Hozier Talks New EP 'Eat Your Young,' the Pitfalls of Fame and Why He Hates the Idea of 'Happily Ever After'
Julia Johnson Hozier
Ireland may be small, but its reach is wide. Take, for instance, its showing at the Oscars: The Emerald Isle-set Banshees of Inisherin was nominated nine times, and rising superstar Paul Mescal got a nod. Then there's author Sally Rooney, whose novels have been adapted into buzzy TV shows across the pond.
With Ireland having its moment, consider the stage set, then, for the return of one of its most celebrated sons: Hozier.
The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, 33, is celebrating St. Patrick's Day (which also happens to be his birthday) with a new, three-song EP titled Eat Your Young, his first big release since the 2019 album Wasteland, Baby!
"I'm excited to release music on my birthday. That's like a little birthday present for myself, to get to share music with the world again," the star, whose real name is Andrew Hozier-Byrne, tells PEOPLE. "I just hope they enjoy it! It's a joy, it's an honor. I hope it's a tiny little sample platter of the album to come."
The EP finds the troubadour covering familiar ground with a playful twist like only he can; the first two tracks, "Eat Your Young" and "All Things End," embody different levels of the nine circles of hell, while the third and final song, "Through Me (The Flood)," is a pandemic-era reflection on loss.
Here, Hozier, who also announced the Unreal Unearth album tour, talks inspiration, his thoughts on fame, the 10-year anniversary of his breakout single "Take Me to Church," which he thought "no one" would hear, and why he hates movies with happy endings.
Eat Your Young comes out today. What sorts of things were you reading, watching and listening to while putting it together?
Well "Through Me (The Flood)" I wrote in the very early parts of the pandemic, where it was still scary. People didn't know how long we would be in that lockdown period, and every week, every day, the news was reporting the death toll and it was reflecting loss quite a bit. I was also just reading some poetry at the time and some books, classic stuff that I had always wanted to read but never gave myself time to. I was dipping into Dante's Inferno a little bit, and there's this Roman poet called Ovid who wrote this collection called Metamorphosis, which is about change. And that idea of change was sticking with me as well as some of the language and iconography—the visuals from this story of a dude going through this long, weird journey into the underworld.
Your last album, Wasteland Baby!, came out in 2019 and was all about the apocalypse and the impending end of the world. Flash forward one year and in a way, the world did sort of end. How did you spend your time in lockdown?
I was in a very lucky position that I was at home. I have a place in the relative countryside, so it's a bit of space, a bit of green, and it's close to the seaside. That really helped, I was incredibly fortunate to be where I was.
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Barry McCall Hozier
During the press cycle for your last album, you said you were already working on new music. Did that make the cut for future releases, or did the pandemic change your perspective?
There's tons of stuff I threw away in the pandemic. A lot of stuff still felt frivolous afterwards. I was blessed, but that felt very heavy. And it felt like everything that I had been writing was a little bit frivolous. The "woe is me" love songs that we always end up writing somehow, it just seemed so silly. So a lot of work I discarded and started again.
So at what point in the process did you write the songs on the new EP?
"Eat Your Young" and "All Things End" were actually much later into the session. "Eat Your Young" was more playful, more just thinking about destructive mindsets, and trying to write from the perspective, in a fun way, of an unreliable narrator—somebody who relishes in the idea of just taking what they can take, destroying what they can destroy, damn the expense. It's arranged in circles, and "Eat Your Young" is gluttony. And "All Things End," in a traditional sense, that's a heretical statement. And it's about a breakup, I suppose, which always seems like heresy at the time.
Well it's the most positive, forward-thinking breakup song I've ever heard in my life.
That was the hope! I'm glad.
Does a song like that come about after you've sat in your feelings for a little bit, or is it more reactionary? Is it a way of processing things, or is it more of a reflective exercise?
That one actually just happened in the moment. I've also tried to convey that in other music, this idea that like, when people say that something is forever, either way, it ends. I hate movies with a happy ending. It just never makes sense to me, the concept of "happily ever after." It's just, that's not true. And I know, I understand that that's how the system of storytelling works. But with that [song], I just had that in my head, what I was going through at the time.
You once said you believe all musicians are narcissists. You've been doing this for over a decade now, so what are your thoughts on fame? Is Andrew a different person than Hozier?
They're not [different] really. I think they're not. I just write music. The rest of it, I don't know. I don't think I have too much of a big, larger-than-life persona. I really enjoy being able to bring the music to an audience who appreciates it. It's still remarkable that people would spend their money buying a ticket to come and see you sing your songs, so that is still an honor that I don't take lightly. If it's because people think my work has merit, I so appreciate that people might know me on that basis. Being known for the sake of being known or being famous for its own sake, I think, is very dangerous and quite unhealthy, potentially, and I don't recommend it. I will say I don't have too much of an interest in it outside of people enjoying my work. I'm very happy with being able to walk through the street or into a restaurant and no one knowing, really, who I am.
"Take Me To Church" turns 10 in September. Is that a song you could write today?
I really hate to say it, [but] it's more applicable now today than it was then. I remember getting some questions like, "Oh, why are you writing this? Why are you releasing this video now?" Because the video addressed some attacks that were ongoing in the Russian state, after the Russian state had changed a lot of laws to make homosexuality on par with pedophilia and bestiality, and as a result, there was this huge upsurge in attacking young gay youths. That's what the video was about. I remember being asked, "Why are you doing this?" And my only answer was that we live in an online world. There's no borders. There's no boundaries in our online spaces—the culture is making its way over. Sure as s--- this is going to find its way here, it's only a matter of time. Do I know if I would write it now? I don't know if I could write it now. That was the first song I ever released. And there's some wonderful, terrifying freedom in thinking that no one's going to hear the songs that you're writing. I genuinely thought that it would, at best I could hope for it would be this little unknown indie darling of a track. There's some freedom in not knowing what you can and can't do, and just saying, "OK, here you go." I didn't think people were going to hear that song. I had nothing to lose, but I think in many ways that song is more applicable now than even was then.
How do you think losing that freedom has changed you as a songwriter?
The only thing you lose is the freedom to swing at an idea, miss, and no one recognizing that you swung and missed, you know what I mean? So that's the freedom that you lose, is to fail or not execute an idea successfully. It's slightly more high stakes.
I imagine that pressure can be overwhelming, but you've really stuck to your guns, especially when it comes to protest songs like "Nina Cried Power" and "Swan Upon Leda." Why is it important to you to keep writing songs like that?
When I think about music and the time we have, I think of all music as a historical document, really. Whether the song is about going out on a Saturday night, in 100 years, somebody can go, 'OK, well, that's what the ideal was for going out to a club on a Saturday night.' And I think that that's meaningful, and it has purpose and it has value in that. For me, I would just love that music to at least bear witness in some truthful way as best it can to what it's like to live in its own moment in time.
See below for Hozier's upcoming tour dates. Tickets go on sale March 24.
May 7 — Shaky Knees Music Festival — Atlanta, Georgia
May 13 — Seascape Resort — Miramar Beach, Florida
June 30 — Malahide Castle — Dublin, Ireland
Sept. 9 — Saint Louis Music Park — Maryland Heights, Missouri
Sept. 10 — Moon River Music Festival — Chattanooga, Tennessee
Sept. 12 — Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island — Chicago, Illinois
Sept. 14 — Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre at Freedom Hill — Sterling Heights, Michigan
Sept. 15 — Bourbon & Beyond 2023 — Louisville, Kentucky
Sept. 19 — Budweiser Stage — Toronto, Canada
Sept. 20 — Place Bell — Laval, Canada
Sept. 22 — Leader Bank Pavilion — Boston, Massachusetts
Sept. 24 — Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion — Gilford, New Hampshire
Sept. 26 — The Anthem — Washington, D.C.
Sept. 29 — The Mann Center — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sept. 30 — Madison Square Garden — New York, New York
Oct. 1 — Sound on Sound 2023 — Bridgeport, Connecticut
Oct. 3 — Red Hat Amphitheater — Raleigh, North Carolina
Oct. 5 — Ascend Amphitheater — Nashville, Tennessee
Oct. 11 — The Criterion — Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oct. 13 — Choctaw Grand Theater — Durant, Oklahoma
Oct. 17 — Red Rocks Amphitheatre — Morrison, Colorado
Oct. 20 — Maverik Center — West Valley City, Utah
Oct. 22 — Rogers Arena — Vancouver, Canada
Oct. 24 — Wamu Theater — Seattle, Washington
Oct. 25 — Moda Center — Portland, Oregon
Oct. 27 — Bill Graham Civic Auditorium — San Francisco, California
Oct. 28 — Santa Barbara Bowl — Santa Barbara, California
Oct. 29 — Petco Park — San Diego, California
Nov. 1 — Arizona Financial Theatre — Phoenix, Arizona
Vov. 3 — The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas — Las Vegas, Nevada
Nov. 4 — Hollywood Bowl — Los Angeles, California