Interview: Hozier

Andrew Hozier-Byrne released his debut EP back in 2013 and with the viral success of his single ‘Take Me To Church’ (to be released 26th January) he has become a resounding name of 2014 with the release of his self-titled album.

Son of a blues musician, Hozier tells us about growing up in Catholic Ireland as we discuss human rights and religious institutions. He is a man of strong opinions and beautiful songwriting.

Wow, busy 2014 for you right?

Yeah, it’s been crazy hectic. Things have gone crazy in America, I did a 6 week tour out there, played Jools Holland and will be playing Shepard’s Bush Empire. I’m excited.

I know you studied music at college though you stopped that to record your demos, and your Dad is an Irish blues musician. Was music always the plan for you?

Kind of, but I had to make the decision as there were other things I wanted to do; I was interested in psychology. But I did go to college for music as I decided that the cost of not going for it was too high. Or at least not trying, the cost would be too high.

The regret would be too prominent. You grew up with a lot of blues in the house, people like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. How did that come to influence the sound you’ve sculpted for yourself?

I messed about (with music) a huge amount growing up. I’m not a huge lead guitarist but I tried to capture the sound, the energy and feeling I get when I listen to blues music, or gospel music or something that has roots in African-American music.

Do you have any sort of regular process with your song writing?

Not really, I just try and discover right or wrong ways. For me it’s about playing around with ideas and in an isolated space with a lot of time for myself. Sometimes the melody comes first, other times it’s the lyric.

We have to talk about ‘Take Me To Church’ because it has become such a success and has resounded with so many people. You must feel passionate about human rights to write such a powerful song.

The song is a love song. It’s about loving somebody and I see that as the most natural thing a person can do. There are a lot of organisations that I grew frustrated with which teach people to be ashamed of that, or to preach against them or whatever their justification is. ‘Take Me To Church’ references those religious organisations that often undermine a very important and natural part of a person; organisations which institutionalise gender inequality or institutionalise discrimination based on sexual orientation. That’s something I feel very very strongly about, especially when the justification is so flimsy or completely unfounded. It is an awful thing and should be challenged and addressed.

With the video, I didn’t want to make it so much about a religious organisation but I was tuned in to what was happening in Russia and it’s in reference to what was going on there which is a group called “Occupy Pedophilia” – a neo nazi gang which go around attacking and torturing very young LGBT people, teenagers, and luring them into places, torturing them and putting those videos up on social media without any legal justice afterwards. It is an attitude which the government endorses.

As you state, the Russian government endorses this attitude as do some religious institutions. Did growing up in Catholic country such as Ireland make you more critical of the church and religion in general?

Yeah absolutely, I wouldn’t have written that song if I hadn’t have grown up in a culture that had that relationship with the church. I guess a lot of fustrations come from that. I mean the legacy of the church speaks for itself, especially in 2014 as there have been a lot of revelations about previous atrocities, and they can be described no other than human atrocities.

You’ve mentioned before James Joyce’s ‘The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’. Has literature influenced your music?

Yeah, certainly, I think so. That is a book I connected with and have read a few times; it’s a beautifully written book. From a lyrical point of view, James Joyce manages to describe things you would think are indescribable; to put things in words in a way you wouldn’t imagine, or that you couldn’t like abstract thoughts.

The book is very much about someone who is trying to reconcile; trying to figure them self out, becoming a young man and having certain fustrations with his culture and trying to reconcile that.

Andrew, tell me about the artwork for the album. It is your mother’s right?

Yeah yeah, she’s an artist and for the first two EPs they were paintings she had done so I asked her if I could borrow them. So for the album, she painted a brand new one and it’s absolutely great to have her involved.

You’ve had your 2 EPs and now you have a full body of work. How does that feel?

I’m excited!

What’s this year looking like for you?

A lot of touring! And some huge TV appearances are coming up in America.

You must get tired, but this is all part of living the dream I guess?

Yeah, well, it’s been going well.

It certainly has. I wish you a wonderful 2015.

Listen to Hozier’s exclusive playlist for Spindle. It’s all about the blues.