As a young boy growing up in eastern Ireland, Andrew Hozier-Byrne never expected he'd one day rule the Billboard Top 100 and be nominated for a Grammy. "The whole last year has been a completely surreal experience for me," he told InStyle. "I’m only now coming to terms with it." For the 24-year-old singer-songwriter, 2014 was a indeed fruitful one. Not only did he release his self-titled debut album to critical and commercial acclaim, but he performed his smash-hit "Take Me to Church" at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, on Saturday Night Live, and, most recently, at the aforementioned Grammy Awards alongside Annie Lennox.
"She's a true legend in my book," he said. "It was amazing for me to even perform at the Grammys, but to do so alongside Annie Lennox was a truly incredible honor." What's arguably more amazing is the Irishman's unlikely rise to fame (he wrote "Take Me to Church" in the attic of his family home, and last September, the song went viral on Reddit), and the fact that he's managed to secure a highly-coveted radio spot with a folk-influenced, decidedly non-mainstream sound. We chatted with the musician about his path to success and, of course, his beloved hairstyle. Read on for the full interview.
Your music sounds very bluesy, but you’re obviously from Ireland. What did you listen to growing up?
My father was a blues musician and played a lot of blues before I was born, so my first introduction to music was Chicago blues music. Also, one of my favorites films when I was younger was The Blues Brothers. It was from a very early age that I was listening to that kind of music.
Who are some of the acts you enjoyed listening to?
By the time I was older and more aware of my taste in music, it would've been John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, and Muddy Waters. Nina Simone is a big one too—she mixes jazz and blues really well.
How about some of your other influences? You've mentioned you're a fan of James Joyce in other interviews.
Certainly. There's a lot of sentiment in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that has had a big influence on me. Other writers too, like Oscar Wilde's fairytale short stories and W.B. Yates's poetry.
"Take Me to Church" isn't your typical radio hit. Did you ever think it would become such a huge success?
I really didn't. I thought it would be appreciated by a very small audience. I wrote it about two years ago, just sitting down at the piano and stumbling across a cord. I didn’t think it would be a radio hit or chart at home or abroad.
Those are some heavy lyrics to be churning out in your attic. A lot of people probably think the song is about religion, but in a lot of ways, it's about sex.
It is about sex, but the language is informed by a language of the church. That feeling of embattlement is informed by a doctrine of the Catholic church. It's not an issue of faith, it's a man-made organization and doctrine that, in my book, fundamentally undermines humanity by teaching people how to love or who to love. It's about loving somebody and celebrating that as a wonderful, fundamental part of being alive.
The video expounds on that. Is gay rights an issue that you're very passionate about?
We wanted to reference what's going on in Russia. We have such a culture of discrimination and hatred, and one that has scapegoats and affects people so extremely. That's something that very easily crosses borders. We had an opportunity to spread awareness for something like that, and if it enters people's consciousness in some way, shape, or form, that's great. But it also reflected the song appropriately as an organization that, under the guise of the betterment of society, undermines the natural and wonderful part of it, which is being a human being and loving somebody.
You just performed the song with Annie Lennox at the Grammys. Who's someone you hope to collaborate with in the future?
There are loads. One of my biggest influences of all time would be somebody like Tom Waits. David Bowie is another huge influence. I'm also a big fan of St. Vincent and Leslie Feist.
We've got to ask about your man bun. What made you decide to adopt the style?
I’ll be absolutely honest with you, it was maybe some time last year that I discovered what a man bun was. My hair grows into a fuzz ball—I just wanted it to grow downwards rather than outwards—but then I realized I couldn't play guitar with it that way. I couldn't do anything day-to-day without my hair getting in my mouth or my eyes or my food, so I just started tying it back, long before I knew what a man bun was. I've come to like the look!
Watch the music video for "Take Me to Church" below, and buy Hozier for $10 from the iTunes Store.