From shaky schoolboy beginnings to his debut music video going viral, Hozier chats to Rebekah Rennick about his musical journey so far
There’s something different about Irish talent. Whether it’s the native tag-line, or Otwo’s own sense of pride watching musical talent from this floating piece of land ascend to notoriety; one can’t help but sit straight and take note of upcoming Irish musicians.
Wicklow native, Andrew Hozier-Byrne, of acoustic ensemble Hozier, is a prime example of an act that has firmly established himself as one of Ireland’s most notable up and coming artists.
With nuances of B.B King and bluesy undertones slinking through his repertoire, Hozier is the injection of elating, organic talent that would excite any music junkie. His humble beginnings, however, certainly don’t mirror the roaring vocals he is quickly being esteemed for today. “The first time I ever performed, I was eight-years-old and I was singing in front of a school hall with hundreds and hundreds of people.
“It was diabolical. My voice cracked in the way that only an eight-year-old’s voice may happen. Dead silence and I stood there until someone had to come over and tell me ‘It’s over’. I don’t really know why I ever did it again.”
That shaky premier has certainly been thrown to the shadows of embarrassing childhood memories, and in its place stands a powerful performer with an even more rambunctious talent. While he has dabbled in numerous projects including Anuna, Nova Collective, Zaska and notably the Trinity Orchestra, Hozier has removed the stabilisers and accelerated his solo career straight into our consciousness.
“Anuna was certainly a great experience in that it was just singing with voices. I love congregational singing,” he explains. “So when I’m writing and doing backing vocals like I did then, it’s really helped my ear for harmonies; thirds, fifths and sevenths. And also blending; the technique of singing together.”
In his first year of a music degree in Trinity College Dublin, Hozier was approached by Niall Breslin of Universal Ireland with an opportunity he couldn’t resist. What followed was a golden chance to work in studio, at the expense of his degree. Hozier discloses that the decision “was with a heavy heart. More because I knew I’d miss the people in my class; I was class rep at the time so it was a really shitty move on my part,” he chuckles nervously.
“I kind of knew in my heart that if I did four years in Trinity I wouldn’t be any closer in doing what I really wanted to do. I had missed some exams to do those demos with Niall and I asked if I could defer for a year, and I couldn’t because I was a first year.”
Since then, Hozier has grown and developed his own unique style. His new EP Take Me to Church, recorded originally in his attic at home, contains both this authentic tinge and the polished, rounded touches only capable of the man behind some of U2 and PJ Harvey’s records; Rob Kirwan.
“What I was thrilled about was that I didn’t have to worry when working with Rob that we were going to veer too far left off. Even if you attempted to hamper with the demos, Rob just made it the best that it could. He has a real ‘if it feels good do it’ sort of attitude and you could just throw anything at him.”
The leading single from this new EP has propelled Hozier straight into the fleeting world of musical recognition. ‘Take Me to Church’ is a thundering, soaring piece of music that bowls you over with a video to boot.
Deeply moving due to the discriminate behaviour towards homosexuals in Russia, a slight element was changed in the video, which truly strikes a chord. Undercurrents of the oppressive omnipresence of the clergy and the church also bubble within the track.
“In the religious side of it, I think all of us carry with us this idea of God. We’re all marked with it. The song came originally from this idea that before you meet the criteria of the institutionalised discrimination that the church holds against you; before you’re a woman, a homosexual or whatever, you’re a human being and in the church’s eyes you are born sinful.”
He continues, “Ireland’s not full of the happiest people in the world, and we carry with us some sort of shame we could all do without.”
Hozier prides himself on being able to deliver stunning performances both on record and live. His recent performances are ones enveloped in an undeniable sense of electric anticipation, as though you’re catching the beginning of something very special.
This Wicklow crooner is only getting started, so make room in your musical collection and allow him to get comfortable, because he’s going to be here for a while.