Thursday 29 September 2016

"I'll just avoid happiness at all costs and then I'll still have material" - Hozier talks writing, Taylor Swift, and success

Andy Welch

Published 13/05/2015 | 10:55

Undated Handout Photo of Hozier. See PA Feature MUSIC Hozier. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Alex Lake. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MUSIC Hozier
Undated Handout Photo of Hozier. See PA Feature MUSIC Hozier. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Alex Lake. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MUSIC Hozier

With his hit song Take Me To Church still being played around the world, Hozier is riding high. But, as Andy Welch discovers, the Irish singer-songwriter may need to put a stop to any upcoming happiness in order to write more songs...

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If you want a small indication just how much Andrew Hozier-Byrne's life has changed in the last year, simply glance across the pond to America.

This time last year, he was playing his first US shows, to small-capacity crowds in cultural capitals New York and Los Angeles.

Today, after 12 months touring the world, and the global success of THAT song, Take Me To Church, he can play sold-out halls all over the country.

"I'm in Jacksonville, Florida," he says. "I think we're the youngest people here!" he adds, referencing Florida's status as the retirement home of the US. "I haven't seen any young people yet, anyway."

Rest assured, there are adolescents in that region - and many of them were at Hozier's show that night, after our conversation wrapped.

Undated Handout Photo of Hozier. See PA Feature MUSIC Hozier. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Alex Lake. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MUSIC Hozier
Undated Handout Photo of Hozier. See PA Feature MUSIC Hozier. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Alex Lake. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MUSIC Hozier

He's been on tour in the US, with a leg in Australia, since the end of January, and can't remember when he last slept in a bed that wasn't in a hotel or on his tour bus. Aside from a couple of weeks off over Christmas, it'll be March next year before he returns home to County Wicklow in Ireland.

"Part of me is eager to work on new music and find some open space, but this is the dream, really, and the album has taken off in a way that I could never have dreamed of. It's still a big rush," says the 25-year-old, who dropped out during his first year studying for a music degree to record demos.

That album, released in October last year, has so far sold more than a million copies around the world, and more than half of those were snapped up in the States.

Its success is partly down to the ubiquity of hit single Take Me To Church. Unusual for a song so critical of religion, Catholicism in particular, accompanied by a video depicting a brutal homophobic beating, it's been a mainstay on US radio and TV stations for months.

He performed it with Annie Lennox at the Grammys in February, to a crazed reaction from some of music's biggest names watching from the crowd.

He's going to be headlining Austin City Limits festival in Texas later this year. Other names at the top of the bill include Foo Fighters, Drake and The Strokes. Last year, Hozier had to pull out of the festival due to illness, and fewer than 30 people commented on the Facebook post announcing the cancellation.

Talking of social media, that has had a huge role in his success too. When Stephen Fry saw the video for Take Me To Church, he posted a link to the song on his Twitter feed, and tens of thousands of his 9.6 million-odd followers watched it.

That pales into insignificance compared to Taylor Swift's endorsement. The 1989 star tweeted links to Hozier's songs and told her fans they should check him out, before taking some equally starry friends to one of his shows. The 6ft 5in Irishman and Swift were seen together on a number of occasions too, sparking rumours of romance.

Both were adamant they were just friends, but whatever, there are definitely worse people to be pals with.

"Taylor's support was great," he says. "I really did see a crossover of fans from that moment on. She has more followers than God, and you will see them go where she says, you see it on Twitter. My phone went crazy the first time she tweeted a link to one of my songs. It's really something, and I was very grateful. Word of mouth is still very important."

He says it was hard to keep track of his success when Take Me To Church was blowing up last year, although now things have calmed down a little, he's had some time for reflection.

"Good news hits you - it can take a while to sink in. 'I've been nominated for a Grammy? Great!'" he reasons. "You have to allow yourself a moment to enjoy it, but it's not good to pat yourself on the back when everyone else is doing that.

"Of course, the great fear is getting too happy and never being able to write another song. I suppose I'll just avoid happiness at all costs and then I'll still have material to work from."

New songs are few and far between at the moment, and what Hozier does manage to write at the back of the tour bus doesn't really fit with what he's doing right now. He's planning several side-projects, however, so he can release different types of music under different names, and he's itching to get cracking.

"The longer you've been away from making music, [the more] you're bursting to make something new, to get some tracks down. That's a great feeling, to know that you still might have something up your sleeve, that you haven't already used up your best ideas."

For now, he'll have to make do with thousands of people singing his songs back to him each night.

"That feeling doesn't get any less special," he says. "I love hearing people singing Take Me To Church when I play it, but I'm more baffled when they know the words to other songs of mine.

"Most people at the gigs, it's their first time seeing me perform, and I can feel their excitement and energy.

"I feed off that when I'm performing, and it's an incredible feeling."

Hozier's self-titled debut is out now. His UK tour begins on May 22 and he plays Slane on May 30

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