'Once' more: The Swell Season's Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova on their breakup, their new record, and the future of their band

Once stars Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (a.k.a. the Swell Season) have stayed busy since their February 2008 Oscar win, playing their songs night after night to crowds across the U.S. and overseas. Somewhere along the way, their real-life romance ended and they made a new album together, not necessarily in that order. The Dublin-based folk-rockers met with me in downtown New York one afternoon last month to talk about Strict Joy (out Oct. 27 and streaming now at NPR.org), what it’s like to make music together after their breakup, and whether or not the Swell Season will keep going past this album. Read on after the jump for our Q&A.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get from your 2008 Oscar win to making your new album, Strict Joy?
IRGLOVÁ: I don’t think we had time to recover from the whirlwind until a couple months ago. We started touring a lot after the Oscars, because the opportunity was there. Once we decided we were ready to go into the studio and see what happened, we just kind of did that in the midst of everything else.
HANSARD: Exactly, yeah. I had been in a band for so long and struggled to make things happen that when it actually eventually came, all I knew how to do was struggle. Mar, thankfully, was very grounding in that, because she’s younger and had been taking everything in her stride…You think that what you do after you win an award is break open some champagne and take a holiday. But we didn’t — we worked even harder.

EW: Did you feel pressure to follow up the success of Once?
Well, there is no following that up. That was the thing we all realized: “S—. This might be the biggest moment of my life.” You’ve got to be realistic. But it’s good to get back to doing what we do, which is making music.

EW: The music on this album, at least from a listener’s perspective, is emotional to listen to. Are these personal songs for you?
Of course they are. At least for me, what you put out is only a reflection of what’s on the inside. So yes, they are very much inspired by what we’ve been going through emotionally.
HANSARD: Oh yeah. But when we’ve been talking about this record, there’s been a lot of comment about “breakup album.” And yes, of course it is. Of course there are aspects of that in it. But clearly we don’t have too much of a problem with each other, because we’re sitting here doing this.

EW: Do you still find it easy to work with each other, even after the breakup?
Yeah. I’ve always found it really pleasant to play with Glen. There’s something intuitive that goes on. That’s always been a very real connection between us, and I’m delighted it’s still there. Long may it last.
The crux of the whole thing is, we make good music together. I’ve always impressed her with a guitar in my hand. I just wasn’t as good in bed. No, I’m kidding.

EW: When I saw you play Radio City Music Hall last year, it was a long show, and both of you poured your heart out on stage. It seemed like it must have been exhausting. How do you prepare yourselves to perform that way every night?
Actually — maybe it’s from long years on a bus — I feel a lot more comfortable in that world, in that life, in that pattern.
IRGLOVÁ: People give so much as an audience to us. I feel energized walking off stage. What’s exhausting is the constant movement for me.
HANSARD: The rootlessness, yeah.

EW: Glen, do you still play that same beat-up acoustic guitar in concert?
[Laughs] Yeah, same one. One day it’ll give up on me. It’s pretty frail. But I love it. I’ll keep it as long as I possibly can. It’s like a really good pair of shoes — you can’t take them off, even though they stink.

EW: So, looking to the future, will there be more Swell Season CDs?
HANSARD: That’s a good question. The name of the band suggests it’s a seasonal thing. Who knows how long that lasts? I honestly don’t know. [To Irglová] How do you see it? Do you want to be in a band with me?
IRGLOVÁ: [Laughs, then pauses] I’ve been really aware of how important it is to me to just stay in the moment and enjoy it while it lasts. Because that’s all you’ve got. If it ends, I’ll move on to doing something else. If it lasts, great. All I can say is, I will be in this band as long as my heart is in it.

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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Photo credit: Conor Masterson

Comments (5 total) Add your comment
  • Trixie

    Love these two. Thanks for the spotlight.

  • Ellipsian

    Ditto, Trixie.

  • Ruby

    So talented…long live the Swell Season.

  • Tom Brazelton

    Reading this interview, it becomes clear to me why Jack and Meg White chose to say they were brother and sister instead of a divorced couple when they made it big. I think there is potential for reviewers to spend too much time labeling Strict Joy “the breakup album” and not putting focus where it should be – on the music.

  • Pslightly Psycho

    Hansard and Irglova are the REAL DEAL. When a song about threesomes tops the charts, arrogant hip hop artists act up at awards shows, and so-called pop stars parade around in ridioculous fashions, these two bring us back to what TRULY makes music an art form. God bless them, and hopes for continued success together or seperate.

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