SETTING THE TONE:
An EXCLUSIVE interview
Once upon a time, a thirteen-year-old boy from Dublin quit school and decided to start busking on the streets. This bold move would eventually pave the way for one of the most widely-revered modern music careers to come out of Ireland.
Glen Hansard went on to form The Frames (who are now celebrating twenty-five years together) as well as The Swell Season with Markéta Irglová. He would also become widely noticed as a featured cast member in the 1991 film “The Commitments.” He would return to the silver screen sixteen years later in a life-mirroring role as a busker with a dream in the film “Once.” That film and its accompanying soundtrack pulled the indie music scene into the spotlight, as the Hansard/Irglová-penned “Falling Slowly” would stun the world by taking home the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2008. 2012 saw Hansard release his very first solo effort, Rhythm and Repose.
Glen now prepares to release his second solo album, entitled Didn’t He Ramble via ANTI- Records. While gazing down at construction workers from his eighth floor hotel room window in New York City, Glen took a little time to converse with Dave Rayburn about the new album, his influences, and even a taste of what may come.
DAVE RAYBURN: Didn’t He Ramble follows the Songs of Jason Molina EP that you released back in March of this year. This new album begins immediately with an almost spiritual feeling of self-inventory with “Grace Beneath The Pines.” Did the personal emotion from the Molina project influence this new record?
GLEN HANSARD: Well that’s a great question, actually. And I think the answer must be “yes,” because what drives us in our lives are events and the things that happen to us, and the friendships that we build up and the relationships that we build up over years, and how they come and go and how it all influences us. I lost a couple of friends in the last couple of years and it’s got to influence your tone. It doesn’t necessarily influence your words. But, it definitely influences the tone of one’s posture, if that makes sense.
DAVE: The song “Her Mercy” proves that the Van Morrison torch of song craft is firmly in your hands. From the gentle introduction to the fiery build, you have created yet another song that could double as something from Van’s catalog, but is undeniably yours. Have you ever written anything for Van or considered collaborating with him?
GLEN: First of all, thank you so much for what you just said. I’ll take that to the grave. That’s deep. There’s been a couple times throughout my life where I’ve gotten a weird phone call from somebody at Van’s office saying, “Van is looking to collaborate on some songs with some people…” You know, it’s always the most vague message you could possibly receive. It’s the most non-committal thing you can imagine. I’ve met him a couple times. But I haven’t met him as a successful artist. I met him when I was twenty, and I met him when I was like twenty-four. But I haven’t met him as an adult. And I don’t think Van would particularly be interested in meeting me, because I think he sort of sees people like me, potentially, as people who are ripping him off. He doesn’t quite get the fact that we’re all in “the church.” We’re utterly on his side. We’re utterly bowing to him, but I think Van sees that as rip-off. But, that’s fair enough.
DAVE: There’s a true story tied to the track “McCormack’s Wall.” The story alone could serve as the basis of another feature film for you as it very much lives within the well-understood “almost” realm of “Once.” Would you mind sharing the story that led to this beautiful Irish song poem?
GLEN: So, I’ve got a friend. She’s a singer. She’s a writer. She’s an amazing talent. She came out on tour with us for a few gigs over the last two or three years. And pretty shortly after we met, we came back from doing a gig in Italy or something. We got back to Dublin on the same day and we decided to meet for a drink just to sort of talk about the tour and talk about what was going on with her record. It was super friendly and super easy. We had a cup of tea in a café in town and then had a couple beers, and then we went to see a friend’s band. Then that turned into staying out late with the friend’s band. And then we stole a bottle of wine from their dressing room and took off into the country because I had the idea, “let’s go visit the birthplace of John McCormack the Irish tenor.” And I knew where it was because I had spent a couple years living on a canal in an old schoolhouse back when I was like sixteen, right opposite of the little ruin of a building. And so we got ourselves out there on my motorbike. I probably shouldn’t be saying that because I was drunk off my ass. I don’t know how we’d quite do that in the story. (Laughs) But anyway, we got to the place and we climbed over the wall into this derelict old building. We opened the bottle of wine and made a little fire out of whatever was lying around and sat there and kind of raised a glass to John McCormack. And I was definitely aware that this girl sitting next to me was an important Irish singer. We eventually left there and went over to the grave of Wolfe Tone. Wolfe Tone was a very, very famous Irish revolutionary. So, we went to his grave and we sat there and we sang him a song in the middle of the night. Of course, as the sun was coming up we were walking back over the canal. And the simple truth of the matter is, over the course of the night, things turned romantic with us. Now…nothing happened! But, there was definitely a kind of, “wow, I really like this girl” and then, “wow, I kind of really like this guy.” And, I kind of spoiled it by…I should have just come clean and said, “Look, I’ve got a girlfriend.” I should have just mentioned my girlfriend, you know, because I didn’t want this girl to get the wrong idea of me and I wanted to be clean. But, of course, I was enjoying the moment so much that I wasn’t clean, and I left out one little detail. So the next day, somewhere in the morning as we were talking, it came up, and I could see that she was a bit angry with me. So anyway, it turns out she wrote a song about that night too. (Laughs) It was a really beautiful night. She wrote a song and I wrote a song without knowing at all that we were going to do that. And I remember when I did a few gigs with her later on, I said, “Listen, I have this song that talks about that night.” She said, “Jesus! That’s so weird. So do I!” (Laughs) And so, of course, the audience didn’t know we were both singing about the same night.
DAVE: That’s so great you each preserved that moment to look back on.
GLEN: It is really wonderful to be able to write a song and mark a particular moment, you know? That’s it.
DAVE: In 2013, you had the opportunity to perform “Drive All Night” live on stage with Bruce Springsteen, an apparent longtime dream. You subsequently released your own recording of the song featuring the E Street Band’s Jake Clemons. How did that night in Kilkenny ever come to happen?
GLEN: You know, this is the kind of stuff that we can’t really speak to. In a way, it seems so magical. I met Bruce just after we won the Oscar, and I went to see Bruce play in Dublin. Somehow word came out to us in the audience that Bruce wanted to say hello, which knocked me out. So, we went backstage. It was just before Bruce was going on. We talked for a few minutes, and he was congratulating myself and Marketa and he said, “Man, welcome to the club! Me, you and Bob!” I didn’t quite get it. Then I realized, of course, he won one for “Philadelphia” and Dylan has won one. And he was like, “What are you doing later? Do you want to come back later on and have a drink?” So, we ended up going back to the hotel he was staying in after the show, and Bruce stayed up all night with me. It was like a total therapy session. I got to talk about the difficulty of success and how I should be the happiest man in the world, and I couldn’t figure out why I was so sad. Not sad. I kind of was a bit forlorn or something. And he really put it so well. Only somebody who’s in mastery kind of gets this. He said, “Look, Glen. The guy you’ve been for the past twenty years has just died. The guy you’ve been has been the guy who struggled. The guy who’s coming up. The guy who’s you-against-the-world. That guy’s just died, and you’re now someone else. We don’t know who you are, but we know you are no longer the guy that’s struggling. The world has turned around and said, “Yes, Glen. What do you want to say? We’re listening.” “So now, you’re basically trying on a new suit. What’s going on with you is sadness. That’s just grief. You’re grieving the passing of your old self.” And he said, “You’ve got to let that happen. You’ve got to go through that and just kind of enjoy the sadness. Don’t worry about it. You’ll pass through it much quicker.” And I was like, “Fucking Hell!” To hear this from anyone is huge. To hear it from Bruce Springsteen gave it all of his weight because he was right, and he was relating it to his own story. So, to come to the concert…I went to see Bruce again two years ago. The guy that was driving Bruce around the country came up to me during the show and said, “Glen, Bruce has been listening to your album in the car.” It was Rhythm and Repose. “He has this album on in the car and he keeps asking about you.” So, when he played Kilkenny, he had a few guest artists join him, which was very rare because Bruce never has openers. So, we opened for him and I was so into it and so happy. His audience…they’re music lovers, so they give you a fair shot. So, we had a great show. When I came off stage, Bruce was there on the side and he’d been watching us. He congratulated us and talked about the set we had done, and then he said, “Hey, do you want to do something later on?” And I was like, “Oh, Jeez.” And he said, “What do you know?” I said, “’Drive All Night’ is a song that I really love.” It’s one of the great songs that I do. And he said, “Come over to the dressing room.” So we went to the dressing room and we ran through the song, just me and him. He said, “I don’t know where in the set it’s going to be because I really don’t have any plans, but if you’ll stick around and be ready, I’ll give you a call.” And he said, “I promise you, you’ll be fine up there. I’ll talk you through everything we’re doing.” And I went up and stood there…and fucking Hell, that moment was so…it just felt so fucking euphoric! I couldn’t stop smiling. I just knew that the spirit behind it was completely to do with soul and to do with heart. It had nothing to do with managers calling each other. It was just one man and another man. (Laughs) It blew my mind. It really did.
DAVE: With Didn’t He Ramble being issued this month on CD as well as LP, I have to ask: are you a vinyl guy? And, what was the first record you ever owned?
GLEN: Yeah. The first record I ever owned was Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie. My aunt gave it to me. She gave me one of those suitcase record players. You know the ones?
DAVE: Oh Yeah, most definitely! I’ve got one at home.
GLEN: And, for six months I listened to that record non-stop. But, I was listening to it on 45 (RPM) because I didn’t understand the switch, you know. So I listened to that record and I loved it (mimics “Ziggy Stardust” guitar lick at chipmunk speed) and then I actually figured out that it was at 45. Pretty quickly after that she gave me Blonde on Blonde and then it was the beginning of a whole other…she kind of turned me onto some music that was really powerful.
DAVE: Interestingly enough, the title track of this new album did not make the final cut. Can you tell me a little about that song—why it didn’t make it, and will it ever see release?
GLEN: The song didn’t make it because I didn’t get it. I wanted the song to be a fitting tribute to my father and I didn’t quite get the tone that I was after, but I love the song. Actually, it was the most important song to me on this record. And I just sort of thought, you know what…it’s such an important song to me, not that it’s the best song or anything like that. But, because it’s so important, I actually need to get it right. So, I’m going to name this record after the song because I loved the title of the song. What I was trying to do, Dave, was raise a glass to my dad and say…
Didn’t you ramble
Didn’t you roam
Didn’t you wander so far from home
And didn’t he go down in the dark for too long
And don’t we look good now singing his song
Didn’t he teach us
And didn’t we learn
Didn’t he reach out beyond all return
Didn’t he go down and take it all to the grave
And don’t we feel good now with the choice that he made
And so, I wanted the song to be a non-emotional tribute to my father. A song you could sing at the wake. I didn’t manage to get the emotion out of it. That was the problem. It was still emotional. I wanted it to be a simple tribute, you know? But, I’m still working on it. (Laughs)
DAVE: Being a songwriter myself, I’ve found that my most important song is one that I also wrote for my father. And, that’s something you’ve got to get right. You only get that one shot.
GLEN: You’ve got to get it right! That’s great, Dave. I think my father was in the room saying, “No, no, not yet. It’s not ready yet.” You know what? I keep writing these little bridges like…
Didn’t he work hard
Didn’t he put food on the table
Didn’t he do things like he wanted to
And he’d come back when he was able
But there’s too much emotion in that. I really appreciate you saying that too because our fathers are such a massive thing in our lives. They symbolize so much about us that, in a way, you’re singing as much about yourself as much as you are about them. It’s funny. People have been asking me, “So, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE? Yeah, you certainly have rambled!” Well, actually, that title was really directed toward someone else. But then you have to own that in a different way too. It’s very interesting.
Thanks to Glen Hansard
Special thanks to Kathie Merritt, Cami Opere and Nick Kominitsky
DIDN'T HE RAMBLE
DIDN'T HE RAMBLE