Hozier On ‘Tarzan’ Ballad “Better Love” & His Next Album: Interview
Hozier broke (very) big in 2014 when gut-wrenching single “Take Me To Church” exploded in the US — peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and selling quintuple platinum. It also nabbed a Grammy nomination for Song Of The Year. The singer/songwriter has been on the road ever since, promoting his self-titled debut album with near non-stop touring. He did find the time, however, to record “Better Love” for summer blockbuster The Legend Of Tarzan on a rare day off.
I recently caught up with the 26-year-old to find out more about his first new song in two years and to get an update on the progress of his sophomore LP. Hozier stands at the very beginning of the project, with only a handful of demos (and a headful of ideas) at this point. The Irishman revealed that he plans to take some time off to complete the album, but can’t see himself staying idle for too long. Catch up with the “Someone New” hitmaker below.
Was “Better Love” written specifically for the movie?
I wrote it specifically for the movie. I worked with the same producer and a lot of the same players from the first album and from the tour, but it’s new. I was eager to write because I hadn’t written any song, from beginning to end, in pretty much two years. You’re eager, you’re itchy to do something different from what you’ve been doing, but it was literally a three or four week deadline, so I kind of said, “Okay, if I could get a demo to them in five days, we’d be doing okay, but if not, I’m fucked.” It worked out in the end.
Was it hard to write something to fit someone else’s narrative?
I felt it important to bring my own self to it. I had to make sure it sounded like it was something that was coming from me and something that I would say, but the song stands on it’s own. I suppose the difference is that you’re opening yourself up to a window of influence. A very definite window of influence that is shown to you and I drew from those themes, drew from the themes, and the song is a love song.
Did you have a particular scene from the film in mind?
No. They reached out looking for a contemporary song to round off the score. The score is written by a guy called Rupert Gregson-Williams. They indicated [the sing] would play towards the end. But you’re not really writing it with a specific scene in mind. You’re getting a feel for the film, you’re getting a feel for the themes and then you wait and see if they like it. There’s every chance they’ll turn around and say, “Look this doesn’t fit our vision.” It happens and it’s cool.
What attracted you to the film?
I think I was eager for the challenge. I was in LA at the time and it was the first time that I had nothing on the schedule. It was the first time that I ever had an opportunity to do something like this — the plate has always been so full that I’ve never been physically able to do it. I’m gonna disappear for a while and “Better Love” will be the last that people hear from me. I really want to concentrate on my next album after this.
As a very credible artist, were you hesitant about attaching yourself to a blockbuster?
Of course. I think about it in two ways. I’m a songwriter at the end of the day. I write songs. That’s what I do. At the same time, should I fear an opportunity for people to hear my song? Or fear a piece of work that I could create? This was the challenge for me and I kind of view it in those terms… but that’s a great and difficult question. Johnny Keyboard Warrior will definitely have something to say about it. But I’m a songwriter at the end of the day. Your only hope is that your work is judged for what it is when you do it, piece by piece.
You said you haven’t written a song in two years before “Better Love.” Does that mean you haven’t even started working on your second album yet?
There are ideas, there are demos. Of course, work has already started. I’m not gonna show my hand on it until I feel I’m ready to show my hand on it. It’s not like you release the album and then sit around and do nothing for two years. I’ve been touring the world. I packed a suitcase two and a half years ago and I haven’t unpacked that suitcase. I’ve been in limbo for two and a half years, promoting that album. And because it took of globally, I chased that and you need to do meaningful promotion of it. You’re doing shows all over the world, which is great… but for me it’s not terribly conducive with creativity — with a creative space that you can actually be calm and make music.
It’s always go, go, go, go, go. You’re surrounded by people and you live in their pockets. You’re on a bus with them and you see the world through the window of a bus and the window of a hotel and you see the world through the window of a venue and you’re gone again and it’s all just go, go, go, go, go. For me it’s very hard to sit down, work on a song, demo it and even think. You’re just fucking keeping your head down and getting through it. So there’s a lot of ideas and it’s fruitful because you get a lot of external influences, but it could take time before you can actually farm all of that shit out of you and hopefully have something pretty.
Is that why you’re planning to disappear for a while?
We’re not talking decades. I’m not doing a J.D. Salinger, you’ll hear from me again. [Laughs].
Will you need to get back to your normal life before getting stuck into the album?
Yeah. I’m gonna catch up with friends and family, close family members that I didn’t see a lot of over the past two years at great personal expense. It’s at great personal expense for your well-being. I think I need to look after myself in that regard and it’s giving myself that space and drawing a line in the sand. I’m not going to be sitting doing nothing. I’ll dive into arranging what I already have for the next album. And I’m gonna be on tour again. I’d go crazy if I wasn’t touring by next year.
You’ve talked about being in this bizarre bubble of promotion and touring. How do you still find “normal” things to write about?
It’s about my gold collection. It’s about all the models that I wake up next to and the bling. [Laughs].
No songs about dealing with the fame then?
I think you have to be careful about what you are drawing from. I don’t worry about it so much in that this is a myth. The myth of fame and the myth of success is cultivated because it is monetizable and it is profitable. We sell the myth of fame and the myth of success in music, we sell it in videos, but it’s fucking bollocks. It’s all nonsense. The thing is, when you think you’ve arrived at the point that you’ve been striving to get to, you fucking have to bring yourself with you. Much to my disappointment, I still am myself. I still view the world with the same eyes that I did when I did the first album.
Are you planning to work with the same people on the next album?
I think so. This is another reason I want to move to the countryside to have some quiet time. It’s how I did the first album. I demoed the songs and wrote in an attic. Not that I’m going to be doing exactly that again, but I just want to be in my own sphere of influence a tiny little bit, on my own. I might be working with the same musicians again, I won’t venture too far from that. I’m not sure about the production, how it will sound, how it will feel. I may branch out in that regard. My method hasn’t changed by virtue of the fact that it doesn’t exist.
Is there a lot of pressure to write another hit after the success of “Take Me To Church”?
There’s two way to look at it. I think it’s a success if people were moved by it and it’s a success if people enjoyed it and felt something from it that was different. It was so fucking different from the radio landscape. When I look back at it, I don’t know how the fuck I got away with it because there’s no bass guitar on that track as far as I can remember, like the vocals were recorded using a U 87 in an attic, 40 compressed, probably 40 treated so I don’t know how the fuck.. I’m sorry for cursing.
There’s also numerical success. For me, that’s all fucking great and I’m thrilled that it was something different and I would hope that it opens the door for similar singer/songwriters. I was just trying to be honest with that song. If I was trying to chase that success with similar or greater numerical success or chart success, then you enter into a field whereby if you’re writing music or creating music for the sole purpose of having high numbers, that kind of defeats the purpose of creating music.
It defeats the purpose, or at least you’re not really looking at music as an art form, what it’s potential is. All I did was trust my instinct with that song and I fucking can’t get over how lucky I was. All I can do is trust my instincts again and move forward, and trust that hopefully I can be forgiven for the amount of promotion I’ve had to do over the last two and a half years.
I’m obsessed with Ireland’s musical history. Is there anyone new we should be listening to?
There is some fantastic stuff coming out. There’s some really beautiful music being made. There’s a group called Otherkin who are a very exciting rock group. There’s a group to really look out for called Saint Sister and they’re a duo and they make fucking beautiful music, beautiful lyrics, just gorgeous lyrics. There’s another group called Wyvern Lingo, they toured with me. Are you familiar with a band called Little Green Cars? In the land of my heart, they are the sovereign kings and queens. They are song of the best songwriters I’ve ever met. Really beautiful, chest-opening music.