Hozier | Interview
In the last three years the excitement surrounding singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier Byrne has steadily grown. News has spread not only via word of mouth but also as a result of the vast number of projects he has been involved in. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when he started to gain attention; since the age of fifteen Hozier has played in school shows and soul bands. In more recent years he has been involved in a wide range of musical projects such as the renowned choir, Anúna, the bossa nova group Nova Collective, eight piece soul-funk-rap band Zaska as well as taking on lead male vocals for festival circuit favourites, Trinity Orchestra.
Hozier enrolled in a B.A in Music in Trinity College Dublin “which didn’t last very long“, but he later withdrew to focus on solo work and other projects. “I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with Niall Breslin on some demos for Universal Ireland. I asked my tutor if I would pass the year if I missed my Christmas exams and I was advised that I wouldn’t, so I made the decision to withdraw and continue writing. I managed to get a publishing deal after that. I did learn a lot in my time in Trinity and I always felt I could have done the four years there. I was sad when I left but I can’t say I regret it now.”
Involvement with the Trinity Orchestra only commenced for Hozier after his withdrawal from college and it is arguably the project which has offered him the most media exposure to date. Festival goers have witnessed the singer cover the work of esteemed vocalists such as Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury without breaking a sweat and not to mention the promotional video for their Pink Floyd concert which went viral last year. ‘”When I sing with Trinity Orchestra I feel like I’m part of something bigger, I’m just a vocalist. I just want to do as good a job as I can for them. It’s not my project or baby so I’m just very happy to be there. It’s the result of a lot of hard work from a group of very talented people. It’s a lot of fun.”
On the difference between participating in a large scale project like the T.O and then promoting his own work Andrew said “it’s lovely to do it, but yeah, you come off stage after something like Electric Picnic and then go to play some small pub gig, it’s different but it’s all good.” Another important project for Hozier was his time in Anúna. “I always loved congregational singing and I learned a lot about singing techniques, and even composition, from director Michael McGlynn and Anúna. I also got the chance to tour Norway and Holland.”
Following an Irish tour with Ryan Sheridan, Andrew was offered the rather unlikely pairing with Original Rudeboys in the form of an opening slot. “We share a manager. It’s a very different audience from what I’m used to playing to but it was great to thicken the skin a bit. The crowd at gigs like that owe you nothing, which can be very intimidating. It’s just funny playing in a nightclub where someone turns off Rihanna and then you’re up next with a guitar playing a little Delta bluesy type song. It was a great learning experience and I was happy to do it. The Rudeboys are great and I got on really well with them. I got to play the Academy and the Olympia, it was a good test run.”
With numerous projects in the works it is hard to imagine how Hozier will be able to maintain involvement in everything. “Yeah, I would love to but I don’t think I will be able to. I always kind of get a bit of a slap on the wrist about contributing too much time to projects, time is getting precious. I think my days with Trinity Orchestra are coming to an end. With Zaska, I know I won’t be able to keep it up forever but it’s just so much fun. Playing Knockanstockan with them was great. When things get busier I’m just going to have to focus. Any progress that I have made has been slow though. It’s incredibly hard to get your foot in the door. Like you pick up a copy of Hot Press and see how many talented bands there are out there it’s frightening.” Granted, there is stiff competition on our little island but involvement in these projects has offered Hozier invaluable experiences in touring, recording and performing in the early days of his career.
‘Take Me To Chuch‘, the four track EP, is Andrew’s first solo offering. In the last few years he has had the opportunity to record demos in studio but it has taken until now for the writer to be truly happy with any final product. “Before, when too many people got involved it could be a case of too many cooks over a pot. This time, with the videos online or the EP, I was playing with musicians who I’m friends with, which made it easier to communicate ideas. For example, Elliot Murphy, the cellist is a master guitar player and he was able to translate that guitar sound to a line for cello.” ‘
The EP was mainly recorded from Andrew’s attic in Wicklow with additional adjustments done in Exchequer Studios with producer Rob Kirwan (PJ Harvey, U2, Delorentos). “He was very, very cool to work with. He’s very creative, it was a lot of fun. We didn’t deviate too much from what was there. It’s no reflection on those who I’ve worked with before but this is the closest I’ve gotten to the sound I’ve been striving for. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be and I’ve had lots of support from friends which is always lovely, even if it’s a text to say they liked it.”
The songs for the EP were all new, written between December and February last year. They are all equally striking, yet illustrate very different strands of his writing abilities. The title track is a confident opening; it is somewhat haunting and riddled with ecclesiastical metaphors, whereas in contrast Like Real People Do is a delicate, gentle tune with guitars and layered vocals, and is almost reminiscent of a lullaby. “The lyrics aren’t that cryptic. It’s funny if friends ask if a song is about someone and the answer is mainly no because elements of songs are from different times and places, a combination of loads of different ideas. It’s like working in a junk yard, combining lots of different material. You could list off everything but it’s never as simple as just one meaning or one person.”
Early reviews of the EP have likened the overall sound to American blues and folk. “Yeah, they’re not wrong” says Hozier, “gospel, blues, soul and jazz is mainly what I listen to. It just so happened that that came out in the record. Chicago blues, early Delta blues…I wouldn’t want to pigeon hole myself into that area or try to recreate anything from that time, I write a lot of music that does not fit into that and wouldn’t be cohesive with that period. If you aim to stick to one genre it gets hard to be original.”
The closing track on the EP, Cherry Wine was recorded on the roof of the abandoned La Touche Hotel in Greystones. The audio was pulled from a video that was made on the spur of the moment at a 6am photoshoot. “In the video I’m covered in dirt from climbing on the roof of the hotel in the morning, so yeah, we just took the audio from that video, with the birds and other features and the label seemed to like it.” In addition to original promotional videos, the EP also includes original artwork by Andrew’s mother, artist Lorraine Hozier Byrne, as well as handwritten lyrics and drawings by Stevie Appleby from Little Green Cars.
The EP will be free until the official launch in September. When asked if he was worried that people would download the EP now and not pay for it later Andrew said “I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If it means more people come to a gig or share the music that’s what’s most important right now. When the time is right, I’d love to take this on the road, abroad as well. I’d imagine it’s logistically very difficult and expensive but yeah I’m looking forward to it.”
‘Take Me To Church’ is an honest and confident first offering from Andrew Hozier Byrne. It’s safe to say that with his first release Hozier is on the right track, and one can’t help but think that the EP is just a taster of much bigger things to come.
Andrew Hozier Byrne will play the Jack of Diamonds Rhythm & Roots Festival 16th-18th of August. His EP launch will take place in the Unitarian Church on the 10th of September. Buy tickets here. Check his Facebook page for more summer gigs yet to be announced.