Wywiad w Hozier: "Myślę, że najgorsze dopiero nadejdzie z #MeToo i przemysłem muzycznym"

Wywiad w Hozier: "Myślę, że najgorsze dopiero nadejdzie z #MeToo i przemysłem muzycznym"

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ZAHozier-Byrne był kolejnym, walczącym dwudziestokilkuletnim muzykiem, gdy zaczął pisać piosenkę na strychu swoich rodziców. Wracał do zdrowia po nieszczęsnym rozpadzie i włożył całą swoją frustrację w tekst. Wychowany jako kwakier przez katolików, ale wykształcony w katolickiej szkole w tętniącym życiem nadmorskim miasteczku Bray, 15 mil od Dublina, próbował religii i nie podobało mu się to, co zobaczył.

Powstała piosenka "Zabierz mnie do kościoła", Została wydana w ramach EP-ki bez wielkich fanfarów we wrześniu 2013 roku. Jednak w następnym roku, wspomagana filmem przedstawiającym homofobiczne represje w Rosji, stała się wirusowa. Stał się najbardziej rozpowszechnionym singlem 2014 roku. Słyszano go już prawie miliard razy na Spotify – postać streamingu bardziej typowa dla artystów takich jak Drake i Ed Sheeran.

I te słowa, które mają na celu, jak Kościół katolicki głosi seksualność, wciąż budzą lęk. "Będę czcił się jak pies w świątyni twoich kłamstw, powiem ci moje grzechy i możesz wyostrzyć swój nóż. Ofiaruj mi tę śmiercionośną śmierć? Dobry Boże, pozwól mi dać ci moje życie ", mówi chrapliwy refren, z rezonansowymi chórami Hoziera wspartymi na pianistycznym pianinie i nawiedzającym chórowym chórku.

Sława przybyła jak tornado. Pod koniec światowej trasy promującej debiutancki singiel, po niekończących się występach na czacie, festiwalach, wywiadach i spotach telewizyjnych – nie wspominając już o duecie z Annie Lennox na rozdaniu nagród Grammy 2015 (gdzie był nominowany do Song of the Year) – Hozier wycofał się do swojego domu na wsi. Kilka miesięcy później był sam, po raz pierwszy od wielu lat.

“You do go mad for the first few months, you crawl up the walls,” he says. Hozier is 28 now, and sitting opposite me in a bar in Fitzrovia, nursing a half pint of Guinness. His eyes are framed by black, square-rimmed glasses, and his tousled dark hair is tucked into a wool hat (more because it’s comfortable, than for fear of being recognised), which accentuates his sharp cheekbones. When he stands, his slender frame towers over everyone else in the room. El Greco would have adored him.

It's nearly five years since he released his self-titled debut album, a long time for any artist to wait between releases. He just needed to feel normal again, he says. “I was following a lot of current affairs journalists on Twitter, so after the tour I thought I’d reconnect and find out what was going on in the world… big mistake,” he continues with a laugh. “But if there was pressure [to make a new album straight away], I didn’t feel it, in fact I was given quite a long time to explore.”

Irish singer-songwriter Hozier (Edward Cooke)

Wasteland, Baby!, his upcoming album, has some of the reverent, sermon-like ballads that made listeners latch on to “Take Me to Church”, although he won’t place a bet on any quite matching that song’s success. Yet you can hear echoes of the dark sensuality heard on “It Will Come Back” in his single “Movement”. On “Shrike” – named after the carnivorous butcherbird, known for impaling its prey on thorns – he finds a suitable metaphor for his favoured themes of love and death.

He drums the table with the flat of his palms, cringing, as I mention a moment that appeared to pinpoint where his rocketing career trajectory seemed to get out of hand – when he performed “Take Me to Church” at a Victoria’s Secret show at the end of 2014. While there wasn’t exactly a furore over his performance, there did seem to be a collective eyebrow raise at what on earth he was doing there.

“That was totally out of my comfort zone,” Hozier admits. “Something like that… there are hard decisions that are made, and some that are made for you. I have to say, those are people who are very hard-working, who are dedicated businesswomen, and are very proud of what they do…” he trails off, then adds: “It’s probably less appropriate at a wedding than it is at a fashion show.” He’s referring to how friends occasionally asked him to sing “Take Me to Church” at their weddings, certainly an odd song choice given its subject matter. “You do ask yourself, how did I get here?” He pulls a face and gives up.

I ask whether he’s been following the news about American musician Ryan Adams, who was recently accused in a New York Times investigation of sexually inappropriate behaviour towards a number of younger female artists. Hozier is aware of some of his work, but not the details of the accusations. He does bring up the allegations against post-punk band PWR BTTM – who all but disappeared after singer Ben Hopkins was accused of serious sexual misconduct in 2017 – as something he was “devastated” by. Hozier is, however, certain that the “worst is yet to come”, as the music industry slowly catches up with the #MeToo movement that began in Hollywood.

“With every story like this that comes out, it inspires people to share their own, and that’s only ever going to be a good thing,” he says. “It’s taken a while, I think, but there has to be more to it. This is not something that’s specific to any one industry, any one type of work.”

It feels good for him to be moving on and (finally) releasing his second album. After experiencing an onslaught of negative news about politics and society, he wanted to make a record including songs that are “ridiculously ‘end of the world’”, but also ones that are more tongue-in-cheek, such as the title track, which are “hopefully more uplifting”. There’s a stronger blues influence on many of the songs, and Hozier managed to get not one, but two of his biggest idols onto the record: Mavis Staples on “Nina Cried Power”, and Booker T Jones.

“That was amazing… he’s a total hero,” Hozier says of the moment Jones got in touch and asked whether he wanted to record something together. “It was really wonderful to see him work on something I’d written, that was surreal.”

Hozier’s first band was a soul covers group, when he was 15. He’s aware that sounds odd – four Irish schoolkids raiding charity shops for suits to try to look the part, and enlisting a three-piece horn section for shows at local community centres. “We were s**te,” he admits happily. “But being able to tell Booker T what he meant to me growing up, that was great.”

In the video for “Nina Cried Power”, Hozier contextualises his tribute to “the legacy of protest” with a video that stars prominent Irish activists – from Repeal Project founder Anna Cosgrave to LGBT+ rights activist Maria Walsh – who are shown listening to the song for the first time.

“It’s been encouraging to see people exerting pressure on the government, and watching something happen,” Hozier says. “It’s so easy to feel things are hopeless and that we’re going down this endless road. But these young people were showing real leadership. It gives you cause for optimism.”

His other recent single, “Movement”, name-checks a man who has been causing controversy for all the wrong reasons: Sergei Polunin. The Ukrainian dancer, known as the “bad boy of ballet”, rose to a more mainstream kind of fame after his performance to “Take Me to Church” in a viral video directed by David LaChapelle. To date, the video has over 26 million views on YouTube.

As a kind of “thank you” from one artist to another, Polunin is name-checked in Hozier’s lyrics for “Movement” and dances in the official video, where he faces off against different versions of himself. Shortly after the video’s release, however, Polunin sparked uproar after revealing a huge tattoo of Russian president Vladimir Putin on his chest. It was a bizarre move, not only for a man clearly aware of tensions between his native Ukraine and Russia, but also for a dancer who had earlier linked himself to a song that takes direct aim at countries where homophobia is deeply entrenched within its culture. This was further compounded when Polunin posted a series of homophobic, sexist and fatphobic comments about his fellow dancers on Instagram in January, causing the Paris Opera Ballet to drop him from a scheduled production of Swan Lake.

“It’s troubling,” Hozier says of the drama that unfolded after “Movement” was released. “I don’t have a personal relationship with the man, but a lot of what he’s been saying is pretty out there. I remember standing with him on the shoot for a day and he didn’t have the tattoo [of Putin] then, so it all seemed to come out of left-field.

“When you bring somebody into your art, there’s a sense of trust and belief that they understand where you’re coming from,” he continues. “So to see all of that was really deflating. For somebody with such artistic potential – I was struck by the vision he has and his dedication to his work – for him to be hijacked by this strange cultural war, it’s really saddening.

“I offered a nod to his work with my work, as something that I felt was coming full circle. When you do that, you’re bringing somebody in, in a very personal way. So it’s very f**king depressing.”

We elect to have another drink. “Why not,” Hozier says. “It’s the end of the day.”

He hopes that it won’t take another five years until his next album. “It depends on how long this tour is,” he jokes. “But it’s good doing this the second time round, because now I know what to expect, and what I’m capable of.”

Hozier’s new album, Wasteland, Baby!, is out on Friday 1 March

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