Yesterday, The Frames played a gig to celebrate 25 years of great music. For some unknown reason I wasn't there! I was there 25 years ago. I bought The Dancer on 7" with a ropey home made cover. I saw them in a London club when very few others wanted to bother. I have loved the music, attitude and downright human being likeableness that is Glen Hansard down the years.
In 2003 I got the opportunity, for an article for Paste magazine, to interview Glen by email. The band had just finished work on Burn The Maps and I was in love with For The Birds. I was also interested in the Dublin music scene and where The Frames belonged to that as well as how much Van Morrison had been an influence and his interest in spirituality and Jesus.
This weekend The Frames celebrated 25 years and many of the old players joined in a celebratory gig in Iveagh Gardens in Dublin. A compilation, Longitude has been released too. I revisited this interview and thought it was still a fascinating read. Hope you enjoy...
STOCKI: How does it feel that after 13 years The Frames have finally got some of the recognition that you deserved all along?
GLEN: We feel that were doing what we set out to do. It was never a case for us of getting recognition from media… us, our audience and our peers have always been our concern. The media has never been a particular friend or foe, it’s just never been our goal to be its favourite band. We’ve done what’s been asked of us in regard to press, and no more. I think its a dangerous place to put yourself…at the mercy of something so insecure…it seems to me that popular culture has always been led by those who care least for it, not those who follow it's lead… if it truly matters nothing to you, then you may just end up its darling one day, although if you were truthful you won’t notice it either way.
STOCKI: It seems that since I first saw you in the Subterranean, London in 91 that you have been on the cusp but never dropped over the edge. How have you found the stamina to not say SOD IT and walk away?
GLEN: Because walking away has never been an option. I left school at 14, I’m not qualified to do much else. Which puts me in a strong position…do this well or give up…the latter is not a very promising prospect. I never gave myself that choice. Whether on a stage or on a street…music is what I do.
STOCKI: The Dublin scene is so strong at the moment with Damien Rice, Gemma Hayes, David Kitt etc. This is a new generation but you seem more part of it than you did of the old regime so to speak. Do you feel it is a good time for the Irish scene?
GLEN: Yes I think there is a very healthy atmosphere in Dublin, I think a large part of it is to do with the confidence of the Irish nation rising…people are no longer afraid to like bands that come from there own town. When The Frames started back in 1990 you had to get some nod from foreign press in order for people at home to pay any attention…we were ruled by the English music press…which is purely based on the cult of personality and not the tunes, fashion and rock ‘n roll stories are its agenda. I don’t regard it, and I’ve never bought it. Dublin is thriving because there is so much great music being made here. It seems that every decade, real quality emerges.
STOCKI: For The Birds is a little more laid back and ambient than most of what you do. What as the reason for that? Was it the Kittsers et al influencing the sound?
GLEN: No, it was just time to make a record of what was coming out…the natural stuff. For so long we'd been told by the industry that fast means big, loud means lots, slow means nothing and i was just so sick of that logic. The songs I was writing were slow…so that’s what we did. We were happy to make a record that might show our natural selves even though we might be ignored for it...it's not like we were applauded for our other records anyway… it just didn’t matter as long as we could stand by it and be proud..
STOCKI: What happens next? Is there a temptation to do For The Birds Part 2 to keep the new fan base?
GLEN: Records are just what they turn out to be. There’s no radical game plan…that’s for the world domination bands… I’m just mapping a life with songs. We don’t stand around under lit tables and plan our fan base strategies…forget that…if those who like The Frames like the record then great. I won’t try to con anyone that we’re the horse to watch. How base would that be!?
STOCKI: There must be songs sitting ready. What stage is the follow up at?
GLEN: We’ve just finished the basic tracks in Chicago, were happy with the work we’ve done and we will do some more work on it in the coming weeks and mix it sometime soon after that. If the basic emotion of the songs translate well…then we’ve done our record justice.
STOCKI: What kind of sound can we expect?
It's a collection of songs and so it has no set thread other than we made them. There are elements of our last two records in there and some new elements too. The song in its basic form is often the most pure…then we throw the bells and whistles on and sometimes it looks ridiculous… other times a new beauty emerges.. it’s alchemy it’s fun and at best it's art.
STOCKI: Are there more of those sad love songs about waking up in the ex's garden?
GLEN: Yeah! Lots more..
STOCKI: Are there any themes taking shape?
GLEN: I suppose a sense of well f*** it we’re lost in the middle of this life and each day brings a new possibility for adventure and safety. It’s more about enjoying the chaos now and not moaning about it anymore…what’s the point…the whole thing is so much bigger than us…so lets just enjoy the time we have here.. with its questions and doubts and abstractions and joy. The human condition is the basis. Connection with other humans is what we crave…and sharing the light keeps us alive…very Christian eh?
STOCKI: Thematically where do the ideas come from?
GLEN: From a life of map making and song. Everything’s an influence… everything.
STOCKI: How will losing David Odlum affect the next record?
GLEN: It won’t. He's still my friend…we still make music together. He's following his own north star and it's leading him toward a life of engineering and producing and there's nothing in the world that justifies keeping a person from their dreams. With regard to a noticeable sonic difference? Well I’m sure his presence will be missed…but not his spirit.
STOCKI: The live show is simply astounding. Do you prefer the stage or the studio?
GLEN: The studio and the stage are such different environments. For the longest time I thought that to recreate the live energy on tape was the desired effect...but through tearful endeavour I’ve realised it's a different process…one which we are still learning about…playing live is definitely where we are comfortable…the energy is clear and it flows in one direction…away from the band.. and the energy that returns is then converted and used instantly…it’s a very random animal the live show.
STOCKI: Covers of Tim Buckley and Van Morrison sit side by side with the Pixies in live shows. Would you call the things you listen to eclectic?
GLEN: Yeah growing up as a busker it’s all about songs and not styles.. a good song crosses the street and unlocks the passer by…to achieve a response no matter how small.. these people write great songs and I thank them for many a meal I’ve eaten through singing their tunes. Thanks from all the buskers!
STOCKI: You specifically mention Morrison as an influence to not just yourselves but to David Gray et al. For you is there an Irish kinship there?
GLEN: I think it’s the troubadour thing…the power of a man with a guitar and something to sing about. I don’t think it's particular to Ireland…it's the old way.. the poets take on the world around them.. a solitary voice that sings of a territory that’s unseen…that’s inner and abstract and emotional.. and somehow comments on us all. There’s great medicine in ramblings of a lost soul…no patronising tone to the words. I love Van Morrison because he always seems to be searching.. never found…I don’t know about his personal life but in his music he gives the listener only a question…the answer lies elsewhere…to be attained someday.
STOCKI: There is also a depth of religious imagery to what you and Morrison do. East Belfast and Dublin city have not been great ads for the Jesus of the Protestant and Catholic faiths of those respective places. Yet the message both of you have is a positive spiritual vibe. Why do you think that is?
GLEN: I’m not really sure where that comes from. My earliest memories of singing was being bathed in the sink by my mother with the suitcase record player on the sideboard, playing Leonard Cohen and Simon and Garfunkel records. She taught me the words to Bird on the Wire and the Sound of Silence, and as a very young child I just learned the sounds of the words. I was too young to know what they meant, never mind their deeper meanings. As I grew up those songs got deeper and revealed more to me. We weren’t a church going family, although my mother was and is very catholic. Apart from a 5 year falling out with God in the 90's she has always been a very strong believer. She always said, “we don’t have to go to church to talk to God”… and she viewed the church as a place of gossiping and comparisons. The whole wearing the Sunday best and showing up with the rest of the town for the weekly sermon just wasn’t high on her list of priorities. She stayed at home and cleaned on Sunday mornings with the record player so loud that she could hear it clearly over the Hoover…the rising dust caught in the sunlight were the angels ascended.
STOCKI: At a recent Belfast gig, you mentioned Jesus whipping the money changers out of the temple. Do you read a lot of stuff about him?
GLEN: I find the Bible fairly tough going as a book, but I love the imagery. It’s full of great tragedy and redemption, the fire and brimstone nature of it definitely appeals to me, although I suppose that the whole style of writing at the time was very poetic and decorative so when it says, “Jesus healed the blind, it may mean that he gave the unsee-ers back their faith…therefore restoring the vision…therefore healing the blind… and if you apply this method of thinking to every aspect of the bible and it's miracle stories then it becomes much easier to believe he really was as powerful as the book describes…because these surely were miracles, real miracles. The power and vision of a man to change the minds of people, to change laws to overthrow powers that be…it took the will and strength of a true prophet…and the book of Luke was the place were this became most clear to me. The idea of an angry Christ struck a deep chord in me…because the floating yoda we see so often in imagery never convinced me. I think he must have been a very strong and powerful man to have had such a lasting impact on the Christian world…and the whole world in fact… a great revolutionary and a deeply spiritual leader.
STOCKI: Finally, how do you go about "making your life make sense and make amends?"
GLEN: I suppose I try to remain open to the signs and to the moment I’m in. I really believe in the idea that if we are open, the mystery and the wonder are revealed to us through everything we encounter…the magic is in the moment. Although that line was born out of a sense that I wasn't in control of my own destiny anymore and I and we The Frames needed to get clear of the place we were, and to strike out on our own path and see where it brought us. So the amends we made came partly through making For The Birds and setting up our own record label and being our own bosses. The personal amends never stop…that’s the work of the everyday.