true," he replies, in a musical Irish brogue. I was deeply thankful that the conversation had not fallen at the first hurdle. One can be so overcome by the whole storm and bluster of the rock star image that it was pleasantly surprising to find that any of them take the time to think about anything at all, let alone the bigger issues.
Hansard then joked that when he was in America, he sent copies of his band's records to Christian radio stations. They neglected to play them. I resisted the urge to mutter the word "Philistines" under my breath, then remembered how a few years ago I was holding the same music back for my own private universe.
"When I was young, I loved to read The Bible," Hansard continued. "I was greatly taken with the poetry of it, the blood and fire, the passionate existence of it." Even a cursory glance at Hansard's choice of song-titles would hint at some sort of spiritual understanding. "Angel At My Table," "Dance The Devil," "Denounced," "Right Road, Wrong Road," these songs frequently allude to the idea of a journey, both in the physical and metaphysical sense. Indeed, during our conversation, he also employed the journey as an analogy for his own life, and the life of the band with whom he plays.
"Let me take you through the recorded history of The Frames," he said, tapping me on the elbow. "The sleeve artwork for each album was intended to reflect a journey. The first record, Another Love Song, deliberately flirted with the idea of Christ." This intention was made clear by the striking and beautiful image on the album's front cover. A perfectly green apple, somehow suspended in mid air, has a ring of nails running around its circumference, protruding from its flesh, pointed end out. It is a neat reduction of a journey to one moment, the passage of time between the Fall and the Crucifixion distilled to one physical entity. One could write an apologetic sermon on the record sleeve alone.
"The second album was all to do with the Ark," Hansard continued. This record was named "Fitzcarraldo," and the title was taken from Werner Herzog's 1982 film of the same name. The movie Fitzcarraldo is the story of a man obsessed with his own singular vision. A businessman nurses a foolhardy dream to bring opera to the native Indians in the Peruvian jungle. In order to get there, he must enlist workers to drag his ship between two rivers. What he does not know is that the rivers are separated by towering, near insurmountable hills.
Fitzcarraldo is not just a barmy shaggy dog's tale. It is a meditation on the transcendent nature of art, the lengths to which people will go to realize their artistic calling. This parallel is doubled by the fact that Herzog himself tackled near insurmountable obstacles in his journey to bring the story to the big screen. The picture suffered an even more troubled shoot than Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, which had its fair share of breakdowns, heart attacks and drug binges.
Jason Robards, later to star in the fantastic character piece "Magnolia," and Mick Jagger were set to act in Fitzcarraldo, but both were forced to pull out after film footage had been shot. Herzog thought that his problems had been solved when they were replaced and conflated into one character, to be played by Klaus Kinski. But, the director's problems were only just beginning. Kinski was a man deranged, prone to wild temper tantrums, but even his volatile character was eclipsed by the fact that the shoot soon ran into a border war between Peru and Ecuador, cast and crew injuries, and a prolonged period of drought. If the filmmakers prayed for rain, then their intimations were answered, by a rainy season unseen since the days of Noah. Fitzcarraldo was Apocalypse Now all over again.
Such is the price of creating great art. One suspects that Glen Hansard had all these things in mind when he was working with the band on the album Fitzcarraldo, which had its own troubled production. An integral part of making the album was fighting the demands of the record company.
Consequently, the songs on Fitzcarraldo were a lot darker than those present on the previous, more upbeat record. Earlier, Hansard played a few of the highlights from that record on his acoustic guitar. "Angel At My Table," which presumably is named after the Jane Campion movie, is preceded by a prolonged intro, as Hansard relates to the audience just what the song is about. The story goes that the most beautiful girl in town was locked out of her parents' house, and ended up sharing a coffee with a younger, less vocal Hansard. This anecdote is sweet and amusing, but on record the song swells with a dark and somber tone, detailing a conversation with the imaginary devil on the singer's shoulder. This should be a familiar notion to anyone who has ever found his or herself in a situation of unbearable temptation.
That devil's on my shoulder
And he's pulling me down
And I'm trying to keep a balance
But she's begging me
Will you be my anchor
When there is no one around
To hold me down
Will you be my anchor
I know you're not the answer
Glen Hansard describes Fitzcarraldo the record as dealing with the "story of the Ark". As in that familiar Biblical tale, the rain must eventually cease; the fear of drowning must be tempered by the discovery of dry land. And despite its dark atmosphere, Fitzcarraldo is rescued by the belief in redemption and escape. The song "Red Chord," which Hansard also played tonight after many requests from members of the audience, is characterized by hope. As Andy Du Fresne says in The Shawshank Redemption, "Hope is a good thing, perhaps the best of things". In this case, hope comes in the act of reaching out to someone for help, perhaps even to God.
I'm pulling on the red chord
That pulls you back to me, Lord
That helps me out
When you're far away
Fitzcarraldo was evidently a difficult record to make, but then maybe every record should be difficult to make, if these are the fruits of that toil. This, after all, is a band who entitled a later flipside "Taking The Hard Way Out." But, as Milton tells the reader in Paradise Lost, 'Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to Light.' For The Frames, that light came in the form of their next album, Dance the Devil. Hansard calls this work a redemption record, focused on the idea of, "Purging yourself of the poison that you are born with." It certainly is a happier, more optimistic record than its predecessor. For the first half of Dance the Devil, the listener may be fooled into thinking that this is another record on the subject of regret, that well-trodden path so many songwriters follow. Songs such as "Seven Day Mile" and "Star Star" employ poignant lyrics to make real feelings of resignation and disillusion.
Teach me how to shine
Teach me so I know what's going on in your mind
'Cause I don't understand these people
Saying the hill's too steep
They talk and talk for ever
But they just never climb
Falling down into situations
Bringing out the best in you
You're flat on your back again
You're every word I'm heeding
Can you help me to see
I'm lost in the marsh
Hansard and I talked a lot about the feeling of being lost. Earlier in the gig, he recounted another tale of a religious education teacher he had when he was at school. Apparently, the chap tried to turn on a classroom full of disinterested teenagers to the idea of biblical studies. They resisted his over-enthusiastic attempts to bring God into their lives, but the experience has obviously touched Hansard's life in some small way.
After he leapt around the small stage, doing a vivid impersonation of his teacher, he told the audience, "It's okay to be uncool if you are found." Most people were too busy laughing at Hansard's gyrations to hear this, or perhaps dispensed it as a flippant witticism, but there surely was poignancy in those words. When I asked him about this later, he replies.
"At some point you have to put your hands up and say that you are lost. I know that I am lost and I admire people who know that they are found. But I enjoy being lost and I enjoy not having the answers." Hansard told me that he knows people who have given their lives over to a faith of some description, whether it be Christianity or otherwise. He admitted that he does believe in God, but has not yet come to terms with any kind of steady belief. Yet, I am still intrigued by his comment earlier. It sticks with me like a splinter, and leaves me wondering what people would do if they had to choose between being cool and being found.
The Dance the Devil album closes with the song of the same name, a song that urges people to purge themselves of the poison that sits in our souls like silt at the bottom of a river. Keen listeners will pick out the line "There's no life I know that compares to pure imagination", a lyric lifted from the musical cinematic version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, of all things.
Speaking about things similar to those discussed in this song, Hansard described the role of the singer as akin to that of a preacher. "I love the preacher role, the idea of giving a sermon. You're having fun, but you are also saying, 'Be aware of this.' You have to tell people to push Satan down and to praise the Lord." Again, I was surprised that Hansard was so open with his feelings on the subject of faith. I must confess that I am a little saddened that someone should be able to be so poetic and so candid about the issue of belief, yet still claim to be lost. The way I try to excuse this is that the singer's plight is this: that their life must be sad so they may write good songs. Great art is all about struggle, about grappling with the disappointments of the world. As he himself joked, "I am sabotaging my own happiness for those nuggets."
American specialists with Ph.D.'s in not particularly useful subjects write self-help manuals to tell their readers how to achieve happiness. Television advertisements inform viewers where to buy it. The songwriter, on the other hand, well, they avoid it at all costs. As any artists worth their salt knows, happiness deadens the muse, and weakens the music. At one point during tonight's concert, a young lady in the crowd shouted, "Play a happy song." She apparently had endured listening to enough melancholia and introspection. Hansard, with his usual amount of charming self-deprecation, laughed it off.
For the Birds, the most recent Frames album, is a record heavily concerned with disappointment. Glen Hansard calls this record an expression of despair, a declaration that, "Your will is all you have." The sleeve this time is decorated with crucifixes, continuing with the spiritual theme that started with the pierced apple ten years before. For the Birds is a fantastic record. It is the sort of album that you can allow yourself to be lost in. Songs such as "Disappointed" and "What Happens When The Heart Just Stops" again return to the tattered fray of broken relationships for that is the staple material of the best songs. But the record is far from maudlin. The band has said in interviews that this is the sound that they have been seeking after for so long. Perhaps this newfound confidence has to do with the relative absence, and therefore meddling, of a major record company. The Frames put this work together themselves, recorded in various rooms with various different friends and colleagues. The best way I can describe it is by likening it to the acoustic songs The Beatles laid down at George Harrison's country house before they made The White Album. It has that sort of organic texture, and is touched by the same level of craftsmanship.
Mentioning the crucifixes on the sleeve of For the Birds brings us back to the question of faith again. Hansard, having just returned from a lengthy tangent taking in Samuel Beckett, Captain Beefheart and a cast of thousands, claimed that if anything, he is touched by a, "kindergarten level spirituality." I say that I could easily relate to that, as my own personal journey is interrupted frequently by failure and falling down. Perhaps that is why I find Hansard's music and lyrics so appealing, because he is not afraid to grapple with the bigger issues in life, or to admit defeat and disappointment when the big issues grow too large.
If Glen Hansard really is lost, then I hope he finds his way some time soon, though I also hope that means he does not stop making great records. I throw him only one curveball question, namely if he could ask God one question, what would it be?
"How am I doing?" he said, after a deep breath.
I hope he finds out somehow, whatever the answer might be.
PlayRewind.net - December 2001
INTERVIEW: Glen Hansard, the Frames
The Frames are going to the US how long are you going over there for?
A month, just over a month.
How big are you over there?
I wouldn’t say we are big, for sure. I mean, in New York we would play 200 to 300, kind of Whelan's level, and Boston the same, were actually a little bigger.
What did you think of the Witnness?
I thought it was really good. I thought the line up on the main stage for the second day was ridiculously bad, [laughs] I really didn’t like it. I thought line up for the stage we played was just about perfect, I was very happy with it. And we were really really honoured to be asked to be on last, it was a huge salute to us, which gave us a great kick. I was a kind of worried as to who would be on the main stage, then I realised it was the Stereophonics and didn’t give a fuck! [Laughs]
So, what did you think of touring Ireland this time?
It was really good, it sort of feels like The Frames have moved into a different gear and that’s a strange feeling, it’s like we have become a bigger band, and I don’t really know when it happened… do you know what I mean?…
Like even last year, even when the album came out, we toured in Ireland we seam to under stand where it was coming from then, But this time the gigs seams to be very very full… the thing with The Frames is we kind of know most of our audience, because we have hung out with them for years, you know?
All of our mates are still there, but there is a hole other gang of people, and it’s exciting. But it’s taken a long time to cultivate audiences which will listen to us when we play quietly, that will sing along when we play a sing along, that will dance when we rock, you know like. Being at a frames gig probably for an audience member is probably a bit difficulty because we do demand a lot of different sides to the thing, because we play very differently during the night or what ever.
So, this time the audience seams a lot bigger and a lot more difficult to be intimated with, but we enjoyed it and had a great time. It was really good for the band to play bigger places to be able to do that, I think at Witnness it was ten thousand people and ten thousand people from all over the country.
Where did that come from, just cutting in the middle of a song with a singsong?
It actually comes from buskin, it’s the old tradition. There are certain bands who just get on stage do there set and get off, I have always found those bands a bit boring, it’s just a personal view, I always find the bands who don’t engage to be boring. I always like to get on and to hang out with people.
The band (The Frames) go out and throw out energy or something to the audience and they throw it back and it’s twice as big and we throw it back and it’s twice as big again. I love having that correspondence, by the end of the night everybody is like this is great crack and it’s all two big to carry and every body falls on the ground or whatever. I really enjoy the idea of an audience and a band having something together.
I mean who wants to go and see a band who just gets on stage and play their album? I mean, I don’t!
Thursday was Dave’s (David Odlum) last gig who will replace him?
I don’t know, at the moment I am determined to just not to think about it. Just spend a while just playing with the four of us and just enjoying not having to deal with a guitar player. As time goes by were going to need one, were going to need one to do gigs, but right now the American tour is covered, we have got one of the lads from Steve Albini’s band and that will be fine.
Once we get back to Ireland we have New Years Eve to worry about and a couple of other gigs, we have plenty of friends who will stand in and play. I don’t really want to commit to a guitarist right now. I have a funny feeling it will be some one who comes to our gigs, some one who likes the band, some one who will come up and say look I can do this, and I am very open to that.
What is Dave Going doing, do you know?
Yeah, I do. His next move is to record Gemma Hayes record, that’s his big job right now, he will finish that in the next couple months and then tour with her, he is going out with her you know? And join her band and also produce other bands. Basically he wants to be a producer, but for now he will concentrate on Gemma.
This might be a question often asked, but what are your music influences?
I don’t know it’s two broad, I think it’s everything, but I don’t really pay two much attention to our peers. I would know what’s going on in terms of the new Radiohead record, I have it, but I try not to get involved in what’s going on. I all ways prefer to judge The Frames in terms of the lineage of history as apposite to what’s going on around us.
Because I think music that’s made among it’s peers dates quickies. If you try to do what’s going on right now in two years time it sound like it came from 2001, the best thing to do is concentrate on ancient history Tom Mights, Bob Dylan, Captain Beefhart, Van Morrison stuff that still makes sense today.
There’s an idea of classicism, I remember when I was about twenty-one, I realised everything I wear I want not to be involved in any time or space, if we make an album cover I want it not to be identifiable in a time, sometime that’s timeless. You end up dressing like an old man, like I’m wearing a black jumper, jeans, Ok I’m wearing vans but those could be from any time in the last forty years. I suppose complete classicism would be that you’d be naked.
I don’t want The Frame’s music to be identifiable within a fashion of time, I love the Idea that it is just music that’s made. And yea of coarse it was made at a certain time, but it does sound like that and it doesn’t sound like it was made in the seventies or sixties because fuck that two.
Why does David Kitt sometimes jump in and play at your gigs?
[Laughs] He’s a mate, bottom line.
What do you prefer, playing live or recording? I would say it’s playing live.
Oh, yeah, much before playing live, Because when you’re playing live all the elements are in place, all the organs of the body are there and the blood is flowing, theirs a transaction of energy it’s theatre, it’s performance.
I mean when I’m in a studio, I’m looking at a microphone and an engineer behind the desk, I find it difficult to get motivated, I have to some how picture it. I remember… here is how to motivated yourself, this is my contribution to Irish history, right now, what I sing now is kind of in some tiny tiny way part of the lineage of Ireland’s artistic community, so right what do I do, how do I do this? But when I am on stage in front of people you don’t even question it, you see a lock and apply a key.
Some bands are really good in the studio, they spend months in there and spend ages over guitar sounds. I can’t stand studios, I want to get in do my thing and run out. I couldn’t be bothered just sitting there watching people enhance sounds, I don’t noticed the difference, I’m like ‘what are you doing?’, ‘Can we not just do this now?’. I’m very impatient in studios, that’s why Dave will be missed, because Dave had great patients for studio and I think together we made a good team, that’s not to say we won’t work with him again, sure we will.
All my home recordings are crap, because I just press record and sing towards the microphone, but the thing about my home recordings vs The Frames albums is that my home recordings are the thing, that’s the noise, even though it sounds awful.
Will the next album be recorded in the US or will you wait till you come back?
I don’t know, we are trying to decided where to do it and who to do it with.
So, you don’t know what to expect from it?
No, but I want it to be hopeful, I found our last record For The Birds kind of sad, as important that was to make it, I want the next one to be more hopeful.
Do you ever plan to make it big in England?
To be honest in England it doesn’t really matter.
Or anywhere, do you plan to make it really big?
What kind of really big? Like REM big? Bigger?
No, to be honest, there is a question popping around my head for a long time now and that question is if you don’t know what you want you will never find it. Simple enough question and what it means to The Frames is that we need to decided how big we want to be, then we can aim for it.
At the moment we don’t really care, we just play gigs, they go well and people always say, “Do you not want to be really big?” Were like I don’t know really. I always think the moment The Frames have any great success we will split up.
Because the reason we exist is almost in spite of the business, we exist in order to fight against something, that’s bull shit. We exist because people have told us we were crap and dropped us. It’s not the reason we do it, we do it because we love it. But it’s all most like if we had success we would just say fuck it we done it.
I have being told you got the name of the band from your first job, is it true it’s from working in a bike shop?
I worked in a bicycle shop for a little while, but the name came from… my back garden was so full of frames, my house became known as The Frames house, much to my mothers distaste, she hated it.
But my garden was full of frames, old bikes, I would make up bikes for my friends out of all the old bikes. So it sort of became known if any body found a bike up on the hill on the way home they would through it into my garden, a graveyard for old bikes.
What do you think is your best record?
I would think it would be Dance the Devil, as in, not the best record but the record that shows what we were, are, the most. We are not the band that For The Birds suggests, because we like to rock a bit. Dance The Devil has got what the band is on one record, but saying that I never listen to it and have no real connection with it as a record.
When I turn it on all I remember is how difficult it was in the studio, I remember, oh shit, how I argued about that part and lost that argument, how much I fought to have this bit changed and it’s still there. At other points, I listen to the record and going I am really glad I won that argument. Listening to that record is kind of weird all I can see is me in pain, shouting at people, so I don’t listen to it, it’s too much.
But when I listen to For The Birds I really enjoy it, because I picture a load of lads in house in the middle of nowhere all agreeing with each other.
DATE: 17/11/2001 | PLACE: DUBLIN
RTÉ Entertainment - "Frames Of Mind" - April 12 2001
The Frames have always been a band with a passion for live performance, the showmanship to carry it off and a respect for their fans that has ensured they did not fall by the wayside over the last ten tumultuous years. Since their earliest incarnation on Island Records with 1992's raggle-taggle-esque 'Another Love Song', The Frames have never stopped moving forward, regardless of disappointments or kicks in the teeth along the way. After being dropped from Island, they picked themselves up to record their indie pop album 'Fitzcarraldo'. Without money to make a proper video, they improvised with a security camera, captured the interest of producer Trevor Horn and signed to his ZTT label. Unfortunately, the relationship soured and the follow-up album was the subject of many delays and friction between the record company and the band. Eventually released in 1999, the low-fi American-influenced 'Dance the Devil' was preceded by a self-released five-track ep with alternative versions of two of the album songs. Finally getting their freedom from ZTT, they plunged into the recording of a new album – on their own terms.
'For The Birds' is The Frames as they see themselves, without the input – or interference – of a record company and Hansard is delighted: "This time we've realised how easy it is to put a record out. For the first time in our career we've taken care of every angle, every side of what its about, ourselves. It's very easy, just simple business." Now back out on the road, with gigs planned over the summer and into autumn at home and abroad, The Frames are on stage, doing what they have always done best. And Hansard doesn't intend to let the grass grow underneath their feet: "I'd really like to have the next Frames album out at the same time next year, that's my goal." Although 'For The Birds' is a hard act to follow, there's no doubt that, once again, The Frames will delight and surprise us.
The Frames on tour with support from Josh Ritter: 14 and 15 April - Cleere's, Kilkenny; 20 April - Dolans, Limerick; 21 and 22 April - An Taibhdhearc Theatre, Galway; 23 April - Roisin Dubh's, Galway; 26 April - Morrisons, Belfast; 27 April - McGarriggles, Sligo; 28 April - The Nerve Centre, Derry; 29 and 30 April - The Spirit Store, Dundalk.
Sunday Tribune - April 8 2001
"Frames And Misfortune"
Ten years on from the fateful day when Glen Hansard purchased the Pixies album that was to turn The Frames into a rock outfit, the band are finally going it alone, and have made an album that is their true sound.
'I WAS famous for about two weeks 10 years ago, and I hated it, I genuinely did, " explains Glen Hansard, and it's just as well. Hansard's band The Frames have been around forever, but fame has never troubled their career. Hansard's own brush with fickle public recognition came after his appearance in The Commitments ? that's how long The Frames has been around.
Yet after all this time, Hansard ? the band's founder, singer and songwriter ? is only now making the album he has wanted to make all this time. Pushed and pulled by a treacherous and manipulative industry that plays on the rock star dreams of young aspirants and forces them to be creative for the corporates, Hansard has produced albums that pleased executives, not him.
Now The Frames are on their own, bankrolling its own output and producing what Hansard claims is the band's true sound. At last.
"It's taken 10 years, " he sighs. "Now I'm playing the songs I want, I've always really been a folk singer, a quiet singer. I had a folk beginning, but our first album ended up being a botched young rock band's record, which is very strange in retrospect." It is not entirely the record companies' fault, though. An ill-timed Pixies album turned Hansard around in the weeks after he signed a deal with Island Records.
"They signed this mellow folk singer, but I was sitting on top of the Stephen's Green Centre roof and I'd just bought a Pixies album and my life changed like that." He snaps his fingers. He turned his songs into Pixies soundalikes, and the band was pegged for 10 years as a rock outfit.
Hansard talks almost entirely without rancour about what he must now consider to be the lost years. The industrial machinery around his music altered it, altered him and altered the chances of success for the whole band for 10 years. Hansard is happy that the band has the opportunity to produce music independently, and explains that a sunny outlook is the result of drastically lowered expectations.
"I have withdrawn my ambitions to be a rock star and all that that means, I've always really thought the idea was a bit shady, " he says. "I'm 30, I couldn't survive now in a major record label. To have power there you have to have had success, to have success you have to have power. We never had success in their terms, so we never had power." Hansard's musical dream is no longer that of an 18-year-old Pixies fan. He wants to be allowed to make music for the rest of his life, and anything that interferes with that ? including fame ? is an obstacle. "It's quite simple ? the role model is Van the Man (Van Morrison). You want to make good records, occasionally make a great one and never make a bad one, " says Hansard.
"We were signed in the same week as The Cranberries, by the same guy. Watching what happened to them was quite difficult for us. But then the pressure they were under, when they were told get back in the studio, make another record, you have to top your last one. It's probably not going to be as good as if you had a little time. The pressure on us was zero." Hansard readily offers that the band is, in fact, scared of success. "It's like we're scared of trying too hard because we might fail, " he admits. "We pull back the bow but we're scared to release the arrow.
But I think we'll fire the arrow now with this album." The new album, For The Birds, is self funded and self-released. Most importantly it is "the first record we've ever made without any interference from anyone, " says Hansard. Produced on a tiny budget, recorded in bedrooms as well as studios, slower and quieter than traditional Frames material, the album is an understated triumph.
There is a distinctly folky feel to the whole album, from the folk-funk of 'Lay Me Down', with its '50 Ways To Leave Your Lover'-style beat, to the laid back, country feel of 'Giving Me Wings'. Consistently excellent, the album has some heckle raising highlights.
Last Sunday at a Dublin concert, Hansard held a Q and A with the audience, revealing that 'What Happens When The Heart Just Stops' was his favourite of his own songs right now. It is a heart-breaker of a song; simple and direct in tune and word, an intimate and affecting account of love breaking down.
The Frames are in the midst of an Irish tour, with a UK tour to follow in the summer. Last weekend, the band completed a three night Dublin tour, starting in The Olympia, moving to Vicar St and finishing with a Whelan's gig that turned into an extended, and very late, jamming session.
Those concerts have paid for the album.
"The new year gig paid for the recording, and the Dublin gigs will pay for the pressing of the CDs, the artwork and stuff so it's been great, " says Hansard. "If we have a good night at a gig, we just take £40 each and put the rest into the band. £40 three or four times a month really helps out." "Our drummer left a couple of years ago. He said "Glen, I see where you're going, and I just want to rock out?" and you have to respect that. He's in a Beatles cover band, he's bought a house and a car and stuff. I keep having to check with the lads in the band to see if they're still with me.
We look at him and think: that's great, but it's not what we want.
"Last Friday morning I walked into the Olympia where we were to do our gig, and I had to borrow 50p to get a jumbo breakfast over the road, " he says, while I am reddening with shame ? he just paid for the tea.
The band borrowed money to pay for the album. It's not the first time it has performed on a budget. This is the band that made the 'Revelate' video for the price of a video tape, going round chip shops and post offices, recording themselves on the CCTV.
"That video cost £2, it was made one afternoon, that night it was on 2TV." It remains one of the most memorable videos of any Irish band.
The corner cutting on the album really shows, but it just adds to a raw feel. It feels like the first album that Hansard clearly thinks of it as. It is a new beginning, but a beginning for a 30-year-old, with a 30-yearold's honest expectations. "The press will die down, we'll shift a few albums, then we'll make another one, " says Hansard with a calm grin. "Hopefully."
muse.ie - "For The Birds" March 30 2001
April 2001 sees The Frames move to the next level with their fourth album "For The Birds" and a nationwide Irish tour. For so long the underdogs, the time has now come to mark their achievements, salute their progress and cheer their current mood.
If the stars are indeed underground, it is time for one such star to leave for the higher ground. The Frames' fourth album "For The Birds" is a masterpiece and set to be one of the key releases of the year. Cat Hughes talks to main Frame Glen Hansard about ambition and quietness.
"I looked at the Meteor awards the other night and I saw David Gray sitting on the stage and I thought, I really don't think I'd be able to be in that position'. Just because I think I wouldn't be able to deal with it, personally. I almost think that The Frames have consciously never pulled back the bow. We've held the bow and arrow, but never actually drawn the bow back, fired and been willing to miss. It's almost like we've a fear to fuck up, so we just stay quiet, we stay small. It's almost like we sabotage the idea of success because we don't want to thrust ourselves into something we can't handle. I always think The Frames'll split up the minute we have success."
Well, that's hardly the talk of a man on the dawn of stardom. Glen Hansard and The Frames are about to release "For the Birds" a record which, like it or not, looks set to send them stellar. Leaving behind the epic undertones of former offerings, they've taken a quieter, calmer, even more beautiful route. And they've enlisted the talents of moany-rock super-producer Steve Albini; Shellac frontman, the chap behind records by the likes of Nirvana, The Pixies and PJ Harvey, and the gent whose rumoured intensity certainly precedes him.
But no, man, he did not wanna have a fight with them, as Glen explains. "He's a very cool guy, very, very mellow. He's very unlike what I thought he'd be; he's not intense. I thought he'd be this rude man who'd tell me to get fucked. We thought he didn't like us at first because he's got this manner that people misunderstand. He doesn't talk shit. He's all or nothing. He talks intense or he doesn't talk. He's just one of those heads that's full of great ideas. You learn. If he wasn't a record engineer, he would definitely be a philosopher of sorts. He definitely has an amazing insight into things."
With the likes of Rachael Grimes (The Rachel's) and Craig Ward (dEUS) also lending a hand, and recording taking place in the indie city Chicago, an album of wilfully difficult or at least excessively experimental tunes could have awaited us. But, it seems there really wasn't too much to worry about. "The Frames are a pop band at our core. We can't do indie rock. We attempt it, but we've got a lot of structure in us. Even when we try to deconstruct as much as possible, it'll still sound like a little song so that's okay, we're safe! We're not gonna get too far up the garden path to loose ourselves completely."
Adding to the air of gentle humanity about "For the Birds" is the influence of American literary genius John Fante, a man whose magic realist words could beg for no better soundtrack. "I've had Ask The Dust for about seven years and I've read it probably every year. Of all the Beats and stuff that I've read, it was the one that just clicked with me most on an emotional level. I've since read all of his books and I love them. I've got my original copy of Ask the Dust and it's underlined all the way through. Some pieces just blew my mind. It would be a dream to put music to something. So I make reference to the book because I have to, and because I want people to know."
The release of an Irish record steeped in beauty and easy on the ear should come as no surprise these days. Dublin seems captivated by a creative energy that's destined for history books, a fact that hasn't escaped Glen's attention. "I'm almost afraid to recognise it because when you say something, it vanishes. But I do feel that I'm around and involved in a circle of musicians and creative people that is as good as any great reported movement in art, at any time in history.
"But at the same time, when you've got Louis Walsh getting a lifetime achievement award and saying OI need good looking kids to be in a band. I need them to play their own instruments, then they're gonna be Number One and after we've got to Number One, we'll do this and that'' I can't believe we live in an age where the music business has become so base. People are actually talking about what they're gonna do to us, how they're gonna take the cash out of our hands and fool us. They're telling us the recipe and still we accept it. We're living in a fucking hardcore, pornographically ugly time in music. And yet, at the same time there's this amazing, honest vibe with people like David Kitt and Steve Fanagan and ourselves - to some degree - and a lot of bands around Dublin, amazing musicians who are just doing their own thing and side-stepping the business."
With the release of "For The Birds", The Frames look set to more than prove their worth. After years of shouting as loud and long as they could until someone might hear, they've started to whisper amongst themselves and it won't be long until we all strain to listen. "There's a real opportunity for us, at the moment, to go for something" Glen believes. "I'm just not sure whether we should. That's the weird thing. There's safety in withdrawal, there's safety in being quiet. But after 10 years of being in a band, I think maybe it's time to draw back the bow and fire an arrow."
"For The Birds" is out now on Plateau Records. The Frames tour Ireland for much of April full details available at www.plateaurecords.com.
No Disco - 27 August 1999
This week on No Disco Uaneen interviews one of Dublin's most hard working and popular band, The Frames.
Uaneen talks to core Frames members, Glen Hansard and Dave Odlum about their new album, "Dance The Devil" which is out on 25th June on ZTT records.
The Frames talk candidly to Uaneen about the problems they have had with their record company, ZTT, how before recording their new album, and after being together for 9 years, they hit walls, creatively.
Glen, "Creatively you hit walls, and with this record we've just made, right in the middle of it we all realised we were a s**t band. We all went, 'we're all playing exactly what we think we should be playing', and I realised that I was standing on a mount preaching. Everybody slipped into a position that we all assumed from playing live and it was like, 'that's the problem, there it is, if we can all just stop being so bloody pious and think about the song we're playing and try to be sensitive to it."
Glen also talked about choosing a producer for the new album; "We rang Steve Albini because we wanted him to do it in the beginning and basically he said he would do it, but ZTT said they weren't getting Steve Albini to do it because he wasn't commercial or whatever, and we were like, 'Bush .... Hello .....Nirvana .... Hello?'. And in a way it was probably good he didn't do it because we ended up making not the record we'd intended to make in the first place."
What's On Where - December 1999
"Frame by Frame by Frame"
It’s summer 1989. End of millennium psychosis and the ensuing rubbish is still a whole decade away and Dublin’s Grafton street is buzzing with the usual mixture of tourists, Spanish students, pick pockets and of course - buskers. A crowd of about one hundred odd passing shoppers stand still to hear a passionate rendition of Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing being belted out by a group of what many would call ‘crusty’ buskers, armed with acoustic guitars, a violin, a bodhrán and a collective rasping voice.
It’s Summer 1999 and the same crew, who’s numbers feature a ginger haired singer called Glen Hansard have returned to the same street to treat the passers by to many old favourites, some of which have since come to the fore with his full time band The Frames. To this singer it seems that that the many ups and downs which the intervening ten years have dealt his Dublin act are irrelevant when strong songs and rich music come into play as this year’s Dance The Devil album has proven. Reflecting on the past twelve months which has given them a new lease of life and an opportunity to bring us their own brand of clanking-folk-rock songs, Hansard seems optimistic without being naive.
"This year has been great to us on so many different levels - meeting loads of great people at our gigs, seeing great like-minded bands and getting wonderful reactions to this album. On a business level, it’s been a different story. It’s just a matter of time before we’re dropped and it’s a relief in some way since we can record and release whatever material we choose under our own Plateau label."
The first fruits of this label came last April in the form of I Am The Magic Hand, a five track E.P. displaying their flirtations with the noisy sounds of stripped down Americana (Pavement and The Pixies) that carefully avoided an ‘indie-by-numbers’ result, while moving further away from the more familiar Waterboys / Nick Drake folk territory. Its powerful main track, God Bless Mom struck home hard with Hansard’s falsetto melody driven along by grating guitars, resulting in a tune which rang in the ears for ages after listening and a sign that the following album could really be something worth hearing.
However this songs ZTT released album version carried all the symptoms of heavy handed production with the old reliable "walls of guitars = good indie single" rule being put into practice.
As they have since discovered on their return from recording in a barn in France, he who pays the piper calls the tune, even though the tune may not be what these pipers had in mind at all.
"That album would have been a lot more honest had we gone with the songs we as a band thought were the strongest. Instead the record company picked 10 songs which, although good tunes were not my favourite songs. I asked about the ones I thought were worth releasing and got a sort of ‘Yeah, yeah! Sure you’ll get to release them. Some day! The whole thing about bringing your songs to a major label is that some companies view you as an employee whose job it is to create what they think might sell right now, without thinking of the years to come, of course. We’ve always been in it for the long haul and I think only now are things just beginning to shape up."
As part of The Frames upcoming tour of Ireland, a documentary appropriately sharing the title of one of their strongest live songs, The Stars Are Underground will be screened before each show. Chronicling the return of Hansard’s Grafton street busking crew and the exploits of other street based acts, this film strives to capture the essence of this most basic, immediate and sometimes most irritating form of performance.
"There is a very honest transaction between the busker and the passing people. There are no lighting effects, no smoke to hide behind. Just the song and the person playing it. That’s what we started at - doing old Dylan, Van Morrison and of course Waterboys songs which you sometimes can’t tell apart (e.g. Sweet Thing and This Is the Sea). Then I started throwing in my own stuff and it snowballed from there."
By the beginning of this decade Hansard had secured a record deal and his band, the Frames, some of whom had figured among his old busking buddies were set to take their world by storm. Then, "by sheer fluke" their front man landed the part of guitarist, Outspan in Alan Parker’s major movie The Commitments which resulted in a promotional tour across America and a brush with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
"The part in the movie came at an awkward time ‘cos we were just getting things together musically. I didn’t even purposely apply for the part either. I was dropping my mate off at the audition and was sitting there waiting as they went through the motions. Then someone asked me if I wanted to come in and read. So, I did and Alan Parker was really impressed and basically as a result of that I got the part instead of my mate! It really was as simple as that."
"The promotional tour in the States was like a distraction. It was just a whirlwind where we found ourselves in the company of all these stars like Madonna and Robert de Niro. It was like the first time you get drunk or your first trip. There are certain things you do then that you’ll just never do again. After a while I just thought that that part of it really wasn’t me at all and was so glad to go back to playing the kind of music I’d being doing beforehand in less up market places."
Glenn’s guitar roadie for this promotional tour was also an eager young singer/songwriter called Jeff Buckley who years later would find his own place in the hearts of many.
"The pair of us would hang out every day, sifting through record shops. I picked out this Tim Buckley album and Jeff casually said ‘Oh yeah! He’s my dad’ . I only copped on then as to who he was ‘cos they looked so alike and I remember when I played at Sin É in New York he was really anxious to play. So he got up and made a normal length verse last about ten minutes. His voice really was something. The whole place just came to a stop. There were even people standing in the doorways listening."
When they finally set down to record, a big name producer in the form of Gil Norton was drafted in to work on their debut album Another Love Song and resulting tunes such as the highly infectious single The Dancer kicked off like a mixture of The Pixies and The Waterboys with energetic blasts of guitar and swirling violins. Things were looking up and then the hand of commerce intervened. Sales were not as gigantic as expected, so band and label went their separate ways leaving this act to take stock of what they were really about and what they wanted to do.
Two albums later The Frames may still not be household names world wide, but it seems that they’ve gone beyond the disappointments and basically care about little else apart from their music. Looking forward to the next album on which they plan to work with Craig from dEUS, Glen puts their lack of commercial success partly down to the fact that they’ve never been the model band.
"I don’t think you could’ve ever called us a safe bet and I guess that’s because we think for ourselves. It would be very easy for us to be extremely cynical about everything considering what we’ve been through. But, the way I see it is that we wouldn’t be like we are if we hadn’t made all of those mistakes in the first place. We’ve always been very trusting - giving people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe sometimes too much, but we’ve managed to retain that sense of wonder which really is important to us."
And speaking of cynicism which is always the by-product of any music scene, has anything really changed in music in the last ten years? "The difference between the music scene back then and now is that bands talk to each other now. On this tour we’ve got the Jubilee Allstars doing all the dates with us. I think that generally musicians are more open minded now. Even up to five years ago you wouldn’t have put me and Barry McCormack (Jubilee Allstars vocalist) on the same bill. There were so many factions and mini-scenes around whose criteria basically meant not selling any records and to some extent there’s still some of that around. Every band wants to sell lots of records, even if they say they don’t. We met up with Pavement who really are the typical of the lo-fi, alternative American band and they’d love to have huge hits. And why not? To be honest, I find the whole current dance/re-mix thing a bit naff. It’s all very trendy and transient and I tend to stay away from things fashionable. After all a stopped clock is right twice a day, isn’t it?"
Contrasting with full-on guitar attacks like Pavement Tune and The Stars Are Underground, brittle, acoustic based songs such Star Star, Seven Day Mile and closing title track prove that the simple folk song has not lost it’s lustre while the closing lines of their last album may just sum it all up for Glen Hansard: "And we can dance, dance the poison right out of your soul...Dance the devil back into his hole. There is no life I know that compares to pure imagination."
The Frames along with Jubilee Allstars and David Kitt are currently on a nationwide tour of Ireland. See listings for details.
Event Guide - "Come On Feel The Noise"
Andrew Haddock talks to the Frames Glen Hansard about Will Oldham, touring and their change of direction.
So you're off on tour for Christmas then? Well, we wanted to do a Christmas tour anyway, but a big part of it was the amount of debt we were in from touring America during the year. We thought it'd be cool to do a bunch of gigs around the country which we don't seem to have a chance to do anymore.
So how did that turn into the 'Come On Up To The House' E.P. and the subsequent tour with Jubilee Allstars, David Kitt and DJ Dave Cleary? I remember having a conversation with Barry McCormack (from the Jubilee Allstars) and he was telling me that Jubilee had never toured outside Dublin (laughs), sorry, I mean they'd never toured in Ireland outside Dublin. When we first started it was very much part of what we did, but it's died off in the last five years. It's an amazing part of the learning process of being in a band. For instance the crowds in Belfast and the crowds in Cork are totally different and you can learn a lot from performing on front of different audiences. Cork people have something, a great vibe, they seem to understand the idea of intimacy. Mind you they also understand the idea of mentalness. They do like to go out, but they have a great head on them for art as well.
So why decide to take a load of musicians out on tour and make the whole thing more complicated than it should be? Sometimes you look at a band and you see them play and you wonder what they'd be like if they did ten gigs in a row. Once you play ten gigs in a row, your muscles all tighten up, you cut off all the dead stuff in the set and it sounds completely different. Then when we got the Jubilees on board we thought let's get some more people. We wanted something that was good for us as people as well. There's nothing worse then just getting in the van and going through the motions of getting to and doing a gig. The best gigs are always the ones where people in other bands show up and you end up doing something together.
With respect to you Glen, it would seem to me that the Frames are changing the circles they're moving in. The fact that you've written a song called 'The Stars Are Underground', and are bringing the film of the same name on the road, which is basically a film about DIY bands in Dublin five years ago, suggests a radical shift in emphasis. I mean, the Frames always seemed to be on corporate labels playing sizeable gigs. When it did begin to change for you? There was a side of Irish music I'd never seen. I'd heard of people like Jubilee Allstars and Mexican Pets and Pet Lamb and The Idiots. I'd never been to any of their gigs. There was this healthy scene going on that we didn't know existed. We were a rock band signed to a major label, we weren't thinking in terms of punk rock at all. At the same time we'd seen serious flashes of independence ourselves through having to make our second record ourselves. When I saw Darragh McCarthy's film I understood the philosophy very well, but I'd never heard of any of the bands.
Do you understand the perception that people in that kind of independent scene might have had of the Frames, that you were a major label band? People would look at us and say "Oh my God ,you've been dropped from a label " and we'd always say "so what?" For some reason the circle of people we hung around with seemed to measure things in terms of record deals and money. I don't think the Frames ever had that attitude. We thought "it's a long road, we're going to get on it, we're going to earn our dues and do our thing". Because we were on a major label people were always trying to dress us up...in every sense(laughs)...including the clothes.
So there must have been some earlier background to this. Surely you didn't just stumble upon underground and punk rock music. What did you listen to as a kid? When I was a kid my favourite band were AC/DC and I never got into the punk world. Because of the fact they were from Australia they were always outsiders, disengaged from England and Iron Maiden. I remember wearing the black arm band when Bon Scott died. Jesus, I was only ten years old (sighs in his own disbelief). The next time it came out was for Bobby Sands a couple of years later.
And when did this begin to affect your recorded output? We've decided to withdraw from making tailor made records for record companies. 'I Am The Magic Hand' was the first part of that. We knew we hadn't made a record in three years and no one knew what to expect. I guess everyone expected we'd do the same again. We were much more confident giving that to people then we were the album. I don't know why that is.
Well, that was pretty radical for the Frames, but it did wear it's influences on its sleeve. What were you listening to when you made it? I'd just discovered Palace and Tortoise and Dublin bands through Darragh's film. I'd been to see the Idiots, who blew me away, and then I saw David Grubbs soon after that. I mean, I was into Slint but I never knew anyone else who was. Then I was having conversations with Barry McCormack, from this band (Jubilee Allstars) I'd never heard of, about Slint. I mean, I'd discovered them from listening to them in Comet records. It's a bit like owning a Scooter and finding a Scooter club - you ask "where can I join?, when are we off?"
And what does mean for the follow up to 'Dance The Devil'? It's early days yet but at the moment it might be a country record...if we've got the courage. If we haven't got the courage we'll make a record that represents several sides of us. Or maybe we'll make a country record and then another one straight after. What's been coming out of me for years has been songs which haven't suited the way the Frames are perceived but maybe now we all think the same way. I think for once all the Frames are on the same page.
And what's inspiring you lately? Would it be a certain 'Bonny Prince'? Yeah, Will Oldham starred in a movie when he was about fifteen and he never did another film. I've just seen it, I think they have it in the art house. He was only about fifteen. It's called 'Meatwan', he pretty much starred in it. The music in the film is real backwater stuff. He plays a preacher in it, he's totally amazing as an actor.
Do you think he missed his vocation then? (laughs almost says yes and realise he's talking about one of his favourite musicians)...No, I don't think he did. Do you?
The Frames, Jubilee Allstars, David Kitt and Mr. Deasey Mooneye call at the Isaac Butt, Dublin, Wed 15th; The Metro, Cork, Thurs 16th; The Lobby, Cork, Fri 17th; Connelly's of Leap, Cork, Sat 18th; Scott's Hotel, Killarney, Sun 19th; Garter Lane, Waterford, Tues 21st; The Point, Dublin w/David Gray and Katell Keineg, Wed 22nd; The Empire, Belfast, Wed 22nd; Cleeres' Hotel, Kilkenny, Tues 28th; Townhall Theatre, Galway, Wed 29th; Tivoli, Dublin, Fri 31st (New Year's Eve). The 'Come On Up To The House' EP is available at the gigs, although a limited number will be available in Road and Tower Records stores.
It has taken time but The Frames seem to have turned a corner with their new album, "Dance The Devil". Cat Hughes gets the pointers from frontman Glen Hansard.
I think the words you're looking for are "Ha!" and perhaps "Ha!" For the past nine years, you've rattled around town with the zeal of a born-again Christian, regaling everyone you meet with the news that you've discovered THE greatest band on the planet. Surprisingly, your maniacal raving was greeted with a polite smile and rapid retreat. But finally, the world's caught up and looks set to realise at last that Dublin's finest, The Frames, really are the future of rock'n'roll.
Here to tell us about his brand new album "Dance The Devil", Frames main-man Glen Hansard is a little surprised himself by all this positive press. "I just thought it'd be another album that we'd release which would get a lukewarm reception, like the last one, and we'd just move on and write another one."
But even the most hardened hack couldn't fail to see "Dance The Devil's" simple beauty. Whether it's the stunning, gentle strumming of "7 Day Mile" or the insanely catchy "Pavement Tune", it's clear that this album has been well worth that four-year wait. With a nod to Belgian art-rock kings dEUS (guitarist Craig Ward even lends a hand), epic tunesmiths Mercury Rev or minimalist minstrel Will Oldham, the band dabble, for the first time, in laid-back lo-fi.
A rather different approach from their past dealings in huge (and perhaps a touch precious) rock. "I used to think that The Frames held the sword of truth and we would tear down the liars. I was an intense, f**king nut! But real simple stuff happened, like putting on a bit of weight! And I realised that more important than all this intensity, is a good life. What's the point in drawing blood every time you go on stage? It's not interesting, no one wants to see you get crucified."
The chaps' new sound arrives hand-in-hand with a brand new approach. Rather than the clenched-fist passion of old, we're treated to hushed introspection but with cheeky grin intact ("Humour is The Frames new category!"). While band and fans happily adopted a new attitude, the boys' record company, busy demanding changes and pushing back release dates, took a little longer to adjust to the transformation. But, with men in suits finally satisfied, the biggest problem the band face these days will be coming up with catchy album titles.
"My manifesto as far as The Frames go now is to make twenty records and maybe, in between those, release sixty EPs! Wouldn't it be great if by the time you die, you have this huge body of work? And not just any old shit, but actually doing everything possible to make good work."
Eyes firmly fixed on the horizon, The Frames are already making plans for their next record. With Craig Ward in the producer's chair and minds admirably open, if it shares any of the genius that inspired "Dance The Devil", we're guaranteed a classic. With enough pop sensibilities to keep every tune hummable but with the attention-span of a four year old ensuring they never stray too near obvious options, The Frames have provided us with what is easily this year's finest album.
So any thoughts for those confused critics not yet convinced? "I'm just happy because this is my truth. It might make no sense to anyone else, but I'm really excited. This is my record and I'll stand behind it 100%. Ask me any questions and I'll represent it. I'm ready for ya!"
The single "Pavement Tune" is out now and the album "Dance The Devil" is released on June 18th.