Talking Blues With Hozier, A One-Man Irish Invasion

May 17, 2014
Originally published on May 16, 2014 8:00 pm

With a big, soulful voice rooted in American blues and gospel, Hozier has spent 2014 on a clear path to stardom. His breakthrough song, "Take Me to Church," has racked up millions of views online, and his U.S. tour is sold out. He's been favorably compared to Lorde and Adele. But to the 24-year-old from Ireland, big stages and big crowds are still a bit intimidating.

The singer born Andrew Hozier-Byrne recently spoke with NPR's Melissa Block about his music roots, his love of the blues and his fast rise to fame — and brought along his band to play a few songs live in the studio. Hear their conversation and the music at the audio link, and check out a hand-picked playlist of Hozier's favorite songs on Spotify.

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Transcript

AUDI CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Now we're going to meet a singer who's been causing a sensation. He goes by one name, Hozier. He's from Ireland and he's been wowing audiences and critics alike with his big soulful voice. The video for his song Take Me To Church went viral and has racked up more than 3 million views.

Andrew Hozier-Byrne is just 24 years old. And if you thought you might catch one of his upcoming club dates here in the U.S., you're too late. They're all sold out. But the good news is, Hozier is here with me in the studio with a few of his guitars to talk and play. But thanks so much for coming in.

HOZIER: Oh, thank you. No problem.

BLOCK: Let's start by talking about the song Take Me To Church which became that huge phenomenon that I mentioned with the video. How did that song start out? What was the origin of it?

HOZIER: It's about loving somebody, which is something that is one of the most human things you can do. And it's also -- it's about organizations that would undermine what some humans do in loving another person.

CORNISH: Institutions like the church or the (unintelligible) ...

HOZIER: Institutions like the church, yeah, absolutely, or political organizations and anyone that would do that under the guise of it being for the betterment of us all. But really I think just undermine something that's very natural, undermine something that's very human.

CORNISH: How did those two things come together for you as you were writing it?

HOZIER: It was one that kind of just jumped out of the ground so it's very hard to pinpoint but, I don't know, it just felt right at the time.

BLOCK: That does happen, songs just jump out of the ground?

HOZIER: They sometimes do and you just grab them. You run with them and...

BLOCK: Got to be ready when they come.

HOZIER: Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes they take a while to grow but sometimes if it just feels right you just run with it.

BLOCK: Well you have a few of your band mates here and I wonder if you would mind playing a bit of Take Me To Church for us.

HOZIER: Absolutely, yeah.

BLOCK: Great.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

BLOCK: That's Hozier here in our studios with the song Take Me To Church, playing with Alex Ryan on the cajon, Alotta Henderson on cello and Cuivaduane on keyboards. I was thinking when you get to the Amens in that song, it must be a really satisfying place to (unintelligible) .

HOZIER: No, it is. It's nice but I did. I sang a bit of gospel maybe growing up just for my own interest and stuff. And -- but yeah, no, it's a fun music to sing to, you know.

BLOCK: Let's talk a bit about your musical roots and what you're drawing from. Your dad was a musician?

HOZIER: He was, he was. When I was a child he was drumming a lot in Dublin with a lot of blues bands and stuff in kind of the live scene in Dublin at the time. And so I was around live music quite a bit and I was around blues music a lot, so I was kind of raised on it. It was playing in the house constantly so...

BLOCK: What kind of blues?

HOZIER: Chicago mainly and Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and like discovered Delta as I kind of grew up and getting into jazz also and gospel. And just following the branches, so to speak, you know, into African American music. It's all a huge influence on my music, I think.

BLOCK: Well, what were you hearing in the blues do you think that really grabbed you the way it did?

HOZIER: I love it for a lot of reasons now that I can really articulate. But growing up as a child and something that's just there, it just becomes a part of you before you're aware that it does. And so right now the blues just -- it always just feels like home to me. It just feels like where I was raised with it around me.

BLOCK: You're self-taught on guitar I think, yeah?

HOZIER: Yeah, yeah.

BLOCK: Were you listening to those old blues records of blues guitarists trying to figure out how they did what they did kind of?

HOZIER: Yeah, pretty much that's...

BLOCK: What that magic is?

HOZIER: ...that's how I did it, yeah. And listening to John Hooker, listening to -- listen to anyone just being fascinated by it and trying to see if I could do it. You know what I mean? But yeah, I'm still learning. I wouldn't consider myself a lead guitarist, or certainly a blues lead guitarist. But the music's still -- it still ends up there. It's a big influence.

BLOCK: Yeah. Well, we hear a lot of the blues in your song To Be Alone. It's from your new EP. Could you play some of that for us?

HOZIER: Yeah, absolutely, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SONG)

BLOCK: That's Hozier here in our studios with the song To Be Alone. I got to ask you about the howling and what you're channeling there. What -- where that comes from.

HOZIER: (Unintelligible) it's more -- again, it would be more gospel stuff. And so -- well, that song is on the album and it's on the album with a full kind of band arrangement. And, you know, there's a lot of gospel in that section of the song. So I suppose it's always just -- the song is a bit of a howl in and of itself, like it's just -- you know what I mean -- it's...

BLOCK: It belonged there.

HOZIER: Yeah, it just felt right.

BLOCK: You know, it occurs to me, there's no shortage of musicians from your side of the Atlantic who have found something in the blues that they really adore. Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones, (unintelligible) a lot of them. But the trick, I would think, would be finding a way to make it your own and not be imitative, not feel derivative.

HOZIER: Absolutely, yeah.

BLOCK: Do you struggle with that?

HOZIER: Absolutely. That's something that I was very conscious of on the album. And if it's been done, and it's been done better, like I could try and write a song the way Dixon wrote and do it as best as I can. But it's been done and it's been done much better. It's been sang better. It's been played better, you know. And so To Be Alone, there's some synth elements to it and there's some large choral elements to it, which I hope bring it closer to 2014 then, you know, late '50s or '60s that I am.

BLOCK: Yeah. You know, I'm thinking about the first line in the song that you just played, "Never Feel Too Good in Crowds." And it made me think, you know, you're playing small club dates now, a few hundred people. But the thinking, the talk is you're going to be huge, you're going to be playing big stages. We hear your name mentioned in the same breath as Adele or Lorde.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: What do you do with that? I mean are you ready for a bigger stage? Does that make you nervous?

HOZIER: It does, yeah. No, absolutely it does. And it's great. It's amazing that people think of the music that what and to be compared to those artists. And I'm still getting used to that idea. And at the moment, I know that I much prefer intimate gigs. And I much prefer, you know, smaller venues. And that's something that I'm worried about getting used to, big stages, big crowds.

BLOCK: How do you do that? How will you do that?

(LAUGHTER)

HOZIER: I don't know. Any advice would be very, very welcome.

BLOCK: Not by problem.

(LAUGHTER)

HOZIER: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. No, I don't know. It'll just happen, you know, like everything else. You know, you get through it. But it's great. It's a good thing, you know?

BLOCK: It's a good problem to have. l

HOZIER: It is a problem to have, hopefully. So I just so people keep enjoying the music.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Hozier. He's EPs are "Take Me to Church" "and from Eden." A full album should be out later this year. Hozier, thanks so much for coming in. It was a pleasure.

HOZIER: Thank you. Thank you.

BLOCK: And would you take us out with the song?

HOZIER: I will, yeah.

BLOCK: What do you want to play?

HOZIER: The song is called "Cherry Wine. "

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHERRY WINE")

HOZIER: (Singing) Her eyes and words are so icy. Oh, but she burns like a rum on the fire. Hot and fast and angry as she can be, I walk my days on the wire. It looks ugly, but it's clean. Oh momma, don't fuss over me. The way she tells me I'm hers and she is mine. Open hand or closed fist would be fine. The blood is rare and sweet as cherry wine.

BLOCK: That was "Cherry Wine" performed by Hozier in our studios. Hozier put together a playlist of his favorite songs for us, from Junior Kimbrough and Big Maybelle to the Black Keys and Feist. You'll find it on the Spotify. Search for NPRATC.

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.