“I love my homeland. There’s no other way of saying it,” muses Hozier, who introduces himself as Andrew in the midst of his tour rehearsals in Nashville. “You spend time in a place, and the place spends its time in you.”
It’s a blazing late summer day in Tennessee when our conversation is taking place. The members of Hozier’s touring band are rolling in to the East Nashville rehearsal space one by one, and a drummer down the hall working through charts provides a backbeat throughout our time speaking. Many of the folks in the band are based in Music City, and Hozier shouts out the “incredible players and incredible instruments” the town has to offer.
We’re thousands of miles from Ireland, that homeland he loves so dearly, and it’s not the last time throughout our interview that a line from “Butchered Tongue,” off his latest LP, comes to mind: “So far from home to have a stranger call you darlin’/ And have your guarded heart be lifted like a child.”
Unreal Unearth, Hozier’s 2023 album, is a poetic spiral into Hell. During the pandemic, between a bit of Samuel Beckett and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he landed on Dante’s Inferno as the cornerstone of his third full-length project. “Between Wasteland, Baby! and Unreal Unearth, there is some small continuity; there’s an impending end, and then there’s what comes after,” he explains. “That’s what I was anxious about when writing Wasteland, Baby! — an information dark age, or dark age of empathy. And Unreal Unearth starts with what happens after the end.”
In this case, what happens after the end is a collection of 16 tracks that covers everything from heartache to memory, wistful longing to redemption. Soft-spoken and incredibly thoughtful in conversation, Hozier says that he toyed with even holding the Inferno inspiration close to his chest, but ultimately decided against it. It wouldn’t have matter: Unreal Unearth is lyrical not just in the musical definition of the word, but in that it’s immediately clear upon listening that it was inspired by poetry; you’d hear it even if Hozier hadn’t explicitly told you so.
After spending so much time immersed in such a story, he’s hesitant to agree to the word cathartic, which he feels sometimes has too much finality for his liking.
“The thing about playing with this idea of the Hell realms is that every one of us is going to descend into our own place and come out of it on the other side, hopefully having learned something about ourselves and the condition of living,” Hozier explains. “Something I’d hoped for was a sense of accepting the difficulty and challenge, and the sorrow and pain, of being alive, but also recognizing what’s beautiful about it — what can be cherished.”