The Swell Season is a musical collaboration between Ireland's Glen Hansard and Czech singer Marketa Irglova. They recently sat down with NPR's Melissa Block and played two songs from their new album, Strict Joy.
Hansard and Irglova both starred in 2007's surprise hit film Once, which won an Academy Award for their song "Falling Slowly." During filming, they fell in love and became a couple. They've since parted ways romantically, but they remain together professionally. Their sentimental, endearing story seems to be reflected in music that's, well, sentimental and endearing.
Take the song "Low Rising," written by Hansard; it's the first track on Strict Joy.
"Well, the song is kind of a redemption song, as in, 'I really want to make this work,' " Hansard says. "You know, this idea in life. ... You get these moments of inspiration where you just want to sit everyone you know in a room and say, 'Look, I know that I've fallen a bit behind, or I got a bit off the track. But, listen, I've got it figured out, and it's all going to work out.' So it's an 'It's all going to work out' type of song."
For fans who know their story, it's easy to imagine that Hansard and Irglova wrote these intimate, melancholy songs about each other. Was "Low Rising" written with anyone in particular in mind?
"Probably Mar," Hansard says with a laugh.
"I didn't know that," Irglova interjects. "I seem to discover a lot of stuff through his lyrics, more than through his conversations with me. I think Irish men are a bit like that. But I'm really ... this is the first time I'm hearing this."
These are intimate, even painful songs. But Irglova and Hansard say they don't see them that way.
"I think a good song, you can take it many different ways," Hansard says. "You know, in a lot of ways, you've got to trust the art and not the artist. And so, in a way, it's not us discussing with each other the direct meaning of each song. It's kind of protecting the song more than it's protecting each other."
'I Have Loved You Wrong'
One of Irglova's compositions on Strict Joy is "I Have Loved You Wrong." It's a beautifully wistful confessional.
"I think the core of the song is this idea that, you know, we all make mistakes in life," Irglova says. "And through making mistakes and through suffering, you learn about yourself and about the world. Then it's kind of put in the frame of a love story, you know? And within a relationship, there's always going to be times where you do each other wrong, you know. Part of the song is about not holding grudges against people. Because I really do see everyone in my life as teachers who have important lessons to teach me, and whether they are teaching me through hurt or through joy, I ultimately am grateful to every single person."
Hansard says he remembers the first time he heard the song.
"I was in Amsterdam doing a gig with The Frames, my band. Mar was on the other end of the phone and we were chatting, and she was like, 'Oh! I wrote this new song!' And she played me the song there on the phone, and I was really devastated by it. I thought it was really amazing, and at the same time, I was like ... it was kind of prophetic."
Prophetic in that the song was written while they were still together.
"That was a year before we split up," Hansard says. "It's that thing, like, you see it coming. The song sees it coming. It's almost like you don't logically see it coming, but for some reason, if you're honest and you allow the stuff to come from within and you don't edit, and you really just allow whatever's coming through you to come through, oftentimes you're predicting the future."
Is it hard to revisit these songs now, with the burden of hindsight?
"No, I feel great peace about the way things have gone. I really do," Irglova says. "For me, it doesn't create pain. It doesn't break my heart. Really, I think the song is written from a place of peace and acceptance. Sometimes, you're not going to understand; sometimes, things don't make much sense. And when you accept them, that's enough."