Hozier and the power of a song
A year on and “Take Me To Church” is still building up a head of steam
One of the best things about driving north from Dublin is that you get to listen to BBC Radio One on the car radio. I know you can get it online 24/7, but I rarely listen to pop radio at home so Radio One and hitting the north go well together. It’s a chance to listen to the Radio One Breakfast Show with Nick Grimshaw, for instance, and realise that you can have great, fresh, new, exciting pop music on a national radio station first thing in the morning.
Case in point: last Thursday, Grimshaw spun and was enthusiastic about the new Charli XCX track “Break the Rules”. She’s come a long way from appearing at an OTR vs Nialler9 night at The Monarch in London during the Camden Crawl in 2012 (as have Disclosure, in fairness). It’s a fantastic tune, full of spikey energy and vigour. It sounded quite fantastic on the radio and Grimshaw had no problem throwing it out there, even if it was still new in radio terms. By comparison, the goms over on 2fm’s breakfast show were playing an ancient track from the Black Eyes Peas which came after six and a half minutes of inane chatter. If you’re living in the north-east or north-west and you’re into your new pop, there’s the reason why you’re probably tuned to Radio One rather than 2fm.
But over the course of a weekend, you note that certain tracks get high rotation. Sure, there’s a lot of new, one-off stuff popping up every hour, but all radio stations have certain tracks on high rotation to set a tone. On Radio One last week, one of those tracks setting that tone was Royal Blood’s riff-tastic “Figure It Out” which came out of the car speakers sounding like Godzilla after guggling crates of Lucozade and Red Bull. The other was Hozier’s “Take Me To Church”.
It’s roughly a year since “Take Me to Church” landed around these parts. From the get-go, you recognised a little monster in your midst and that was even before you saw the Feel Good Lost video (which has now over 10 million views). Everything about the track worked wonders because it was the kind of track you didn’t meet every day of the week. It had a twist of the blues, it had a glimpse of gospel and it had this incredible pop hook which suckered you every time.
Watching how that song has acted for a calling card for the Wicklow musician over the last 12 months has been nothing short of remarkable, from the A&R cattle-crush at his Hard Working Class Heroes gig last October and the growing media buzz in the United States (Saturday Night Live is next on his to-do list) to the huge crowds who’ve turned out to see him at his festival shows (here’s a look at the Electric Picnic crowd from the air via the Irish Times’ drone). It will be interesting to see where his next capital city show will be, if Hozier will rock up to Dame Street for a run of nights at the Olympia or if the temptation to take it straight to the 3arena will be too much to resist for Team Hozier.
But it’s worth remembering that we’re not talking about some overnight helter-skelter story here. Una’s longform piece (which contains more details than the piece in The Ticket on Friday) on Hozier’s career to date makes that point very plain. This is a story which has been in the works for quite some time, probably even before his classmate Storm Desmond told her mother Caroline Downey about this guy with the amazing voice, who then went off to investigate and subsequently became his manager. There are even, in the tradition of Lynn Barber’s A Curious Career, some Xs-on-the-map in the piece for future interviewers to follow up. Like, who exactly in Universal made a bags of those initial demos they did with Hozier long before all the fuss began? What did those demos sound like? What did they try to turn Hozier into? Whose bright idea was that? It would be worth knowing who messed that one up, because Universal are now on the hook for a seven-figure sum to hold the rights to Hozier’s releases outside the United States thanks chiefly to that failure to get in early.
The question now is if Hozier has another “Take Me To Church” in him. Certainly, there’s little on the debut album which comes anywhere near that cloudbursting high. There are a few decent tracks and some interesting ideas and some strong notions about the terrain where Hozier is setting out his stall, but that track overshadows much of the set to date in much the same way as “Somebody That I Used to Know” or “Losing You” towers over everything else from Goyte or Solange. Give Hozier time, though, and it could be a different picture. As with all debut albums, “Hozer” is probably a summary of the notebooks and scraps of paper and ideas which have come together over his life to date. Give him some time and space and life experiences beyond Wicklow and it could be a different matter.
The other question, though, is if Hozier needs another “Take Me To Church”. I talked to Jazz Summers last year about his book “Big Life” and Hozier came up in conversation, as the record label feeding frenzy was then in full swing. It was a great song, Summers said about “Take Me To Church”, which you could believe in. Sure, it was early days and you didn’t know the full story, he said, but it was one of those songs which would always have a life of its own via synchs and tie-ins and what-have-you.
You can bet that “Take Me To Church” will still be played on radio stations five years from now. Whether any other Hozier track enjoys such widespread spins remains to be seen. But for now, the quiet, tall fella from Wicklow is on a roll. Let’s see where it takes him.