Nine years after his debut made him a global star, Hozier returns with Dante’s Inferno-inspired third album Unreal Unearth. Here, the Irish singer talks megahits, new music and his industry bugbears…
INTERVIEW: Niall Doherty PHOTO: Barry McCall
The new record takes a lot of thematic inspiration from Dante’s Inferno. What was the key to making sure it didn’t just become Dante’s Inferno – The Musical?
“It was just about trusting that the nods and references to the inspiration were going to be there regardless, it didn’t have to present itself all too much. If I was writing too specifically about events, characters or moments in the poem, or if you needed to read the book to fully enjoy a song, that would be too far, so it was about trying to take a step back from that.”
It also straddles several genres. How did you approach the music?
“I think doing it in circles [as in Dante’s Nine Circles Of Hell] helped in that we could leave one circle and enter another one and it would be different. It was nice to explore various influences. There are moments where it’s folky or very rock and there are moments where it’s a bit more contemporary, indie or alternative. I’ve always struggled to just write into one definitive genre, so I just let the songs be what they want to be. That was kind of freeing.”
Take Me To Church, your breakthrough song, has more than 3.5 million UK sales and two billion Spotify streams. Do you pay much attention to the numbers?
“It’s something that I’m aware of and I’m happy to know that things are growing. I’ve been so fortunate that people have taken the work in. It’s funny showing up to do gigs now, there are people who were nine or 10 when Take Me To Church came out and they’re now in their early 20s and in college. It’s interesting seeing a whole new generation of people enjoying the work in the way that they do. I’ve been very privileged to enjoy that. I just trust that if the work resonates with me, it’ll hopefully resonate with other people. I’m aware of [the numbers] but I don’t want to make that the target, because the music has its own things that it needs to achieve.”
Your relationship with Island has now taken in three albums. How does the dynamic work between you and the label?
“It’s great, Island has some fantastic people and I really enjoy working with them, and also Universal internationally. It’s great having another cycle because it’s the time to come up with plans of action and tackle it together. I try to be as accommodating as possible – and when I say accommodating, I mean I’m not shy of hard work when it comes to getting my hands dirty and then working on the promotional side. I’ve been very fortunate to work with various teams at Island and [president] Louis Bloom actually signed me, he was in A&R and he signed me himself. It’s great, it’s such an iconic label.”
Lastly, having been in the industry a while now, what do you find is the hardest thing to swallow about the business?
“I think I find it tough watching [what can happen to] friends of mine, friends whose work I greatly admire, because it’s not always a meritocracy. There’s also [the element of] being in the right place at the right time and being incredibly fortunate. Hard work is a huge part of it and showing up and seizing opportunities is a huge, huge part of it. But it’s tough, because you could have friends whose work you love and then see that it doesn’t work out for people who you would really want to support. It’s about learning that it’s not always a meritocracy.”