Irish rocker Hozier headlines Jazz Aspen Experience
Special to the Aspen Times
If You Go …
Where: Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, Snowmass Town Park
When: Friday, Sept. 4, 8 p.m.
How much: $250 JAS Deck; $75 GA; $10 kids
Tickets and more info: http://www.jazzaspensnowmass.org
Hozier admits that as someone who is naturally rather introverted, he’s had to work to get used to playing in front of the increasingly large audiences that are populating his shows in the wake of the huge success of his hit single “Take Me To Church.”
“It certainly was a very steep learning curve,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I was very much in my comfort zone, I think, on smaller stages with more intimate audiences. You know, last summer we played a lot of huge stages at music festivals and stuff. It was something that was quite a steep learning (curve) for me. Even still, I’m not the most extroverted of performers on stage … but the more that I gig and the more that I get to see audiences enjoy the music, the more I kind of enjoy this and the more, I suppose, I’m drawn to it. I get to enjoy it more and worry less about that.”
In fact, Hozier showed he could handle one of the most intimidating moments an artist can face during the Grammy Awards on Feb. 9. With a live audience filled with some of the biggest names in music looking on and millions of viewers tuned in on television, he took the stage to perform “Take Me To Church” — with Annie Lennox joining him on vocals near the end of the song. That song then segued into a powerhouse version of the Screaming Jay Hawkins classic, “I Put A Spell On You” (with Lennox delivering a mesmerizing and thrilling vocal performance on that song). The two-song performance was widely considered the highlight of the Grammy’s telecast.
The performance capped off a week for Andrew Hozier-Byrne that was crammed with rehearsals, interviews and opportunities to meet some of his favorite artists.
“It was an absolute dream, one of the best weeks of my life, I should say,” Hozier enthused.
As for his performance with Lennox on the Grammy stage itself, Hozier shared one main thought that ran through his head as he played and sang.
“‘Don’t mess up’ would be one of them,” he said when asked what he was thinking during the performance.
“Yeah, I mean, I was certainly quite shaken a bit, and performing in front of so many artists and so many artists that were influential to me growing up, so many fantastic guitarists, that would have been the very daunting part of it, I suppose. I had never played at an awards show, never been to an awards show. So that was incredibly daunting. But for me, it was just fantastic. To be near her (Lennox) and get to collaborate with her on that, she’s a true legend. So it was a great experience.”
Hozier, who headlines the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience today, was a featured part of the Grammys this year because “Take Me To Church” was nominated for Song of the Year. It lost out to Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me.” But for an artist who only released his debut album in September 2014, the events of recent months have been quite the whirlwind for the 25-year-old Irish singer/songwriter/guitarist.
“I mean, all of this, in many ways I’m still astounded by it,” Hozier said. “The success of ‘Take Me To Church,’ I never imagined it. I never imagined that it would work on radio, that it would find its way onto the charts, even at home, and certainly not in America. So in many ways, celebrating the Grammy nominations, performing at the Grammys, the shows that we’re playing now in America, they surpass what I maybe dared to dream of, so I’m thrilled, absolutely thrilled.”
Hozier began his music career about five years ago, when he landed a development deal with Universal Ireland Records. This enabled Hozier to record demos of some of his earliest songs with a few different producers.
Those early demos, however, didn’t capture the sound or spirit Hozier was chasing with his music. Around early 2013, he moved on to indie label Rubyworks Records and made a key decision to try writing and producing some songs on his own to see if he could realize his vision for his music.
One of his early songs was “Take Me To Church,” and it was when he tackled that song — at first on his own and then later with producer Robert Kirwan (known for his work with U2 and PJ Harvey), who replaced Hozier’s fake instrumental tracks with live instruments — that Hozier’s grittier sound, rooted in blues, jazz, soul and gospel, started to come together.
“It was among, say, a clutch of songs that were some of the first that I decided to do a lot more of the production work myself — and to explore a lot of the sounds that would be the best on the album,” Hozier said of “Take Me To Church.” “I was always very proud of that song, but I think it was a key piece and something that informed a lot of the work to come.”
A video was then made that tied into the song’s message about the connections between sex, love and humanity — and specifically Hozier’s support for equal rights for gays and disdain for the religious denominations, governments and other entities that denounce homosexuality as sinful and offensive to God. The video ends with footage of vigilantes attacking a gay man while his partner helplessly watches in horror.
The video was posted on YouTube on Sept. 25, 2013, and within days it topped 200,000 views. That total is now more than 30 million. The video went viral just a few weeks after Hozier’s debut EP, “Take Me To Church,” had been released.
The YouTube activity got the attention of bigger worldwide labels, and Hozier was signed by Columbia Records in America. Songs from the “Take Me To Church” EP, a second EP, “From Eden” (released in March 2014), and some newer songs were assembled to create Hozier’s self-titled debut album, which was released September 2014.
The album shows that Hozier is a talented and versatile songwriter who is able to fuse his love of blues, soul, jazz and gospel to an earthy rock sound. The soulful “Take Me To Church” has a hymn-like, gospel-tinged sound. “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene” takes that sound in a more energetic direction. Things get rockier and grittier on the bluesy, guitar-spiked “Jackie and Wilson.” Other highlights of “Hozier” include the grooving soul-pop tune “Someone New,” the tense and stark “To Be Alone” and a prettier, but unsettling, ballad, “In A Week.”
“Take Me To Church,” naturally enough, became the album’s lead single and reached number two on “Billboard” magazine’s all-genre Hot 100 singles chart in December. On the heels of the exposure from the Grammys, Hozier has become one of 2015’s breakout stars.
He’s currently touring the states with a seven-piece band, hitting a mix of theaters and amphitheaters and festivals such as this weekend’s in Snowmass Village, and playing a set goes a bit beyond just the 13 songs included on the self-titled album.
“There were a few of the songs that were released as kind of bonus tracks, so we have a few of those in the sets,” Hozier said. “And there are one or two covers. It’s something that we might do for fun, like a pop cover that we might change up and have some fun with. Or I might play some blues music, which was very influential to me.”
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