It’s been three years since Markéta Irglová took the stage at the Academy Awards, taking home the prize for Best Original Song, making her not only the first Czech woman to win an Oscar, but also the youngest person ever to win in a musical category. Her speech was unforgettable, in part because she was initially cut off before host Jon Stewart brought her back after a commercial break: “Fair play to those who dare to dream and don’t give up. Hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are.”
Dreams can come true; collaboration is key. These are two lessons that Irglová has learned fast over the last few years. “I never had an urge to step more into the limelight or be the focal point on stage,” Irglová says now. “I didn’t really have a desire to become a solo artist. I only ever had an ambition to maybe one day make a record of my own that was just my songs, but I thought that would be much further down the line.”
Since 2007, Irglová has been nonstop busy with various projects. After starring in the Sundance hit Once with Glen Hansard, the two formed The Swell Season, began dating, toured relentlessly, released their second album Strict Joy after breaking up and even recorded a cameo for The Simpsons.
With Irglová going solo, her schedule hasn’t slowed. Not only will the stage adaptation of Once be coming to Broadway soon, but a new film, simply titled The Swell Season, will chronicle the post-Oscars whirlwind success of Irglová and Hansard, along with the eventual rupture of the band. But mostly she’s occupied by her first solo album Anar and her upcoming North American tour.
Irglová grew up in a household filled with music. She was classically trained as a singer and pianist at a very early age, and her parent’s taste in music influenced her own musical style. “When me and my sister were going to bed, [our father] would play us a record of nice, calm singer/songwriters, “ she recalls. “A lot of the music [our mother] would have been listening to was smuggled into the country from Germany—stuff like Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan, so I was listening to a lot of that.”
Last year, Irglová settled in the U.S. and found inspiration from the melting pot of her new community. “I think the biggest thing that’s been very influential to me since I moved, is I met my friend Ida [Shahghasemi] a month after I moved to New York,” says Irglová. “She’s originally from Iran, and although she’s lived in the States, she’s the same age as me. She’s lived in the States since she was 13, but she’s still very much interested in Iranian culture and Iranian music.”
Irglová also chose Iranian artist Nahid Hagigat’s painting “The Last Fall” to adorn the new album. It depicts a lone pomegranate, a fruit she believes to have strong symbolism of where she is now in her life. “After I moved to New York, I just kept seeing it everywhere, literally everywhere, and I hadn’t been familiar with the fruit before I moved,” Irglová says. “It was mysterious and when I cut it open and started eating it, I thought it was one of the most exciting experiences when it comes to food. And so I started looking it up on the Internet and reading up on it; it’s seen in different mythologies from all over the world as the food that symbolizes fertility, so I thought it was a great symbol for this record, because it’s been a very fertile, creative time in my life, and all these songs were all born very fast within my time here. I just thought it was like a good luck charm that has been been following me around.”
Irglová recently married the sound engineer for Anar, Tim Iseler, and discovered plenty of new music that can be heard throughout the new album. “When I moved over I was listening to and going to see a lot of live jazz with a friend of mine and I started liking soul music around the same time, so I think that influenced me a lot during the writing process.”
At 23, Irglová has already accomplished so much, but there’s still more on the horizon. “I have this vision of a trilogy of records, something like The Lord of the Rings, three books in one,” she says. “I already have all the songs written for the next record. I’d love [it] to have a bit of masculinity, and I’d love to play with a band with a more electronic sound.”
Irglová’s first single off Anar, “Go Back,” leans more towards soul than blues because, she says “I always get the sense of the person who’s singing [the blues] has given up, and they’re just giving this account of the failure or the sadness or the bad situation the person is in. But it doesn’t offer any resolve or any light at the end of the tunnel. Soul, to me, is about heart-wrenching things, but it comes from the perspective of being self-empowered. I like Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding for the reason that I always get a sense, just from the vocal performance itself, that it’s not about victims at all; it’s like being powerful in your own sense, no matter what their situation.”
Thankfully, Irglová is filled with more soul than blues these days.