Actress and singer Markéta Irglová

Whether catching our eyes as the ingénue in the 2007 indie film Once or our ears with her harmonies on the Oscar-winning song “Falling Softly,” Markéta Irglová has, until now, been heard largely in the company of other voices. She has most often appeared alongside Glen Hansard, who is her Once costar, the leader of their band The Swell Season, and her one-time boyfriend. “I was enjoying the dynamic of Glen taking the lead and me harmonizing and playing a few of my own songs,” says the 23-year-old native of the Czech Republic, who also sings with the group Iron and Wine. But courtesy of a cadre of local musicians and her new husband, Tim Iseler, a producer and sound engineer, Irglová is finally going solo. Recorded in Chicago last December and set for release October 11, her new album Anar (Anti-) follows her marriage this year to Iseler on the summer solstice. (The couple wed at the Cultural Center, then celebrated into the night at Schubas Tavern.)

Markéta Irglová and John Travolta at the 2008 Oscars
Irglová at the Oscars in 2008

Irglová wrote Anar’s moody chamber-pop songs at her home in New York City during a break from touring with The Swell Season. “Once I opened myself to the idea of recording on my own, songs started coming easily, and I found myself sitting at the piano every day,” she says. While spending time in Chicago with Iseler, whom she knew through The Swell Season, Irglová decided to make the record at Soma Electronic Music Studios in Wicker Park, where he worked. A crew of local stalwarts accompany the classically trained Irglová’s reflective piano arpeggios and breathy coos and trills. Fred Lonberg-Holm improvised the haunting cello on the instrumental “Last Fall,” and trombonist Jeb Bishop and trumpeter Jaimie Branch upped the wrenching emotion of the soul ballad “For Old Times’ Sake,” which was inspired by the end of Irglová’s romance with Hansard.

As with “Falling Slowly,” Irglová’s crystalline voice sounds delicately lovely on much of the new album. But she also expresses a newfound urgency. “I’m more confident about what I do,” she says. “In the past couple years, I’ve come into my own.”


Photography: (Irglová) Sion Fullana; (Oscars) Mark J. Terrill/AP