Billboard Cover: Hozier on Playing 'Big Mother' Coachella, Surprise Mainstream Stardom and Fainting Over James Brown

Eric Ryan Anderson
Hozier photographed on March 11, 2015 at 632 on Hudson in New York City.

Andrew Hozier-Byrne, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter who goes simply by Hozier, remembers his first festival experience well; it involved a grueling eight-hour wait followed by a near-religious experience. "Christ, I was 16," he reflects. "I waited in the pit for hours to see James Brown. My back was breaking, and I was fainting throughout the day. I got to be in the front row, and it was incredible." The moment reflected a young singer's intense will to feel something transcendent, and it was a sign of things to come.

 

 

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Of course no one, least of all Hozier himself, imagined that this cerebral kid from the Irish countryside whose Plan B was to become a shrink would emerge as one of the year's most unlikely hitmakers, tucked into the top reaches of the Billboard Hot 100 between the more manscaped likes of Pitbull and Maroon 5. "On 'Take Me to Church,' " says Hozier, referring to his provocative hit, which borrows the language of Catholicism to describe the glory of sex, "the vocals were recorded in my attic." The song, from his self-titled debut album, has gained stature not only for its near-operatic vocal intensity, but as an instant baby-making classic; it topped website xoJane's 2015 sex-song playlist and steamed up the Grammys, where Hozier performed with Annie Lennox. Meanwhile, superfan Taylor Swift touted the follow-up single, "Work Song," on Twitter (in a tweet to Victoria's Secret model Lily Aldridge, no less) as a "perfect song."

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This time last year, Hozier was wondering if the bats in that attic would be the only witnesses to his emotional outpourings. "I'd made a conscious decision to write music for a much smaller audience. I did not think it would resonate with mainstream culture." Now he's one of the most hotly anticipated acts at Coachella, an event he has never been to, and one he calls "one of the big mother" festivals.

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Touring the world has offered Hozier a chance to make up for lost time. Growing up, he says, "I was a pretty well-behaved kid, much to my regret." But by mid-adolescence, it occurred to him that following the rules was ruining his life. "I realized I'd rather not please people and not loathe every minute of existence," he remembers with a laugh. "So I turned away from all that and started doing what I wanted to do: music."