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Hozier brings 'Take Me to Church' and more this Wednesday at Darien Lake

By Alan Sculley
Hozier Photo by Ruth Medjber
Photo by Ruth Medjber

It’s been a decade since the arrival of “Take Me To Church,” the crossover hit single that made Hozier a worldwide star and established the native of Wicklow County in Ireland as a new artist to watch on the music scene.

The video for the song was posted on You Tube on Sept. 25, 2013 and almost immediately went viral.

This response got the attention of bigger worldwide labels, and Hozier was signed by Columbia Records in America, which released Hozier’s self-titled debut album in September 2014.

“Take Me To Church,” naturally enough, became the album’s lead single and reached No. 2 on “Billboard” magazine’s all-genre Hot 100 singles chart in December 2014. By the time touring behind the debut album wrapped up in late 2016, the self-titled album had gone double platinum and Hozier was a bona fide star.

Sometimes, though, signature songs like “Take Me To Church” can come with unwelcome side effects. Artists can get judged by the success of a monster hit and mocked if they don’t reach those heights again. Or, the song can wear on artists as they feel required to perform the song at every concert, year after year, from that point forward.

Hozier has no such afflictions when it comes to “Take Me To Church.”

“I was sort of operating from quite an indie or alternative space, and then that song catapulted me into very, very popular spheres in the way it charted. It absolutely changed my life,” Hozier said reflecting on the song in a recent video interview. “And I was pretty proud of it when I wrote it, and what its sort of mission statement was and what I hoped to communicate. In ways, I’m very happy and grateful for that. But if any of my songs can have the sort of reach that that song achieved, I’m very glad that it was ‘Take Me To Church.’”

Despite the song’s impact, the man born 34 years ago as Andrew Hozier-Byrne appears to have evaded being known as the “Take Me To Church guy.” For one thing, he’s had more hit singles – including “From Eden” and “Someone New” from the self-titled album and “Almost (Sweet Music)” from his gold-certified second album, 2019’s “Wasteland, Baby!” And just last month, “Too Sweet,” the single from his newly released EP, “Unheard,” which includes four songs from the same sessions that produced his current full-length album, “Unreal Unearth,” became his first song to top “Billboard” magazine’s all-genre Hot 100 singles chart.

He’s also showing considerable artistic growth. “Unreal Unearth” figures to firmly solidify the notion that he has the talent and creativity to fuel a career that lasts not just years, but decades.

From the start of the project, Hozier wanted to take his sound to new heights, and he worked with a number of songwriters/producers to achieve this objective, with Jeff “Gitty” Gitelman, Daniel Tannenbaum and Jennifer Decilveo being primary contributors,

“I knew I wanted it to be broad. I knew I did want to expand into some sort of soundscapes to play with,” Hozier said, noting he wanted to blend vintage synthesizers and other synthetic sounds with strings and other organic instruments. “I kind of didn’t want to limit anything. I just wanted to explore and make sense of it afterwards, let each song be what it needed to be and explore the spaces they needed to explore. In that way, it became kind of expansive and it became varied. I played around with a lot of sonic textures.”

Thematically, “Unreal Unearth” is plenty rich as well. The 16 songs offer a journey from darkness into light that reflects the pandemic experience and also alludes to “Dante’s Inferno” and Dante’s walk through the nine circles of hell. Hozier uses these as a backdrop for lyrics that he said relate to a range of uncertainty and upheaval he experienced himself or witnessed with people he knew, spanning loss and love, feelings of disillusionment and a resolve to recalibrate daily lives to better align with personal goals for work, social lives, family lives and relationships.

“Like any album, if you’re writing from a personal place, you’re processing and sort of exorcising and examining personal experiences over a period of time, or (making) personal observations or whatever of the world around you,” Hozier said. “But these all took place in a very, a lot of these experiences took place in a very, very particular, unique and prescient time for the world, in a pandemic. I wanted to acknowledge and to gesture and sort of credit those conditions of coming into something – the pandemic – and coming out the other side without necessarily writing songs or writing an album that focused specifically on the experience of the lockdown, the experience of the pandemic.”

To translate the kaleidoscopic sound of “Unreal Unearth” (as well as a healthy selection of songs from his first two albums) to the live stage, Hozier has put together a large touring band with plenty of instrumental and vocal versatility.

“There’s nine of us,” he said. “There are two string players. There’s a violin player who also plays guitar, there’s a cello player who also plays guitar, there’s an organ and synth player who is also a Latin percussionist. Yeah, there’s nine of us and everybody is a multi-instrumentalist in some way, shape or form, and everybody is a singer. So we have nine voices on stage and nine multi-instrumentalists.”

Hozier will be playing at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on Wednesday.

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