The Life After Take Me To Church
It was 2014 and the radio was blasting Take Me to Church on a loop, spitting its Trump hate and anti-religious message. By the end of that year, it had reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100, where it sat for three weeks. It didn’t take long to reach number one on Billboard’s U.S. Adult Top 40 and U.S. Hot Rock Songs.
—By Marie-Ève Venne
PHOTO: JOHN LONDONO
At the same pace, a shy Irish singer from Dublin went from low-key gigs in small venues to star slots on international TV shows such as The Ellen Show and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. The world was in awe of Hozier and there was no place for him to hide anymore.
The Irish singer-songwriter’s second full-length, Wasteland, Baby!, was released on March 1st 2019. Accompanied by a cover painting that has the artist literally underwater, the title speaks to the record’s themes of hope amidst global struggles. A few hours before his performance at the latest edition of Osheaga Music & Arts Festival, we had the chance to catch up with him to learn more about his most recent album and what comes after a hit song.
“You have a hit song, and everybody knows your face, and everybody knows your name. You don’t feel any different. You’re just confronted with this totally new reality,” he says, hiding behind a pair of round sunglasses.
“I wasn’t fully prepared for it. I had dropped out of college and it was the first song I ever released, so it was a total surprise. I don’t think I really know how to deal with fame, even now. For me, it’s just about focusing on what you want to achieve with your work. All of the noise that’s created around you and projected onto you, you keep that at a distance,” he adds.
Following his instant success, he had to be on the road for a long time, jumping from one country to another, with few moments for himself or to reflect.
“It’s tough. You don’t get a lot of sleep for that period. And there are sacrifices to be made – plus the realization that you’re going to be away from loved ones for years. But when it’s your dream, you don’t really have a choice. Also, I don’t really write while being on the road. For the songs on my new album, I had to find a six–to-12-month period after touring. I was living in a bungalow in Ireland. I was ready for these ideas to come out.” he says.
He took almost four years to come back with a new album, refusing to engage with the pressure of writing a song for the sake of writing a hit.
“To do that, I would probably have to compromise things I wasn’t willing to compromise. The one pressure was self-contained – to make sure I was writing music that moved me and I felt I needed to write. I wanted to approach the writing of the record the same way I approached the first album,” Hozier explains.
There is a strong introspective mood on his new album, highlighting the major changes that the world has uncovered over the last six years. His new music seems to speak to that upheaval. After all, he wrote Wasteland, Baby!’s title track after reading how threats of nuclear war caused the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move our doomsday clock ahead 30 seconds—an event that resulted in the BBC using the word “apocalypse” in a headline.
“There’s a few lyrical themes on the record, references throughout the album to the seas rising and some of those concerns. With regards to the cover [painted by Hozier’s mother, the artist Raine Hozier-Byrne], there’s something peaceful and yielding to it. At the same time, the image of someone being in a room filling with water that they can’t leave is sort of oppressing,” he explains.
“A lot of these songs on Wasteland, Baby! were written with the intention ‘these are going to be really fun live.’ I am touring with an eight-piece band. Everyone on stage is a singer. Everyone can play an instrument. There’s a little mini-choir up there,” says Hozier, suddenly excited.
On his latest opus, Hozier jumps from soothing lullabies to growling rock anthems to more upbeat tracks in an effort that seems absolutely effortless. “Nina Cried Power” contains a bluesy, gospel-like element that exudes brightness over a playful drumbeat and soothing guitar rhythm. Lyrical themes range from doom (“No Plan,” “As It Was”) and intimacy (“Movement,” “Nobody”) to honoring love (“Shrike”) and facilitating ideological, political, and societal change (“Be”). Despite the serious subjects painted by the lyrics, the album almost gives an overall feel of joy and hope.
“I think there’s this joy that people are capable of. That’s what a lot of the songs on the record were trying to reach for. It’s a record that’s hopeful and optimistic. I’ve also already started to work on my next album. I have a few ideas in my back pocket that I’ve been playing with, and once you get into the mode of writing it’s quite a bit of a drug.”