We had the chance to sit down with Hozier right before his show at ZOA City this past week and also photograph his set later on. The Irish singer/songwriter who just had another mega hit with “Too Sweet” told us among other things, about what special place he visited while in Zurich. Keep reading to find out where he was. 

Andrew John Hozier-Byrne is an acclaimed Irish singer-songwriter known for his soulful voice and thought-provoking lyrics. With his debut single “Take Me to Church”, Hozier captivated audiences with his unique blend of indie rock, blues, and folk influences. 

You brought the best weather to Zurich! It has been raining and it’s been cold for a very long time, so thank you for doing this.
I feel like coming from Ireland, I don’t know how I did this. It definitely didn’t come in my pockets, so somebody else brought this. But yeah, it’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful day!

So I heard you were just visiting a special place today… The grave of James Joyce. How was that?
It was really, you know what? It was really… NICE. It was something that I’d hoped I could do. But I didn’t get to do it yesterday as it was closed by the time I got in. 

I think James Joyce, he’s a writer who’s changed not only Irish literature, he changed English literature forever, you know. I think for Irish art and Irish, I mean, obviously literature, but anybody who’s putting pen to paper on anything, there is what happened before James Joyce and then there’s what happened after James Joyce. So he is… I don’t think there is a bigger figure in the landscape of Irish art. It’s very hard to compare him to any other thing or person for what he contributed.

So you’ve been inspired by him as well in your songwriting?
Of course, yeah. His work was definitely a big part, you know, he has a book called “The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man”. And there’s a lot of people who I think famously have found a warrant in that book, like something of a ticket to take for themselves and go, okay, off I go, you know. That whole book is about an artist freeing themselves from the constraints of other people’s expectations, a nation’s expectations, a community’s expectations, in order to create what they need to create. It’s beautifully written, but yeah, so it was, I found that really inspiring and then obviously just the way he deals with language.

Seamus Heaney is an Irish poet who references Joyce here and there throughout his work. In this beautiful poem from his Station Island book, which is also a kind of a nod to Dante’s Inferno. There is a moment in there where he meets the ghost, he never names him, but he meets the ghost of James Joyce. The spirit of James Joyce, it’s this kind of, again, spirit quest. And that poem itself was really inspiring to me too. It was encouraging to see that other writers have drawn similar inspiration in the same passages, etc. Yeah, so I’m ranting, but yeah… 

I can see you’re very passionate about this.
Yeah, so he’s an important figure.

Amazing, well, I’m glad you had the chance to go do this today and see his Grave. Talking about writing. Do you see like a pattern or like an evolvement of your songwriting as well? Esp within the last 10 years since “Take Me to Church” came out…
Yeah, definitely, there’s changes. In some ways, I think more about what the song hopes to achieve. And in some aspects, I think less about what the song needs to achieve. 

It’s hard to describe. I think on this most recent album, there’s definitely songs that are more personal to me. It’s kind of an opening of an internal door to a slightly more personal space and just processes that and puts it in the song. That is rewarding in its own way.

So personal songs usually come from your own experiences… But there’s a lot of people that try to take something else out of the songs. Have you heard any weird interpretations about your songs recently? Maybe some that you find odd, but maybe even satisfying as well, because everyone sees music and art differently?
Yeah, for sure…Definitely. And people project onto the work what their own experience is. And that’s part of art. So sometimes that can be a really nice thing where somebody sees an angle to something that you never saw and that can be great. Sometimes they totally miss the mark completely, or certainly miss what I was aiming for. They find their own mark. But it’s a completely different interpretation or intention from what the song had. So that happens all the time. Like “Take Me To Church”, I was getting invites from pastors to sing in chapels and stuff like that.  

Haha ok, not what you had in mind I guess, but talking about “Take Me To Church”. That was a big hit 10 years ago now. Now, “Too Sweet” is another hit song. Are there other songs on your albums that you’re like, “Oh, man, I wish this one would have performed better”…
Yeah,I honestly just never approached the writing of the songs to be like – I want this to be a hit, I want this to get loads of exposure. I think THAT, to me, puts into the machine of the writing, a component that is not beneficial to whatever your intention is with just the identity of the song, the intention of the work, etc. There’s decisions you make in production that maybe make it easier to listen to.

And there’s one song, which I’m super proud of, which probably is like the least listened to song, but there’s a song called “Swan Upon Leda”, which I released, maybe just under two years ago. And that is possibly, I think, one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. One of my favorite. But you know, it’s also a difficult song to get your head around. And as such, it’s like, not the most popular.

And that’s that’s part of the trade-off.

Does it sometimes surprise you if a certain song performs great, when you’re like, oh, it’s a good song, you’re proud of it, but then it totally explodes when you never expected it to?
Yeah, it can happen…It does surprise me. “Too Sweet” is a song that I wasn’t going to release, you know, it wasn’t on the album. Not that I didn’t want to release it, but I didn’t see it having a place on the album. In a fight between the song called “Eat Your Young” and “Too Sweet”, they both had the theme of gluttony. The album had these themes, (nine circles of hell etc).  And I just thought, okay, Too Sweet’s fun. It’s a fun song, but it’s not gonna change anyone’s lives, you know what I mean?

So I’m glad that we released it. It was kind of this decision that people might like it, but I mean, just let it, it’ll either fly or it’ll sink, and it’s time to kick it out of the nest, you know? So, yeah it did surprise me. 

Okay. So, I mean, it did kind of blow up on TikTok first, I guess. Is that something that you think about when creating music – like knowing that there are platforms out there that are not necessarily for music, but can just blow up songs and change your life?
Yeah, so it definitely can. And TikTok has, in some ways, democratized the roulette of that game. Like what’s gonna connect and what’s not gonna connect, you know? Songs are blown up probably into the charts and into like Spotify charts, etc.

With people who have no representation, no label, etc. That’s, thayou’re seeing a little bit more of that. But, I mean, there’s always an audience or potential audience that, that creeps into your head when you’re making the work. And one of the hardest jobs is to try and keep that noise away from you as you’re making the work. 

Because it’s like when dealing with people, if you go about your life living in a way to try and preempt what somebody wants out of you,  you’re gonna come away from every interaction like, as a very unhappy people pleaser who’s worried all the time whether they did a good job and it makes no sense.

But if you could choose what kind of legacy you leave with your music, what do you want your music to be or mean to other people? How do you want to be remembered in the future?
I don’t know. I think it’s kind of beyond of how I want to be remembered if. There’s some days you wake up and you wishyou’d be forgotten very quickly. And then there’s other days, I just hope that people enjoy the work, you know, and that the work represented me as best as the work could. I represented my time on earth as best I could from what I saw, what I felt in the time, the place that I was given, and that when I approached the work and the making of it. Sometimes that’s playful, sometimes that’s contemplative, sometimes that’s reflecting, sometimes that’s serious, you know, but whatever the work was, that they were just little tiny fragments of me in that time and place. 

How people remember it is, it’s not for me to decide.  

Okay, thanks for that insight. So, as always, we ask fans to send in questions before the interview.

Gloria would like to know how you handle criticism and negative feedback, and if it’s changed within like the last couple years?
Yeah, it’ll depend on what the feedback is, it’ll depend if it’s meaningfully critical. I’ve received criticism sometimes that is so clearly in bad faith that it’s easier to let go of that, still can sting, you know. But when you see a paid music critic who’s writing for a publication making fun of your physical appearance, it takes time, but it’s easier to let go of that, because here’s somebody who doesn’t respect their fucking job, excuse my French. It can sting, but I think ultimately you’re cultivating, throughout your career, a relationship with your own work that is not dependent on the outside view, you know, and it’s really, really important that you make the work, not whether a critic thinks that it’s good or not.

That is the saddest outcome I can imagine, I think that’s really devastating if you are approaching the work asking yourself, is somebody I’ve never met, who will never meet me, who is not a musician, and is not an artist, and does not have skin in the game, if they’re going to tell me that I’ve done a good job and give me a cookie. No! That’s horrendous, like no. So you cultivate yourself out of that, cultivate a relationship with the work and with yourself so that that’s no longer a question.

Absolutely! I agree and like that way of thinking. So Nina would like to know your favorite place in Ireland to wind down, and why is it that place?
Oh my god, yeah, there’s some beautiful spots, and I live in County Wicklow, so there is not far from me, very lucky to have, it’s called Glendalough, Glendalough is a beautiful valley, ancient valley, small sort of place, it’s the hermitage of a guy called Saint Kevin, who’s one of Ireland’s kind of ancient saints. It’s this beautiful valley, Glendalough means the valley of the two lakes, and that’s a really, really special place. Sometimes I’ll just walk on the seaside, or you know, if I can really do it, if I’m feeling brave, I’ll go for a swim in the sea, and nothing sort of resets your whole system like jumping in a cold sea, you know.

Now, to end this interview, we have our little Quick-Fire part… Let’s go!

The first thing I do when I’m getting off stage is…
I’ll probably check in with the band, take my ears off, and I’ll either warm down, or I’ll take like a bite, if I’m hungry, there’s like after-show food, but I’ll warm down, which is like vocal exercises. 

Guinness or whisky…
I haven’t been drinking for a long time and the last time I mixed the two was a bad, bad look, I was not well, but right now, I’d say Guinness, because it’s, yeah, it’s gentler on the system.

Indoor or outdoor concerts?
It can depend… For our production right now, I’d say indoor concerts, but on a day like today, it’s beautiful outdoors.

All right, and then last one: first concert you ever attended…
I remember some gigs, some like bar pub gigs, my dad was a drummer in some blues bands, but I can remember one of the first shows I ever went to was a Sting concert, a very, very early, blurry memories of being in a Sting concert in Dublin, that was nice.

Hozier and yours truly after the interview

Hozier then was gifted his gold award for “Too Sweet” by the label.

Here are a few photos of the gig: 

Concert Pictures: Hozier @ ZOA City, 27.06.2024

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