Dublin, Ireland-based band The Frames had the No. 1 album in their home country this year and it made Frames leader Glen Hansard nervous. "Popular music is like a bubble," says Hansard. "When the bubble is rising, that is when it has its life. The populace doesn't hear something until it reaches the surface and [when it bursts] they celebrate the death of it. They don't celebrate the life of the something."
Two weeks ago, The Frames were supposed to play The Bouquet with Josh Ritter. It would have been a great gig. Ritter, who hails from Moscow, Idaho, has been claiming column inches all over the world. Even the glib and grumpy hipsters at Pitchfork revere him. But Ritter still tours in a van. While musicians on a bus can sleep as a driver navigates their home-on-wheels, van-bound musicians usually drive in the day and motel it at night. Ritter had to cancel his Boise gig if he was to get any rest between Seattle and Colorado. The Frames' management followed suit, leaving many Boise concert-goers kicking the ground.
Then, the bus-traveling Frames called the Record Exchange looking for an in-store. "We love playing in-stores," says Hansard. "Big gigs can be hard. It's like people show up, pay their 20 quid, go to the bar, grab some beers and start chatting. It can be so distracting. With an in-store there is no distraction." And so, while Ritter and crew were driving across the desert, The Frames treated Boise to an awe-inspiring show. "The Record Exchange is one of our favorite places in all of Idaho," says Hansard, "It was one of the first places in America where we actually found our album on the shelves."
The Frames' set was intimate and mesmerizing and spanned their catalogue with a focus on songs from their most current (and fantastic) album, Burn the Maps. Their sound went from single string whispers to high decibel takeovers that shook the used CD bins. "I started off playing the streets, where the dynamics have to be really clear," Hansard says of their style. "When you have peoples' attention you can go really low. It like the Pixies' thing ... 'Shhh, come here'... and then 'Bam!' You punch them in the nose."
There were no broken noses. The Frames played with deft fluidity. They tagged a Dark Side of the Moon breakdown on the coda of one of their tunes, and then, at the end of another tune, segued into one the most heartbreaking versions of "Ring of Fire" I have ever heard. It was spontaneous and superb. "We don't really rehearse, we just play a lot of gigs," laughs Hansard. "The first few gigs on a tour can be a little scary. It's like, 'Turn all the knobs to the right, count to four and I'll see you at the end.'"
I caught up with bassist Joe Doyle after the gig. After a chat about the earlier show being cancelled, he offered to buy me an apologetic pint. When the pint turned into dinner at MilkyWay, I grabbed my buddy Molly to keep me from acting too star-struck.
I never did get star-struck unlike in most interactions with idols after a show, where you walk up and tell the band how great they were and they glance at you and say, "Thanks," and then you say "Yeah, uh, could you sign this for my aunt?" It felt like we were having a late dinner with friends from out-of-town.
And that's just it: The Frames are a bunch of nice guys who prefer wine to Guinness, and prefer good conversation to adoration. While writing this, my friend Jared, a recent transplant to New York, called to tell me that the New York Frames show was sold out. As Jared was leaving the ticket office, he ran into some members of the band. They were bummed that they couldn't put him on the already full guest list, and to make up for it, bought him a street ticket for double the face value. "Nice" is an understatement.
There's another thing about The Frames: They are supportive of the other musicians they love. As we ate, Hansard talked about meeting Idaho boy Ritter. "I saw Josh Ritter at an open mic in Boston a few years ago," he remembered. "He was sort of amateurish, but there was something about him. Whatever he had, he was using it so well." Hansard caught up with Ritter after his two songs. "I told him I would buy his fare to Ireland if he wanted to come and open some shows for us and make a few hundred quid," laughs Hansard. Ritter took Hansard up on his offer. After a few shows with The Frames, Ireland fell in love with Ritter.
The Frames have been playing their genre-dissolving brand of slow burn tunes for a 15 years and Hansard's guitar shows the ravages of time: There is a big hole in the soundboard. "I have no plans of getting a new one. Making music has little to do with having the best new equipment," Hansard says. "Recently I bought a really expensive camera ... my seventh camera in a year. I realized I had seven cameras and no photos. If you are going to make music, just start writing songs." Hansard continues, "When you try to be great, you always fail, but when you try to write a song, whether good or bad, you always win. I was looking for the magic wand one time and a great writer told me, 'The secret to writing is writing.' It floored me. If you want to live a good life then live a good life. That's it, there is no secret."
The Frames will be living the good life for a long time. "We played a gig today and somebody heard us," says Hansard, putting his napkin on his plate, "and for us, that is all that matters."