Singer/songwriter & pianist Marketa Irglova has had an acclaimed, successful music career that spans 15 years, beginning when she was a teenager. She was just 17 when she was selected to play the lead female role in the independent music movie, Once. This film became such a worldwide success that it catapulted the careers of Irish singer/songwriter Glen Hansard (who played the lead role) and Irglova.
Once became a popular, beloved movie, and it introduced Hansard & Irglova to a worldwide music & movie audience. The Once soundtrack album was a best seller, and it led to the duo (as the Swell Season) to record & release a follow-up album, Strict Joy, in 2009. In addition, a hit Broadway musical was created from the movie. Once (the musical) subsequently won eight Tony Awards (including Best Musical) and touring companies are still performing this show.
One of the songs that Hansard & Irglova wrote for the film, “Falling Slowly,” has become a classic. This song is a beautiful, unique ballad that won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards in 2008. Since then, several top artists have recorded the song, including Josh Groban and Il Divo.
In addition to her work with the Swell Season, Irglova has developed a career as a solo artist. She previously released the albums Anar (in 2011) and Muna (2014), and she’s now released her third album, Lila, which is her first album in eight years. Irglova, who is originally from the Czech Republic, now lives in Reykjavik, Iceland with her husband, Sturla Mio Thorisson, and their three children.
Lila is an impressive album that displays Irglova’s continued development as a solo artist. It contains some of her best songs to date, and her lead vocals show added strength and maturity. The album’s songs thoughtfully reflect on her life over the past eight years. She has now been married to her husband for 10 years, and they’re raising a family. Notably, Irglova also works closely with her husband as a creative team, and he was the producer & engineer for her new album.
Here’s the video of Marketa Irglova’s new song, “My Roots
Lila is an album that consists of graceful, melodic, piano-based songs that are personal and emotional. The album features Irglova’s heartfelt, expressive lead vocals, and there are appealing background harmonies added. Several songs include beautiful string arrangements that add richness and texture.
One of the best songs on the album is “My Roots Go Deep.” This is an excellent ballad that Irglova wrote about her family life and the collaboration she’s shared with her husband over the past decade. Also noteworthy is the song “Girl From a Movie,” where she reflects on how her movie notoriety with Once has affected her life and relationships, and people’s perception of her. Other highlights include “The Season” and “The Way.” And the album closes strongly with “Know Yourself,” which has a positive theme about believing in yourself, and it features an orchestral arrangement.
Interestingly, earlier this year Irglova reunited onstage with Hansard to perform six sold-out shows in the U.S., which celebrated the 15th anniversary of Once. The duo performed songs from the film plus key songs from their solo careers. Hansard & Irglova are discussing plans to tour next year and record a new album.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Marketa Irglova. She talks about the making of her new album, Lila, and her life over the past eight years. She also tells how she wrote (with Hansard) the classic hit “Falling Slowly” and other songs from the Once soundtrack.
DK: You’re about to release your new album, Lila, which is your first album in eight years. Can you talk about the past eight years for you, leading up to your new album?
Marketa Irglova: In the past eight years, I had three children, and I’ve tried to spend as much time as I could with them when they were little babies. Because of my music work, I can do what I do anywhere, so I just adjusted my work. And since I couldn’t tour as much, I ended up doing a lot of music for movies or theatre. I spent about a year writing over 20 songs for a musical which is being developed. I’ve also been writing songs and putting them in the drawer, and making demos at our studio in Iceland.
Here’s the video Marketa Irglova’s new song, “The Season.”
Eventually, I wanted to make another album, and my children were getting bigger and it seemed easier. But I had an understanding of the fact that I’d been away for many years from the public eye. So I worked my way up to the record, and that’s why I chose to release three longer songs (“Quintessence,” “Among the Living,” “Mother”). I had released those over the course of two years, around the time that everything was shutting down because of Covid. And by that time I said, “I’m ready now to go and record my album.” So I invited some musicians, and we had a recording session in October, because I had so many songs that I had saved up over the years. We recorded a total of 18 songs. Then we wondered if we should make a double album or should we just pick and choose. And I decided to divide the 18 songs into 9 for this album, and 9 for another album that I hope to release in a year or so.
DK: With your songwriting, do you mostly write by yourself or with co-writers?
Irglova: I write by myself, but I have co-written songs over the years. In the beginning, that’s how I started writing songs. I was co-writing songs with Glen Hansard way before I tried to write my own. And for some reason, I’ve always felt like I could only do that with Glen. Otherwise, I preferred to write on my own. But every now and then, there was an opportunity to work on something with other songwriters, and I discovered that I can do it.
DK: On your new album, one of the songs is called “Girl From a Movie,” which I believe relates to you being The Girl in the movie, Once. Can you tell me what inspired you to write that song?
Irglova: This song is about expectations—how we all have them, and how we project them on everybody around us, that we hardly ever perceive the real you, the real me. We instantly project our own ideas onto everything, and they’re mirrored back to us and that’s how we perceive them. So I was playing around with the idea of how disappointing it can be that somebody is not seeing you in your entirety. They’re just seeing a fraction of you, or what they want to see, and you feel like you can’t live up to it or you can, but you disappoint that fantasy eventually. But then I flip it around halfway and being aware that I also do that…I have done that in the past. So it’s supposed to be a self-reflection, and a telling of my experience with this.
Here’s the lyric video of Marketa Irglova’s new song, “Girl
From a Movie.”
I imagine this is especially true for people in the public eye, for actors. I think a lot of the time they go through crises in their lives, because it is a lot of pressure to experience. But I’ve been really blessed that with Once, people connect with it from their heart. So there’s a lot of love for the movie and the character. It’s just every now and then, I have a personal experience, usually tied to a romantic experience, where I wonder, “Is that all I am to you? The girl from a movie?” That’s why I ended up putting that in the song. I decided to embrace it because that has been my true experience at times, so I decided to not try and hide that.
DK: Another song I like on your album is “My Roots Go Deep.” Can you talk about writing that song?
Irglova: “My Roots Go Deep” was very influenced by having a long-term relationship. My husband and I have been together for 10 years now. We’ve had children, and there’s a lot of growing that we’ve had to do together, and there’s been a lot of personal growth that I’ve had to do. And especially living in another country (in Iceland), and having children who are half Czech and half Islandic and being conscious of holding my own culture, and it being so important to know who I am…that went it into it. Also, I’m reflecting on how the relationship changes over time and how it develops from this honeymoon period to something more stable…a union that’s supposed to inspire growth and harmony. And how nourishing that can be, even though you don’t reach those crazy highs the way you do when you’re constantly falling in love with somebody new. Instead, you are able to grow deeper. In my experience, I found that it can be just as joyous and satisfying as going high, except there’s way more stability because whatever comes up must eventually go down. And growing your roots…there’s such strength in that, both inner strength and strength that you channel to your family and your whole structure. So it made me feel—especially going through all kinds of challenges over the years, and being able to confront them and embrace them—that I can do this. I can do anything. As long as I hold myself and I hold my own energy, I can go through anything and be okay.
DK: I also wanted to ask you about your movie, Once, and writing the hit “Falling Slowly” with Glen Hansard. Can you tell me how you and Glen wrote this song?
Here’s the video of Glen Hansard & Marketa’s hit, “Falling
Slowly” (from the movie, Once).
Irglova: Yes. I have a memory of standing in my parent’s kitchen, boiling water to make a cup of tea. As we were waiting for the kettle to boil, Glen was holding a guitar and he starts playing the intro of the song and he sings the first line, “I don’t know you but I want you.” I remember turning my head, because it almost felt familiar to me because I recognized it. I said, “What’s that?” And he said, “Oh, it’s just an idea that I had. Do you like it?” And I said, “Yeah, I love it. You should finish it.” So he suggested that we finish it together. Then we went to my piano and we sat there, and the song was probably finished in an hour or so. It was very quick. I remember when we wrote the chorus and we got so excited…it felt like a really quick burst. So we invited my parents to come and listen to it. They were the first people who heard it. Then we got to play it at a concert which we had a few days later in Czech Republic, and we didn’t have a name for the song yet. So we played it live, and Glen asked the audience, “We just wrote this song. What do you guys think it should be called?” And somebody said, “It should be called Falling Slowly,” and so that stuck (laughs).
DK: I also like your solo song, “If You Want Me,” that’s in Once. How did you write that song?
Irglova: That song was one of the first five songs I ever wrote. I remember feeling really good about it, and I couldn’t wait to play it for Glen. He was a real mentor of mine, and he encouraged me to write. Originally, I had written the lyrics as “If you love me, satisfy me.” And he suggested that I change it to “If You Want Me,” which makes sense and the song is better off for it. I remember we were on tour during summer festival in Czech Republic when that song was born, and I played it there for the first time. The Czech Republic is the place where we played our first shows, before we had any success outside.
Here’s the audio of Marketa Irglova’s song, “If You Want Me”
(from the movie, Once).
DK: For the Once soundtrack, you and Glen also wrote the song “Lies,” which is very emotional and powerful. How did you and Glen write that song?
Irglova: I wrote the intro, even though I didn’t have lyrics for it. We had been watching the David Lynch TV series, Twin Peaks, and the music in it was really beautiful. I was finding it very inspiring sonically, so I went to the piano and wrote this little melody. And it was a similar thing like with “Falling Slowly.” Glen heard it and was like, “What’s that?” And I said, “Oh, it’s just an idea.” So we sat down and started writing it. The idea was about how toxic lies and dishonesty are in a relationship. It eats away at the pillars of any relationship until the whole structure just collapses. Because without trust, there’s nothing.
DK: In March of this year, you and Glen reunited as the duo, the Swell Season, to perform several shows in the U.S. for the 15th anniversary of Once. What was it like to perform live again with Glen?
Irglova: It was amazing. It was great to meet together on a level of being old friends and experience the love together. We appreciated the opportunity to see one another and catch up, and at the same time, feel like no time has passed at all. It’s that kind of a friendship, and it always has been. So to play those songs again was wonderful. What was new for me personally, was the feeling of meeting Glen onstage more as an equal. For so long I was very young, and I was very conscious of the fact that I was much less experienced, and that I’m not as strong a songwriter or even that my voice wasn’t that strong. Over the years, I worked on myself a lot both personally and musically. And it was nice to be able to bring that to the stage, and feel like I can meet him better where he is.
DK: Do you have plans to perform more shows with Glen?
Irglova: Yes, we’ve discussed that. We talked about playing more shows next summer, and about making a record together. We’re really excited about it, and we are both up for doing it.