Breaking out this year is Irish singer Hozier, who has just released his self-titled debut album. Containing a mixture of styles with a strong blues influence has made this endeavor unforgettable for listeners looking for the next big thing.
The 6'5" Andrew Hozier-Byrne hails from Bray, County Wicklow, and studied in Dublin but dropped out to record demos for Universal Music.
His latest video, for "Take Me to Church," references the violence in Russia and two men in a same-sex relationship. [Editor's note: The song's been currently featured in promos for the upcoming Chicago-set show Empire.]
Windy City Times talked to the songwriter about it right before his last Chicago arrival.
Windy City Times: Hi, Hozier. I was thinking you might have a big Irish accent.
Hozier: Not much. I have been told it is quite a mild one.
WCT: With your singing, there is not an accent at all.
Hozier: Yeah, I suppose when you get an accent with talking it carries over into singing. The music I grew up listening to was American music. You would probably hear it if I were singing Irish folk songs.
WCT: You go by your last name for performing. How do you pronounce it?
WCT: Where did the treatment of the video for "Take Me to Church" come from?
Hozier: I came up with it. The directors, Brendan Canty and Conal Thomson, were pitching some lovely visual ideas. I wanted to make it about the things going on in Russia and wanted to connect it with the chorus of the song. They were into the idea so it went from there.
WCT: Where does your connection with the gay community originate? Do you have a gay family member?
Hozier: Not so much. I was watching a website called Article Link Here that talks about global equality. It is a human-rights watch based website. I was keeping myself informed. The site promotes awareness. There was a law that just came in that provokes rights of free speech and LGBT rights in all public places. After that, I became aware of it and felt strongly about it.
WCT: You sound similar to Elton John in that song. Are you a fan of his?
Hozier: I've heard that before with "Take Me to Church," but apart from his hits I have not had the opportunity to listen to his back catalogue. People have advised me to listen to Tumbleweed Connection, a very Americana-type album. I have yet to do it.
WCT: Another Irish singer Sinead O'Connor has a song [entitled] "Take Me to Church" that was released at almost the same time.
Hozier: Hers was released a few weeks ago but my song has been out in Ireland over a year.
WCT: Talk about your catchy song "Someone New."
Hozier: It is one of the older songs on the album. Most of the music was written in the last two years. "Someone New" survived some of the older tracks that I was working on. I let go of a lot of the older songs when I started working on the new ones. That one stuck around. It is a cheery song. It is about a very shallow enjoyment of infatuation. It is written from the perspective of being in a relationship.
It's about love when its empty and fleeting that is wrapped up in a fun song.
WCT: You performed at Lollapalooza this summer. Have you been singing some of these tracks for a while?
Hozier: Yeah, but only on this tour have we captured the sound a bit more faithfully to the album. I have seven voices onstage, which is fantastic with so many voices on the album. There is a whole choral aspect to it. There are two backing vocalists, drummer, bassist, piano and cello.
WCT: You play instruments?
Hozier: I play guitar for the live shows. I recorded most of this album myself in my attic back in Ireland.
WCT: How did the cover of the album come about?
Hozier: My mother is an artist and she painted it as well as the Eps were works of hers that I asked to borrow. For this one made a new piece of artwork.
WCT: Was the song "Jackie and Wilson" inspired by being a Jackie Wilson fan?
Hozier: Yes, pretty much. It is, again, one of the more fun songs on the album. It is inspired by Jackie Wilson but I wanted to write a "running off with some stranger" kind of song. It's a fun reference to Jackie Wilson.
WCT: Chicago must be an important city to you, with you being influenced by blues music.
Hozier: Absolutely. It was the type of music that I got my education in. My dad's record collection was hugely Chicago blues with artists like Muddy Waters. Last time through Chicago I didn't get a lot of time. I got into Chicago and flew out the same day, so I hope to be able to spend more time there this time.
Hozier returns to Chicago Feb. 25 at the Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine Ave. at 7:30 p.m. Visit hozier.com for more on this emerging artist.