New kings of Pop: Hozier
It’s been quite the media circus for andrew hozier-byrne since the surprise success of his hit “Take me to church”. Indeed no one was more surprised than hozier himself, who has always felt completely out of synch with the times in which we’re living.
In contrast to rock stars of their parents’ generation, Hozier, Tom Odell, James Bay, George Ezra, Benjamin Clementine and Jake Bugg represent a different face of British pop, one that’s less wild and rather more saccharine. For Numéro Homme, this new wave of singer-songwriters posed in the studio of fabled photographer David Bailey, the man who immortalized Mick Jagger and all the other London legends of the Swinging 60s.
Andrew Hozier-Byrne, who goes by the shortened version Hozier, has had one of the most spectacular débuts of recent months. Thrust into the limelight by the unstoppable Take Me to Church, a song that mixes incense and hellfire in an explosive cocktail of gospel and infidel pop, he has become a figurehead in the new combat for equal rights. When we met him, Ireland, where he grew up, had just voted to allow gay marriage, a source of enormous pride for the man whose video, which denounced anti-gay violence, was considered so controversial that it almost didn’t get broadcast. The song itself, which calls for freedom from religious dogmas, wasn’t necessarily destined to conquer Europe’s hit parades. “I was the first one to be surprised by its success, not because of the lyrics but because of the music. I’m stunned that so many people want to listen to this kind of thing in 2015. I was convinced I was completely out of synch, like I was at school when I listened to old blues tracks, which my classmates just didn’t get.”
Delta blues, early RnB, 60s soul − Andrew discovered all that thanks to his father’s record collection, which unlocked an unknown world where the teenager from County Wicklow began losing himself in an enchanted forest. Voices from almost 100 years ago had far more impact on him than the throwaway hits he heard on the radio, and the blues became his obsession. “At 14 I started playing slide guitar. I thought of myself as a bluesman and imagined making a career out of it later, even if it was completely unrealistic. Moreover in my mind it remained unrealistic until very recently.” In direct opposition to the false values peddled by contemporary music, this young white boy fascinated by old black men writes with sincerity, humanity and animality, in direct reaction to his intimate experience with the outside world.
Like another illustrious Irishman, Van Morrison, he manages to subsume his influences into a personal grammar that has nothing rote-learned or fake about it. But his ultimate inspiration is American. “When I heard Tom Waits for the first time I felt reassured about the path I’d chosen. He was also inspired by the blues, but he was lively, sexy and modern.” After studying at Trinity College, Dublin, Andrew went to London in the hope of gaining more exposure for his singular songs, which soon caught the ears of music producers looking for authenticity. But Hozier might surprise us all by radically changing direction. After this first album, he’s not ruling out a possible foray into funk or dance − black music again, but more carnal, which he might take by stealth, under a borrowed name.
Check out the full story in the September issue of Numéro, now in stands and available in our iPad app.
By Christophe Conte