The Irish troubadour—and Frames frontman/erstwhile Swell Season co-collaborator—wants to make albums for people to listen to and live with: “The job of a songwriter is to be of use. A record needs to be something special.”
BY KELLY DEARMORE
On a recent morning, Glen Hansard enjoyed a cup of coffee from his home in Kildare, Ireland, as he talked about just how swell things are for him these days, and on that morning, in specific.
“It’s just awesome here in Ireland today, I tell ‘ya.”
With a fantastic new solo LP out, Didn’t He Ramble, co-produced by Thomas Bartlett (aka eclectic experimentalist Doveman) and the official follow-up to his 2012 debut full-length Rhythm and Repose, Hansard has reason to be in great spirits, as he will be presenting over two decades’ worth of songs to crowds across Europe and the United States as 2015 winds down. Just as any other artist, the Oscar-winning Hansard is certainly proud of his most recent effort, his new baby, but those who catch one of his upcoming shows should expect anything at any time.
“I would be bored out of my mind if I only played Glen Hansard solo stuff,” he admits, in the unmistakable brogue film audiences came to know when he starred in the 2006 indie-gem Once. “Or only Swell Season songs, or only Frames songs. I play what I feel. Different nights will bring different feelings, and when things are going great, I’ll just walk onto the stage, present and prepared for anything.”
Of course, attendees will have individual requests, and tunes they’ve waited to hear for many years, perhaps, but should Hansard decide to go heavy on material from Didn’t He Ramble on a given night, all will not be lost. While the record is, at times, moody and atmospheric, and joyful and exuberant in other moments, the record is a full and complete work. And that’s no small victory as the songs here were written over several years and recorded in Dublin, France, Chicago, and New York.
“I do feel like it came out cohesively,” he says. “And I’m glad for that because it was a hard one for me to let go of. The creation of things is something we don’t have much control over, but the finishing of things is the bit that really requires you bringing energy and concentration to it. It took me a while to really get this record together, but I do feel proud of all the songs individually. I wouldn’t disown any of them; they are each like little children to me.”
Among the individual tracks, a few manage to stand above the pack for various reasons. On the record’s striking opening number, “Grace,” Hansard’s vocals and lyrics hold center-stage above the familiar folk-rock or Van Morison-esque arrangements he’s excelled at producing in the past. From a sonic perspective, “Grace” took a while for Hansard to figure out, but figure it out, he did.
“It came to me as an a capella, originally,” he says, proceeding to sing a few bars from the song to hammer his point home. “For me, it seems like a song one would sing without music, almost in a spiritual sense, like in a church. When I took the song to the band, the chords felt really dumb, and I couldn’t get the dumb chords out of my head. I felt like I was belittling the song, and I was ready to give up on the song completely, then [co-producer] Thomas Bartlett came up with the idea of trying it as a drone with my melody over it. It gave the song a new feeling and it really worked.”
The free-flowing, electric guitar breezer “Paying My Way,” written while Hansard recovered from a hangover, and “Lowly Deserter,” a bouncing, raw, horn-infused boot-stomper, adds more variety to the folk and smooth sounds winding through the rest of the record. Hansard didn’t want each of the album’s songs to be too similar in sound or theme, but he very much wants for people to see this record as an individual work that is set apart from anything else he’s done thus far.
“What is the job of a songwriter?” Hansard asks rhetorically. “It’s to be of use, almost like a piece of furniture. It’s got to be beautiful, but most important, more so than the beauty, it that it has to be useful. A record needs to be something that will fit a specific mood more than anything else can possibly fit it at a given point. A record can be a key that unlocks something for a person, something special.”
The drive to provide the listener with something memorable and to do his self-defined job as a songwriter properly is noble. Ultimately, as Hansard sees it, the goal of his job sounds simple, but is profound in this virtual age where immediate single downloads and lighting fast streaming dominate the musical conversation.
“I believe in a beginning, middle, and an end to records,” he says. “I love the idea of making something that people can just sit and live with for a little while.”
Didn’t He Ramble was released on CD via Anti- on September 18; it arrives on vinyl October 9. Glen Hansard kicks off his US tour in early November—tour dates below (*supported by Aoife O’Donovan).
November 9 /// Los Angeles, CA /// Walt Disney Concert Hall*
November 10 /// San Francisco, CA /// The Masonic*
November 12 /// Vancouver, BC /// Orpheum Theatre*
November 13 /// Portland, OR /// Crystal Ballroom*
November 14 /// Seattle, WA /// Moore Theatre*
November 16 /// Denver, CO /// Paramount Theatre*
November 17 /// Kansas City, MO /// Uptown Theater*
November 19 /// Madison, WI /// Orpheum Theatre*
November 20 /// Minneapolis, MN /// State Theatre*
November 21 /// Chicago, IL /// Chicago Theatre*
November 23 /// St. Louis, MO /// The Pageant*
November 24 /// Cincinnati, OH /// Taft Theatre*
November 25 /// Atlanta, GA /// Buckhead Theatre*
November 27 /// Durham, NC /// Durham Performing Arts Center
November 28 /// Washington, DC /// DAR Constitution Hall
November 30 /// Brooklyn, NY /// Kings Theatre
December 1 /// New York, NY /// Beacon Theatre
Photos credit: Danny Clinch