Songs from the ex-files

The Swell Season's true life romance might be over but they are still happy to make beautiful music together, says Killian Fox

When Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, whose second album as the Swell Season, Strict Joy, came out last week, try to explain the events of the last two years, the word "magic" keeps cropping up. "Magic had to be involved," they say or: "There was so much magic around the film, it seemed just possible we'd get an Oscar nomination."

In 2007, Once, a small Irish movie about a Dublin busker and a Czech Big Issue-seller who make music and fall in love, became a big deal. Made for £100,000 with a cast of non-professionals, it went on to gross £13m worldwide and nab an Oscar for best original song, winning praise from Steven Spielberg along the way.

Hansard was lead singer of the Frames, a Dublin folk-rock band; Irglová was a talented pianist Hansard had met during a solo tour in the Czech Republic. They clicked as friends and musical collaborators and Irglová, then only 13, started accompanying Hansard on stage. Three years later, they recorded an album together and the following year, on the set of the movie, something else clicked.

That the delicate love story at the heart of Once had also taken root in real life only added to the film's appeal, particularly in the States. A media whirlwind followed and, as the Oscars race kicked in, the two stars found themselves in other-worldly situations.

"We were invited to Barbra Streisand's house," Hansard recalls. "We sang a couple of songs and it turned out that everyone else at the dinner was an Academy voter. Everyone went home with a copy of our film."

Same story chez Ringo Starr. "Jeff Lynne was there and the Eagles – all these old-school giant rock stars. At one point, me and Ringo were playing spaghetti sticks on a pan. I said, 'Oh my God I'm jamming with a Beatle.' He said, 'Yes you are.' I was blown away."

Hansard, the extrovert of the couple and a born raconteur, was loving every minute of it. Irglová had mixed feelings. "I was put into a situation that I'd never been in before. I didn't really know how to deal with it."

After their Oscars triumph, the doors of Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall swung open. They toured with Bob Dylan and, last March, they spoofed their Once roles on The Simpsons. Their mistake, Hansard admits, was to throw themselves at opportunities without taking a break.

"It had a big impact on me and Mar's situation because we were both fried. She wanted time off. The thing is," he explains, "Mar never asked for any of this. She never asked to be a musician or an actor – I pulled her into all that. Her attitude was: that was fun but I think I'm done now. Whereas I was like, you cannot miss this. I would have killed for these opportunities in the Frames."

You don't have to read between the lines in Strict Joy to guess what happened next. The surprise is not that their affair ended – it's that they continue to be collaborators and friends.

"Music is one thing we're still very good at," says Hansard. "When she's at her instrument and I'm at mine, we get on so well." Irglová maintains that it's much more than a break-up record.

"For me it's not a sad story," she insists. "It's just a continuation of whatever was going on before." The romance may have faded but, as in Once, the music plays quietly on.

The Swell Season play three UK dates in January

Contributor

Killian Fox

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs | CD review

It's only when the musical references stop that the trio show themselves at their best, writes Ally Carnwath

Ally Carnwath

05, Sep, 2009 @11:01 PM

Múm: Sing Along to Songs You Don't Know

Aglow with creative energy and eccentricity, this is beautiful stuff, says Imogen Carter

Imogen Carter

22, Aug, 2009 @11:01 PM

Hope Sandoval & the Warm inventions: Through the Devil Softly

The results are easy on the ear but contain more depth than a thousand coffee-table chanteuses, says Ally Carnwath

Ally Carnwath

26, Sep, 2009 @11:05 PM

Pop review: Fever Ray, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London W12

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
The live show promoting Fever Ray's self-titled album is like a pagan ceremony with lasers, says Killian Fox

Killian Fox

18, Jul, 2009 @11:01 PM

Clark, Totems Flare

Mass appeal is a touch optimistic but Totems Flare deserves a wider audience than it will probably get, says Killian Fox

Killian Fox

18, Jul, 2009 @11:01 PM

The xx: 'xx' | CD review

This debut album exceeds the hype that preceded it, says Hermione Hoby

Hermione Hoby

15, Aug, 2009 @11:01 PM

Amanda Blank: I Love You

Despite attention-grabbing sex talk Blank fails to make a lasting impression, says Killian Fox

Killian Fox

12, Sep, 2009 @11:01 PM

The Low Anthem | Pop review
The Rhode Island four-piece use a host of instruments to create their ethereal folk blues. Killian Fox is impressed

Killian Fox

22, Nov, 2009 @12:07 AM

The Hidden Cameras - Origin: Orphan | CD review
The Hidden Cameras' blend of folk-pop is both tender and epic, writes Hermione Hoby

Hermione Hoby

22, Nov, 2009 @12:10 AM

The Flaming Lips: Embryonic| CD review| Music
Rock's great humanists are back with a truly challenging album, says Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

10, Oct, 2009 @11:05 PM