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Updated: January 25, 2013 20:53 IST

Singing his own tunes

Liza George
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MUSIC FROM HIS SOUL Glen Hansard Photo: Liza George
MUSIC FROM HIS SOUL Glen Hansard Photo: Liza George

Glen Hansard the 2008 Academy Award winner for Best Original Song was in the city. The affable musician talks about his journey in music, winning the Oscar and India

“If you told me I would be an Oscar winner one day, I would have scoffed at the idea,” says Glen Hansard the 2008 Oscar winner for Best Song. The Irish songwriter, vocalist and guitarist, was in the city in connection with Footsbarn’s staging of ‘The Indian Tempest’.

“Paddy Hayter, the director of Footsbarn Indian tour, is a friend. He invited me on the tour and I readily agreed as I have always been fascinated by India. I admit though that I had naïve impressions of India. My knowledge of India was limited to movies and BBC documentaries on the country. But on actually coming to India, I was overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells. I arrived in Kerala two weeks ago and was in Thrissur most of the time. As the International Theatre Festival of Kerala was going on, I managed to watch a couple of plays. There was this play by a group of children from Kollam that was outstanding. I forget its name.”

Pointing to a piece of olive green twine tied around his hand, he says, “India is a land of colour. One wouldn’t find a twine in such a shade of colour in Ireland. I went to the Connemara Market at Palayam this morning and enjoyed the experience. I picked up some old rice sacks. They will be perfect to carry chopped wood back home. I also bought a really old book on Ayurveda,” says Glen who divides his time between Dublin and New York.

Glen won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for his ‘Falling Slowly’, which he co-wrote with Marketa Irglova for the movie Once. The musician is also an actor. He starred with Marketa in Once. He has also acted in an episode of ‘Parenthood’, an American comedy-drama television series. However, Glen is quick to say that music is where his heart is.

“My mother, Catherine, had a collection of music by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and the like. Her favourite thing to do on a Sunday was to clean the house whilst listening to the records. My uncle taught me a couple of chords on the guitar and my mom taught me to play Cohen’s ‘Bird on the wire,’” recalls Glen.

Glen knew even at the age of 13 that music was his vocation. “One of my teachers told me that if music was my ambition then I should drop out of school and pursue my passion.” And so, Glen dropped out of school and began busking on the Dublin streets. But didn’t his parents oppose his decision? “My mother said: ‘Do what makes you happy and keeps you happy’. My dad, James, too was supportive of my decision.”

At the age of 19, Glen recorded his first album ‘Another Love Song’ with his band The Frame. “The members of The Frame are friends from childhood. We have been together for 22 years now. We are brothers.”

Glen writes the lyrics for all his songs. “It is difficult to sing something that is not mine, not from my thoughts and emotions. My songs talk about people trying to find themselves.” The musician calls his genre of music ‘folk song when it’s done right’. “The song should be bigger than the singer. Take ‘Stand by me’, for instance. Everyone knows the song but few know or care that Ben E. King was the original performer. The song should be bigger than me,” says the man who enjoys listening to music of “all kind”. Glen has recently brought out a solo called ‘Rhythm and Repose’.

When he is not busy with his music, Glen enjoys carpentry. He also enjoys tinkering about in the kitchen and says his roast chicken is a hit amongst friends and family.

Ask him if he plans to return to India soon and he says: “Yes. I plan to hire a bike and drive from Thiruvananthapuram to Mumbai.”

Oscar fever

Ask him about how he felt when he received the Oscar and whether he has a special place for it in his home and Glen replies: “I struggled to reach where I am and it feels great when my work is recognised. I am glad that more and more people are tuning in to my work. I still remain motivated by my love for musical expressions and connecting with my audience. As for a special place for my Oscar, well, my father died soon after I won the award. He was so proud that I won it that I wanted to lay it by his grave. My mother dissuaded me, however. She keeps it in her bedroom by her bedside. Her house was robbed recently and she lost her TV, money, jewellery..., everything except the Oscar. The thieves must have thought it was a fake!”

The Indian Tempest

As one of the musicians of the play had to cut short the tour on account of an emergency in the family, Glen played the guitar and the drums for the performance in the city.

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