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- Posted on May 30th 2012 3:30PM by Ian Gormely
"I needed a year where I'm not on a bus," Hansard tells Spinner. "After five years of doing that you feel like you're having a continuous nervous breakdown."
Looking for a bit of "anchoring" he hatched a plan to spend the entirety of 2011 in the Big Apple to find a different headspace. Besides sleeping in and soaking up the city's ambiance, Hansard hooked up with friend and sometimes tour mate Thomas Bartlett, known professionally as Doveman, at his semi-monthly Burgundy Stain Sessions at the Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street.
"The whole idea you just get up and call a few chords, this is how the beat goes and I'll give you a nod for the chord change, keep an eye on me," says Hansard of the sessions.
On his first visit, the group jammed out some of Hansard's latest compositions, yielding impressive results. Keen to document them, he booked a day's worth of studio time the next week to record demos.
"Listening to the songs over and over, I was really impressed with the playing," he says. "I realized this was the start of a new project."
That new project is Rhythm and Repose, the first album Hansard's released under his own name.
"It just felt like it was time for me," he says. "It's kind of a personal thing -- it's time to own your own shit."
Hansard and Poisson Rouge posse recorded seven songs in that first day, which formed the core of the album. Three subsequent recording stints brought the total to 22.
"We had an absolute ball making the record," says Hansard. "It was really easy. There was no stress, and I didn't go into a tunnel of darkness."
He credits the ease to being in New York and the multitude of talent lurking within the town. Where most of Hansard's records had been made in Dublin, he discovered that working in New York puts musicians like composer Nico Muhly, Bon Iver's Rob Moose and the National's Bryan Devendorf only a phone call away.
"New York, with no disrespect to any other city is the city of excellence," he says. "Everyone there is at the top of their game. That's what attracts them to the big city."
This issn't the first time Hansard has drawn inspiration from New York. He was supposed to spend a month doing a series of sessions at the Iroquois Hotel with local songwriters in the early '90s. It didn't work out exactly as planned.
"It's a thing [record companies] do to songwriters," he says. "They sign you up because they thing you've got something. And then they absolutely knock all your confidence from the moment they sign you."
Hansard skipped the sessions and instead set to work on writing what would become Fitzcaraldo, the Frames' breakthrough.
"I Just couldn't bring myself to go sit in a room with a stranger," he says. "I was so angry at being dropped [by Island Records] that I wrote all these songs at the Hotel, which were basically fuck you, I will fucking show you."
Besides birthing his latest release, New York also gave Hansard the chance to reflect on the whirlwind of success that followed the release of Once, the film that starred himself and Irglová, eventually winning the Oscar for Best Original for the music the duo wrote as the Swell Season.
"You've hit this pinnacle in your life, and bam the guy that you've been for 20 years, who's struggling and coming up, is dead," he says. "Now you're the guy that's done something."
That success was bolstered by the real life romance that blossomed between Hansard and Irglová while promoting the film. Their relationship and its disintegration were detailed in last year's documentary the Swell Season. But while Hansard says a new Frames record is his next priority (though they haven't release a record since 2006's the Cost, members have backed Hansard on tour with the Swell Season and will accompany him to promote Rhythm and Repose) he says he wouldn't close the book on his and Irglová's musical collaboration just yet.
"I would go back to it in a heartbeat," he says. "But the only way that's ever going to work is if me and Mar hang out and write a few songs together. I'm not interested in getting together with her with a couple of her songs and a bunch of mine and putting them out as a Swell Season record. Our friendship is bigger than that.
"What's the chances of me and Mar getting into a room together over the next couple years and making music? Quite slim right now. But we're really good friends. We got together a couple weeks ago and we did something. And it was like, 'We can do this. We know how to do this.' We're good with each other. She's really good at pointing out my weaknesses. There's nothing that's going to direct that more than just me and her meeting. She's literally the most authentic artist I know."