Glen Hansard: The Best Songs Come 'As A Gift'
Glen Hansard began singing on the streets of Dublin when he was just 13. Now, in his early 40s, it's almost hard to count his honors. Once, the musical featuring his songs, just won eight Tony Awards. He's half of the duo The Swell Season, he appeared in The Commitments, he contributed to the soundtrack for The Hunger Games, and, next week, he releases his first solo album, Rhythm and Repose.
Speaking with Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon, Hansard says there are two ways a song can come to him — through hours of diligent work, or in a sudden and unexpected flash.
"Oftentimes — and the best times — it comes as a gift," Hansard says. "There are people who can sit down and write a song about any given subject, and they can do it really, really well. But I believe that's more craft-based, and I've always been more of a fan of those who work more in the inspired area — meaning that they sort of let it come and don't edit too much.
"What happens to us all, I think, when we pick up a pen, is that we just become snobs," he adds. "We want it to sound perfect, we want it to be poetic, we want it to have meter. And actually, most of the time, the good stuff just sort of falls out in a way that's very natural — even if, grammatically, it's incorrect."
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Glen Hansard's time has come. He was singing on the streets of Dublin when he was just 13. But now, in his early 40s, it's almost hard to count the honors. In the past few days, "Once," the musical featuring his music, won eight Tony Awards. He's half of the duo The Swell Season; he appeared in "The Commitments"; he's contributed to the soundtrack for "The Hunger Games"; and this song...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FALLING SLOWLY")
GLEN HANSARD: (Singing) I don't know you but I want you all the more for that.
SIMON: This song, "Falling Slowly," earned Glen Hansard and his partner, Marketa Irglova, the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2007. It's from the movie "Once," which he also starred in. But wait, there's more. Glen Hansard has released his first solo CD. It's called "Rhythm and Repose."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU WILL BECOME")
HANSARD: (Singing) In time, this won't even matter. This chapter will be long in the grass. And we'll talk about everything till it's easier. Your beauty is nothing compared to what you will become.
SIMON: "You Will Become," the opening track off Glen Hansard's new CD. Glen Hansard joins us now from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
HANSARD: Oh, it's a pleasure. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
SIMON: How does a song come to you?
HANSARD: Oftentimes, and the best times, it comes as a gift. Oftentimes, it comes as something that is almost fully formed. And then other times, you have to work for it, and work for it, and work for it, and chase it and hone it. And those can be very rewarding, too. I find the ones that I tend to sing the longest, and sing the proudest, are the ones that sort of came to me in a - kind of almost in a flash, in a dream.
You know, there are people who can sit down and write a song about any given subject; and they can do it really, really well. But I believe that's more craft-based. And I've always been more of a fan of those who work - more in the inspired area, meaning that they sort of let it come and don't edit too much. Because what happens to us all, I think, when we pick up a pen is that we just become snobs. You know, we want it to sound perfect. We want it to be poetic. We want it to have meter. And actually, most of the time the good stuff just sort of falls out in a way that's very natural. Even if grammatically, it's incorrect, it seems to have a flow.
SIMON: Tell us what led to this song, "Talking with the Wolves."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TALKING WITH THE WOLVES)
HANSARD: (Singing) Simon, you are the model of your age. Don't let the bastards take the stage. They don't love you.
In a way, talking to the wolves sort of meant like, you're talking to people who could just tear you apart, you know. And oftentimes, it can feel a bit like that when you're talking to someone in the press - which is a funny thing to say. But - not that the press themselves are - that people, the individuals themselves, are actually a wolf but "it" as a...
SIMON: You don't have to make any explanations to us, OK?
SIMON: We know what you're talking about. Don't worry. You were busking on the streets of Dublin - I think it's safe to say - at an age when a lot of American kids, even the ones interested in music, have lemonade stands. What was that like?
HANSARD: I was very, very, very fortunate. My headmaster in school was a DJ. but he really tuned into me and, you know, we would talk about Dylan and we'd talk about Neil Young or Van Morrison. And I remember him saying to me, Glen - you know - you're not very good to me in terms of what you do in school.
He said, so listen; I've got an idea. And he said, why don't you leave school; go out today, and start busking on the street. Go out and start singing Dylan songs on the street. And I'll tell you what. I'll make a deal with you. If in a year it doesn't work out for you, then you can come back to school, and I'll make up some excuse, and we'll get you back into the class. But if it does work out for you, just keep going with it.
And I went out, and I kind of realized it was my second education. And I went back all those years later, after we won the Academy Award. It was fascinating. I went back to the school, and my headmaster said to me - he said the most amazing thing. He said well, Glen, at 14 you went off and you took one subject, and this is your A.
SIMON: Let's ask you about another song, if we can - "Philander."
SIMON: Well, let's hear a little first.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PHILANDER")
HANSARD: (Singing) Here on a corner, I'm kissing my philander. She never said goodbye, only see you later.
SIMON: Is this a story or a memory?
HANSARD: You know, it's a memory. I wrote that song when I was 18, and I never did anything with it. And I remembered all the words. It was funny. I didn't think I would and once I started singing it, the whole song came back - as if it was waiting to be recorded only now. It was almost like I wrote the song as a kid, but I wasn't worthy of singing it till I was much older, till I had more authority.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PHILANDER")
HANSARD: (Singing) ...so come on, you little actor. Don't let me down, philander.
SIMON: Yeah. Well, authority counts for a lot.
HANSARD: Well, absolutely. And I really believe, you know, you earn your voice. You're not born with it. At a certain point in your life, there are certain songs that are ready to be sung.
SIMON: Where do you see yourself going for the next 30 years? Thirty months.
HANSARD: You know, I love making music right now. I love living the gypsy life, and I will do that until it no longer nourishes me. And when it doesn't, I'll take a break. Because when the soil goes fallow, you must leave the field for a couple of years to regain its nutrients and its strength.
That's why I called the album "Rhythm and Repose." It was very much a title of my age because I've realized recently that rest is equally as important as work. You don't work, work, work, and then take some rest. You work, you rest; you work, you rest. The imagination is our greatest - it's our greatest ally.
I mean, everything I'm doing today, I imagined when I was standing at bus stops with my guitar on my back. And when I sat at the back of the bus, on me way to the city, to go play music on the street - everything I imagined at the back of that bus, is what I'm doing now.
So the imagination is a very, very powerful thing and it, literally, invents the path before you. And if your head is stuck in Facebook or texting or something - which is all fine - you might imagine yourself into a kind of a cul-de-sac. And I worry about that for people.
SIMON: Glen Hansard, speaking from New York. His new CD, "Rhythm and Repose" And you can hear all the music from it, at nprmusic.org. Thanks so much for being with us.
HANSARD: Thank you. I really appreciate the chat.
SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIGH HOPE")
HANSARD: (Singing) I'm working on a high hope and if it all works out, you might just see me... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.