Some might say Saturday Night Live is getting a little long in the tooth lately, but it still is a potent launching pad for new talent. Hozier’s performance of his songs over the weekend has many wondering who the heck he is.
Andrew Hozier-Byrne grew up in Bray, Co. Wicklow, the son of a blues musician. While attending Trinity College Dublin he was a member of popular choral vocal group Anuna, where he appeared as a soloist on their 2012 release Illumination. That’s him singing "La Chanson de Mardi Gras."
His sound couldn’t be more different from Anuna. On his recently released eponymous album, Hozier paints a dark and sensual world with guitar fuzz, gospel choruses, and shades of the blues. His sound recalls the work Bob Dylan did with U2 producer Daniel Lanois on the Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind disc.
“Take Me to Church,” not to be confused with the recently released Sinead O’Connor track of the same name, is a dark and twisted gospel melody. “I’ll worship like the dog at the shrine of your light/I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife,” he sings, pleading for salvation of his soul in the most soulful way imaginable!
The album is packed with references to the faith of love and the salvation it can provide, but it is not religious in nature.
“Coming from Ireland, obviously, there’s a bit of a cultural hangover from the influence of the church,” he tells KROQ radio.
“You’ve got a lot of people walking around with a heavy weight in their hearts and a disappointment, and that carries from generation to generation, so ‘Take Me to Church’ is just about that — it’s an assertion of self, reclaiming humanity back for something that is the most natural and worthwhile. Electing, in this case a female, to choose a love who is worth loving.”
On “Work Song,” Hozier starts with some sickeningly sweet romantic prose that soon curdles. “I just think of my baby/I’m so full of love I can barely eat/there’s nothing sweeter than my baby/I’d never want once from the cherry tree/she gives me toothaches just from kissing me,” he sings over a simple gospel riff before the tale reveals how love can save you from “a drunken spree” and chorus turns decidedly dark. “When my time comes around lay me down in the cold gray earth/No grave can hold my body down.”
This intersection of blues, gospel, soul and swirled atmospherics that makes up Hozier’s sound most likely comes form his deep obsession with Tom Waits.
"The first time I heard Tom Waits it was like everything just flipped," he tells Rolling Stone. "It was just this fascination with him. My cousin showed me Small Change and I just couldn't get over that this was a white guy singing. I was really young and lived in the country and couldn't get to record stores, so I used our dial-up Internet to listen to 30-second snippets of songs from Blood Money and Alice and The Black Rider, and I was just hooked on him.
“Now I'm obsessed with his entire catalogue. I've been a total Tom Waits dork for a long, long time.”
Take Hozier for a spin in your car, especially at night. The bluesy howls for redemption are riveting. This is definitely music for the shadows.
A surefire hit is “Jackie and Wilson,” a strutting blues swagger that calls to mind the corrosive and over-modulated blues of Jack White with flourishes of Elton John thrown in for good measure. “She’s gonna save me/call me baby/let’s lie back and let the world go by/we’ll name our babies Jackie and Wilson after rhythm and blues,” he gushes, and it’s hard not to get swept up in the good vibes.
“It was trying to capture the excitement of soul music,” Hozier explains to Entertainment Weekly. “I just wanted to do something a bit more fun and a bit more energetic. It’s a little runaway song, like if you imagine running away and being saved by this idea of somebody -- that kind of infatuated way that people idealize people. Like that kind of Holden Caulfield idea of running away and being happy forever.”
Hozier seems level headed about his new found fame. "I know I'm not the kind of music that's going to have tons of screaming fans, and I'm not gonna be everyone's cup of tea," he tells Rolling Stone.
"I just want to do as good a job as I can. I'm quite sure I don't want legions of 15-year-old girls who call themselves, like, Broziers or something. My career isn't going to be that kind of a thing."
I’m not sure things are going to pan out that way. His album just debuted on the Top 5 in the U.K. charts after breaking sales record in Ireland in the late summer. With his high cheekbones, expertly tousled long hair and intense stare, he certainly has matinee looks that could make a girl swoon.
Hozier’s upcoming tour is almost completely sold out on both sides of the Atlantic, including a pair of shows at Irving Plaza in New York on November 5 and 6.
Maybe you’re inclined to wait until next year, when Hozier fever dies down? Well, his March 6 show at the Beacon Theater is sold out, too.
That leaves you salivating with the rest of us as we watch his scorching and sultry performance at the iTunes Festival, which is streaming now on iTunes.
Check out www.hozier.com for more information.