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Rhythm and Repose: A Conversation With Glen Hansard, Plus Another Tour of Prometheus

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A Conversation With Glen Hansard

Mike Ragogna: Glen, how are you?

Glen Hansard: Doing very well, Mike. Thanks. I'm walking through the rain right now. Soaked to the bone.

MR: But you're in New York City and it's all very romantic. You should write a song about it.

GH: Well, the songs are a whole different story, they come when they want. That's the difference -- you never get to dictate creativity. The muse is a shy bird, you can't just call upon it. That's not how it works. We are passing ships. That is something to be respected, but it's not necessarily inspirational.

MR: There you go, I was about to ask you about your creative process but you just shared it. (laughs) Glen, I saw you at SXSW and it was a great performance. Who was the dude who jumped on the stage and sang a song with you?

GH: His name is Tom, he was the YouTube guy. He was nervous, man. I felt bad for putting him on the spot like that, but he's a great guy and a great musician. All of that other stuff is just fantastic, but I think I might have scared him a little. (laughs) What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?

MR: (laughs) Absolutely. Glen, let's talk about your new album, Rhythm And Repose. It seems that a lot of these songs are very personal and relationship-oriented. Am I right in assuming that?

GH: It is relationship-oriented, but the relationship is really only the vernacular of the language. To be honest, it's relationship-oriented because that's what I've always sung about. But the relationship part is just a part of the language. For instance, the song, "You Will Become" happens to be about my brother. Other songs may be about my relationship with Ireland. So, yes, it is about relationships, but I think as you get older, those relationships broaden and deepen. In terms of actual romance, there are definitely some songs about that too, but not as many as you'd think.

MR: Now, "Talking With The Wolves" is one of my favorite songs on this album partly because of the line, "Love that's given easy never dies, it just changes." That's so true.

GH: Yeah. That's kind of what I was thinking at the time. If you give love freely and you give it absolutely, it lasts forever. Every lover I've ever had, I still have some amount of love for. I think love changes, but I don't think it dies. Occasionally, I think love can die if you've been deeply betrayed, but I really do believe that once love blooms in your life, it's there for good. It just transforms into different things, whereas love that's stolen is often a shameful thing. That's actually what I was trying to get across in the song. I hope I managed that.

MR: I also found a connection between that song and "Maybe Not Tonight," which basically is about putting off the end of a relationship, right? Can you tell us about that song?

GH: Well, that song is in a lot of ways the lightest song on the album, to me. That song was just me having fun. I was trying to write a Jimmy Webb song. I just wanted to write a song that you could listen to in your car. Of course, there are parts of that song that are very personal too, but it's like with all things -- you have fun with it but it's rooted in honesty. That song is really about the idea that in a relationship, you're in it together -- you both play your parts in the relationship, so you're both partially to blame for both its success and failure. It's just the classic country music vernacular of, "I wanna do something right, but maybe not tonight," you know?

MR: Right. Then, of course, there's the song, "Bird Of Sorrow."

GH: That song is kind of funny. I wrote that song as much about Ireland as I did about myself and relationships. A lot of times when I sing that song, I find myself thinking of Ireland. Ireland, as you know, is still a very young nation. We've only been a republic for 80 years and we've been a colony for 800. I still think we've yet to find our voice as a nation. I mean, our children will still be paying for the actions of a handful of men. I think a nation has to stand up against that. I very much admire the way that Iceland handled their crisis.

MR: What would be your vision of a perfect Ireland? What would that look like?

GH: Well, it's very difficult for me to say or know what to do. I would just really love to see the people gain some confidence. We really just need to figure out who we are as a nation. This idea of the shamrocks and drunken Irish leprechauns is just preposterous. There's this fantastic notion of St. Patrick, who is known in Ireland as the man who rid Ireland of the snakes and took the pagan ways away from the people. Personally, I think we were doing all right without St. Patrick. I like the idea of celebrating St. Patrick's Day and saying, "Let's bring the snakes back to Ireland." I feel like this huge economical crash has really woken us up to some facts -- the great patriarch is falling. I think it's time in our country for the people who are strong and sensitive to rise up.

MR: And you end the project with "Song Of Good Hope." Can you tell us about that?

GH: That song was actually a gift to me. It kind of came when my friend Ezra here in New York was diagnosed with colon cancer, and it was looking pretty bad. He was one of the closest people in my life, and I found myself writing him a song later -- I didn't really think about it. I don't think you can think about things like this... they either happen or they don't. So I found that a song came through me that was gifted to him and I sang it to him as a kind of "hope" song. Of course, I'd been reading this incredible book by Bernard Moitessieur -- a famous sailor who sailed the world in the '60s -- and he kept talking about finding good hope as he was sailing through the horn of Africa. I remember thinking to myself that was where a lot of stormy weather exists, so the song stems from me wanting to say that I knew my friend was in troubled waters, but I hope you'll get through. I found myself singing that song to my friend, and I'm really happy to say that he's beaten it for now. But the song and the sentiment remain.

Listen to Glen Hansard's "Song of Good Hope":

MR: Glad to hear it, Glen. Could that song be applied to your feelings about Ireland as well?

GH: Oh, absolutely. I would love to think that that song could be viewed as a song about Ireland, because we're an amazing nation with great empathy -- Ireland is a "heart" country. We are complex and strong-willed. It's also difficult for us to see those around us being successful. A good question to ask Ireland would be, "Are you any good at winning?" That's been the thing that we've always sort of struggled with as a nation -- we're not any good at winning. We know how to lose, but it's time for us to start learning how to win. Everything that we all are is a result of the decisions that we've made. At some point, you've got to realize that if you start making some good decisions, you might get somewhere.

MR: Glen, congratulations on your recent Broadway success. Once: The Musical walked away with 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical. Nice, huh?

GH: Jesus, that was incredible. We didn't even know we had tickets to the Tonys, then, after we found out, myself and Marketa went and sat together. It was so beautiful, because whatever torch we carried, whatever Once is and was, it's theirs now. We just went along to applaud those guys and to say thank you. They've taken on this piece of work and they've really treated it with care, you know? We just went along to applaud them and we couldn't be happier. All the magic that happened with that story for us is happening to them.

MR: It's great to see how much a part of our culture that story and the hit song, "Falling Slowly," have become. You even won an Academy Award for the song.

GH: Yeah, that's right, and to say that we are a part of the culture is an amazing thing to say. Of course, I could never speak on something like that, but I'm honored. Marketa said it so well in her acceptance speech at the Oscars when she said, "Hope is what binds us all." I think if there's any way to sort of distilling Once: The Musical into anything, it would have to be the presence of hope -- the idea that if you remain open, you can enter into these beautiful relationships and friendships. It doesn't always have to end up with two people in bed. It's just like the crisis in the financial world -- you don't have to end up making a million dollars. What matters is the story itself, not the ending. It's not about hopping into bed or making tons of money, it's about good work. If you make good work, the energy flows and if you make bad work, it doesn't. What is money? It's energy, it comes into your life and goes out all the time. If you live your life well, a steady flow goes to and away from you. But it's not about gathering enough or putting it into different bank accounts or becoming an investor. All those things are designed for you to hang on to something. Money, like the muse, is a shy bird. That energy may move in and out of your life. You may gather it for a few years, but depending on your way of life, it comes and goes. That's what went down in Ireland, we had a bunch of super rich people that just got arrogant. They started thinking about the money and not the work. Your art is not there to serve you, you are there to serve it. That's how I feel about it. If you serve your art, then, of course, all of these things will come to you. If you expect your art to serve you, you're probably going to be sitting around waiting for a while.

MR: Glen, I also wanted to ask you if you have any advice for new artists?

GH: Serve your art. (laughs) It's about good work. We might put a lot of emphasis on social networking and marketing, but all of that stuff happens naturally when you're making good work. If you're making good work, the world starts coming to you. I don't mean that you don't have to do anything. I just mean that you have to remain open. Just concentrate on the poem and not the audience's reaction to it.

MR: Beautiful. You're currently on tour in support of the new album.

GH: Yeah, I recently played in New York and we did a couple of amazing shows. We did an amazing show in Harlem at the Apollo, which was for the Jazz Foundation of America. The Jazz Foundation of America is this incredible organization that pays for the rent and medical expenses of some of the great jazz artists -- men who have worked with the likes of Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk. It's a bit like a Veteran's Association. We also did a concert for the Housing Works Association, which is basically just an organization focused on getting people off of the streets. It was amazing getting to be a part of that as well. Then I'll be in LA, Chicago, and back to New York, so I'll be all over.

MR: Well, if your performance was anything like it was at SXSW people are in for an incredible show.

GH: Oh, thanks man. You're very kind.

MR: Is there any chance that there'll be another The Swell Season album anytime soon?

GH: The only way that another Swell Season album will happen is if Marketa and I find ourselves in a room together making music, and right now, she's living in Iceland. And she's great, we're still very good friends and we enjoy playing music together, but you can't force this stuff. If the two of us end up in a room making music together again, then there will be more Swell Season. But it's something that will have to happen organically. You've got to follow the music, you know? If the music says it needs to you sail that way, you've got to go with it. I'm sort of learning to stay open to all of that.

MR: Glen, thank you so much for spending time with us today. It was a pleasure.

GH: Thanks, Mike. The pleasure was mine.

Tracks:
1. You Will Become
2. Maybe Not Tonight
3. Talking With the Wolves
4. High Hope
5. Bird of Sorrow
6. The Storm, It's Coming
7. Love Don't Leave Me Waiting
8. What Are We Gonna Do
9. Races
10. Philander
11. Song of Good Hope

Transcribed by Evan Martin

GALEN HAWTHORNE'S TOUR OF PROMETHEUS

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photo courtesy GH

While directing Prometheus, Ridley Scott undoubtedly knew that no matter what, people would come to the theaters for what could be Alien 0. What he really needed was a reason for them to stay. Prometheus delivers both in a package that's enjoyable for casual viewers but absolutely thrilling for longtime fans.

First, a spoiler-proof summary: Elizabeth Shaw, played by recent celebrity Noomi Rapace, is an anthropologist who thinks she has found the maps to our makers, placed upon Earth when they first arrived. She, her ultimately forgettable boyfriend, and a ragtag crew of scientists and shady corporation agents make their way to a far-off moon they suspect houses our forbearers. Once they arrive, crew members fight for control of their ship, the love of their peers, and for their lives.

What that plot encompasses for Ridley Scott-newbies and aficionados are two very different things. To the uninitiated, Prometheus can be taken at face value -- a brilliantly cast, costumed, and set space exploration movie with elements of extreme body horror whose scares come from suspense and sharp things. To those of us who remember Alien fondly, however, the movie takes on several extra layers, both as a sort of prequel and universe expansion, as well as from a cinematography viewpoint, where a fan could play a very enjoyable game of bingo with the homages and similarities embedded in Prometheus.

Comparing the two movies in terms of philosophy and execution is much like comparing their ships. In Alien, we followed the chaos that pierces the grungy, low-light Nostromo. In the new movie, however, viewers ride along on the ship-shape, dollar-powered Prometheus, an all-around smarter and more refined yet somehow less mature ship and crew. Likewise, while the Nostromo (and the production of Alien itself) was all about the low-tech solution, Prometheus (and its ship) are filled to the brim with flashy lights and style. Given the details, the prequel-based technology upgrade actually does make sense, and it certainly didn't hurt the movie at all.

Honestly, the most distracting part of Prometheus is how it takes a moment every fifteen minutes to nudge you in the ribs, wink and whisper, "Remember Alien?" Even as one of the people who saw Prometheus in theatres because of how much I loved Alien, my ribs got a little sore. Still, however, it was a great treat to see shots, scenes and ideas replicated and, despite occasionally knowing where things were going because of it, it actually added to the suspense.

A word to the queasy though; as a thriller/monster movie, this film does get rather graphic. Most of the suspense comes from characters finding themselves in immediate, visible and often bloody danger. In the realm of special effects, no expense is spared, and Ridley Scott's stance of "if it can be built, don't CGI it" makes the film visually and viscerally exceptional. The film is not without levity, however. A quick shout out is in order to Geologists Fifield and Milburn, who play deliciously Shakespearian comic relief up until, and arguably, straight past the point where everything goes south for the Prometheus crew.

With all its eye-filling vistas and brain-rocking sounds, Prometheus is definitely a movie to be seen in theaters. Avoid hesitation...don't wait for the DVD. If you're mostly interested in a good Ridley Scott movie from 2012, I'd highly recommend it. If you're looking for a great Ridley Scott film from whenever, watch Alien. But then watch Prometheus. Definitely watch Prometheus.