Glen Hansard: The tortured romantic returns to Atlanta

Glen Hansard is keenly aware of his reputation. You know, the whole tortured romantic bit.

He earned that image with an arsenal of songs that chronicle love gained and lost, and gained and lost again. He solidified it with his success in the movie “Once,” portraying a broken-hearted busker vying for the affections of a new love interest, played by Marketa Irglova. Off-screen, Irglova became his girlfriend, and the couple released an album with The Swell Season, which featured songs about their love’s ultimate demise.

But in his latest album, “Rhythm and Repose,” the Irish-born Hansard says he’s exploring relationships less about romance and more about the world around him. A kind of social consciousness that he, now 42, strives for with each passing decade.

“I’ve been singing about my relationships with my family, my country, my God, myself. And so, in a way, even though I feel very much in the vernacular of relationships, I sort of feel like that must broaden as you become more aware of the world you live in,” said Hansard, who returns to Atlanta Sept. 23 to perform at The Buckhead Theatre. “It would really bother me to think I was traveling through the world and getting up on stage every night singing about Glen Hansard. That seems to me to be the most kind of boring.”

Though he’s touring with musicians from The Frames, the band he formed more than 20 years ago in Ireland, “Rhythm and Repose” marks his first solo effort. But he is no more certain whether he’ll effort another solo album than he is about reuniting with Irglova and The Swell Season.

“I’d love to think that we would do it again, but I could never say yes or no because the whole way Marketa and I played music together was very organic and very real. I couldn’t see her and I getting back together for any other reason than joy,” Hansard said.

That desire for authenticity drives him as a performer. Hansard is famous for his ability to tap into gut-wrenching soul, as he does in such songs as “Bird of Sorrow” and “The Storm, It’s Coming.” He worries about the moment when performing the most emotionally demanding songs becomes, well, just part of the job.

During an earlier leg of this tour, an exhausted Hansard realized he was on the verge of “dialing it in,” he said, something he had vowed never to do.

“The only real duty you have to your audience is to be present and to be as good as you can be,” he said. “As the great Springsteen said: You never have earned it. You are always earning it.”

And always evolving. Hansard’s professional track is long and varied. He began performing on the streets at age 13 before forming The Frames. He briefly dabbled in acting before his role in “Once” led to Irglova and their Academy Award-winning song “Falling Slowly.” The hallmark film was later made into a Tony Award-winning musical that’s now running on Broadway.

Returning to acting or becoming more involved in theater, however, is not in his sights.

“I don’t have any desire for those things,” he said.

And here Hansard lets us into his world view.

“I don’t have much time for a life that is all about me and my pocket and my clan. I just sort of feel like you are either serving some kind of greater good or you are not,” he said. “Having said that, I am a songwriter, so what am I doing? I’m not in social work … but I kind of feel like, if I wasn’t a musician, it’s what I would be doing.”

As a performer, he said, he tries to find a way to use his music to connect people who outwardly have little in common. And one can see his desire to find universal truths in “Song of Good Hope,” where he sings to a friend overcoming a struggle: “I know where you’ve been has really left you in doubt of ever finding a harbor, of figuring this out.”

“As a songwriter … you have an opportunity to speak, you know, and really what it comes down to is you hope what you’re speaking isn’t just a bunch of banter and poor me and my bad relationships,” he said. “You hope you are saying something else. Certainly, I hope.”

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