Nights In

Hozier – interview

Andrew Hozier-Byrne, aka Hozier, experienced a very organic and wholesome upbringing in Co Wicklow, Ireland. This was one based on an audible tradition of blues music.

Hozier’s current EP is entitled Take Me to Church. It is original and fresh and fully charged with a great blues character, with a soulful presence to compliment the sound.

The EP will be launched on September 10 in The Unitarian Church, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

The blues element in your music is the first thing that I predominantly heard. Blues, of course, as a music form is about sadness, loss and loneliness but it is also deeply spiritual in essence. In your lyrics you use many religious references, such as worship and heaven. The song title ‘Angel of Small Death’and even the title of your EP Take Me to Church also suggest this. Is this a deliberate association with the spirituality that is characteristic of blues music, and your interpretation of it?

It is, yes there is a lot of spiritually in blues music and there is also a lot of sexuality in blues. Even when times were simpler and more innocent, a lot of it is explicitly sexual. I guess the religious aspect is not so much about spirituality in a traditional sense. Take Me to Church is a euphemism, its more tongue in cheek. It is, in a sense, about spirituality, but it is more about humanity and sexuality.

Your EP launch gig for Take Me to Church is coming up soon. I thought The Unitarian Church was a really clever choice of venue, considering the title and the religious imagery in your songs. Is the choice of venue an intentional play on the EP title?

It is kind of intentional but it is also down to a bit of good luck too. Originally the venue was to be Whelan’s, but I had mentioned it to the guys in Rubyworks that maybe we should give it a bash in The Church, as it could be kind of interesting.

You describe your music as 21st century blues or urban blues. Can you elaborate on that description from a personal perspective?

Yeah, it can be hard to describe and I guess when you write music, it is what it is sometimes. When it feels right, you just go with it and blues was always the closest thing to my heart as I was raised on it. The more modern example of urban blues is The Black Keys. It’s very raw and it’s very visceral and physical blues, I guess that is what urban blues is to me.

Another description of your music is “blues, soul and other”. This I find really interesting. Musicians are constantly evolving; it is a characteristic of creativity and of the craft. Obviously soul music is also a big influence on you and is the “other” giving us a scope for future work?

Yeah, that is the description that I used as I found that I couldn’t fit my sound into one box. There are elements in blues that translate into all music; it is the common language of music.

My Dad was a drummer in a blues band so I was raised on Chicago blues and Delta blues. Hemade me sit down when I was three years old and watch The Blues Brothers and it became like a kid’s Disney film for me, I would sit down and watch it over and over again. I became fascinated with Delta blues.

Soul also has a massive impact on me. The first Soul music I listened to was Sam&Dave’s Soulman and it was explosive. Otis Redding, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday are all huge influences on me. It’s all vocalists I guess. I suppose the “other” does imply future projects. I would write a lot of music which would be deep and quiet dark. I write songs that would be happier, with influences elsewhere; I don’t want to put myself into a corner and there will be more and different offerings in the future.

I know that you write all your own stuff and to be a writer you have to have a very good imagination. The ultimate fuel for imagination is reading. Do you read a lot?

I do, maybe not as much as I’d like to time wise. When I love a book I get stuck into it. There are a lot of references in the EP to James Joyce. In ‘Angel of Small Death’: “shaking the wings of their exultant and terrible youth “is taken from Joyce. It is homage to his work. I thought it was very beautiful. He is another massive influence of mine, as is Oscar Wilde.

You walked in with a guitar; and you were previously talking about your fascination with Delta blues. When I think of Delta blues, one of the earliest and organic forms of blues from the Mississippi delta, I always think of slide guitar, do you play slide? What else do you play and are there any more instruments you would like to pick up?

Slide, yeah, I’m a big, big fan of slide blues. I don’t play as many instruments as I would like. I taught myself guitar. Piano I can fumble my way through and, again, I taught myself. Harmonica also. I never get the chance to play, but it is such a part of blues music. Hopefully in the future I would like to learn to more instruments, especially the cello. I love the cello, it is a beautiful instrument.

The upcoming gig is not too far away now, are you all set and will it be a case of pen to paper straight after it?

I am getting there, yeah, it should be really exciting. It’s all good I have the band, who is an incredibly talented group of musicians. It more a case of getting the logistics of the sound itself, the venue is big and spacey and dark, and it’s now about doing justice to the sound. Rob Kirwan did an amazing job when mixing it, and I want to capture that and do it justice. We’ll get there. I wouldn’t want to look too far into the future but I think we will line up another EP and then an album, but more writing definitely. I am writing constantly and in October we will start thinking about the next project as soon as we get this one finished.

Hozier plays The Unitarian Church on September 10. Tickets are now sold out.