- 23 Aug 22
As she returns with her first new album in eight years, LILA, Markéta Irglová discusses finding her confidence after early fame – and having her music covered by Billie Eilish...
Naturally, when approaching a song, Markéta Irglová will “always draw on the personal,” she tells me. It’s something she’s clearly not shying away from on her remarkably vulnerable new album, LILA – which includes, amongst several stand-out tracks, the brazenly autobiographical song title ‘Girl From A Movie’.
“That’s what I’ve been, for so many years,” she says of the song, speaking over the phone from her native Czech Republic, where she now spends her summers. “It’s always, ‘Oh, it’s the girl from that movie Once!’
“And it’s not that I perceive that as a negative thing,” she adds, “because Once is something that I’m very proud of, and something that has given me all the opportunities in my life. I’ve nothing but love for the movie, and for the character I played, who is forever a part of me.”
Once was also, of course, a phenomenal global success. Released in 2007, when Markéta was just 19, the Irish film famously earned her and co-star Glen Hansard an Oscar for Best Original Song for ‘Falling Slowly’, and inspired a Tony Award-winning stage adaptation.
But sometimes, Markéta continues, fans of the film will approach her with warped expectations.
“People feel like they get to know me through that character, so when they meet me in person, there’s always a subconscious expectation that that’s exactly who I am,” she reflects. “That means that I can’t do anything but disappoint. I can never live up to that expectation. I change as the years go by – while the girl in the movie stays the same, in that place.”
Given her young age at the time, dealing with those expectations was particularly difficult in the direct aftermath of Once’s success. She recalls constantly meeting new people before and after shows, and the pressure to “give your time and energy to whoever was there to receive it.”
“It’s hard to know how to have boundaries with yourself, while also not being unkind to others,” she resumes. “Me and Glen had different ways of dealing with it, so there was also this feeling of not wanting to be judged by him, for seeing things differently. I was just trying to find my footing, but having to do it in the midst of a train that was already moving.”
With those experiences under her belt, Markéta’s attitude towards success in the music industry is now guided by a sense of hard-won wisdom, and a belief that “it isn’t really fame that people should strive for: it’s recognition for your talent and your work.”
“I’ve always been quite a shy person, in fact,” she laughs. “I’ve never been a person who’d be in big friend groups. I’d have one best friend – and that’s it. I’m really bad at group activities, like yoga classes! It took a lot of effort for me to learn how to hold my centre in those situations, so that I can be what I want to be. which is kind and generous.”
This sense of honesty and intimacy bleeds through LILA, which arrives eight years after its predecessor, Muna. The new project was recorded in the studio she and her husband, producer Sturla Mio Thorisson, built in Iceland, where she’s lived for the past decade.
The album takes its title from an Indian term for moments of spontaneity, or “the playful activity of a god.”
“I love moments that are unexpected, and unplanned,” she reflects. “Like the Oscars. It’s something that nobody could have imagined, or even hoped for, because it seemed so out of reach.
“But it taught me that our imagination is very limited,” she continues. “Sometimes, when we really want something, and it’s not happening, I always like to think that maybe that’s because there’s something better in store, and it’s just beyond my capacity to imagine right now.”
Just as Glen Hansard told Hot Press back in December, Markéta also feels that her creative connection with her former collaborator remains strong.
“I have always loved singing and writing songs with Glen,” she says. “Ever since the last tour we did together, there’s definitely been a part of me waiting for a time that we would do that again. It just felt inevitable. But I felt that it was somehow Glen’s call – that he had to be ready to do that. It still took longer than I anticipated at first.
“After the Oscars, there were so many possibilities for Glen – to work with whoever he wished, in whatever studio in the world,” she continues. “Subconsciously, maybe, it felt a bit limiting to him, to box himself in with one group, or one singer, or one collaborator. I know that independence and freedom has always been really important to him, so I was happy to see him go and explore all those possibilities. And yet, I always hoped that, at some point, we’d make another record, or do more tours.”
The pair finally joined forces again back in March, for a string of US gigs marking the 15th anniversary of Once.
“We had an amazing time in America,” she tells me. “It was just six concerts, but the energy was absolutely still there. We were surprised by the people – how they were also still there!”
The gigs were special for another reason, too. Following years of battling with self-doubt, Markéta felt she was returning to the stage more confident in herself than ever.
“Glen has always treated me as an equal, and as his peer,” she remarks. “He always made me feel that I can do as much as he can, and he has always valued me. The thing is, I didn’t at the time. I had always put him up there on a pedestal – like, ‘I will never be as good as Glen.’ It took me a time to get to the place where I am now, where I now consider us equals. After all this time!
“So when we were on stage together it felt different for me,” she says of the Stateside gigs. “I knew exactly what I was bringing to the table. I viewed it as a yin-yang scenario – of the masculine and the feminine. We were creating something magical together, because it was more than either of us were on our own.”
In addition to their acclaimed collaborations, ‘The Hill’, Markéta’s stunning solo track from the Once soundtrack, remains one of the album’s highlights – and has continued to resonate with audiences to this day, with over 5.3 million streams on Spotify. Billie Eilish is also clearly a fan, having covered the song on a livestream back in 2017. Unofficial uploads of the star's rendition have been viewed millions of times on YouTube.
“I found it by accident!” Markéta says of Billie’s cover. “My step-daughter, who’s 16 now, was really into Billie Eilish. She introduced me to her record, and we were listening to it a lot. And then, randomly, we saw she did a cover of ‘The Hill’. I was like, ‘No, it can’t be her!’ It was very surreal. Later, we found out that her parents were fans of the movie, and they introduced it to her and Finneas.
“It is really lovely to see that someone you respect – both as a person and what they’re doing with their music – also appreciates what you do. When it’s both ways, it means a lot.”
Having spent much of her adult life moving from country to country, Markéta notes that she still feels like somewhat of “an outsider” when it comes to music scenes – whether that’s in Iceland, the Czech Republic or Ireland.
“When we met, Glen had The Frames, and The Frames were so beloved in Ireland,” she recalls. “And then I came in, and it felt like, to a lot of people, I was disrupting a good thing. But then Once happened, and all of a sudden, that became a beloved thing as well.
“But it still felt like I was always on the edge of things,” she says of the scene here. “I wasn’t really part of the community – I just got the amazing chance to be a guest in it. And I always felt very welcome. But I always felt like I was in Glen’s world. I don’t know if it ever became my world, to be honest.”
This feeling of not belonging, she says, is an insecurity that she has continued to grapple with on a regular basis.
“It’s a feeling like, ‘Am I overstaying my welcome?’” she resumes. “The funny thing is, the Czech Republic wouldn’t really consider me part of their community – I’m often labelled as a foreign artist! Whatever place I’m in, I’ve always kind of felt there but not there.”
But Ireland remains close to Markéta’s heart, she tells me. One of her closest friends is Irish nature activist Mary Reynolds, founder of We Are The Ark, which promotes the spread of Arks, or restored native ecosystems, to boost biodiversity.
“I find it so overwhelming, what’s going on with our planet,” Markéta admits. “I end up having to close it off a little bit, because it would just consume me. I’d just worry about it too much. And yet, at the same time, I don’t want to be ignorant. I really appreciate when I can draw information from certain people that I trust. Mary is that for me.
“It isn’t this hippie thing that a lot of people consider it to be,” she says of Reynolds’ work. “Our survival depends on it. It’s really frustrating to watch our world leaders fail us every single time. Nobody is acting fast enough. We’ve seen how quickly things can change when something like a pandemic happens – how things that were supposed to not be possible to do, suddenly become possible, because our economy depends on it. If only we could activate ourselves in this way to basically save the planet. So I’m incredibly grateful for people like Mary, who dedicate themselves to trying to make a change.”
As she acknowledges, Markéta is also attempting to make a change in her own way: “It’s just that I do it through music.”
“That’s my mission, I suppose,” she reflects. “I’ve never considered myself an entertainer. I’m always hoping that what I can do with music is to give people some sense of hope or love. Or healing. That’s really what the world needs. More love. If I can send some of that into the world, then I feel like I’m doing my bit.”
• LILA is out now.