We first met Markéta Irglová five years ago, when she was only 18, a quiet and charming character in Once, the film about music and love that stole hearts around the world. Irglová’s “almost-relationship” in the movie with fellow musician Glen Hansard became a reality when a real-life relationship blossomed, and then, suddenly, ended.
Irglová and Hansard formed the Swell Season, and their musical and personal journey was recently made into another movie, The Swell Season. It mostly focuses on tough times and personal struggles between the two artists — their conversations, their dreams, their life at home and on the road.
It finds Irglová in a new role, one much different than the character she played in Once. We find that Irglová is a woman with pure confidence in herself, and we learn a lot about her core beliefs in The Swell Season, one of the strongest documentaries in the past few years. It’s an emotional journey, especially the moments when we’re taken behind the scenes and into the personal lives of two musicians who faced a bright moment of fame after winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2007.
Irglová and Hansard may have gone their separate ways, personally and musically, in the past year, but both are not resting on their laurels. Hansard recently found himself on a solo tour opening for Eddie Vedder, and the Czech-born Irglová released her first solo album, Anar, a collection of personal songs that has received critical acclaim.
We were recently offered the wonderful opportunity to speak with Irglová about her solo career, The Swell Season, and what happened that night at the Oscars in 2007. Enjoy.
With the release of your first solo record, and the tour, what’s sort of going through your mind right now?
I’m honestly just really, really excited. This project started out as a small one, and it’s kind of blossomed into this full-grown thing that is just blowing me away at the moment. I’m just really happy that the record is out there now, and that we’re doing these shows — and I’m not doing them alone — I’m doing them with my friends, and I’m really happy they’re a part of it. For me, this is a very new experience, you know, and I’m really excited about it, because I love playing music and I loved making this record. So, it’s definitely a great time for me.
Would you say these songs are personal for you?
Oh yeah, very. I mean, I don’t think I could write songs that weren’t personal for me. I could, but I wouldn’t like it; it wouldn’t be interesting to me. What I like about writing songs is that, you know, I go and I dig deep within and I ask myself questions, and I ask the world questions, and I come to conclusions and I express whatever truth I find for myself. If they weren’t personal or somehow true to me, I don’t think I could expect anybody else to find anything true in them for themselves, you know?
Definitely. Is there anything different about writing these for a solo record versus writing them for a Swell Season record?
No, not really, it’s just that I’m writing more songs! (laughs) I mean, I would always, up until now, write two or three songs each year, because that was kind of the dynamic of the Swell Season, and I was pretty comfortable with that and I didn’t feel like changing it at all. I knew that it was always mainly Glen’s songs, and I that I would have two or three songs on the record.
It was only when I knew that the Swell Season was going to take a break that I decided to create the circumstances to continue making music, and I became a little more committed to being a songwriter, and a little more disciplined to sit at the piano every day. The more songs you write, the better you get, so I definitely feel like my songwriting has been enriched a little bit, so that’s a good feeling.
You’re only 23, and your career has already taken you through a lot of big moments. Has that helped you become confident?
Yeah, definitely it has. Working with Glen…Glen has been very good in terms of being supportive and encouraging to me, and he’s always treated me as an equal. I’ve observed him writing music and creating music, and the role he has given me, the weight he has attributed to my opinion — all of those things have made me more confident. So, he’s helped me tremendously, and of course, whatever success we’ve had so far has only added to that.
For a long time in the Swell Season, I was just going with the flow, and it was only until I knew we were going to take a break…and I was facing the decision to stop making music or continue making music in whatever shape or form I can create for myself. And having made the decision to continue, and to create the experience for myself has been a very empowering feeling. So, once I accepted the responsibility of being a musician, and this is what I want to do, there has been a sense of confidence that has come with that decision. And it feels very nice.
Was it difficult at the start, though, to not have Glen there?
I definitely miss Glen and miss the guys in the Swell Season very much. Our time together, we have shared so much, and have had such incredible times, and difficult times, too. Those times kind of bond you closer. I definitely have been missing the idea — the feeling of being part of the Swell Season family. At the same time, I’ve been enjoying the feeling of something very liberating — like Glen is not there to go to for approval or validation — I have to believe in the songs myself. I feel like that was an important stage for me, to find the kind of confidence I was talking about.
And so, I also know that all things in life have a start and an end, and as much as there is always a sense of mourning when an end comes, there should also be a feeling of excitement that there is a new beginning. I also feel like none of my friendships with the guys are over, so I know that there will possibly be another Swell Season record sooner or later. So, yeah.
Living in the moment for what it is is a good thing for music, I’m sure. Going back to the record, my favorite song is “For Old Times’ Sake.” That’s the one that really hit home for me. Can you talk a little bit about what that one means to you?
Yeah, that song was kind of written about the idea that…I feel that all relationships are very complex, they are never just straightforward. And I feel like that song is acknowledging that one layer of the relationship is peeling off, and you’re shedding that layer, and as much as a sense of sadness that comes with that, it’s just not all of the relationship. And the only way to discover whatever good about that layer is, is to allow that layer that is old and worn out to shed, and to let it go, and not suffer.
By letting go of the old, there can be room for something new to spring to life. There can be so much more if you allow it to move to that new level, you know? I feel like at the end of parting, there should only be gratitude — to thank the person for the good and the bad, for all that you have shared together. The person who you were with was only a teacher. There is great liberation in that approach, that you’re not unwilling to forgive…or thinking that some unforgiveness is going to keep a person prisoner — you’re only holding yourself prisoner. So, the song says that there should be nothing but gratitude at this parting from one another.
I sense a new beginning in a lot of these songs. Learning from everything that happens in your life.
Yeah, you’re right. In general, it’s a theme that I’m very much interested in, only because we experience it every day, and you kind of have to strive to be that person — the person who is not afraid to let go, who is always ready to embrace the next experience. It holds a lot of relevance to me, you know?
For sure. Well, one more question, and here goes nothing. The first time I saw you perform was at the Oscars, on television, when you won an Oscar. And they brought you back out to say a few words, after it had looked like you were not going to be able to thank people and say a few words. How did that happen? How did you get your moment?
Well, it was kind of a misunderstanding, to be honest with you. When Glen and I were talking, prior to the Oscars, we were given this DVD of Tom Hanks telling you, “Okay, you’ve been nominated, and congratulations, and in preparation of the event, these are the things you should know.” I don’t really remember the advice of what was being given, but what I do remember was that he was saying that from the moment your name gets called out, you only have one minute until they want you off stage, and that’s including the time it takes you to get to the stage.
And I was talking to Glen before the event, I was saying to Glen, “Look, let’s not abuse our welcome if we do find ourselves up there receiving the award. So, if we get called up, you just say a few words, and I will say ‘thank you.'” Because, again, that was our dynamic — Glen usually does all the talking on stage, and he is a very good talker! And also, it just felt like Glen should be given room to say something, if we were given the award. So, that was my idea.
And when we were receiving the award, Glen did say a few words, and I did go to the microphone to say, ‘Thank you very much.” And that’s all I wanted to say, so I walked off the stage. And I didn’t realize at that moment that the microphone had been turned off, or that the music had started, you know? I simply just said what I wanted to say and I walked off.
So, we go off stage, and we have our champagne, and we’re taking our photograph with our award, and they told me, “Oh, don’t go yet, they were just saying they want you back on stage so you can give your speech.” And I was so high on the experience, so elevated, that I really didn’t know what they were saying completely, but I was just like, “Okay, okay, I will say it.”
And then, Jon Stewart was announcing me to come back on stage, and only in that moment did I realize that, “Oh my God, this is actually part of the televised show!” And when I was walking on stage, I was wondering what I was going to say…so I decided to just reach within and express whatever it was the most prominent feeling of mine in that second. And that was…I had this overwhelming sense of love — I had enough love in my heart at that moment for everyone in the room, everyone in the world. I was so overjoyed. It was an extraordinary feeling for me.
Joy just gives birth to love, you know? And so, I felt incredibly connected with everybody, and I really wished to express in that moment the idea of us being interconnected — that the moment didn’t just belong to Glen and I, that the moment belonged to everybody who wants to be part of the moment or share the same dream or needed that encouragement. And I tried to express that no matter what, we’re all one, and we’re all connected. I honestly have always been the person who completely believes the unbelievable, the person who sees possible in the impossible. I truly believe that openness has been exactly what has brought this experience into my life. I do believe that.