If you have seen Jan Hrebejk's latest film "Beauty in Trouble", you would have heard several songs on its soundtrack by Glen Hansard from Irish group The Frames and Czech vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Marketa Irglova. Last year, this duo's critically acclaimed LP The Swell Season debuted in the Irish album charts at number five and was to remain in the top thirty there for several weeks. Although Glen Hansard is no stranger to such success having been a well known figure on the Irish and international music scenes since the early 1990s with his band The Frames, it was the first time his collaborator Marketa Irglova came to widespread attention.
Nevertheless, this nineteen-year-old singer and composer from the Moravian town of Valasske Mezirici is herself something of a musical veteran, as she has toured and performed regularly with Glen Hansard for a number of years.
Their musical journey together began when Marketa was just thirteen years of age. Glen Hansard came to her town to play a gig with The Frames while they were promoting their album For the Birds in 2001. Having met Marketa's parents previously at a concert he played in Prague, Glen and his band were guests at her house the night before The Frames were due to play:
"A day before their gig, we had a garden party. And you know how it is with Irish people. They gathered around the fire and the guitar was there and so we were playing guitars and singing and because I knew The Frames' record I was singing their track Star, Star a lot and Glen was like 'Wow, that's great'. So he got me up on stage to sing it with them the next day. And since then, I always sing it pretty much every time they play here. Now I also write a lot of songs and record albums, which is kind of wacky."
Marketa subsequently recorded a version of Star, Star, with The Frames, which appeared on their special-edition live album The Breadcrumb Trail in 2003. Encouraged by Glen Hansard, she soon began writing her own songs and playing concerts with The Frames' frontman around the Czech Republic.
She has since toured extensively with Hansard in Ireland, the United States and several other countries. Their LP The Swell Season came about when they were booked into a studio by director Jan Hrebejk to record a couple of songs for his film Beauty in Trouble after he had seen them play a small gig together in Prague. Having plenty of studio time left over after recording the tracks Hrebejk wanted, they decided to also record a number of songs they had played together over the years. After they had finished, they realised they had enough material for an album:
The fact that all the songs Marketa wrote on the album are in English might explain why she seems to be better known abroad than she is in her homeland. It's perhaps not surprising that she writes in English given Irishman Glen Hansard's influence on her work, but Marketa also feels that the English language lends itself better to her music than her native Czech:
"Whatever it is about English, it's very musical. You can bend in a certain way so that it just works. It doesn't sound silly when you sing with English. It flows very beautifully, whereas Czech is quite hard and when you sing in Czech it just doesn't flow as well. English is just the perfect language for music in my opinion. Also, Czech is very specific. When you say something, everyone knows what you're talking about whereas English is a bit vaguer. You have more freedom in the way you speak in English."
Besides her musical exploits, Marketa has also recently appeared in the film Once, where she stars as Czech immigrant to Ireland who falls in love with a local busker played by her long-term musical collaborator Glen Hansard. Once won an audience award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, which Marketa attended, and also features music from The Swell Season on its soundtrack.
Although proud of what she managed to achieve in the film, acting is not something Marketa thinks she'll return to in a hurry:
"It was very, very hard. It was much harder than music, because music is very sincere really. You write about things that happened to you in your life and then you go and sing about them. And they feel real to you. They're really things that happened and that you've experienced and you're singing about them quite openly to people, whereas film is about pretending and it's a very different thing. It's quite emotionally exhausting because if you wake up and you're quite tired and you're in a bad mood or something's made you sad and then you have to go shoot a scene where you're supposed to be happy, it takes a lot out of you. I loved watching it afterwards. I loved seeing what it became, but I didn't enjoy the process so much."
Considering that Marketa Irglova has toured extensively in several countries, contributed to the soundtrack of two movies and appeared in one whilst also having a best-selling album to her name, it's hard to believe sometimes that she has only just turned nineteen and has not even finished school. The last few years have certainly been a rollercoaster ride for someone so young, but Marketa seems to have taken it all in her stride and doesn't feel the experience has done her any harm:
"I feel really grateful for the way things have happened, because I feel that through travelling and all these experiences I've kind of matured. And I've matured quite early and quite fast. I just feel like I have this great amount of knowledge that I would normally have at thirty years of age, if I hadn't gone through all the things I've gone through. So I feel kind of blessed, because I have this knowledge now and I'm only nineteen and I have all this time to use this knowledge. You now when you're young you kind of like to experiment a lot and go wild. Well I think I have that behind me now. There are certain things that I've tried and I don't ever need to try them again. So that's good. I'm absolutely about the way things have gone."
Nearly all of Marketa Irglova's musical ventures to date have been collaborations with Glen Hansard. Although she's not averse to stepping out of the The Frames singer's shadow sometime in the future, Marketa is not in any hurry just yet to strike out on her own:
"When you play music with someone else, like with Glen for example, all the responsibility is on them, whereas if you're doing your own music and touring, you're on your own. All the responsibility lies on you. So the idea of doing my own music is a little bit scarier for me even though I have songs and there's something about having songs and people not hearing them, which is kind of sad. So the idea of these songs being heard and the possibility of people liking them is very exiting for me. Maybe at some stage I'd love to play my own stuff."
For now though Marketa is focused on doing her school-leaving certificate examination in a few months. Once she's finished that she plans to move Ireland, a country she claims to have special feelings towards and where she hopes - at least for a while - to take a break from the frenetic life she has led up to now:
"I want to get a regular job, which is going to feel really strange. There's something strange about having to be somewhere at something like ten o'clock every morning. You know, when you're a musician your schedule means that you basically get up at 2pm and maybe go to bed at 3am. It's very different to 'normal life.' I don't really want to call it 'normal life' but I can't find another term for it. When you go to a job somewhere in a café or an office, you have to get up quite early and you get off at a certain time. But I have to say I quite like the idea of doing something like that for a while."
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