Yesterday, we gave you a track and video from our BOTW, Glen Hansard. We spoke to him a couple of weeks ago about Irish music culture, the plights of the singer-songwriter and his favourite new music. Read Hansard’s insightful observations below.
You grew up in Ireland. Were there any distinctive qualities about the country’s music culture that had a lasting effect on the music you make?
Ireland is one of those countries that, for some reason, is dripping with the arts. Maybe it’s something to do with our weather – we’ve always done indoor activities, because essentially our weather’s really bad. We tend to stay indoors, sit by the fire and tell stories.
And we’re also a nation that internalises. Someone once said that the English use the English language to describe how they feel, whereas the Irish use the English language to hide how they feel. Joyce said that if you force English on us, we’re gonna fuck it up and reinvent it. The Irish have a healthy disrespect for language and it’s helped us to get to a point where we’re making something new of it.
Because you’re such an established musician with a great reputation, do you get anxious when it comes to putting out a new release as to how people will react?
No. As a creative being you’re always trying to make decent work. Reputation involves an idea of fame, and I’m not interested in all that bullshit. It’s not what you do but what you continue to do that defines you. It’s not my place to say who I am as an artist or what I do. All I do is serve the work, and if I do that well then my work might one day serve me.
My goal is to write a few good songs – that’s really it. I didn’t really intend to make a solo record; I was just hanging out with a bunch of friends, we started recording and it sounded really good. It wasn’t made by The Frames or The Swell Season, so I thought fuck it I’ll give it my own name.
You’ve worked with a number of great musicians in your lifetime. Is there anyone in particular who you can say had a significant impact on your music?
I’ve been lucky enough in my life to spend moments in the company of some great musicians, and in those moments you become hyper-conscious of every second that passes, and you get to subconsciously drink in some of their genius.
I would put a lot of my changes and good qualities in my music down to the influence of people like Van Morrison and Jimmy Cliff, and Javier Mas who’s an incredibly gifted musician. I got to spend a bit of time in the company of Levon Helm – there’s a man who loves music more than anything else, and was kind of unimpressed with everything else except the song. I would like to think that music is simply something that you serve.
I was thinking about how established singer-songwriters don’t often get the global recognition they deserve, whereas less credible pop artists seem to top the charts worldwide. Do you think that’s fair?
I believe that it’s all valid or nothing is valid. Maybe some singer-songwriters in their heart of hearts don’t necessarily want to be famous; or maybe they once had that fame and were satisfied with that attention, and don’t need it any more.
People forget that the artist themselves might not give a fuck. Everyone assumes that an artist is constantly craving attention, and that’s a very valid position to take because most are. But there are some who are just more concerned with being happy and writing a good tune rather than being on the cover of magazines and being on tour away from family and friends. It’s foolish to assume that every artist that isn’t getting recognised is somehow in pain for not being recognised. If you want to be embraced by the world, you must go out and tour and work hard. There’s a difference between an artist and a careerist.
So as an artist, how do you think your songwriting has changed over the years and in what ways?
It has for me, personally. I still speak in the vernacular of a relationship, but that has broadened to a relationship between me and my family, me and my God, my country – all of those things. My writing has shifted a lot, and it’s a personal thing that I can’t really expound upon too much.
I feel good in the spot I’m in now, but one always needs to go deeper. If you’re doing your job well you might as well sing yourself to silence, like how Samuel Beckett broke himself down as a writer until he said very little. I think someone like Bill Callahan is one of the great modern writers of our time, because with every record he says less and that’s more profound.
Do you pay attention to new artists? Are there any up and coming musicians that you’re listening to at the moment?
There’s an amazing guy here called Sam Amidon, who I just adore. He’s a guy from Vermont who is doing something really beautiful. Fionn Regan also. I believe that someone is really good, you’re gonna hear them; if someone is being hyped you may hear their name but you may never listen to their music. I’m not concerned with what’s cool to be honest with you; whats concerns me is quality, so if someone is really good you’re gonna hear them because your friends and the rest of the world is going to deliver it to your ears.