"If something resonates with you, it most likely is going to resonate with somebody else."
In a brief dial-in interview with Hozier from a studio in LA, the singer-songwriter is cheerful, pleasant, clearly excited and somewhat relieved that his third studio album is now out in the world.
Here is an artist who enjoyed an accelerated rise to stardom with his debut Take Me To Church in 2013, a rousing, raw anthem that was hard to avoid hearing on the airwaves or out and about, and made his name instantly recognisable and regarded. Since then, Hozier has stuck to his troubadour roots, crafting soulful, intimate multi-instrumental tunes into raw blues, unrestrained soul, rock and folk eloquence within identifiable yet intimate anthems across his previous two albums.
In addition, he’s never shied away from social commentary, addressing injustices suffered by the LGBTQ+ community, women’s rights, domestic violence, climate change and the endless fight for social justice. And his steadfast engagement with his fan base in person and across his channels has been endearing; he announced the new album to his fans through a hand-written note.
But as he talks about his latest release and its creation during the pandemic, there is an obvious tinge of sadness that is quite fitting for the poetic Irishman he is.
“It was like the world flipped upside down,” he recalls. “Around the time I started working on this album, in March 2020, a lot of songs that I had been working on I just sort of lost my connection with. During that time it felt like the world changed the context for our living, changed how we contextualise social interactions; they all became a very different thing. And there was this terrible potential of loss that was hanging over everything and really a great loss hanging over everybody.
“So yeah, I sort of put aside a lot of songs that I had been working on that up until that point, and I sort of sat with those new conditions. And at first, it didn't change anything about how I how I approached the making of the work, because the making of the work for me was always something I'd done in solitude. And I've always done it in a kind of quiet and peace of my own space. And so in a way I was very much aligned with living like that, and enjoying my own time in my own space at first, and what I had never experienced before was finding the limitations of solitude and what it can offer you.
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“And so I think, coming out of the lockdown period, once I was able to travel again and bring my demos and bring my work to producers, there was this willingness or this openness I had to creating with other people. And actually what we started jamming with, with Dan Tenenbaum one of the producers, and creating music in the space for the first time in a way I've never done so before. I was totally charged by that, by that creative energy by other people in the room by other people making music, making noise. That was something that was really fresh and really exciting to me and it started changing my approach for this album.”
His latest, Unreal Unearth, channels the internal pivot and need he felt to alter the thematic direction and musicality he initially had in mind for his third release. Working with a cohort of collaborators such as Jeff “Gitty” Gitelman (The Weeknd, H.E.R.), Jennifer Decilveo (Andra Day, Miley Cyrus, The Strokes), Bekon (Kendrick Lamar, Joji) and more, Unreal Unearth became not just a sonic deep dive but also a deeply personal one. It’s a triumph that Hozier got to this point regardless because he reveals that prior to writing this album he thought he would never write again.
“It was something hard fought for, I have to say; I wasn't hit with the walls that came with [the pandemic] for some people,” he says. “I was hit with a few challenges in that time and in that solitude, and there was probably a time where I thought I'd never write another song, to be honest. But it definitely allowed me the time and afforded me the opportunity to sit and I assess my relationship with my own work and assess my relationship with the act of making music and creating what it means to me and what it offers me.”
For Unreal Unearth, Hozier loosely nodded to the structure of Dante’s Inferno in order to collate and curate the album. As he told his own stories about life’s ups and downs within a definitive framework, he followed a captivating thematic arc informed by the turbulence of the world and the fight for a better and brighter tomorrow. Ultimately, these 16 tracks trace a provocative, poetic, and powerful roadmap back into the light.
It's heavy subject matter, so how does he navigate having a foot in everyday life without getting bogged down in the world of his intense, intimate releases?
“Yeah, I'm not sure exactly. And, you know, I think part of it is, you just sit with it, but it's being honest with yourself and the work and letting what comes up, come up,” he reasons. “And something that I try to do is offer myself some sense of space or step or two of distance away from the things detailed in the songs. And a part of that is using the devices in the songs like referencing Francesca, referencing Icarus. So bringing in another voice or bringing in another proxy, you know, that allows me to do it, to kind of take a step back and widen it a little bit as well.
“And sometimes they can be personal reflections, or maybe at times, deeply personal reflections or experiences of past experiences. But once it's once it's done, and once it's out in the world, it also belongs to everyone else. And the way I view it is if something resonates with you, it most likely is going to resonate with somebody else.”