Last September, Irish singer-songwriter Hozier posted his first video on YouTube, for the bluesy ballad "Take Me to Church," and it went viral. The charged clip, which criticizes Russia's criminalization of homosexuality, shows a gay man about to be burned alive by masked thugs. The video has racked up 5 million views so far, but the song is about another controversial topic: Ireland's relationship with the Catholic Church.
"Growing up in Ireland, the church is always there – the hypocrisy, the political cowardice," says Hozier, real name Andrew Hozier-Byrne, who identifies as nondenominational Christian. "The video has the same theme – an organization that undermines humanity."
Major-label A&R execs from across the globe flocked to Hozier's hometown of Dublin to scout his gigs. Within weeks, his Irish label Rubyworks (co-owned by his managers Caroline Downey and Denis Desmond with Niall Muckian) had inked deals with Island/Universal internationally and Sony's Columbia in the United States, where the "Take Me to Church" EP was released in late November. A second EP, "From Eden," followed in March as a streaming exclusive with Spotify before hitting digital retailers in April.
Meanwhile, "Church" is still growing, jumping 4-2 on the Aug. 2 Adult Alternative Songs chart. On Alternative Songs, it pushes 26-25 in its fifth chart week. "There's a lot of layers to the song," says Hozier, who turned 24 on St. Patrick's Day. "It's a love song about asserting one's self."
One of Hozier's biggest fans? OneRepublic singer and hit songwriter Ryan Tedder. "I would love to sign Hozier," he told Billboard in March. "When I heard 'Take Me to Church,' I was like, 'You got to be kidding me. This dude can outsing anybody.' "The two met at a OneRepublic gig in London in May – no word yet on whether they have found time to collaborate creatively.
Hozier's self-titled debut album, due Oct. 7 in the States, is being completed on the road in between shows, where the singer has been known to cover everything from Led Zeppelin to fun. to Amerie's "1 Thing." "It's a bit of a mixed bag," says Hozier of his music. "There's obviously folk, but my earliest influences were Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, so there's lots of blues in it too."
Irish engineer Rob Kirwan (U2, PJ Harvey) is co-producing the album, but much of the rest of his team is a family affair. His mother, Lorraine, did the artwork for both EPs, and is working on the album art and tour merch. Hozier's brother Jon is expected to direct his next video. Meanwhile, co-manager Downey is mapping out Hozier's incredibly tight schedule. "We can tell you where he'll be through March 2016," she says.