A few days before his 33rd birthday, Andrew Hozier-Byrne is in the woods.
From the second we meet, both clad in leather jackets and walking fast, we’re immediately talking activism and celebrity and how a person can stumble into both. I lead him to a tiny gated sanctuary off the main drag of southernmost Central Park. I ask him, “How rugged do you feel?” as we scale the hills and climb up the mossy paths. He’s not sure.
With two billion streams of his breakthrough 2013 hit “Take Me To Church” on Spotify, and RIAA Diamond certification of the same song — not to mention new music plans that include a new EP just released this March, visuals launching to accompany, and a new album and tour on the horizon — Hozier is a major star. It’s fair to say he’s adored by millions, with no significant borders when it comes to demographics. But the interesting thing is that his online fandom community is a distinctly, vocally queer one.
Hozier’s online fans see him as one of their own. They call him their “favourite lesbian” according to one public Spotify playlist, yet simultaneously “the only man that will never let [them] down” according to another. There’s no shortage of online content available under the tags “Hozier” + “sapphic” or “lesbian” and/or “feral.” When he tweets, the replies are filled with calls of “Let’s go lesbians” and “Thank you sapphic king.” Even if these fans aren’t necessarily attracted to him — if, say, they’re young, queer women making playlists for their girlfriends — the adoration in his songs is what connects with them.
Famously a man who carries a flip phone in his daily life, Hozier doesn’t spend much time on social media and is admittedly disconnected from fans’ responses to him and his work. “You might have a better insight into it than I do,” he admits. But he seems happy to know his music is connecting with these audiences.
The original plan for this interview was to discuss the lightness of this adoration, how joyful it is. But as we talked, we couldn’t help but also unload our worries about the context of marginalization and fascism within the United States and abroad — a reality that LGBTQI+ fans are feeling near-constantly, and arguably a big part of what drives them to find escapism in the world of devotion, respect, and adoration Hozier has built with his music.
We’re speaking in the shadows of the assassination of non-binary environmental activist Tortuguita by Georgia state troopers, the expansion of Florida’s death penalty, and many instances of policing transition for adults and minors, some legal and some extralegal.
Right now, as our futures are being stolen from us, many transgender people, myself included, have been wondering, “Where are the cis people with power speaking up for us?”
Hozier says he’s been alarmed by the sudden increase in transphobic rhetoric in recent months in online spaces. And it’s urgent for him to call the political environment like he sees it, from state-level drag bans to responses of anti-trans vigilante gun violence. “The fact that there’s armed militias…” he says. “It’s alarming how quickly, and just how extreme it’s gotten.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Your young fans put a lot of faith in you. The way that some of them respond to you, it feels like you’re doing a form of cultural activism in their eyes.
I know a lot of activists, so I’m reluctant to embrace the term “activism” in what I do, because I know people who have lost a lot as a result of their activism, and it costs them a great deal, and people whose activism is their life, and it’s something they do to the detriment of their well-being and their health, etc. So, for me, if the music is a space that can offer a moment of reflection on something, I think that’s great. And that’s something that I hope we can do. With activism… I am reluctant to embrace and say I absolutely am. Because there’s people out there really in the trenches.
There are tiers to it, as the right to protest erodes and normal things like drag, clinic defense, and ecological defense are starting to carry domestic terrorism charges now. Those activists are the vital base of the pyramid. And it’s up to the more visible figures at the top like you to raise awareness, and more importantly, money. You don’t have to be Jane Fonda.
Yeah! [Laughs.] No, unfortunately we can’t all be Jane Fonda. I think you do what you can with what you have, you know? And what you can do. I think… You always feel like you wish you could do more. At the same time, there’s so many atrocities happening across the world at any one time. It’s very hard to meaningfully address every single one of them.
I know that America has its challenges here — and challenges back home. And as a foreign citizen, also. I’m not an American citizen. So I enter into this country as a guest, essentially. It’s very easy to point out from an outsider’s point of view, things that are a real challenge to people’s lived experiences. That’s something I’m sensitive to also.
Speaking out carries more risks for you, in a sense, for that reason. At a drag queen storytime in Tennessee, you could be seen as an accessory to a crime and have your visa threatened.
100 percent. It is alarming how much it’s changed in the last 10 years. It is truly alarming. I even think back to the Seventies or Eighties. There’s armed militias outside drag shows, in certain parts of the country. It’s terrifying. This is not just an American phenomenon. What’s hanging over that threat is a threat of an impending pogrom. It’s very, very serious. It is alarming.
It’s good that you stay off Twitter, because I feel like the most innocuous things are getting such hateful responses there. Especially for trans author friends of mine.
Yeah. That as a space is becoming increasingly… and since it’s changed ownership as well, too, I feel the tone has changed. Obviously. We know that. I mean, that’s the policy.
I just find social media in general, oftentimes it does run off a currency of reaction, and that’s something that reactionary forces are very aware of also and operate in bad faith on. It’s also just for my own personal mental health, I just find that I’m not a happy person the more I engage with that medium. It doesn’t bring me to a creative space. It doesn’t bring me to a happy place, and I try to foster and cultivate a community that’s among people that I can see and speak to. A bit of a grassroots. It’s a challenge, though, it is a challenge.
But it’s wild, especially with regards, as you say, trans authors. Again, it’s as if trans people popped out of the ground in the last five years. These are these existential conversations going on, like truly existential. You know what I mean? It’s horrifying. [Sighing.]
I do think the stan spaces are very positive. The fans of yours who have found each other, and trade references back and forth, or tweet little pictures of you with heart emojis on them…
Right. That’s cute.
A lot of those fans are not only queer but also disabled, or part of racial and religious minorities. They’re listening to your music, they’re getting something escapist from it, and then they’re finding each other on social media. It seems like many of them find something relatable in your music — almost an absence of “maleness.”
There’s always going to be the interpretation, and those interpretations are gonna be very, very different. And I’m incredibly grateful, and incredibly honored, that people think as deeply and create. In that interpretation is the act of creation itself. You know?
There is the end of my work, as far as the song was recorded, it’s written and recorded, that takes some time. And then there is a new act of creation that takes place in the minds and hearts of everybody who interprets it. A lot of this, the artwork, how people interpret it, the feeling that they take from it, what it offers them, and whether that’s an offer of freedom or feeling apart from, as you put it, oppressive or hostile hierarchies that would other them in their own society — would have them feel like the endangering aspect of that society when, in fact, they are the most endangered in that society… Feeling free of that.
That’s a wonderful act of gaining a relationship with oneself, which happens all the time when we discover new music that we love. It’s a real honor, and I’m really, really touched to hear that, as you described, that it offers this, that particular feeling, especially to a minority group that is treated like that in this society. So that’s an honor. Going back to what you said about the — how did you put it, the void of maleness or the absence of maleness?
Or they’ll say you’re the only man that they’d ever trust.
Two very different statements.
There’s an idea for these fans that you’re the good one.
I’m not unaware of the fact that it’s a slightly different male voice. It’s one that’s grounded in tenderness, absolutely, and grounded in love. And I think on the first album, in particular, I wasn’t unaware of the decision to sort of wear very rustic, masculine clothing — you know, a lumberjack shirt, denim — and to sing very tender, very caring songs that were aware of the hierarchies that you’re talking about, and aware of the wounds of their legacy, and how harmful the manifestations of those hierarchies can be.
“Wounds” is a very important word.
Yeah, absolutely. And indeed traumas, you know what I mean? So to have a voice that’s presenting that, is aware of it, is singing about how painful that is, even as a man witnessing that. But then is also wearing this quite traditionally, quote-unquote, “masculine”-looking clothes — denim, denim, on denim.
But also at the same time, flogging yourself a bit.
Yeah! I think there’s definitely playing with the idea of worship in a lot of the work. And that’s playing with the idea of the divine, and the sacrilegious, as an act of tenderness and an act of intimacy, as sacrament. As something that is sacred. It is absolutely playing with that. And then, as you say, worship, and this is something that’s redeeming, so you find redemption in something that is very deeply healing.
I would say that you make your queer fans feel like they are worthy of sacrament.
Thank you for sharing with me that. It’s a wonderful thing to hear. I really appreciate that. I’m glad. I take a step away from social media at times. In the same way that negative things about yourself are hard to hear, it’s hard to hear also, sometimes, the positive things that can be said about you. You scarcely believe them yourself. It’s a remarkably high standard to be held in.
But I really appreciate that. I hope the music has space there and people find their home in it and it brings some joy. That’s all music has ever done for me. I’ve found myself in it. And I have found my warrant within it and a warrant for myself. In music, I have found… what’s the word? I’ve really found permission for myself to be myself, you know what I mean? That’s where my internal emotional world really is offered any space whatsoever.
You create beauty.
Thank you very much. That’s all I hope to create in my work. If at the very least I can do that, I’m very, very happy.