The Guardian: 30 Minutes with… Hozier
30 Apr 2015
30 April, 2015
‘I’ve had a few delightful letters from pastors who have some choice words to say’
The Irish singer whose Take Me To Church became a global phenomenon has learned to take the clerical flak as well as the fan calls that flooded in when he posted his mobile number on Twitter
We’re at the Coachella festival. What have you got planned for your performance?
I’ve got a 50-minute set, so we’re trying to navigate a few high-energy ones and I might do a cover and ask another artist up – we’ll see (1). There’s a huge amount of acts I’m looking forward to seeing – Steely Dan and AC/DC. They were shockingly good at the Grammys.
What’s your favourite festival memory as a punter?
One of my first festivals was Oxygen 2006. It had this amazing lineup with the Arctic Monkeys on their first or second album, the Strokes, Kings of Leon, the Magic Numbers and then the Who and James Brown. I waited in the pit for a good eight hours to see James Brown. He was on form, man, it was the year he died, and he had an enormous band and dancers with him. He wasn’t 1970s James Brown – he was an old man at this stage – but his band were insane.
Would you ever fine your band for playing a bum note, like he did?
I think that’s the ultimate dream, isn’t it? He was notorious, like. There were no first names – they had to call him Mr Brown. There’s a great interview with Bootsy Collins about him which we watch a lot on the tour – there’s this bassist called TM Stevens who ended up playing with James Brown and he and Bootsy just talk about him – it’s hilarious (2). But no, I’m more laidback with my band.
Were you very nervous before playing the Grammys?
Yes, it was a big milestone in a way. It was exciting. It was a Grammys producer called Ken Eric who paired me with Annie Lennox (3). When I first heard that, I flipped a little. Afterwards I was dazed, scratching my head in a “Did that really happen?” kind of way. But it was a good feeling.
Take Me To Church has become a phenomenon (4); why has it struck such a chord?
I don’t know, I go back and forth over it. It wasn’t an overnight smash, it grew steadily over the space of about a year. I tried to be as honest as possible with the lyrics and the production has a choral energy to it, kind of a gospel feel, which adds a lift.
It’s an anti-religious song. Have you had any backlash from the church in Ireland or the US?
I didn’t receive any backlash in Ireland. The message went under the radar until it was in the charts. It was released the same year as the Murphy report and the Ryan report (5), so there weren’t too many people who were coming out swinging for the church. In America, I’ve never been approached or received hate mail, but I’ve had a few delightful open letters from pastors who have a few choice words to say. But the song isn’t about Baptist or evangelical Christianity, it references more the Catholic church.
What did you think of Sergei Polunin’s dance to it, which went viral?
The one David LaChappelle made? It was gorgeous, man. I didn’t know that that was going ahead until it was done. I love making music, but if you make something that inspires somebody else to make something, without getting too airy fairy, you’ve contributed to the zeitgeist in some way and that’s just an amazing feeling.
He’s the bad boy of ballet, of course.
I did read that. I’d never seen a ballet dancer so heavily tattooed.
Coachella has banned selfie-sticks. Do you agree?
I would never want to ban it, but the very fact that an instrument exists at a music festival so that you can take pictures of just yourself … the whole point of live music is to enjoy the experience and you take yourself away from that. It doesn’t really need to be said, does it? The case against the selfie-stick does not need to be made. I didn’t know they were banned – thanks for that information. If I see someone with one, I shall blow the whistle. If someone puts one up in my set they’ll be roundhouse kicked and hounded out.
You’re influenced by James Joyce. Have you ever read Finnegans Wake?
I have not attempted it. Like many people, I’m still working my way through Ulysses. The tour put that one to rest – I was a few hundred pages in and very much enjoying it but I haven’t the mental energy to get through it now. I’m reading a lot of poetry because it’s a lot easier to dip in and dip out when you’ve got 10 minutes to yourself. Someone gave me an old book of Seamus Heaney’s poetry at a gig, called The Haw Lantern.
Is it true you’re huge in Nashville?
I was lucky enough to do three nights at the Ryman there, which is a beautiful old venue. I’ve definitely received a lot of support in Nashville; it’s a huge music town. I like country music. Like any genre I’m largely unfamiliar with, there are elements I really enjoy and elements that go over my head.
Are you aware of the genre bro-country? It’s like the country music equivalent of EDM – very partycentric and lairy.
I’ll have to watch out for it now. That’ll be an interesting listen.
When you posted your mobile number on Twitter (6), what kind of response did you get?
At the time I was, and I still am, jarred by people’s excitement at seeing me or talking to me. Most of the phone calls were very sweet; it was people who were going about their day who had a spare few minutes and thought it was a hoax, but rang and got through and were pleasantly surprised. I got a lot of voicemails of people changing the lyrics to my songs and just singing them at me, sending their own little messages. It was a very strange experience, this fandom that I wouldn’t normally be aware of.
Did you expect to be this famous?
Certainly not so quickly. I didn’t think Take Me To Church would be a charting or a global or radio hit, so that took me by surprise; I thought it would be appreciated by a much smaller audience. So I feel very fortunate.
Are you too busy to write your second album now?
It’s tricky, yes. I have a day here and there or an hour, so I try to keep a guitar with me everywhere I go and just keep ideas flowing, cooking I suppose. I’m always thinking about the next album, what shape it will take and the landscape of it, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Has Jay Z tried to sign you up to Tidal?
I have not received that email. I think I fly very much under Jay Z’s radar. Taylor Swift came to a show in Nashville. She was very supportive from early on, tweeting about the music. I met her and she’s very funny – she’s got a good sense of humour.
1) He performed the Time’s Jungle Love with Este from Haim.
2) Check out the section at 10.18 where Bootsy discusses being accused of taking drugs by James Brown – including impressions.
3) The pair did a medley of Take Me to Church and I Put a Spell on You.
4) By December last year it had been streamed 87m times on Spotify.
5) The investigations were into child sex abuse by clerics, and the subsequent cover-up.
6) Hozier posted his number as he was retiring the phone and getting a new one.