2 YEARS, ONE TOUR AND 13 SONGS
Andrew Hozier-Byrne, the 25 years old Irish born and raised artist, came to Barcelona for the first time on the 19th of February, with the company of his six piece music band formed by a cellist, a drummer and a trio of vocalists. Razzmatazz was the concert hall chosen to host the concert, and it was great. The low-light atmosphere of the room was in perfect consonance with Hozier’s gothic settings and the sound quality was not bad. I listened to all of the songs many times as I have the vinyl, but listening to it live was a really different experience. I’ve always loved live music, but sometimes there are artists who play the same songs and change nothing, and it can be a bit disappointing. Hozier didn’t do that. He added a cover song and also gave much more important to the cello, which brought tenderness to the show.
Everything was great but the audience. I realized that most people were foreigners, but I couldn’t have possibly cared less. However, my discontent came when a soft lyrical song started and people started talking so loud I couldn’t enjoy the song completely. Why would you pay a 30 euros ticket and not listen to the music? The answer to this question is still a mystery to me.
Hozier seems a quiet and shy person, but when he is on a stage, he acquires more presence, security and confidence. As for his appearance, it is not what you usually expect of a singer, but much more casual and unpreoccupied instead. In fact, he seems not to care much about the clothes he wear or the way he looks. He is skinny and pale, and always wears a ponytail, even though his managers complain because they would prefer him to wear his hair loose. For someone like him, having the pressure of different clothes label who want him to support their designs is really stressful: “I’d never thought about how I looked, how I dressed, before all this. I had a winter coat and a denim jacket”.
There are many alternative singers nowadays, so what makes him so special? On the one hand his unique and incredible voice; dark, strong and powerful. He has been compared to George Ezra because they are both young but have a voice that seems of an old man. However, Hozier doesn’t share Ezra’s country-like sounds, but has a style that mixes soul, blues and rock –the song Jackie and Wilson is a good example-. His father was a local blues musician, so Hozier was very influenced by this kind of music, but also by choirs: he sang in a coral group when he was 15. When asked, he also pointed Leonard Cohen and John Lee Hooker as his influences.
Hozier’s success came when his hit Take Me to Church video– about love, absolution, the Church and gay rights- went viral. The video shows a gay man being beaten up by homophobes in Russia. It came out in the context of the Sochi’s Olympic Games, as a protest against the anti-gay actions that took place in Russia back then, and which Hozier described as “no less than nightmarish”. Later, the ballet dancer Sergei Poulinin appeared dancing the song in a video directed by David LaChapelle, which went viral again. Until now, the hit has won an Ivor Novello, it became Spotify’s most viral tune in 2014 and has been five times certified platinum in the United States.
Nevertheless the song was nominated on the Grammys Song of the Year in 2015 but didn’t win. “The biggest reason “Take Me to Church” won’t win Song of the Year is that it’s ahead of its time. The Grammys (in fact the entire music scene) may not be ready for the strong lyricism that explores sexuality and its place in religion” said the writer Marilisa Sachteleben in an article published in AxS.
Like all of Hozier’s songs, Take Me to Church is really lyrical, metaphorical and with a strong idea behind it, that the artist wants to send to the audience. Consequently, he has been asked many times about the meaning of the song, and he answered “The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love.” However, it has been criticised because it makes a point about how harmful religious doctrine can be. Hozier also claimed that “Sexuality, and sexual orientation – regardless of orientation – is just natural. An act of sex is one of the most human things. But an organization like the church, say, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation”, and that was what was sinful and offensive, even to God. Growing up in Ireland, he had felt the power the Church holds over people lives. “For me growing up, I had a Christian upbringing and I just noticed this Catholic influence in school. It has an aversion to sexuality and to women and it institutionalizes sexism and homophobia”, he said.
As we see, Hozier is very critical with the Church, but still, he said he wouldn’t define himself as an atheist: “it’s too absolute. But I don’t have any faith. I think faith is an absurd thing but I’m OK with that. There are no answers because the universe never asked a question in the first place.”
After playing this afternoon in Istanbul, Hozier is returning home. It has been a long first worldwide tour for him, as it started two years ago. He has played in the States and Australia; Europe was his last stop. No one knows what is going to happen next, but I am not the only one who after more than two years longs for a new CD. He’s been singing the same 13 songs for a long time, so now might be time for new ones. Yet, having achieved fame and success on his first CD also has a negative effect, because fans are not going to be contented with less.