Hozier on the Importance of History and New Music

On Friday, March 17, 33-year-old Irish-born rock musician Hozier is releasing his latest record, an EP titled, Eat Your Young. As with all of the Grammy-nominated artist’s projects, it’s both stunning and powerful. With a knack for writing songs with skill and oompf, Hozier (born Andrew John Hozier-Byrne) has given fans more to love him for.

Videos by American Songwriter

Hozier, who also announced a forthcoming tour, has a new LP coming later this year. The artist, who has brought the world songs like “Take Me To Church” and “Angel Of Small Death & The Codeine Scene,” is ready to turn up the volume and unleash more music into the world.

American Songwriter caught up with the artist to ask him about his entrance into the world of songwriting, his work as a custodian, how he values history, and much more.

American Songwriter: When did you first find music—when did it first enter your world as a young person? 

Hozier: My dad was a musician, so I didn’t have a choice in the matter. There was always music playing in the house. Some of my earliest memories are of shows or gigs he played and there were always musicians in the house. So, music was always a part of my life. 

AS: Do you remember some of those early artists that were playing? 

Hozier: Yeah, it was always, more often than not, Chicago Blues. It was a lot of Muddy Waters and B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker. And then there was always the British wave of blues music, like John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. A lot of rhythm and blues, Chicago blues primarily. My dad also loved David Bowie, so there was a lot of David Bowie playing.

AS: What made you want to invest in it early on and what impact, if any, does the Irish song tradition have on your art and aesthetic? 

Hozier: Music was always just the thing that I held very close to my heart. It was a place I was very much at peace in. As I learned how to play guitar and sing, I was able to develop my own sense of taste, and my own sense of language within music. It was a very personal and sort of private thing at first. Music was just something I loved and held very dear, like a very closely held hobby.

The Irish song tradition absolutely does have a large impact. Some of my early ambitions for actually wanting to release music, as opposed to just singing to myself or writing music and engaging with it in a private way, was watching and looking up to other Irish musicians—other contemporary Irish songwriters. But a lot of them were folk artists primarily. I looked up to them and they of course would’ve been part of the canon of Irish song tradition. During that time I discovered people like Paul Brady and that kept me writing in open tunings a bit more. He’s this magnificent folk guitar player and songwriter. Also elements of the storytelling and, the melodies in particular, of Irish folk tradition, I think, definitely poke their way into my music for sure.

AS: When did you realize you had real talent and how did you try to hone and focus your musical passion—what did that look like in real-time? 

Hozier: I don’t know if it was a case of realizing I had talent. I just knew that I got a lot of joy from singing and playing to myself. It was something that when, if I allowed other people to see or if I performed in any way shape, or form, people enjoyed it a lot. When I was around age 16, I realized music was one of the few things that I could set my mind to, keep focused on, and actually be somewhat good at. From 16 onwards is when I started to begin thinking seriously about music being a part of my life and part of my identity.

To hone and focus my musical passion, I just played more. I just played and sat with myself more. I learned how to play songs that I loved, my favorite recordings at that time. They were often either folk songs or some Tom Waits songs—who I loved, I was obsessed with—some Paul Simon songs and in some cases in open tunings, when I got into sort of Delta Blues, I started learning how to play slides. So, I just sat with myself and learned how to play those songs. I was self-taught and just covered the work of artists that I loved and developed my own language for writing through that.

AS: Before you hit it big, you had a job scrubbing toilets at a golf course—how did this job impact you, and does it still, as your famous career rockets upwards? 

Hozier: It was classified as what they call house maintenance, but absolutely, I scrubbed toilets every day. And I cleaned showers. You have to learn to be quite self-sufficient in that job. It’s just one man doing every changing room in the place, vacuuming, and cleaning the doorknobs—it was actually quite a lot. So, although I’ve lost all of these skills, I became quite good at time management and remaining focused on my own, on a task. In the evenings, I would listen to music and, at times, carried out that job late until the night cleaning the place, so I was left to my own devices. I could spend a lot of time alone, which was nice. 

That job definitely gave me an appreciation for people in maintenance work. So, I’m still keen on stripping a bed when I leave an Airbnb or other things I can do to make their job slightly easier, you know? I know how gross it can be to change linens or clean a shower, so I try to remember just how taxing that job can be. It’s money very hard-earned.

AS: How did education impact you as an artist—both perhaps your distaste for school growing up and your time studying at Trinity College? 

Hozier: I wasn’t the best student. I used to lose concentration and interest in things. But I will say one of my favorite subjects was history. Through education, I realized that history is not just a list of arbitrary things that happened, but facts that happened at different points in a linear timeline. It opened me up to just how connected we are to history and how much of the current, emerging world is tied always to sort of historical development and how history kind of breathes presently in the space if that makes sense. We kind of live history all the time, it’s ongoing. We live its legacy, so viewing history that way definitely finds its way into sort of the conscious elements of the music. The parts of the music that are, for lack of a better word, conscious of societal happenings.

I’d love to say I have a great mind for theory, but I really didn’t. I didn’t stick around too long in my music degree. A lot of my stuff was just self-taught—with history, and absolutely with English, as well, I was able to kind of go back and rediscover some of the stuff that I didn’t allow myself to love as a kid, you know what I mean?

Still, my time at Trinity was definitely impactful. I collaborated with some amazing musicians that sort of broadened my horizons. I was singing with a number of choirs around that time, both in and outside the college. That was always joyful, I loved it. I love singing in harmony with other people. I think that apart from listening to folk music, that really developed my love for human voices.  I met some of my long-term collaborators there. I met Alex Ryan, my current musical director, at Trinity. He’s been my bass player since those days. 

AS: What did you think about the use of “Angel Of Small Death & The Codeine Scene” in the documentary, Momentum Generation—it’s just so perfectly placed in the film. 

Hozier: I can’t say I know of that specific example, but it’s a real honor when my music gets placed in film and television. In the same way, I think it’s the highest honor when other people sing your work or cover your work, I think similarly if a director, a playwright, an author or, you know, another artist sees your work as something that can elevate their own art or can work in tandem with it. That’s a real honor and it’s a wonderful thing to be part of. 

AS: How much is your music aimed at impacting the world, socially—from commentary on religion to homophobia—and what is your ultimate hope with these efforts?  

Hozier: I can’t speak for its ability to actually impact. I think it’s too much to hope that music will have an impact. I think it can offer a space for people to reflect, and it’s people who can have an impact. It’s a very big question, but I think I’ve always hoped that the music can at least just be a witness. Just be a witness to something that’s happening at that moment, so no matter what, whatever music you leave behind, it’s a historical document. That goes back to the education question, anything that’s made in its time is a firsthand document. It’s a historical document that you’re leaving behind. And I think as best you can, it’s nice for the work to be a witness to the world that it was made in. And that’s what I try to do, for sure.

AS: What was the genesis of your new EP, Eat Your Young—do you have a favorite moment along the journey of its creation?  

Hozier: Yeah, quite a few. I mean, like the song “All Things End” was jammed, you know, literally just jammed out in a very natural way. It felt good to write differently for a song like that with Bekon, that was a joy. A lot of the songs from those sessions we just started jamming as a band, and that was one that just happened. It was written very naturally.

“Through Me” also, getting to watch Jeff Giddy just play—he’s an incredible guitar player, incredible musician, so getting to watch him do his thing and shape the sort of production on that song in that very classic way, and watching it happen was really fun. The production styles and the writing styles across all these sessions were different.

And I definitely enjoyed writing the lyrics for “Eat Your Young,” that was enjoyable for sure.

AS: What’s on the horizon for you—new LP in the works, tour, other personal ventures? 

Hozier: Yeah. A new LP is coming later in the year. I just announced live shows earlier this week for the US, UK, and Europe also. I have a new, fantastic group of musicians that I’m going to be taking on the road. It just feels good to share music and know that there’s so much in this album, and to have more music lined up to release in 2024, is exciting.

AS: What do you love most about music? 

Hozier: What do I love most about music? I mean, personally, I find it incredibly uplifting, just how much music can change my mood. Tragically, when anything becomes more than just a hobby and it becomes your primary source of income—you know, I wish I listened to more music. I wish I gave myself more time to listen to music. But, it’s incredible even just to start a morning and put on music and how much that changes my day. 

And then on a more sort of conceptual side, I’m amazed at music. It doesn’t matter where human beings are in the world, where they have formed a society or where they’ve sort of, you know, formed a culture, music is always there. Things like the pentatonic scale are always there. I just find that really, really interesting and really incredible that human beings are drawn to the same sort of intervals and the same sort of notes. It’s incredibly unifying.

Photo by Barry McCall / Sony Music

Leave a Reply

Who Wrote the Haunting Australian Song “Waltzing Matilda”