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On new album, Hozier makes us face the music


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Judy Woodruff: Now: finding hope in uncertain times in song.

The singer-songwriter Hozier is out with his second album that debuted at number one on the charts last month.

Jeffrey Brown caught up with the Irish musician in Orlando recently for our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: On his new album, "Wasteland, Baby!" Hozier evokes scenes of the apocalypse.

He calls them love songs for the end of the world. But they come wrapped in a velvet baritone and a sense of humor.

Andrew Hozier-Byrne: It's not about delivering certainly bad news, but even just engaging with those anxieties and engaging with them honestly, and just laying them out there, and that can be done in a fun way.

I would be a bad Irishman if I wasn't able to pull some fun out of that. Do you know what I mean?

Jeffrey Brown: Hozier -- his full name is Andrew Hozier-Byrne -- was 23 and writing songs in his parents' attic, when he penned the one that catapulted him from obscurity to fame in 2013.

"Take Me to Church" is a searing criticism of the Catholic Church amen with a music video depicting and denouncing anti-gay violence, not the usual stuff of top 40 hits.

But it topped the charts in a dozen countries, and was nominated for song of the year at the Grammys.

His new album again speaks to current events, opening with the rousing "Nina Cried Power" featuring an icon of soul, Mavis Staples, and paying tribute to a long list of singers, including Nina Simone, who used their voices to demand justice.

Andrew Hozier-Byrne: 2016 was just an interesting time. You had a kind of an upswing of rhetoric, which was at times fairly ugly or othering or divisive, let's say.

And I just wanted to write something that was decidedly hopeful and that looked to a spirit of kind of solidarity, and looked to also a legacy of solidarity. You could call it protest music if you wanted to. I just -- I wasn't hearing a huge amount of it in the kind of music that I was making.

Jeffrey Brown: Born in County Wicklow, Ireland, Hozier grew up with American blues and soul music.

Andrew Hozier-Byrne: My dad was a -- like would have been a gigging musician, like just a live kind of gigging musician, really, full time.

I remember hearing, like, soul music for the first time. I was always drawn to voices. I was always -- and I was a singer before I could play anything else. I had fallen in love with the voice of people like Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, and voices like Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters.

To me, that was music for men and women. And I think my peers were listening to what I felt was music for boys and girls. It makes everything else seem trivial.

Jeffrey Brown: Soon, he was following in his father's footsteps.

Andrew Hozier-Byrne: The first band I was in, I was 15 years old, covering soul music, covering Booker T. and the M.G.s. I'm a 15-year-old, 14-year-old playing, like, community halls or, like, back gardens, like, you know, with local punk kids and stuff like that.

Jeffrey Brown: And you are playing -- and you are covering Booker T. and the M.G.s.


Andrew Hozier-Byrne: Yes. Yes, we were like -- we were an odd sight.

Jeffrey Brown: Fast-forward to fast fame, but it was five years before he felt ready to put out a second album, one on which this self-described news junkie poured out his anxieties about the state of the world in his own country and abroad on songs like the title track, "Wasteland, Baby!"

But, remember, it's still a love song.

Andrew Hozier-Byrne: The exclamation mark, the baby exclamation mark, I think is the wry smile to it. But, of course, there's a lot of tongue in cheek to it.

Jeffrey Brown: Yes. So, there's doom and gloom, but with a wry smile, you say?

Andrew Hozier-Byrne: I think so.

Jeffrey Brown: How do you do the mix?

Andrew Hozier-Byrne: Yes.

I do think it's a hopeful record. I think it's -- even though it's -- a lot of the context is a bit of doom and gloom, I think it's always looking for the kind of silver lining, of the capacity that we all still have for warmth, even in the worst scenario.

Jeffrey Brown: And at a time when artists churn out new music at breakneck speed, and celebrity can come and go quickly, Hozier is determined to move at his own pace.

Andrew Hozier-Byrne: I feel like a bit of a dinosaur sometimes, sitting down with a guitar, and going away and writing the music and then coming back and saying, look what I have done.

The challenge is to make sure that your -- that you have -- hopefully, you have something that's worth saying that people want to hear and people feel that is worth saying 10, 20 years, 30 years down the line. That's really the challenge, is having a career and growing with your music and having an audience that come with you.

Jeffrey Brown: For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown in Orlando, Florida.

Judy Woodruff: And Jeff says he's a news junkie.

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