Olivia Lowe sat down with singer-songwriter Hozier before his pop-up show at the Paradise Rock Club in May 2023. Read the interview below and listen to Hozier’s new album Unreal, Unearth, out now.
It’s so nice to meet you on behalf of the River – we hosted you at the Paradise [Rock Club] a few years ago. What’s it like to be back?
It’s good, I think, to do any club show. I mean I haven’t done shows in years. You know I came off the road in 2019. And then the world, you know, shut down for a while.
You were actually the last show I saw before all that.
No way. Wow. Yeah, I was very fortunate in a way that my very last show of that tour was two months before the pandemic started. And like 2020, I was gonna put my tools down and take a break, you know. But so coming back, I mean, to do club shows again. I don’t know, it’s just been so much fun. They ought to be in, like, small, intimate rooms and very concentrated energy, very concentrated crowds. And it’s great. It’s like it’s a real gift. Delighted to be back.
But meanwhile you’ve got a couple of shows at the Leader Bank Pavilion this fall that are selling out like crazy.
That’s right, yeah.
Are you finding that that’s the case with a lot of shows since touring again?
I’ve been very fortunate that people are keen to, I don’t know… I think I’m blessed with a fan base that have always been ready for work when the work is ready. And I think I took a couple of years, so people are just happy to. It’s amazing to come back and people are ready for it again.
I think people are especially hungry for your music. I’d love to talk a little bit about your songwriting process. You have songs like “Shrike” and “Like Real People Do,” where you have these beautiful guitar melodies that mimic the vocal line, or vice versa. I’m curious what comes first to you – what comes most naturally when you’re songwriting?
Yeah, there’s no kind of rhyme or reason to it. I think it’s like, if I’m playing just for the sake of playing without intention, a melody or line might happen on a guitar that just feels right. And before you know it, something has moved you. You know what I mean? And then you sort of sit with that and see where that goes. I could just be driving or I could be showering, and a melody pops into my head – and sometimes that melody comes with words, or it comes with sounds that ask to be words, you know. Rarely does a melody translate onto another instrument. It’s like if I’m writing something on guitar, it stays on guitar, and writing something on piano, it feels well in that instrument. So I kind of just let it happen as it happens, and then figure it out after the fact. If it’s a melody, I put words into it that feel like they want to be in there and if not, it’s words that ask for a melody similarly, it’s waiting until the melody is right for those words.
For those words, do you ever have lyrics on your phone notes app?
Oh God, yeah.
What about voice memos?
Like 300 unnamed, and then when I’m super bored or I can’t sleep, I’ll go through them. Ok, I have to name these. But yeah, I have about 300 voice memos. Just like, not categorized. And they’re just me humming at different times of day. You know, maybe waking up in the middle of the night to like, half singing melody and go back to sleep. Or something like that.
Yeah, absolutely. So, you have songs like those – softer, folky sounding. Intimate. And you’ve also got some bluesier rock songs. But in the new EP, you’ve got “All Things End” and the choral version of “Eat Your Young” that just came out. What was that process like, working with a larger group of people? That kind of arranging style?
I really enjoyed it and I was really ready for it. I mean my first two albums, I wrote everything pretty much on my own with a few small exceptions here and there. I had always taken the song from the beginning point to the end point as much as I could. On this album, especially I think during the pandemic, having lived in isolation it’s kind of different. I love being alone, but it’s different to be alone when you’re choosing to be alone, when you could be with other people – and being alone because you have to be alone. And you have no choice and you cannot see other people. I think I ran out of steam enjoying that alone time after you know, what, like a year and a half of that. I was like, ok, I’m ready to spend time with other people. But also to write with other people for the first time. A lot of the work on this album I was creating in a room of people, you know, all jamming music together, which is that’s the first time I’ve ever done that so.
That was exciting. And there was a new energy with that. There was a renewed sense of a sort of freedom with that as well too. And just to make noise. Without any intention of this must be a song or this must be something. It’s just, here’s a chord progression. Here’s a great beat. Here’s a melody that I would just bark down a mic and see if it feels right, and you have those in these kind of waves. You have these moments where everybody’s together and everything feels great, and then moments that just aren’t working. It’s just, it’s a really liberating way to write music and we would record hours of jams and then I would just go back and listen back to them and try to make sense of the song. And that was the first time I’d ever written like this so.
It must have been fruitful, because I’ve heard rumors that it’s a lengthy album.
It’s a lengthy album, yeah. And I think it actually, once I hit into that, cause I’d already kind of recorded. I’d already written and recorded. I think the guts of the full album, and then I sort of fell into this process and I just really wanted to see it through. I was working with Jeff Giddy, a great producer, Jen Silvio, great producer, and then Dan Tannenbaum, a great producer who also arranged a lot of those larger arrangements that you’re talking about. We got an orchestra involved, so there’s some moments of big arrangement.
Wow, that’s awesome. Very excited to hear more. Let me ask you a fun little question: do you have any lucky charms or like pre show routines for show days?
Nothing crazy. I warm up a long time. A boringly long time. Like at least like an hour if I can. And I don’t use a guitar pick or a plectrum. I’m just not good at using them. I don’t trust myself on the very few songs that use them, so I use my nails. I pick and then strum, in the same song and I’m constantly breaking those nails. And so I will put shellac, you know, like nail hardener. So I need a good ten-twenty minutes. That is one ritual.
That’s a good pro tip honestly. I wasn’t expecting to be here [in the tour bus], what do you guys do during tour to keep busy while you’re on the road?
I really like spending time on the bus, especially with this band. It’s so wonderful. They’re good people, they’re a lot of fun to spend time with and, if it’s a long drive, like maybe in the night time, watch a random film. So you’d wake up in the morning – people might have some admin to do, maybe some emails, but we’ll just sit together. People will be making breakfast or toast or coffee and then just pick a stupid movie and watch it. And it’s a very fun, very easy way to tour.
That’s fun! It’s super homey here. Well, thank you so much for speaking with me.