The Swell Season

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Czech musician Marketa Irglova is just 21 years old, but as one-half of the indie folk duo, The Swell Season, she already lists three albums, an Oscar, and two Grammy nominations among her many accomplishments. She speaks with Marco Werman about The Swell Season's latest album, Strict Joy.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. In a minute, the answer to today's Geo Quiz. There's a musical connection to the answer, and here it is.

MARKETA IRGLOVA: [Singing]

WERMAN: That's Czech singer Marketa Irglova singing, "I Have Loved You Wrong," a song she wrote for the latest album by her band The Swell Season. Marketa is one half of The Swell Season. Glen Hansard, front man for the Irish band "The Frames" is the other half. Hansard and Irglova won an Oscar for their song, "Falling Slowly" from the movie "Once" in 2008. Hansard is from Dublin, Ireland and that's where Irglova lives now, but that's not where she's from. Marketa Irglova joins us actually from New York today. Marketa, you played Radio City Music Hall last night going from a small town in the Czech Republic to the Oscars and now this venue, which looms so large in the American musical landscape. How was it last night?

MARKETA: It was actually wonderful and I was pretty aware of exactly what you were saying and that I'm so fortunate in where I found myself to be. And before we sound checked, there was a line check and some man was trying out the PA. So I went out into the venue and I sat in one of the seats because I was curious as to what it is from the perspective of the audience. And I was sitting there in full awareness of just how amazing it is and how lucky I am to be there because this kind of a lifestyle has almost kind of found me than me really trying to pursue it. So everyday, I kind of look around and I go, "I'm actually a musician now for real, and how did it happen?" And yet, you know, it's the most natural thing and I really feel so lucky to be able to do this.

WERMAN: Well, we'll talk a bit more about your music in a moment, but first we need to know where you are from in the Czech Republic. But we don't want you to tell us Marketa. We've got someone else to tell us the name of your town, and where it is.

MR. IRGLOVA: Vala?ske Meziříčí. If you could imagine the map of Europe and it would connect the Vienna town and Warsaw capital in Poland so somewhere in the middle on the mid line you would hit my town.

MARKETA: Oh, yeah, that's wonderful.

WERMAN: Do you know that is?

MARKETA: Of course. My dad.

WERMAN: That's right. It turns out that one of our producers here at The World lives next door to friends of your parents here in Boston, and he had a chance to talk with your father some time. So I've got to ask you, Marketa, how did you go Vala?ske Meziříčí in the Czech Republic to being one-half of the very successful Swell Season now living in Ireland? I must say you've established something of a little Irish brogue there.

MARKETA: Oh, yeah, well I've just been around the Irish for a long time. The Frames, which is Glen's band and the band that I now play with, they came over to the Czech Republic in 2001 just to kind of do a couple of gigs in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. And my dad was helping to organize the gigs. He was kind of the Czech connection who spoke the language and could help with the arrangements. And when the band came over, my parents just threw a big party for them in our house, and we all hung out. And then Glen just kind of defended my parents really, and he liked the town.

I think he just liked having somewhere to go to and be quiet and be able to write songs. So he then kind of visited us and spent a week at a time in the house, and while he was there he'd do a few gigs. And as he knew I played the piano and sang, he just kind of though would you come on stage and maybe play something or sing harmony. So I did and it started in this really kind of humble fashion and me just kind of playing along to a tune or something. Then, it just kind of rolled like a snowball and every year he came back and we'd do more songs together.

THE SWELL SEASON: [Singing]

WERMAN: What's interesting is that it sounds as you say gradually and very naturally, but you've got Glen Hansard who comes from Ireland with this very strong musical identity, Ireland does. And then the Czech Republic has it own kind of identity as this crossroads for Roma music, which ages ago came from Central Asia. I mean, were there any kind of stumbling blocks between the collaboration between you and Glen?

MARKETA: Not at all because I think we both appreciate kind hearing new approaches to things, and we enjoy whatever each other has to bring to the table. I'm more of a classical background, and he has more of a kind of basquing [PH] background, and he's very intuitive about the way he plays music. So for me because I was classically trained I knew all the theory and I could play the instrument but I wasn't really encouraged in school to improvise and all that. So that's just kind of what I discovered through playing with Glen is to be able to make up the stuff you play by yourself as opposed to kind of reading from a sheet of paper. And I used to sing in a choir as well. So I love doing loads of different vocals and stuff like that, which he always enjoyed the harmonies and stuff. So I think we compliment each other in ways, and we kind of complete each other in other ways. To be honest, I don't think that if wasn't playing with The Swell Season, I wouldn't really have any great ambition to necessarily have my solo career, because I really do ?

WERMAN: You wouldn't?

MARKETA: Well, I love playing music and I love writing my own songs. But I do enjoy the dynamic that we have established and safe between me and Glen where he's the leader of the band, and I kind of just color and complement, and then maybe come up front for a song or two. I like this much better than the idea of just my own gigs where I'm the front guy, well, not the front guy, all the time.

WERMAN: Well, we'll go out with one of you handful of compositions with The Swell Season. This is the song "Fantasy Man." Marketa Irglova from the Czech Republic Town of Vala?ske Meziříčí. It's been great talking with you.

MARKETA: And you. Thank you.

MARKETA: [Singing]

WERMAN: The Swell Season play a benefit for Haiti tonight at the City Winery in New York. From the Nan and Bill Harris Studios at WGBH, I'm Marco Werman. Thanks for tuning in.