As rising stars go, Ireland hasn’t had a solo male vocalist with the potential of Andrew Hozier Byrne in decades. In fact, as solo male vocalists go, Ireland possibly hasn’t ever had anything even approximating Andrew Hozier Byrne. The Wicklow native is on the brink of something remarkable and rather than build a career around elements of image, branding or marketability in order to keep his heat hot, the raw talent that this man possesses is doing all of his work for him. Okay, maybe not all of it, but certainly enough to keep him from the murky, temporal world of fad and hype.
So, cards on the table here, as far the majority of us at State are concerned Hozier is the real deal. And how refreshing it is to actually say that about somebody that has been slowly attracting the spotlight for some time. Talent like his rarely emerges without the subject being re-branded for maximum appeal or morphed into an identikit clone of some lock-jawed pop star. His breakthrough hit ‘Take Me To Church’ left this country and many others in no doubt as to what the former Trinity Orchestra vocalist was capable of,. Yet, rather than watch “instant” success turn into instant saturation we have had to sit back and patiently wait for the release of the album he wanted to give us. Moreover, before this summer the majority of us also had to wait to see him live – the number of gigs he played before his debut single was released could be counted on one hand.
So now that we all know his name, know his music and know how bright his future is, it’s finally time to let Hozier take centre stage. His eponymous debut album is released this week and when sat down with State for our Faces of 2014 magazine he had plenty to offer about what made him into the star he is about to become. “The the last year has been very interesting. In fact it has been fantastic but it started really quite slowly. Then, from about September 2013 onwards things were absolutely flat out.” Was it a problem taking music from being effectively unknown to nearly ubiquitous? “No, the support from Irish radio and the Irish media has been brilliant. I really didn’t think of my music as ‘radio’ music, if you know what I mean. Especially a song like ‘Take me to the Church’. But the response has been great and I’m so thankful for that”. Could it have been any other way? “Well, it’s singer songwriter stuff so, in a way, that will always be [on radio]. But there are blues and soul elements in there too, and to a lesser extent jazz. It can be rootsy and there is folk, gospel, bluegrass and these can take more of an effort to get them noticed.”
Getting noticed isn’t a problem, clearly. Is this to do with his sound not being inherently ‘Irish’? “Yeah, but it’s also possibly down to me being Irish, because the music itself is generally not expected or obviously Irish. A lot of people are actually surprised to hear that I’m from Wicklow!” Is music a family trait? “Very much so, I’m from a blues background and my father was a blues drummer so obviously that plays a huge part in what I do. I was raised on Chicago blues, people like John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters but as I got older, though, I found artists like Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Sam & Dave and all of this is very much a part of my music. I guess I try to put as much into my music as I can.”
Was there an element of uncertainty in releasing this kind of music to an audience without any real, historical ties to it? “Maybe, but when you’ve poured over a song for so long and all of a sudden it’s out there, it is going to be interpreted by people as something entirely different than my interpretation and I love that. It almost takes on a life of its own and I see that the reward for putting so much into it”. Nobody can deny the payoff is there, but the hard work and seemingly endless patience weren’t entirely without deliberate attention, with Hozier using the time to extend his repertoire. “We had been working on follow up EPs with Rob Kirwan; the first of which was initially scheduled for release in February of this year. But now I have a fairly sizable back catalogue of songs to draw from so the idea is to just release as much of it as I can. In saying that, though, I wanted to allow myself as much time and space to grow [before releasing the album] because the last year had been such a whirlwind. I honestly thought this would have been a slow burner but that wasn’t the case.”
Was the initial success of ‘Take Me To Church’ a problem in itself? “Well, the whole idea of ‘going viral’, this sudden expansion in people hearing my music, it’s definitely been good but it probably doesn’t benefit anybody in the long run; apart from people with narrow attention spans. By going viral, all of a sudden there were album deals on the table and all the rest of it but this doesn’t leave much time to actually grow as an artist and this, obviously, was going crucial. I’m not saying that there isn’t already years of work gone into something before it goes viral, but there still has to be time for development. You only get one debut album and there is a lot of pressure in that, it has to be right.”
Photograph of Hozier at Electric Picnic 2014 by Olga Kuzmenko exclusively for State.ie