Twenty-four year old Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrnes (who performs under the moniker Hozier) will make his Saturday Night Live debut as the musical guest for this weekend’s Bill Hader-hosted episode. Though he’s experiencing worldwide recognition on the heels of his expansive, folk-tinged self-titled debut, you’d be forgiven for missing the bus: His rise happened so fast, it shocked even him. “When I have a moment to reflect on the last year, it’s a bit fucking surreal,” he tells Rolling Stone.
It all started in September of 2013, when he released the video for “Take Me to Church,” a dark, bluesy EP track that would also lead his album. The clip, which debuted during the furor over Russia’s anti-gay legislation last fall, depicts a gay couple who are pursued and eventually brutalized by an angry mob. After getting posted to Reddit, he watched as the video’s view count ticked up. “At one point it was getting like 10,000 views an hour or something,” he says. “I remember it quite clearly, just going to bed and kind of freaking out.”
Things have progressed considerably since then, with performances this summer at Newport Folk Festival and Lollapalooza as well as a string of sold-out tour dates. Before his SNL appearance, here are seven other things you should know about Hozier:
You can give him a phone call.
To celebrate his album’s October 7th release, Hozier surprised his fans by posting his cell phone number on Twitter and telling them to call him. “The idea came about because I was going to change my mobile number anyway,” he explains. “So I thought, for the last day before I do that, why don’t I just put my number out online and people can call me and tell me what they thought about the album or just to chat.” The idea was so popular among his 62,500 Twitter followers that his phone literally melted. “It was the text messages that killed it,” he says with a laugh. “The phone was an old flip phone, and it just started seizing up. I turned it on [a few nights later] at 2 a.m. though, and people were still calling through.” The number is still online.
He’s mostly gotten over his stage fright.
“I know there are some people who suffer acutely from stage fright, but I had a horrific time,” he says. “I was 8 years old, singing a song called ‘Pie Jesu,’ which is an old sacred hymn type thing. It was in front of a few hundred people at a community center and my voice cracked, as young boys’ do. And I just froze up and buried my head in my hands with this little midi track playing in the background until an old woman had to come onstage and show me off.”
Though Hozier is his most successful musical project, it is by no means his first.
Growing up, Hozier was fascinated by Americana and blues as a kid, and when he became a teenager he took a whack at being in a band. “I had just discovered jazz, and I started singing in a kind of blues cover band at the age of 15,” he says. “We called ourselves – it was a terrible name – the Blue Zoots. We couldn’t actually get our hands on zoot suits, nor did we dress in blue. We did covers of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and kind of Blues Brothers repertoire stuff.”
He’s a Tom Waits fan, and got into his songs 30 seconds at a time.
“The first time I heard Tom Waits it was like everything just flipped,” he says. “It was just this fascination with him. My cousin showed me ‘Small Change’ and I just couldn’t get over that this was a white guy singing. I was really young and lived in the country and couldn’t get to record stores, so I used our dial-up internet to listen to 30-second snippets of songs from Blood Money and Alice and The Black Rider, and I was just hooked on him. Now I’m obsessed with his entire catalogue. I’ve been a total Tom Wait dork for a long, long time.”
When writing songs, he takes his time.
“Take Me to Church” took him almost a year to write, and most of the other songs on Hozier had been brewing for a year and half before the album came out. His oldest songs, like the happily romantic “Someone New,” predate even his current repertoire. “I remember writing lyrics for ‘Take Me to Church’ for a long time before I even had a song in mind for,” he says. “It’s not that I was trying to write that song for a year, but sometimes you just kind of collect lyrical and musical ideas and don’t actually complete the song until you feel like they work together and have a home.”
He has some famous fans.
Ed Sheeran and Kiesza have covered “Take Me to Church” and Taylor Swift has attended a show. “It’s a very, very interesting experience to be talking to people who are such icons in their own right,” he says. “When Adele came to a show, I was just talking to her and at the time I thought, ‘I’m just having a chat with somebody.’ But then I heard myself say, ‘Oh, I was talking to Adele the other day,’ and it’s as strange as you’d imagine. Especially because a year ago I lived in the attic at my folks’ house.”
He’s comfortable where he is with his popularity.
Hozier tries not to dwell on his meteoric rise, though he still catches glimpses that indicate he may be gaining some notoriety. “There was a moment the other day of watching a promo of Bill Hader go, ‘I’m hosting SNL this week with musical guest Hozier,’ and thinking about how I’d spent years watching that happen to other musicians,” he says. “I try not to think about until, like, a week later. When I do any sort of TV, I just take a deep breath and breeze through it. But then a week goes by and I go, ‘Jesus fucking Christ, did that happen?!'”
And while he trusts his fans enough to give them his phone number, he’s not worried about how long it’s going to last. “I know I’m not the kind of music that’s going to have tons of screaming fans, and I’m not gonna be everyone’s cup of tea,” he says. “I just want to do as good a job as I can. I’m quite sure I don’t want legions of 15-year-old girls who call themselves, like, Broziers or something. My career isn’t going to be that kind of a thing.”