Some bands are like fireworks, others are like wine. Some burn brightly and die quickly; others need time to develop their full bouquet. Ireland's the Frames came out of the gate with a vengeance, led by the powerful, elegant voice of teenage frontman Glen Hansard, who'd quit school at 13 and begun busking. But shortly after the Frames signed a deal with then-powerhouse Island Records in 1990, Hansard secured a starring role in The Commitments, about an up-and-coming Irish band.
As a result, the band took a while to find its voice. Veering between atmospheric Irish folk and passionate anthemic rock in the vein of fellow countrymen U2, the Frames developed a reputation for their live shows, which carried the group through the '90s, when label troubles and lineup changes beset the band.
"We've always trusted the idea that if we get people into a room, there is no reason why they won't come back to see you again," says violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire, the only original member aside from Hansard. "That, more so than any TV or radio, has been the reason for our slow and steady progress. The fanfare and the trumpets -- that tends to fade when it happens right off."
The tide began to turn for the Frames with the band's haunting 2001 release, For the Birds, which boasted a crisp, less over-produced sound than previous albums. They recorded part of that disc themselves (with help from Steve Albini), and it was a terrific primer for the group's latest release, Burn the Maps, which the Frames self-produced entirely. A pretty, majestic album, it's reminiscent at times of the Delgados or the Waterboys.
"The form of the album happened over a series of sessions -- that's where the ideas came -- but the execution of it was quite quick. The songs fit together into a coherent body of work," Mac Con Iomaire says. "For the first time, there's a better balance between the loud kind of rock element and the introspective folky moments. It's always been something that made it difficult for people to categorize us -- and now I think we're enjoying that freedom, rather than taking it as a curse."