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When the Swell Season took the stage at the 2008 Oscars, the then-relatively-little-known band's appearance seemed incongruous. Instead, the two triumphed. And the occasion proved that in the end, a good song can win the day; it just needs to be heard.
Two years later, Glen Hansard — who, with Markéta Irglová, makes up the Swell Season — remains somewhat agog over the showing. "The Oscars was amazing," Hansard says by phone from a Dublin restaurant. "It was totally surreal. In a way, you've been invited into a party that you may have always railed against. I mean, I guess the Oscars is the establishment to the max. But at the same time, we were supporting our film, and our film was this tiny little thing, and to be invited into that world was such a strange, mad honor. So I'm actually incredibly overjoyed."
The film Hansard's talking about is Once, the surprise Irish indie hit in which he played a Dublin busker who joins with (and kind of falls for) a Czech girl nearly 20 years his junior. The song in question is "Falling Slowly." And get this: It did win that Academy Award, for Best Original Song.
"Falling Slowly" and the overall soundtrack from which it came also earned the twosome a Grammy nomination. Once won an Independent Spirit Award as well. Still, it was that Oscar moment that has stayed etched in folks' minds and left Hansard feeling perhaps just a little un-indie.
"You can get all defensive about it up to a point," he continues, "and suddenly you're invited, and you go, 'Of course I want to go!' Then you sorta realize so much of our bullshit indie-rock attitude about the world has to do with the fact that we really want something and we don't think we can have it."
You'll find none of that bad indie attitude with this onetime couple, who really didn't intend on being a band to begin with — or at least not calling themselves one anyway. Even their name, which was culled from a novel by Czech writer Josef Škvorecký, came about quite by chance when a friend provided a copy for them to read in the studio.
The accidental band became the real deal with the surprise success of Once. "We just thought, 'We're playing these songs, so let's just call the band the Swell Season.' " Then, late last year, the Swell Season followed up Once with the album Strict Joy.
The LP is the duo's first for powerhouse indie label ANTI-, home of such esteemed names as Nick Cave, Neko Case, and Tom Waits. It is also home of the Frames, the band in which Hansard first made his name. Since the Swell Season's success, the Frames have been on a sort of hiatus, but Hansard promises that they too will be coming to your town real soon, in celebration of the group's 20-year anniversary.
And since the Frames will be back in action, Hansard says he will probably play fewer of their songs in a Swell Season set. As for "Into the Mystic" and "And the Healing Has Begun," the two Van Morrison songs the Swell Season covered on the collector's edition of Once, well, the chances are good you'll hear those — or something similar.
"Sometimes, to have a laugh, if there's a band that we like from the city, we'll try to do one of their songs," Hansard adds. "When we were down in Australia, we did an AC/DC song. Basically if you're somewhere like Nashville, you probably try to learn a Hank Williams tune, or Willie Nelson if you're in Austin. It can be kind of a disaster, or it can be kind of fun."
Perhaps in Miami, then, they'll pull out some 2 Live Crew or KC and the Sunshine Band? "That's a good one," he says with a laugh. "KC and the Sunshine Band would be fantastic. Thanks — you've just given me an idea."