As Me with Sinéad — 6: Hozier
[01:05] Sinéad Burke: Welcome to As Me with Sinéad. For this week’s episode, I had the chance to sit down with Andrew Byrne, who you may know as Hozier. Like me, he’s Irish and unlike me, he’s six-foot-six. But I spoke to him just before he played the most incredible concert. And I got to be in the audience for that, too. I’ve been fortunate to know Andrew for a long time. I’m even in his music video for Nina Cried Power. For this episode, we talked not only about the ways in which he uses his enormous global platform to create more inclusively and good, but we also spoke about what it’s like to be him in his skin.
[01:46] Hozier: I’ve been on relationship with the physical side of myself and most of my life, at least first 27 years of my life, at least I lived in the space just behind my eyes. But I was always very deeply uncomfortable with my height and stuff like that. In the last few years, I’ve only still come around to that and getting to own it as such. And I started to — dare I say it — even just be very happy with the height that I am.
[02:12] Sinéad Burke: On my mind this week is, well, fashion and the holidays. Earlier this year, I had a chance to go to Milan Fashion Week and got to spend time with the women behind the extraordinary brand Missoni. Personally, fashion has been this amazing toolkit and access point for my activism. I utilized it as armor. It demonstrated to the world who I am. And whilst fashion gives me power, I’m also very conscious that it still excludes and is inaccessible to so many different bodies. And at the same time, it has an impact on the environment that we must be cautious of, consider and critique. Like so many things that we do, buying, consuming and coveting fashion is complicated. In 2019 I’m so excited that a multitude of fashion brands and design leaders are starting to listen to the feedback from disability activists, fat activists, environmentalists and labor activists to make shifts that won’t just last for a moment, but will be a movement that sustains the growth of this industry and us as people. For example, Jane Fonda has just announced that she’ll no longer buy new clothes after being inspired by Greta and so many other young environmentalists. And the Missonis, for example, are launching Margherita Missoni’s latest, M Missoni Matches, a collection centered around outerwear which is made from upcycled material from the Missoni archive. And me personally, I have demanded of myself that I must wear each item in my wardrobe at least 30 times, and ensure that my participation in fashion is conscious not just around disability, but the environment. Less waste, more thought. Are you ready for this week’s episode? Let’s go!
[04:01] Sinéad Burke: On this week’s episode of As Me with Sinéad, I am sitting across from somebody who, in many ways, is the antithesis to my being physically. But if you were to describe him as a success, it would be easy to do so based on his professional accolades. But I fundamentally believe that the reason why those accolades exist and have been awarded is due to his kindness, his advocacy, his empathy, and his constant thinking of others before himself and constructing ways in which to deliberately leverage the spaces in which he occupies to make the world and the arts a safer, fairer, more inclusive place than others. I’m sitting opposite Andrew Hozier Byrne.
[04:51] Hozier: Hey.
[04:52] Sinéad Burke: Hi.
[04:53] Hozier: How’s it going?
[04:54] Sinéad Burke: Good! How are you?
[04:55] Hozier: Thank you very much for that very, very sweet intro. Thank you.
[04:57] Sinéad Burke: You’re very welcome. Is where we get very Irish —
[04:59] Hozier: This is where we get very, very Irish. We deflect.
[05:01] Sinéad Burke: And we’re like, oh, yeah, thanks.
[05:03] Hozier: We deflect and deny all kind things that have been said
[05:06] Sinéad Burke: It’s not us. My mother paid you.
[05:10] Hozier: Thank you so much for having me on. It’s an absolute pleasure and a joy. And also to be asked to speak to you — I know exactly — maybe the listeners don’t, but I know exactly what kind of incredible guests you have been speaking to and are lined up to speak to. So the fact that you would think of me is an absolute quite an honor, I have to say.
[05:28] Sinéad Burke: Well, I’m very grateful that you said yes. How do you describe yourself personally and professionally?
[05:36] Hozier: Thankfully, I don’t have to think about it all that much. I try my best not to think about it all.
[05:40] Sinéad Burke: You’re welcome.
[05:41] Hozier: You know, I’m a musician, I suppose. And I first and foremost, I’m just a writer of songs, you know, I string noises together. And I try to make pretty sounding things out of them. But yeah. I think ultimately it’s really it’s just that you’re just trying to do the best that you can. You’re trying to do the best. And in reflecting how you see the world, how you experience it and reconciling, you’re just reconciling how you see the world, how you hope it could be. But yeah, I’m a noisemaker. That’s only — that’s what I do.
[06:18] Sinéad Burke: And who are you personally?
[06:20] Hozier: Personally — I don’t know. Again, I even think less about that, which is — it’s one of those kind of questions that is best avoided.
[06:29] Sinéad Burke: What’s the best parts of you?
[06:32] Hozier: I don’t know. I view it — I’ve kind of landed into this. And, you know, I was a college student. I was kind of a feckless, directionless college student who knew that being in college wasn’t — didn’t make sense. Knew that I wasn’t going to do four years of doing a degree which would leave me deeply unemployable.
[06:54] Sinéad Burke: What was the degree?
[06:55] Hozier: It was music. And but I would have to do another year or two to become a teacher at the end of that.
[07:01] Sinéad Burke: Would you have been a good teacher?
[07:03] Hozier: I did think about being a teacher once upon a time. But I think I just didn’t — I didn’t want that for me. In the long run there was something that I just wanted to do in making music and making contemporary songs and popular music. I just wanted to explore that. And I want to make sure that I gave everything in trying that, you know. So but personally, I still exist in that confusing space. I still feel like I’m 22, 23 years old and baffled and slightly overwhelmed all the time and just moving forward like everyone else.
[07:29] Sinéad Burke: If we were to pick up the phone now and call your extraordinary mother and said, how would you describe Andrew, what do you think she would say?
[07:37] Hozier: She is the perfect Irish mommy in that regard. I’d say Lorraine is one of my number one supporters. I’m very glad to say that. I’ve been very, very fortunate to have such supportive parents, you know. And I think I kind of owe them everything, you know. And I would owe everything to I think the strength of my parents, and the kindness of my parents and their outlook, and the way that they have always managed, and my mother has always managed to kind of find time for people and put people ahead of herself, you know.
[08:09] Sinéad Burke: What are your best examples of that growing up?
[08:12] Hozier: I could think of a few. I could think of a few. I do always remember as a child, not making sense of it. I just wondered why there was an extra table setting at Christmas, let’s say, you know. And I always thought it was like, what are we expecting a ghost or something? Some kind of ghost of Christmas whatever to show up or you know. But that was always kind of part of her ethos, was always looking — you never know what might happen at Christmas. There’s always somebody alone, and there’s always somebody who would sooner be sitting sitting at a table surrounded by hospitality and kindness. And making sure that that table was set, that place was set.
[08:47] Sinéad Burke: As a symbol and as a literal —
[08:48] Hozier: Yeah, as a symbol and as a literal function. Should it happen, but more so as a symbol that is observed and acknowledged that this is where the outsider would be sitting.
[08:57] Sinéad Burke: And what were you like as a kid?
[08:58] Hozier: I was very quiet. I think I am — I went through — I was a bit of a class clown at times. I was a little bit, yeah. And I wasn’t the most — I could never get away with getting in trouble. I always tried to make people laugh and stuff like that if I could be silly.
[09:13] Sinéad Burke: Was it physical comedy or one liners?
[09:16] Hozier: A little bit maybe one liners, maybe just been a smart-ass.
[09:20] Sinéad Burke: That wouldn’t be like you!
[09:21] Hozier: Yeah. Yeah. Always having something to say or disagree with. Because I was so tall and I was lanky and I kind of stood out from from a very, very young age, I could never get away with misbehaving. So if a friend poked me or pinched me or it smacked me in class and I go to reciprocate or I go to offer the same in kind, I would always get it completely in the ear. I would completely get it in the neck. And it was just by the chance that I could not hide anywhere.
[09:48] Sinéad Burke: When did you first begin to realize you were taller than everybody else?
[09:53] Hozier: I would have been ten or eleven. I was well into kind of five-foot-something by the time I was like twelve years old. So that made me quite a self-conscious child, I think. And it made be kind of feel like I stood apart, for other reasons as well, too. I kind of at times got quiet and insular and observant, I suppose more so. So I was quite up and down. But I think it’s only because of this career as well, too, I’ve had to kind of come outside myself a little bit more and be a bit more chatty.
[10:24] Sinéad Burke: How do you find that?
[10:25] Hozier: I still struggle on good days.
[10:30] Sinéad Burke: It sounds like you love it.
[10:32] Hozier: No, it’s good.
[10:34] Sinéad Burke: Did you have teachers who kind of ever realized your music potential? Were their teachers who made a difference?
[10:41] Hozier: That was actually — and that was one of the things that informed my thinking of what a difference a teacher can make. There was a few teachers in my school which changed a huge amount of things. And actually, you know, for the course of my life, I would say. I could give a few examples. One in particular was a music teacher, which I don’t know, is it fair to name them? Miss Owens.
[11:03] Sinéad Burke: If it’s a good story.
[11:06] Hozier: Only good stories. Miss Owens was a music teacher. And I’m not sure who was teaching music beforehand, but what she did do is she created space. And she created a platform for students to showcase what they were excited about and what they had been working on. Up until then, the school had a kind of a talent show. I remember being in my first year, second year of school, and I do remember it was something that was not many kids ever put themselves forward for. It used to take place in the canteen. I don’t even know if they had a sound system, you know. There was this thing after sports day or something that the kids would get around and kids would kind of look and, you know, an opportunity really just to sneer at somebody. So everybody was very terrified about putting themselves forward unless you were really, really good, or you were super cool and you could get away with it. And one year in particular, I remember a sign-up in the school that said — before Miss Owens joined — and it was kind of mocking the kids for not putting themselves forward. The administration had put up a sign saying talent show canceled due to lack of talent, you know, which was very funny, I have to say.
[12:06] Hozier: Miss Owens kind of created a space, created a concert that would take place every year. Aside from a sort of a talent show, like an extra thing. And she also engaged a lot with getting the kids to sing. And from that sprung a kind of like a capella choir, so a student-ran a cappella choir. And I was kind of getting obsessive about blues and teaching myself at a place like blues. So having then kind of an opportunity at least to work towards something, so that the rehearsals weren’t just something that took place in my bedroom, that they actually had a goal. You could put yourself forward and do that terrifying thing. Yeah, it’s scary as hell and sick-making to get up there. But then at least you have this thing that, when you’re a teenager — I kind of call it — you have your own little treehouse. You have your private thing, which is yours and yours alone, and something that is personal and restorative to you that gets you through. And for me, that was the music I was listening to, the music I was falling in love with. A lot of that was blues music, and music by people like Tom Waits. So being able to rehearse and not just rehearse such that this was something I’m doing on a hamster wheel. You know, having been in a place then to express that. And then you get the buzz of an applause at the end of it and you get the buzz of being the only person who — this being your thing and this being something that that you can offer, that is your own thing that you’ve cultivated and is special to you. And then see that, OK, it’s special to somebody else.
[13:36] Sinéad Burke: Now, I’m intrigued how you even got to that thinking. Because there is 12-year-old Andrew who is five-foot, trying to figure out and grow into his own skin and body. And yet here you are slightly older, maybe 14, putting yourself in front of the world. What was your world at the time? What made you even step forward and do what made you have the courage?
[14:02] Hozier: Yeah. The first few times I ever sang in front of a crowd, II was like a boy soprano, you know. So I was like — I was the kid who could sing. I was the boy who could sing. And it was I was always super awkward about it and hated it. And it was always either a grandparent or a person of that generation being like, c’mon, would you ever come in here and sing a song? You know, that it’s just of that generation that after tea or after supper, like someone is sitting in the chair and she just fancies a song.
[14:32] Sinéad Burke: And what did you sing on those occasions?
[14:33] Hozier: I just I would say, no, thank you. And I would — maybe when I was younger, I wouldn’t have put up as much of a fight. But as I got older, I was like eight, nine, ten. I just I used to — I hated it. I hated being looked at. I hated having attention on me and absolutely horrified me. Then school services, of course, you’d be pushed into it for school services. And then you’re eight years old and you’re singing in Latin and you’re kind of up there doing the thing. And I really I had some really bad experiences of it. I had one what could be described — maybe around the age of nine — in front of a group of people I did not know for like a community hall type thing. What could be described as kind of a live feed of puberty to come. And it was horrendous. And I had no idea of how to deal with them. A bum note. So I corpsed, what is known as corpse-ing. I just buried my face in my hands until some adults came up on stage and took me by the shoulders. I had to get up and do the next night like so, you know. And I think those things are are good because I suppose you feel like nothing worse can happen. And many ways, maybe it can’t. It doesn’t.
[15:43] Sinéad Burke: How did you go back up the next night?
[15:45] Hozier: I missed my cue the second night, too. So, I mean, we’re getting up there and like standing with my proverbial in my hand, you know, and then having to step off again before the performance. I just felt like an absolute pillar. I don’t know how. And so I don’t think I sang in front of a crowd then until my voice dropped. And then I was in school, and it wasn’t that that was overly traumatic. It just was like it was just mortifying. And I just didn’t — what I already disliked, singing songs, just made me dislike further. You know, the experience of it. And then met some kids in school in my same year — one guy was a guitarist, one guy kind of play the drums and then one guy was just getting into playing bass. And I was kind of listening to more rock and roll at the time. My voice was very, very different. It dropped. And then I think the first time was we got up and did like a cover of like an AC/DC song or something like that. But it was different because it was music that to me was exciting at least. And it was music that was something that I had found for myself and that I loved. It wasn’t something that an adult was like, this is a pretty sound and you have to sing this and this is why you do it.
[16:49] Sinéad Burke: More for them rather than for you. You are just a vessel by which they could gain entertainment.
[16:52] Hozier: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, totally.
[16:56] Sinéad Burke: I am interested in the moniker of ‘the boy who could sing’ like that follows you around? When did you realize you could sing?
[17:03] Hozier: I didn’t myself realize that I could sing. It was always as well that adults were telling me that I could sing. And that’s another reason why you’re just, like, doesn’t sound like me, you know, or you know that’s something that you’re being told. And as you’re getting older, you’re learning to be suspicious of what adults tell you, you know, naturally. So you don’t accept that. And it doesn’t feel like it’s something that you’ve cultivated for yourself. It’s something that adults are pushing you into, I suppose.
[17:28] Sinéad Burke: And after those performances, when you were Mr. Q and corpsed, was it at that stage that you knew that music was what you wanted to do professionally? I’m just imagining you going home, telling your parents, this is what I want to do. And you’ve had two very public traumatic experiences. They’re going, ‘um, do you have a backup plan there?’
[17:49] Hozier: Yeah. No, I would have been — OK, when that was when that took place, I would’ve been eight years old. So like maybe even younger. My God. So it was even before I think I had aspirations to learn how to play guitar, you know? And I think I think my first aspirations to kind of learn how to play guitar then more like maybe eleven or twelve. And that was when I was really starting to cultivate tastes in a way that weren’t just songs that were around me. It was songs that I was seeking out. You know, I learnt a few chords on guitar. My parents were very, very sweet and they got me this guitar to learn on. I learned a couple of chords and I let go of practicing guitar and I didn’t take it up until I was about 14 again, or 15, where we came into possession of this electric guitar. This kind of Strat copy. And I had no idea really, apart from the three chords that I knew. And around the same time that I started singing for this local band, a band that my brother was playing drums in. It was a soul covers band like a rhythm and blues covers band. Everybody was either 16, 17, or 18 and we were total ramshackle group, but that was like a three-piece brass section, bass player. But we were all kids, you know.
[18:59] Hozier: It was from kind of that point onwards that I started engaging differently with thinking about music as, like, I don’t know, something that that did bring me excitement and joy. And I think from that point up until my 19th year, 20th year, I was kidding with myself or losing the battle of keeping my feet on the ground and saying, I don’t want to do this. I mean, I’ll become a psychologist. I’ll become a doctor. I’ll become a teacher, maybe.
[19:30] Sinéad Burke: Were those are your options?
[19:32] Hozier: Those was my initial thoughts, yeah. Those were my first —
[19:37] Sinéad Burke: Why a psychologist?
[19:38] Hozier: I just was fascinated with people, you know. And I loved watching people. People watching was always one of my favorite things.
[19:44] Sinéad Burke: Was that because you were quieter?
[19:47] Hozier: I think for a time I was quieter. It was really just the fascination of what makes people tick, you know? But I think it would have been — I think it would’ve been a mistake, as well, too, because there is — I think what they call in that profession is when the odd treating the Id. Where somebody goes into psychology, counseling in psychology, or research in psychology, because they really want to figure themselves out and they spend their life trying to figure out through other people.
[20:11] Sinéad Burke: I think that might be the purpose of this podcast. Maybe I should stop right now. And how did that period change you personally? Like, did you begin to, as your skills within music began to develop, did you see a changing of you as a person?
[20:32] Hozier: I don’t know if it’s a changing of you as a person. You have a thing. Having a thing to focus certain energies into, to focus excitement into, focus ambition into — if you have a place to focus your ambition as opposed to when you haven’t got it focused, it kind of scatters around your life into different things. And it troubles me greatly, you know, because you have this feeling that you’ve got so much that you want to give and so much you want to offer. And you’ve got so much energy and so much potential. And you feel that you really want to go somewhere with yourself and you really want to offer something and contribute something. And you can believe that to your bones, but like for me, you know, just having a focus point of that ambition very much helps. So you have something that you can gain confidence in. I didn’t gain confidence in anything else in my life. And so, no, it didn’t change me personally. I didn’t feel more confident or assertive or my self-esteem certainly did not improve. But you what you have is that you have a thing that’s yours. And you have a place to focus. And like to cultivate a love and to cultivate an interest and to get something to be excited about and something that in your mind is infinite. And its potential and its scope is infinite as well, too. And certainly in the case of music, and that was something that I was kind of enchanted by as well. So you find then there’s good things that you put into that. But it also gives you a place where you amplify the worst of yourself as well, too. So if you’re a very self-critical person, you have a place where that’s going to be a monster also, you know.
[22:08] Sinéad Burke: you can revel in that.
[20:09] Hozier: Yeah.
[22:10] Sinéad Burke: More after the break.
[24:18] Sinéad Burke: What’s it like to live in your body?
[24:22] Hozier: I have nothing else to compare it to. Dunno, I’ve an odd relationship with the physical side of myself and — most of my life, at least the first 27 years of my life, at least — I lived in the space just, you know, just behind my eyes. Having discovered things like mindfulness and stuff I’ve gained a few skills of trying to kind of ground myself a little bit more into an experience of a whole self. But, you know, I think the older I get, I’ve definitely gotten more — and it might sound strange — this tall person who gets up on stage and kind of maybe it doesn’t look like it — but I was always very, very deeply uncomfortable with my height and stuff like that. In the last few years, I’ve only still come around to that and get to own it as such, you know? And I’ve started to dare I say it even, you know, just be very happy with the height that I am. I know it sounds mad, but —
[25:21] Sinéad Burke: No it doesn’t. I hear you. At least you don’t poke anybody in the eye with your umbrella. I remember my dad saying, you know, don’t let others make you feel small to make them feel big. You know, you didn’t choose to be a little person, but they’re choosing to be a dick. But you must find it difficult to get clothes.
[25:45] Hozier: No, I’m sure, like —
[25:50] Sinéad Burke: You must live exposing your ankles.
[25:51] Hozier: Every now and then. They get a bit more — they need a bit of vitamin D.
[25:58] Sinéad Burke: Translucent, I like to call myself.
[25:59] Hozier: But I’m not like I’m not a giant, you know. I’m just a tall man.
[25:58] Sinéad Burke: What are you 6’6”? 6’5”?
[25:59] Hozier: 6’6”. I was measured the other day by somebody and I kind of —
[26:10] Sinéad Burke: How’s that experience?
[26:13] Hozier: That’s fine. You know, like again, the difference is it’s a desirable thing. Like you don’t I mean, you know, this is it. So. So being tall is a desirable thing.
[26:22] Sinéad Burke: Being short not so much. But I was lucky that I was a woman. My dad often talks about being a short man is not desirable romantically. Everybody wants to a taller partner. Look at you fitting into boxes!
[26:39] Hozier: It was never any — it was never a cross to bear. It’s just — it’s just self-consciousness on my part. You know, I think —
[26:46] Sinéad Burke: Well, the world was watching. Then and absolutely now. If you were more confident in your own body, and in the space that you took up, and if that evolved into arrogance or — I think it is your sensitivity to yourself that allows other people to connect with you. I mean, I was at your show last night and there was people queuing outside the stage door just to have five seconds with you to tell you what your work has meant to them, how it gives them hope, how it encourages them to see the world differently, see themselves differently. And I think if we weren’t born into the circumstances in which we were and we didn’t experience — be in the challenges or the positives — about our individuality, we wouldn’t be creating the pathway that we are. When you wake up in the mornings, what’s the monologue that’s in your head?
[26:46] Hozier: It depends on the morning. I don’t have a very quiet mind. It’s usually not good things, you know. So I either race to distract myself from — now that I have actually more skills in kind of calming the mind and letting go of thinking and negative thinking, it’s a bit better. But it’s usually some conversation, some argument that’s going on. You know, you’ve exhausted by noon, you know,
[28:11] Sinéad Burke: By yourself?
[28:13] Hozier: By yourself, yeah.
[28:14] Sinéad Burke: In the most challenging moments — when that spiral of self-destruction becomes deconstructive. What do you say to yourself to get yourself out of it?
[28:26] Hozier: Eventually you kind of just wear yourself out and, you know, let go.
[28:30] Sinéad Burke: And then you have to go on stage and play.
[28:34] Hozier: Yeah, exactly. Or, um, you know, no — I have been trying to cultivate skills to kind of let go of that sort of tension and obsessive negative thinking. But, um, I do have moments of perspective where I try — if I can, if I can’t get this kind of every once in a blue moon — is to try and just take a step back from that and clock my surroundings, clock my position about certainty — where I’m sitting, where I’m standing, what I’m doing, where am I? And when I do that, it’s like an activity in gratefulness, I suppose, or kind of, you know, engaging in it in an active form of gratefulness. I’m constantly baffled by the fact that I get to do what I do. I’m constantly, you know, I would be in shock. I’m completely bowled over by the fact that I’m doing what I’m doing. And as you say, you know, I’m playing a sold-out show at the Palladium. I’m like, here I am in London, I’m kind of in his fabulous part of the world.
[29:33] Sinéad Burke: And what’s been the most unbelievable moment?
[29:40] Hozier: I kind of measure work achievements, or kind of achievements in and stuff that I hope would be lasting or to be to be part of. You know, you’re just trying to leave behind something, to contribute something that might be a legacy, might not. I have to say working with Mavis Staples was most recently one of the most proudest of I’ve been. Getting to know her and getting to speak to her. That was very, very wonderful. I kind of — I’m not the best to pat myself on the back after we do a good gig, or after we do an award show or something like that, I really struggle with them. I don’t have time to feel too happy and all too proud of. I think I consider that kind of an indulgent waste of time, you know? But there’s a few things that I am pleased about. And getting to work with that woman in particular was quite special.
[30:27] Sinéad Burke: I’m intrigued at this idea that you don’t take moments to massage your own ego. While it’s actually ego is often necessary for it being able to be onstage in front of others using Hozier. Does Hozier as a entity allow you to be in a position to step forward and be take up more space than Andrew? Or are they different people, different things? Or is it both the same?
[30:59] Hozier: Yeah, that is a tricky one. And it’s one that I try to figure out. Hozier, in our age of digital marketing, it was just a more effective way of offering the name Andrew Hozier Byrne. In the work that I do and everything I go about, I’m still just Andrew, you know. And that there is a struggle there.
[31:22] Sinéad Burke: Do you you wrestle with it?
[31:23] Hozier: To a degree. Yeah, well, I don’t know really what — and I think this is the same with anything, it’s just you have your idea of yourself. You have how you experience yourself and then you have the weird alien — you know, it’s that thing of ‘hell is other people.’ You know it because you’re forced to confront how people view you by talking to them, you know, and by seeing how they interact with you. You’re forced to view yourself from another perspective. And the larger that — I find, the larger that crowd gets — the more takes, the more opinions, the more interpretations of you as a person. But for me, it’s always just been me. It’s always just been Andrew.
[32:01] Sinéad Burke: Are you aware of it?
[32:04] Hozier: Of what, different interpretations? Of course. And because I have — they show up on my phone every few moments. So that’s a weird thing. For me, I’ve only ever just been Andrew Hozier Byrne making music that is informed by exploring influences and exploring traditions of songwriting — so exploring blues traditions and rock’n’roll traditions — and writing songs, playing around with those traditions and influences — and trying to offer something and contribute something, you know?
[32:35] Sinéad Burke: When did you know Take Me to Church was good or important?
[32:44] Hozier: I have to say, in the rare occasion of that — I felt as I was writing that down, I was proud of it, you know. And very few things I would say I’m proud of. As I said, I do not stop to be happy with myself. You do fall in love — Bjork once referred to, you know, your songs are your babies, you know. And in a way, you do — you feel like once you’ve created it, you’re taking from it. From there, when it’s in kind of an embryonic stage and it can be anything. And you allow it the space and it grows into what it grows into. And then when it’s recorded and it’s written, it’s gone from you. And you kind of have to let it just do its thing. If you watch people cover it, it’s one of the nicest things in the world. But with Church in particular, I was kind of playing around with that, as I remember the first time playing that to myself when the ideas fell together and I was proud of it. And I was happy with it. And I felt it said what I felt I needed the song to say, you know. And I was writing — I was composing a lot of those lyrics for that period of a year, trying to be careful with it, trying to say what I felt it needed. I feel like I’ve been catching up with myself personally since then. When that song was recorded, I didn’t have a band. So that first — there was a four-track E.P. that we put up on Bandcamp that was for free, that you could download for free. It was up there for about a month or two months. And in the case of Church, I had demo-ed it, recorded all the vocals, recorded all the beatings, recorded a kind of a midi piano to it and it outlined a drumbeat.
[34:20] Hozier: When I got to the studio with Rob Kirwan, he was like, yeah, so we have a few days. We’re just gonna brush these up, gonna make them sound good. The demo sounds cool, so can you just get your drummer in? I didn’t have a drummer. So I called two people — well, the first person I called was Alex Ryan, who plays bass with me still. He was asleep.
[34:39] Sinéad Burke: How rude!
[34:40] Hozier: I know. So the dude was like, you know, he was up all night, you know, studying and doing, you know, catching up and stuff. I couldn’t get through to him. And then I had another friend as well who could kind of play drums. He played drums in the Trinity Orchestra. I literally sent in the demo and I said, dude, I need you in — if you can come in tomorrow and just lay down some drums for this. Then that song kind of just took off, became this kind of runaway hit. And I had to piece together a band and kind of went from being just kind of college dropout with no musicians around me to the second time in front of the camera was David Letterman, you know, so I don’t know how you start a career like that. I’ve been trying to — I feel like I’ve been constantly kind of catching up with that.
[35:19] Sinéad Burke: Two albums in. A tour ahead of you.
[35:22] Hozier: Yeah, exactly.
[35:24] Sinéad Burke: Pretty good time to catch up with yourself. We’ll be back just after this break.
[37:47] Sinéad Burke: With all that you have accomplished, I’m always so proud to see how you use the platforms that you occupy to amplify other voices. And how you use music as a tool for advocacy, as a tool to create empathy about broader subjects than what you experience in many ways. But how do you teeter the boundary of amplifying voices and speaking on things which are not your reality, if that makes sense?
[38:20] Hozier: I think it depends on the song and it depends on — I mean, Cherry Wine was kind of — I would never write something — I mean, it’s written from — it’s a song written from a male perspective about that feeling of kind of being enchanted by and kind of locked into a very unhealthy sort of relationship. We decided to, with the help of Caroline Downey — who, as you know, does lots of work with ISPCC — decided to use that single — release it finally as a single a kind of a last — as last single on the first album. But engaged with Safe Ireland network that deals with women who’ve survived domestic abuse. And kind of just something that would let them kind of lead the hand a little bit, you know, and kind of making sure that the director for that is, you know, Deirdre Walsh, incredible, incredible director. It depends on from project to project. So it in a case like that, I was asked if I would speak or do a chat at Safe Ireland Summit. And I am I can be very, very cagey about stuff like that because I do not want to — I can only speak from my own experience. And I can only offer — I can offer support where I can.
[39:27] Hozier: I can offer what I would refer to as a signal boost. If I can offer a signal boost to something, absolutely, hands down, I would do that. But when you do that, you tread a fine line because people will want you in the forefront because your face is recognizable, because your name is recognizable and it’s a pulling factor. But at the same time, you’re worried then that, you know, you don’t want to be seen as that it looks like you’re leading the charge in appropriating this. But at the same time, you know that that pull factor is there. You know that certain newspapers will write about, let’s say, this event or this march or this or whatever. Or they’re more likely to do so if you show up and sing a song. But then you do open yourself up to here’s this, you know, person potentially appropriating this, or flag-waving on something that isn’t his experience. I mean, many minds about it, too, are you don’t want to be that person. But then the other one, which usually kind of wins the battle or you find common ground or this takes most ground — at the end of the day, what’s the desired result? And if the desired result is, let’s say it’s an event that is raising awareness for a very, very serious issue or something that’s been overlooked or something that needs redressing — where you have a human rights issue or a women’s rights issue, let’s say, If the desired result is that this gets as much of a signal boost as possible, and the desired result is that awareness is raised or support is rallied for it, the few people who are going to throw stones your way and say, look, who’s this asshole, that’s gonna happen. And it’s not about you at the end of the day. And so, yeah, that’s gonna be a thing.
[41:02] Sinéad Burke: It’s about intent.
[41:03] Hozier: It’s about intent, I suppose. Yeah, it is. And I think, like, my intention — I always will approach these things with intention. But again, I have zero control over how these narratives are presented or how even that event is presented then in media, let’s say. Or how it’s spoken about and how it’s reported about. And as a very wise family member once shared, all the good things and all the good news stories about me in Ireland have been written by now. Which I’m very glad to say. I’ve had so, so much wonderful support in Ireland. But I’m aware of that that, you know. But as you say —
[41:41] Sinéad Burke: You just need tell them your shampoo secrets.
[41:42] Hozier: Exactly. But my intention will always, always be good. But of course, there is that you don’t want to be that appropriating thing.
[41:51] Sinéad Burke: But it’s realising the power that your presence has. I don’t mean you as just you individually, but people with influence, how that spotlight can be used to make a difference and change and realising, well, it’s better to be part of it to make a difference than not. Because I think if we all feel like we’re constricted into saying nothing and just existing within our own spaces, then that’s how the system just is reinforced.
[42:17] Hozier: Yeah, absolutely. Or indeed, if you’re kind of cowed into silence because you feel a certain member of the crowd or of the global, let’s say, online community is going to mock you or to try to undermine you, that’s really not doing — that’s not great. But to me, the most important voice is — so let’s say if you I’ve been invited to a rally or to something like that, what’s most important is, well, it’s the person who is organising. If they want you there and they feel it’s a good thing for them to have you there. You believe in the cause that they are working towards. And you want to do something for it. You follow their lead on it and you do what you can do.
[42:51] Sinéad Burke: It’s about sharing power. What gives you hope?
[42:54] Hozier: What gives me hope. I kind of hold optimism and pessimism in the same armful, you know. At times I don’t think much of the world. You know? It’s a dark place sometimes. But no, I have to say, I’m incredibly hopeful about people and people’s potential for kindness, their potential for empathy, their potential for solidarity as well, too. And what is achieved when that’s engaged. And what has been achieved in history when that’s engaged. All too often, sadly, it’s as a result of it — it’s pushed over the line as a result of some atrocity or something, some condition that is just untenable. But what happens when people, as you say, use their influence? Because even if it’s their influence as a voter, or their influence as a consumer, you’re informed by your experience. You’re informed by the empathy that you have knowing what other people’s experiences are going to be like. You’re informed by knowing what difference can be made. And oftentimes not a huge, not a huge thing. It’s not like a complete do-over, but it’s just as you say —
[43:56] Sinéad Burke: Often it’s a conversation.
[42:57] Hozier: It’s a conversation. And it’s meeting somebody eye-to-eye and sharing with them your experiences and listening to theirs and just believing people when they —
[44:06] Sinéad Burke: Having time. I have two final questions for you. I’m continuously beguiled and impressed by your use of language. What’s your favorite word?
[44:17] Hozier: What’s my favorite word? There’s one I came to recently. It’s from Seamus Heaney poem. Hyperborean. And it seemed like an old Roman word alone Latin word, hyperborean, which means and beyond the north wind. But he uses it to describe the cold blueness of somebodies iron in a poem. Hyperborean cold, so cold that is beyond in the Roman world what they thought was the north wind. That’s how they structured geography. This is the area where the north wind is. Hyperborean is beyond that. A lot of swear words, I have to say, I have a very obscene mind, you know. Have you a your favorite word?
[44:57] Sinéad Burke: A couple. I like facetious. I like the way your mouth has to move to say it. It stretches across your face.
[45:08] Hozier: It’s quite serpent-like.
[45:10] Sinéad Burke: I was probably Slytherin if I were ever in Hogwarts. I like ameliorate because it’s a French word. And what do you want your legacy to be?
[45:22] Hozier: I think a huge amount of my influences and the people that the music I fell in love with growing up, a lot of that music, a lot of the artists were gone before my time. And even especially, as well, with poetry and literature and finding a lot of the things that I fall in love with. There’s a timelessness to it, but the writers are gone before my time. They’re people you want to hear more from, you want you want advice from. And they’re gone. But their work is still so amazing. And in the case of music, I’m still set on fire, I’m still completely lit up by the work that was written and was informed by experiences long before I existed. I mean blues songs written in the ‘20s and ‘30s, you know. I would hope that I write something — or you would hope that you just you leave behind a few nuggets, a few little specks of gold in the dirt that somebody, maybe long after you’re gone, can pick up and find some enjoyment in and find some picture of your own moment in that.
[46:22] Hozier: And I view songs as a keyhole. They are documents. I do view songs as historical documents. They can be firsthand accounts. And the work of people like Mavis Staples is a perfect example of that. You know, songs that engage, speak in a kind of plain-spoken language about the world we’re living in. Something I find wonderful about songs that are a document. If you can leave something behind that maybe sometime after I’m gone — or even while I’m still here, even better — that somebody gets even a fraction of the joy that I’ve gotten out of certain songs, and a fraction of the joy that I’ve gotten out of certain music, if that’s something that I can offer to anybody, great. And you’re just passing on your excitement and your joy for what it is that you do, you know. You’re just kind of passing it forward. That would be enough, I suppose.
[47:14] Sinéad Burke: Andrew, I have absolutely loved talking to you. And I cannot thank you enough.
[47:20] Hozier: You too. I haven’t had questions as difficult and as introspective as that in a long, long time. In fact, possibly ever. So both thank you and how dare you!
[47:30] Sinéad Burke: You’re welcome.
[47:31] Hozier: It was wonderful. Thank you.
[47:32] Sinéad Burke: Thank you so much.
[47:36] Sinéad Burke: I think Andrew was our first Irish guest on the show. There’s definitely more to come. And I really learned so much from that conversation. For me, the premise of As Me with Sinéad is about realizing that our concerns, our dreams, our ambitions, our fears are more uniform than we could ever imagine. Sitting across from Andrew — really, physically, we probably couldn’t look more different. But what I learned from that conversation is that we’ve both had to learn what it’s like to live and be comfortable in our own bodies. The genetic mutation of which we didn’t choose, but yet our personalities and careers have been shaped by. Looking at me and Andrew, you would think that we have nothing in common, but really almost everything. As we’re approaching the end of 2019, I’ve been really reflecting on the people who have shaped me most this year. And this week’s person you should know is the extraordinary artist Amy Sherald. I got to meet her at the Cooper Hewitt Annual Design Awards. She is so talented and in her presence, there’s just an aura about her that is magnetic. She’s known for many things, but most recently, she painted the extraordinary portrait of Michelle Obama that exists in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.. Where do you find Amy? She’s on Instagram @ASherald. Go tell her I said hi.
[49:03] Sinéad Burke: As Me with Sinéad is a Lemonada Media original and is executive produced by Jessica Cordova Kramer, assistant produced by Claire Jones, and edited by Ivan Kuraev. Music is by Jerome Rankin. Our sales and distribution partner is Westwood One. If you’ve liked what you’ve heard, don’t be shy. Tell your friends or listen and subscribe on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you like to listen. And rate and review as well. To continue the conversation, find me on Instagram and Twitter @thesineadburke, and find Lemonada Media on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @LemonadaMedia.