Irish at Heart: Written from the Heart and Sung from the Soul,
The Music of Hozier
By Natalie Keller
Ireland has seen its fair share of superstars: U2, Van Morrison, Enya, The Dubliners, The Cranberries – the list goes on. But even among legends, Hozier stands out from the crowd.
There is no Irish musician quite like Andrew John Hozier-Byrne, the alternative singer-songwriter who has been referred to as “Ireland’s new voice.”
Born in Bray, County Wicklow to a painter and a local blues musician, it seems that Hozier was destined to be a musical artist. His distinct sound – which blends blues, gospel, folk, and soul – was shaped by his humble upbringing and as his father’s vibrant, diverse collection of vinyl and old cassettes.
He recalled to Rolling Stone, “We lived far out in the Irish countryside [and] had a very, very bad Internet connection. I developed a fascination with the roots of African American music. I love Muddy Waters and Nina Simone.”
Limited internet access encouraged Hozier to delve into his father’s records and discover the raw power of blues and jazz rather than pop on the radio. Hozier also names Leonard Cohen, community choral singing, and Irish novelist James Joyce’s classic work Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man among his major influences. Those influences are evident in the music, which often features choirs and literary references.
His most unusual inspiration, however, derives from the lectures he listens to daily. In fact, one lecture by astrophysicist Katie Mack on the eventual death of the universe inspired his apocalyptic song, “No Plan,” in which Hozier croons: “There’s no plan, there’s no kingdom to come / I’ll be your man if you got love to get done / Sit in and watch the sunlight fade / Honey, enjoy, it’s gettin’ late / There’s no plan, there’s no hand on the rein / As Mack explained, there will be darkness again.”
Take Me to Church
You’ve no doubt heard Hozier’s most popular track: his soulful, “Take Me to Church,” a runaway 2013 hit. My favorite line in the song is “If the heavens ever did speak, she’s the last true mouthpiece.” The piece is abundant with rich imagery, biblical allusions, and political rage.
A struggling artist and college drop-out at the time, the song was written and recorded in his parents’ attic near Dublin. After going viral on Youtube, the song earned platinum certifications in eleven countries, won Hozier a major-label contract, and earned a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year in 2014.
In a short time, Hozier rose from small open-mic gigs in Dublin to interviews on international TV shows such as The Ellen Show, The Graham Norton Show, and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Since then, Hozier has captivated international audiences with his melancholy ballads written from the heart and sung from the soul.
Beyond the uniqueness of his sound, Hozier’s lyrics are also unmatched. Lines read like pure poetry. As a writer myself, I consider lyrics the bedrock of any song, and Hozier more than delivers.
Lyrics That Linger
His songwriting is not simply beautiful, but overflows with meaning – whether a heartbreaking expression of love, a mournful illustration of loss, or a powerful political stance.
Indeed, the most stand-out elements of Hozier’s work are its political undertones, though “overtones” is the better term, as the musician unabashedly addresses homophobia, racism, and domestic abuse both within his work and outside of it. Hozier’s manager calls him a role model, a vocal feminist, and a die-hard defender of human rights issues.
He was an avid supporter for a Yes vote in Ireland’s 2015 marriage equality referendum, and during the 2018 referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, he published a video urging voters to support “our fellow citizens’ access to healthcare and reproductive rights.” He also often participates in fundraisers and concerts that raise funds to address homelessness. Hozier doesn’t shy away from controversy or confrontation: when Pope Francis visited Ireland in 2018, he performed at the Stand for Truth protest rally, which invited anyone who had “been harmed or abused by the Roman Catholic Church or who wishes to stand in solidarity with those harmed by its actions” to join.
Hozier’s songs reflect his deep-rooted convictions. “Take Me to Church” is a powerful indictment of the Catholic Church’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, a shocking move from an Irishman raised in the Protestant faith.
“Nina Cried Power” is a celebration of the civil rights movement, and his newest single, “Swan Upon Leda,” – which was inspired by the Supreme Court’s overruling of Roe vs. Wade documents the age-old oppression of women in both ancient and modern society. Irishman William Butler Yeats’s poem “Leda and the Swan” depicts the Queen of Sparta’s rape by Zeus in the form of a swan.
The metaphor symbolizes England’s “rape” of Ireland, and in Hozier’s work, it represents the stripping-away of women’s rights that leaves women vulnerable and powerless over their own bodies. Hozier defies this oppression by singing, “What never belonged to angels / Had never belonged to men.” With the release of the song, Hozier announced that he would be donating to Mayday, AidAccess, and Plan C, organizations that provide safe access to reproductive healthcare.
It’s invigorating to witness an artist live by their lyrics and wield their fame for righteous causes. Hozier tells The Irish Times, “We’re all citizens of the Ireland we want to see come to fruition.” As critically scathing as Hozier’s music can be, hope and perseverance come out on top.
His music is a reminder to us all that we have the power to create the world we envision, which sets fire to my activist heart. And as Hozier writes in “Arsonist’s Lullaby,” “All you have is your fire.”
Moreover, Hozier’s success is testimony to the talent of Ireland. Rolling Stone quotes music producer Aoife Woodlock, “When an Irish artist ‘makes it’ in America, the industry looks to Ireland. They look to the place that that artist came from. This is why it’s imperative to support musicians. By supporting the up and coming you are investing in the next generation of [Hoziers].”
Hozier’s newest album Unreal Unearth is expected to be released by the end of this year. Before we enjoy the newest era of Hozier’s work, these earlier songs are recommended: Take Me to Church, Someone New, Cherry Wine, Jackie and Wilson, Work Song, and From Eden.
References & Sources Consulted:
Article in The Irish Times: “Hozier: ‘If I wanted to make a f**king pop song, I would.’”
Article in Rolling Stone: “Behind Hozier’s Unlikely Rise.”
Hozier Biography by Steve Leggett on allmusic.com
*Natalie Keller is a former resident of Galway, Ireland and works in the world of libraries. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in various online platforms, including Mirror Dance, Asymmetry Fiction, and The Peace Chronicle. She loves to hear from readers at na******************@gm***.com.