Andrew Hozier-Byrne didn’t expect to have a song played on the radio, let alone one that became a hit across international airwaves and streaming platforms. But “Take Me to Church,” released in 2013, did just that. The song topped the charts in more than 10 countries, was certified five times platinum in the United States and went on to receive a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.
“I did not imagine it being [a hit], in any way, shape or form … it was kind of an unlikely crossover hit, I think, as far as I was concerned. I was pretty unprepared for that,” Hozier told HuffPost about the song, which among other things references organized attacks against LGBTQ youth in Russia.
But how do you follow that up? That’s what Hozier is grappling with right now. The singer, who hails from Ireland, is on the cusp of releasing his sophomore full-length album. Called “Wasteland, Baby!” the set ― due March 1 ― has been almost a year in the making. Throughout the process, he aimed to create rhythmically challenging music that was also fun to perform live.
With that, Hozier admitted he’s feeling a mix of relief and exhaustion at the moment.
“It’s just, you work a long time on an album, and by the time people hear it, it’s been in your head for such a long time, so it’s really, you’re just thrilled to share it with people,” he said.
We caught up with Hozier about the new album, today’s political climate, his musical heroes, Beyonce and more.
We’re about a month away from the release of your new album. What’s on your mind?
I try to not think about it too much. I think for me, I’m proud of the work. I’m just happy to get a body of work out there again, and it’s really, for me, the joy is making work. The sooner I release work and have people enjoy it, the sooner I can get back to making more.
With this being your official second album, and your first one since your debut hit big, do you feel like this extra pressure?
It’s a funny one. I try not to think about the pressures of other people’s expectations. They can’t concern me. So, I think I have pressures enough that I create for myself, and really they’re the most vital. And what they would be, and having kind of weighed them all up, is really just making sure that I’m making music, which I think feels worthwhile to me, and feels worthwhile to the music that I want to make, and it moves me, and I think is an adequate offering in some way, shape, or form to listeners. So, in the writing of this, I just want to take my time and approach the work in a similar way that I had done the first time around.
You kick off the album with “Nina Cried Power.” We heard that on your recent EP, but why was it important for you to include that as the lead track on this album?
In some way, that is the most hopeful song of all of the songs on the record. In one way, it is the most hopeful track in the entire body of work that was written, including the EP and the album, and then songs that even people haven’t heard. It’s a song about what can be achieved, and what can be overcome. It’s true, a kind of a spirit of solidarity and empathy, and when people, I suppose, stand to have each other’s back, and to speak up for what they feel is important, and it’s a song about what is trying to discredit that spirit of protest and that spirit of action. So, in a way, it’s the most hopeful track.
So, it was nice to open with that, and I think the “Wasteland, Baby!” ― which is the title song ― in a way is the most despairing track, and the most, I don’t want to say despairing, but the most hopeless track. As it just looks at all things having failed, and all things being lost, and all efforts coming to naught. It’s essentially an end. And so, some of my thinking was to have those opposite each other, I think, on the album.
How much of what’s going on in politics, whether it’s at home in Ireland, or in the U.S., inspired or influenced the music, or even just your mindset?
Yeah, definitely global politics has shaped it, and the atmosphere surrounding global politics, and also civil politics, as well, too, and civil discourse can influence the record, there’s no doubt. And I came off the road in early 2016, and touring life and living on the road is a bit of a boggle, and I was eager to reconnect to what was going on in the world and what was going on at home, in the kind of civic space and political space, and what’s going on globally as well, too. And I think I learned a hard lesson that maybe I should have been better off just picking up a hobby. So, I cannot put a lot of touring energy into reading the news and kind of plugging into the 24-hour news cycle, which is never a healthy idea.
And at the time then, there was talk of nuclear strikes, potential nuclear strikes, and escalation. It was just kind of a wild upswing of very, very bitter rhetoric, like xenophobia. I felt like … the politics of cowardice and greed and fearmongering were being given essentially a 24-hour platform, a mainstream platform. Then that was something that was really weird watching civil discourse kind of deteriorate was really, really interesting. But all of these kind of things, then obviously climate reports, and so there was this feeling definitely that I was letting wash over me.
It’s interesting that you said, the first track is hopeful, the last track is less hopeful. Where do you personally fall? Are you hopeful?
I don’t know. I think it changes day to day. I can’t define myself, kind of floating in between, I think, like a lot of people. In a lot of ways, I’m not terribly hopeful about human nature some days, being honest … I sometimes fear the worst for the future as well, too. Of course, I don’t know, to be honest. I’m hopeful in that I do have faith in the kindness in people. I do believe in the actuality of the kindness in people, and the actuality of empathy and its consequences, and the real world consequences of kindness and empathy being as real and being as vital and as serious as the real world consequences of hatred and greed and racism, etc. I believe solidarity has equally real-world consequences and should not to be dismissed. So I’m hopeful in a lot of ways.
With “Take Me to Church,” how much of a hunch did you have that it would be that song that was going to break?
I mean, it was the first song that I ever released, was “Take Me To Church.” It was just not expected for me. I felt that maybe it would be appreciated by an indie audience, or like an alternative audience in some way, shape, or form … But it was wonderful. It was great that it happened. I’m incredibly proud of that song, and I was proud of the song when I wrote it, so I was double sort of proud to see that it connected with people in the way that it did, because I just didn’t think that was going to be the case, kind of alternating time signatures, and lopes in a funny way, and the lyrics are just not what were on top songs at the time, what was on the radio at the time.
Yeah, I was surprised. I was essentially a college dropout who had spent a bit of time working on figuring out how I wanted to present the music, and it, yeah, I was as green as the grass, so it was a fun time, interesting time.
No turning back now. I know you kind of said that the hit came unexpectedly. How did you personally deal with that? The fame?
For me, I think it was good to just kind of keep a lot of that at a distance, and keep a lot of the stuff that’s projected onto you, and is the noise, and that’s created around you. Just to keep that at a distance, because oddly, it’s easier to get wrapped up in it, but it’s oddly alienating as well too, because you have … it’s an experience so far outside your own self, and so far outside your own experience of yourself, that I think, for me, the best thing I could do was keep it at a distance.
So … the people around me kept me grounded, and that was important, too, the friends who were with me from before the beginning, and that helped. It’s important not to believe your own bullshit, at the end of the day. Just kind of keep the … yeah, believe your own hype. You’ve got to stay focused, remind yourself of what’s important, of what you want to achieve, what’s your own work, and what’s your own career, and that was it, I suppose.
You teamed with Mavis Staples, obviously, for this record, and your EP. Do you have any collaborators that you’d love to connect with down the line?
Tons. So many idols. Oh my God. Somebody I had a big reason I got into writing songs and writing music was Tom Waits. I always hugely admired his work. It’s a big reason that I’m a musician. I’d love to work with him. And then, people like Florence Welch. I would love to write a song that is big enough for a voice like that. People like … a huge respect for Janelle Monae. Huge respect for James Blake, as well, so I think does some very, very beautiful work, especially recently … The list goes on.
I listened to your Destiny’s Child cover, “Say My Name.” That’s really cool how you took that on. Have you ever met Beyoncé?
That was fun. I have not, no. I have not. It was a fun one to do. It was something that we started jamming at in rehearsals, and playing with, and it’s a classic. It’s an iconic song. Beyoncé Knowles is like … I don’t think she’s just an era-defining artist. She’s incredible. But I enjoyed it. It’s a sweet arrangement.
You’re kicking off the Wasteland, Baby tour in March. What can we expect, and how do you kind of pull a tour together now that you have a lot more material?
You don’t want to hit people with the album, have the full show just be a track of the album, but I’m really … the band who were with me on the previous tour, in America, so it’s an eight-piece band, will be joining me here on the Wasteland, Baby tour, which is great, because everybody is a singer, so we’ve got eight singers on stage. It’s kind of like a music choir. It’s great for carrying those melodies. And rehearsals, I’m in the middle of rehearsals now at the moment, and they’re shaping up great, so I just can’t wait to start playing these songs. They’re going to be really, really fun, really exciting.
This interview has been edited and condensed.