Hozier Plumbs the Depths of His Psyche for New Album Wasteland, Baby!

Hozier Plumbs the Depths of His Psyche for New Album Wasteland, Baby!
Alex Lake
Irish-born singer and song composer Andrew Hozier-Byrne, known simply as Hozier, skyrocketed to fame five years ago thanks to his anthemic breakout single, "Take Me to Church," and his platinum-selling, self-titled debut album. Going from playing open mikes in Dublin to performing at the Grammy Awards in less than two years was a whirlwind experience, but he's not the kind of artist who resents his biggest hit.

"I think it's a real shame that some musicians look at their successes as a burden or a curse," he says. "It comes with its challenges, but when you write a tune and put it out there, surely your hope is that the most people as possible will hear that song and find something in it they connect with. I was proud of that song, and seeing what it did was pretty awesome."

Hozier is tackling the challenge of following up a smash record with his sophomore LP, Wasteland, Baby! The 26-date Wasteland, Baby! Tour is set to kick off at the Fillmore Miami Beach Tuesday, March 19. The show promises to be a major production: Hozier has recruited a seven-member band to bring his new collection of dramatic and cathedral-worthy songs to life.

"Everybody plays or hits something, and everybody sings," he says of the ensemble. "It's kind of necessary that everybody in the band is a singer. We're holding a lot of lines and a lot of harmonies, and the music has a lot of choral arrangements."
All aspects of Hozier's performances suggest intense emotions, from his soaring and soulful voice to his finger-style acoustic guitar playing. But in his own view, he's a fairly reserved presence onstage — and even more so off it. "You'd be hard-pressed to find me on a dance floor," he says. But he does whatever a song calls for, and sometimes that requires conjuring up certain emotional states or pushing himself physically.

"A song like '[Take Me to] Church' or 'Movement,' or some of the songs coming up right now, they just require a lot of energy to sing," he says. "You're reaching for notes — certainly, they require a lot of power — that are at the top of your range. In order to hit those, you just have to go for it and exert the energy."

It also helps to warm up. Hozier sings for about an hour before going onstage, and he clears his mind as much as possible. While performing, he tries not to think about what his hands and mouth are doing, wanting to stay out of his own way and "be a conduit for the tune."

"Getting out of your own head when you're performing — that's half the battle," he says. "You can't really analyze it; it's all about instinct and muscle memory at a certain point."

Writing songs, on the other hand, is a conscious act of plumbing the depths of his psyche for something — usually, something terrible — with which to reconcile. That helps explain why his lyrics have a dark streak, such as the chorus of his 2016 single "Cherry Wine," which hints at an abusive relationship: "The way she tells me I'm hers and she is mine/Open hand or closed fist would be fine/The blood is rare and sweet as cherry wine." 

That's not to say Hozier's music is all shadows and storm clouds. He'll often add tongue-in-cheek elements to "hold the awful thing at a distance and smile at it," he says.

And sometimes he balances darkness with downright sweetness. On the title track of Wasteland, Baby!, he sings, “All the fear and fire of the end of the world/Happens each time a boy falls in love with a girl.”

Hozier. 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7300; Tickets are sold out. 
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Howard Hardee is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wisconsin. Originally from Fairbanks, Alaska, he has a BA in journalism and writes stories about music, outdoor adventures, politics, and the environment for alt-weeklies across the country. He is an aficionado of fine noises and has a theremin in his living room.