Interview: Hozier – “At Worst The World Will Sing Along”

Hozier returns to Auckland on Sunday, April 28th when he and his band perform again at Spark Arena.

His previous show, back in November of 2015, was a sellout, and since then he’s released his much anticipated second album, Wasteland Baby! and an EP, Nina Cried Power.

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to Hozier as he was touring the Midwest of the US, catching him in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Click here to listen to the interview with Hozier:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: You’re in what, Tulsa, Oklahoma? Is that where you’re playing next?

H: I’m in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Yeah, that’s right.

MD: You’re on Tulsa time. Are you familiar with the musical heritage of Tulsa at all? Is that something…

H: I am, actually. Last time I was here, I took a nice visit to the Woody Guthrie Museum, which is here.

MD: Right.

H: Which was awesome. And, really, really cool. Really enjoyed it.

MD: Is Woody somebody that you paid attention to, in your formative years?

H: I definitely did, yeah. He was kind of a folk, he was a folk influence, and also as a voice. He was really, really interesting, pretty singular dude, you know. And then also, you know – what’s amazing is how many paintings and poems there are in that museum as well, too.

MD: Uh-huh.

H: Just pretty cool.

MD: I was just listening to an album that was recorded at the museum, I think, by Son Volt, I think. He recorded a bunch of  songs, there, some place in Tulsa.  But it’s interesting! You make a lot of references to a lot of artists, kind of that era of the 30s and 40s – Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday. How did you get exposed to that stuff?

H: Ehm… that was just the music that was in my house, just the music that I grew up listening to. So. You know, my dad was a blues musician, so – before the Internet, all the music that just would’ve been playing in the house. The musicians that would’ve been passing through the house too, playing some music in the house, just would’ve been – you know, playing blues music, and stuff, so. From that. And if you’re a kid, and you’re kind of just – poring through that record collection and… just had a fascination for it, yeah, from a young age.

MD: And do you – how do you think that that music has seeped into what you do? I mean, obviously there’s a gospel influence in what you do, but, uh – all the other stuff as well.

H:  I think it’s just osmosis, like it’s anything – the more you listen to something, and I guess if there’s something in it from a blues tradition or rock ‘n’ roll tradition. I think – it was nice, because it was a grounding – it was the first point for the rest of the music I listened to. And then I would’ve got into rock ‘n’ roll and classic rock, like 60s and 70s rock ‘n’ roll music. It’s nice having that grounding, like Delta blues music, and… because ultimately, just from the context of it, it’s very – it’s very much the, the beginnings of rock ‘n’ roll.

MD: And were you listening to much contemporary music at the time? Or were you all interested in older stuff?

H: Growing up? Not a huge amount. Not a huge amount was contemporary stuff. I kind of went back to it as I got older. I was more interested in kind of discovering stuff from the 20th Century. I was big into Delta blues, trying to learn how to play slide guitar, and stuff like that, as a teenager, as a young dude. Yeah, now it’s more, I go back to contemporary stuff from that time nowadays, just a slightly bit more.

MD: So when something like the Grammys is happening, or… do you kind of identify with those folks that are on there? Do you feel like you’re part of what they’re doing? Or do you feel kind of separate from that?

H: No! I certainly do, I think, yeah, I do have an appreciation for pop music, I still keep an eye on stuff I come across, stuff that I appreciate and… I enjoy it like anything else, but… I think growing up, it was more – there was more music that had been made before my  time,  that I had an interest in, than there was music being made at the time. Which, I just had a fascination with it. But, yeah, of course I still… you know, I still keep an ear to what’s happening now at the moment.

MD:  Now, I read a quote where you mentioned that the record – the most recent album, Wasteland Baby!, is a record about our limitations. And I was wondering if you would care to elaborate on that at all.

H: Yeah! Ehm, I think the best way of summing that up would be that the opening track of it, it’s a hopeful song. And it’s a song about – I suppose – that point to action and the spirit of action. And a song that writes toward the spirit of protest. What has been achieved, and what can be achieved, especially through artists, and the spirit of protest that they’ve imbued in their work. And then the closing track from the album is less hopeful. It’s basically, it’s just, summing up – let’s say, if all things come to naught, if nothing is achieved, and it’s kind of a song about the last few people left alive.

Ehm. In a very, very – so I suppose the limitations of – I would say there’s a lot of limitations about in songs – like, in Talk, or To Talk Refined. And it’s a song called Talk, which basically is just – you know, it offers these kinds of romantic platitudes, but ultimately, at the same time, it’s very much aware of its limitations, as that just being talk. It’s talk for the sake of it. And then… I don’t know! To Noisemaking. To noisemaking. It’s there, in the title. It is, just for the sake of noisemaking. There’s a lyric in that – “At best you’ll find a little remedy. At worst, the world will sing along.” I would hope that people could see there is limitations in there. The limitations are recognized, and also – there’s bad endings, in a lot of the songs. There’s a sense of the worst yet to come in a lot of the songs.

MD: Right. And I assume these songs were written in the two years you took off from touring, before you started up again – and  the record came out. And now you’re on the road, and you’re back in among people – you’re touring the States, you did UK before that… do you take that as an opportunity to kind of re-look at how things are, take the temperature of things?

H: Ehm, do you mean the time, sorry, off the road, or…?

MD: Back on the road, yeah.

H: Back on the road, I think – you live in a… tour living is kind of a – you live in a bubble. You know, it’s like – you get off a bus, and you go into a venue, and you see the world through a window. You meet fans and stuff like that, but your life is just centred on the job that you’re doing at the time. Traveling and traveling and playing to people. I think – it was in the time off the road that I kind of…went about getting ideas for that album, and with the Doomsday Clock moving forward, and… within that time, I was kind of plugging into… and for better and worse, I was plugging into a 24 hour news cycle, at the time when nuclear escalation was all the talk. With North Korea, and stuff.

So really, it was playing around with the anxieties of that, and engaging with the anxieties of that. And like climate reports of…for the next, let’s say, fifty years. So really, just engaging with some of those elements of the time, you know?

MD: So you describe yourself as a news junkie. Or were… do you still do that, when you’re on the road? Do you spend some time in front of the screens keeping up on stuff?

H: [exhales] No… No, part of that is, like network news, obviously, is its own little hellscape. It’s really – you don’t have a huge amount of time, you don’t have a huge amount of time like that, while touring, to sit down… and do anything, for that matter. Gonna watch the news – obviously, I’d still keep – I read the news, like anyone else, but I think a big part of that time off the road, as well, is putting the energy that I put up on tour doing everything else, just kind of putting it into trying to reconnect with the world through the news cycle, but that’s just a helluva lot of energy to put into that. So, yeah while touring now, you don’t really have the time to keep up and watch.

MD: Talking about putting energy into things… I know you’ve had an issue with a former dancer that you had, because of some comments that they made.  And I’m wondering – in this day and age, when stuff comes out all the time about people, where normally, twenty or thirty years ago, it wouldn’t have, do you have to do a lot more due diligence, when you decide who you’re going to work with, who you’re gonna collaborate with, before you go ahead and do anything?

H: Ehm… I suppose you could – that’s one way of looking at it. I think, yeah, like you approach anything, you approach… or a working relationship with anybody. Or, your work with anybody, you approach that in good faith. And I think, I approached that – working with Sergei – with good faith. And I – understood, and I thought it was understood as well, too, that he would have had an understanding of where the ethos of my work came from. Especially, given that I came to his work through the fact that he was doing a performance for Take Me To Church. So I thought it was understood. I thought he would have understood where my ethos was at, where my ethos lay, and… or where the spirit of that song was coming from, so. Yeah! You approach these things in the way, that, um…yeah. I was asked about it – I was super disappointed and super sad to hear the comments that he made. But you can only approach – you can only approach people with good faith.

MD: And also, obviously you have a certain world-view and a message that you’re putting out there, that conflicts with some people and some governments. Would you consider performing in some place like Russia or Brunei, where those attitudes conflict, in order to bring your message to them? Or would you stay away, because you feel that people there aren’t being treated properly?

H: It is – that’s a really, really tricky one.  That is a really, really tricky question. And I think every scenario is very, very different, and a reason for maybe – for avoiding a territory, would be very, very different for the next time where you could…you know. I’ve talked to different artists on this, and some would say that, “You’re there to play to people, and you’re not there to play for governments,” and then there’s others that would say that they – they would feel uncomfortable… they would feel like they’re playing part of whatever is an endorsement of governmental policy. So it is a tricky one, and I think for every scenario it’s going to be different, so. Ehm. It’s kind of just crossing each bridge as you get to it, so thankfully – with regard to Russia, it’s not a decision that we’ve had to make just yet, so. But it is different for every artist and every situation.

MD: Gotcha. Now, you were last in Auckland in…2015, I think, in November, I saw you when you were here. That’s a few years back. As far as what you present to audiences, as a performer and as an artist, have things changed dramatically? How would you say that things are different from when we saw you last in November of 2015?

H: Yeah! The band has grown a little bit, I suppose, so there’s an extra member of the band covering a lot of my organ lines and synth lines from the new record. There’s another guitarist on stage with me, Suzanne Santo. She plays – she covers a few of the guitar lines that otherwise I would have been supposed to. It’s kind of, it’s kind of – I’m really, really enjoying just being able to… to sing some of these songs. If it’s not entirely necessary that I play guitar. Ehm. It’s nice to just… sing these, as a singer. I am enjoying it, because that’s how I kind of started. I was just being a singer before. So then… yeah! This music is super fun, I wrote a lot of these songs with the intention – that they would be fun to play live, they would be fun to tour with. So.

MD: Obviously on the previous tour, your success was hugely based around one particular song, I mean, there was an album obviously, that followed, but… whereas this time around, and its several years later, the album as a whole should be taken as a… thing. Is that a different kind of success for you? Is it more rewarding? Or, less so? Or different?

H: Yeah, I guess it – I guess it – I mean, Take Me To Church became a huge hit, but I approached the writing of that like I approached the writing of any song. So, for me, it’s kind of… it was great to see this album. It was my first Billboard #1, it was amazing to see people investing in the body of work, investing in… and I think, I’m super grateful for that. But something I’m really, really enjoying is just people… people enjoying the body of work, and kind of… as you say, the album, and… it’s… all that it has to offer, as opposed to one singular song. So I am enjoying that.

MD: One last question. The video you shot for Almost, which was kind of obviously a take-off of Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, did you enjoy doing that? What was the process?

H: It was… the process there, it went for a Spotify vertical

. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Spotify, you kind of film these things on nearly like a phone, like a phone screen. Usually it’s a lot of artists singing at a lens. So I just thought – hey, we’re in New York, for a few days. It’d be fun to do something just based on the lyrics, and. And – that song, is very much like a – it’s a lyrical exercise in… certainly from my point of view, it’s a song that’s just a lyrical exercise, in putting jazz songs into the narrative of a pop song. But yeah, it was fun! It was freezing. It was a winter’s day in New York.

MD: It looks like it was cold.

H: It…was…freezing. So the hardest part was actually – I lost all kind of dexterity in my hands, so I’m fumbling with the cards, because I’m literally – my hands are shaking. It was really just… but it was fun. It was a beautiful New York day.

Click here for tickets to see Hozier at Spark Arena on Sunday, April 28th.