It might never be mentioned in the same breath as Brian May’s Red Special or Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstrat, but Glen Hansard’s trusty six-string, the Horse, has certainly served the Irish musician well. “I bought the guitar new in 1992 out of the money I got from The Commitments, because it was a good, decent guitar,” he recalls. “It’s certainly had the life knocked out of it a bit. It’s got a gaping wound… the plectrum is like this little plastic chisel. It’s got more to do with me not playing well than anything, but also, when you’re a busker, you’re hitting the guitar quite hard because you want to be heard.”
Busking holds special significance in Hansard’s life. Prior to forming rock outfit The Frames, Hansard and his Horse could be heard on the streets of Dublin, drawing in passers-by. “[Busking] is the foundation for all I do,” he says. “If you think about standing on the Melbourne Recital Centre stage, it’s not really that different. The only difference is the crowd have decided to be with you for that couple of hours. But they’re still going to walk on their way to and from the show and they’re going to carry on with their lives.
“Really, the best compliment you can get is when someone stops and listens to you,” Hansard continues. “That’s the beginning of your career right there – much more than someone throwing you a couple of quid and saying, ‘Nice one,’ and walking on. When they walk on, you’ve not really made any impact. But when someone stops and listens to you, before you know it, you’re sitting in a bar with these people and you’re travelling, you’re visiting their countries. Suddenly the world is opening up to you. The guitar is like a big key. It’s a fascinating thing.”
The 2007 film Once, directed by John Carney, opened up a world of new opportunities for Hansard, who had ultimately become restless in spite of The Frames’ accomplishments. “When I was about 34, I just remember thinking, ‘This really is a long road.’ I was having a great time, we were in a band and the band was playing to people – all the things you would hope. People were listening to our records and getting something from them. What is the success of an album? That it gets listened to.
“But at about 34, I remember getting a little angry that things were taking so fucking long. Then my friend John was like, ‘I’m making this film and I would love for you to be part of it.’ It gave me some hope; I don’t know why. There was something about making this music film with MarkОta [IrglovЗ] and John, it just gave me a shot in the arm.”
Once, a film that “took three weeks to make” and “cost nothing”, became a hit. Its stars, Hansard and IrglovЗ, had also composed and performed the soundtrack, scooping an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Hansard went on to perform with IrglovЗ as The Swell Season before embarking upon a solo career. Recently, he’s enjoyed playing alongside some iconic names including Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. “It’s quite a magical thing if you get into it. As a kid, if you love someone like Dylan or Leonard Cohen, how miraculous that you end up actually getting to spend time with these people.”
There’s a sense that Hansard has newfound contentment in his career. “You don’t want to give it too much talk but it really just shows that, if you focus on something, every part of your body sets sail for that destination. Every breath of wind that blows in that direction, you’re using and utilising. I think human beings are tapping into only a tiny bit of their manifesting power. Without wanting to sound new-agey, we literally invent the road before us.”
Hansard already has his immediate future mapped out. Having toured tirelessly, spoiling fans with the release of not only a debut album (Rhythm And Repose) but a follow-up EP (Drive All Night), his plans for the short term come as no surprise. “What’s next for me is the spring, and most of the summer, in my house in Dublin – planting vegetables, making furniture. Being a son, being a brother, being a friend – an available friend. The next few months of my life, I’m not even thinking about music. If I make music, great. If I don’t, great. I’m putting no pressure on it. Sometime in the autumn, I’ll get serious about making a record, but I absolutely need to not think about it until then.
“I’m dedicated to this life and the life of music and songwriting, but you need to respect it. If you work hard in any field, there comes a point where you burn out and lose your way a bit. You have to be careful of that. If you go into that state, you can find yourself spinning out for years and not being creative for years. So out of respect for my work, I’m going to let whatever field it is that I mine, as a songwriter, rest.”
Ironically, when Hansard last set aside time to relax, inspiration for Rhythm And Repose took hold. “The muse holds no appointment with anyone,” he concedes. “It just comes when it comes.”