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Exclusive: The Swell Season Returns With First New Music In 13 Years

Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's 'The Answer Is Yes' arrives ahead of a summer North American tour
Photo: David Cleary

On the heels of a successful but brief 2022 North American tour, their first in nearly 11 years, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are back today (June 26) with their first new Swell Season song since 2010. While preparing for more live dates this summer, the duo behind the Oscar-winning film and Tony-winning Broadway smash Once worked on “The Answer Is Yes” together over the past two months at Irglová’s Iceland-based Masterkey Studios. Its accompanying video was shot by Once photographer David Cleary.

“Our music has been a part of people’s personal journeys and love stories, so I wanted the song to be an acknowledgement of that and all that came before. I wanted it to be positive and joyous,” Irglová tells SPIN by phone from Masterkey, which shares a building with her home. “It’s nostalgic in parts, but it also takes a look at where we both are now.”

Cleary’s video reinforces that bond with footage of Irglová and Hansard playing with their respective young children, and even a brief shot of their Academy Award for Once resting nonchalantly on a table. “The Answer Is Yes” was produced by Irglová’s husband Sturla Mio Thorisson and features frequent Swell Season collaborators Marja Gaynor and Bertrand Galen, plus Icelandic musicians Tina Dico and Helgi Hrafn Jónsson (vocals), Þorvaldur Þór Þorvaldsson (drums) and Guðmundur Óskar Guðmundsson (bass).

“The lyric is very honest and speaks very much to our story — it’s basically me and her in a song,” Hansard tells SPIN. “When I write a song, I’m moving in several directions on purpose, and I like it. Mar speaks about something very clearly, and I really admire that too. The spirit of the song is, this happened, that happened, I was hurt, you were hurt. Was it all worth it? The answer is yes, of course. I just think that it’s really powerful.”

Despite the long layoff from writing together, Hansard and Irglová now find themselves blessed with a host of new ideas in progress, although nobody is saying the word “album” just yet. “We realized that it still flows as easily as it once has,” says Irglová of her musical connection with Hansard. “That’s something you cannot rely on. People go through their lives and they change, and it’s not always when you can meet in a place where you resonate with each other’s ideas. There’s something about Glen having a baby and being in a particular place in his life — content, and happy with where he is, and me being in the same place. Sitting at the piano and playing guitar has always been easy for us. There’s a communication and understanding — almost like telepathy. The nice surprise to me is just how in tune we are on the other levels as well.”

“When these summer gigs got booked, Mar wanted to write a couple of new songs so it would be more than just songs from Once,” Hansard adds. “I was like, great. I’ll come over. It was immediately obvious that the old creative spark was there. Suddenly it was like, now we’re racking up the numbers. Now it’s not just us going in to record a couple of songs — there’s a whole body of ideas bubbling and simmering, and that’s the most exciting thing.”

Both artists say Iceland’s inherent natural beauty and the homey aspects of the recording environment have contributed greatly to the vibe. “The recording process is often infiltrated with comfort — home-cooked meals, cups of tea in the garden. You can relax a little more,” Irglová says. “Instead of getting stressed out about time or pressure to deliver, you’re enjoying it. It makes inspiration much easier to access and make its way into the day.”

“What’s really knocking me out is that she’s the most incredible host,” Hansard enthuses of his time in Iceland. “Every meal is unbelievable, and she insists on cooking. She’s downstairs cooking, but also writing in a notebook or singing to herself. All these songs keep coming out of her! We had this joke — every dessert is like three different cakes, plus a great song she just came up with. It’s quite a creative streak.”

Indeed, both musicians paused work on their next solo projects (Irglová’s will likely be released early next year, while Hansard’s is due out in October) so as not to interrupt the Swell Season flow. Following July 13-14 warmup shows in Dublin, the pair will head back out on the road for a more extensive tour starting Aug. 8 at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. They’ll be backed by violinist Gaynor, cellist Galen, bassist Joe Doyle, and as-yet-unnamed drummer at the shows, which Hansard says will keep things dynamic for both themselves and the audience.

“We would love to keep it really simple, like, more songs just Mar and I playing together. That’s the most courageous thing to do,” Hansard says. “Where that’s limited is that, dynamically, it’s a lot to ask the audience to sit for two hours and listen to just the two of us. When we play something like ‘When Your Mind’s Made Up,’ we can lean into it and let the music rise up when we have these other instruments at our disposal.”