“In the poem, I think Virgil is a more interesting character, really,” Hozier reflected to me backstage at Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville last Friday. Virgil is the poet and guide to Dante down through the nine layers of hell in Dante’s Inferno, the poem that Hozier’s new album Unreal Unearth is based around. At the end of the story, after leading Dante through hell in its entirety, Virgil is not allowed to walk into paradise.
“I think there’s something interesting about that,” said Hozier. “I think if we were to write that story now with our current… You know, there’s an argument for Dante saying ‘no.’ He could resist the logic or the matrix of thinking that damns Virgil to remain in the space that he just walked him through. I wrote a song that tries to re-approach that outcome. I think we might release it next year, I’m not sure.”
As Andrew Hozier-Byrne sits across from me, divulging information that is making his publicist wince, he is casual. Everything you’ve heard about Hozier is true. He’s tall. He’s gorgeous. He brushes his long hair away from his beautiful face as he peppers the conversation with Irish “erms” in a way that is positively charming. He’s funny, self-aware, generous and deep. Yeah, he’s perfect.
“So I think Virgil’s a very interesting character,” he says, as I suddenly snap back into the room. “The idea of the song is that he doesn’t go on to paradise and says, ‘There’s no way I’m going any further. I’ll stay here with you.'” Did I mention he’s a considerate king?
Hozier also alluded to other songs of his, as yet unreleased, that explore the Inferno theme. For now, he’s holding them back. “I thought that it felt too much like a book report, you know what I mean? It’s too close to the text. You’d need to have an understanding of the text to see these references. But we might put it out next year in a kind of an extended project of some kind.”
Getting back to the original text, I said, “I think it would be funny as a buddy comedy,” trying to get him to like me.
“I think it totally, totally could,” said Hozier about Inferno. “There’s this humor in it, though it’s medieval. There’s this whole passage about how these demons are communicating with each other, and they just fart at each other all the time.”
Hozier said many more insightful and funny things and I am going to get out of the way and let him speak on these topics.
Hozier on Nashville
“I have spent more time in this city than most American cities in the last year. I rehearse for tours here in Nashville. And more than 50% of my touring band right now are Nashville-based musicians. There’s also great rehearsal spaces in Nashville, and great places to keep gear. So logistically, it makes a lot of sense. The level of talent here is crazy. So I spent maybe a month and a half here when we were gearing up for this tour.
I did a thing with Maren Morris recently, “CMT Crossroads,” and got to hang in a place on the East Side, a little dive bar. I got to play some pool. I think the bar was called Mickey’s.” [It is.]
Hozier on Brandi Carlile
“Brandi is amazing. I mean, she’s a force of nature. She never slows down. We met years ago at Newport Folk Festival. I was touring my first record for the first time and Brandi was covering ‘Work Song’ in her set. Afterwards we got to meet and talk and we have kept in touch after that. I met Allison Russell for the first time at Newport, too. So I’ve just gotten to know her a bit as an artist and as a person for the last few years.
There are very few voices like Brandi’s. She has this soaring, very courageous sort of quality. Such great strength. So when I was working on the song ‘Damage Gets Done,’ I felt it needed it needed a voice as powerful as Brandi’s. I sent it to her and was like, ‘Look, I know your crazy schedule at the moment, but if there’s any way in hell that we could make this make this happen…’ No [Inferno] pun intended. And she very graciously found my time in her schedule.”
Hozier’s Screen Time
I asked Hozier what I’ve never asked an artist before, because he seems like a very funny, very “online” guy: “What was your screen time this week?”
He replied, “I actually don’t know. And this week it probably was lower than other times because I had a very busy weekend with family. I just did New York, we did Madison Square Garden and then we did a show afterwards, so it’s probably a little bit less time. However, after that, there’s probably me checking how the Madison Square Garden event with boygenius went.
Could he give me an exact number of hours?, I pressed. “OK, I would say my screen time is well over 7 hours [a day], something like that.”
Hozier Suggests a Song
I had Hozier keep his phone out and said, “The last time we did this, I asked you ‘What’s a song you can’t stop listening to?’ You picked a Nick Lowe song, but ‘Return of the Mac’ started playing on your phone.”
He clarified, “It was the a capella version of ‘Return of the Mack.’ Just the vocal. The lead vocal on it’s own, my God.”
So what song was on pause on Hozier’s phone at that very moment?
“It’s called ‘Half Blind’ by Ye Vagabonds. They’re an Irish ensemble. An Irish folk duo,” he said. “I love their music. I saw them perform just before Christmas last year and they played a song that I wasn’t familiar with and I’ve been looking for it ever since. The lyrics are stunning. It’s like, ‘I’ve fallen foul of my desires. Forsaking love for being admired. Reaching ever more than what I require.’