Hozier hits nerves with ‘Church’ 

click to enlarge Singer-songwriter Hozier has struck gold with his provocative debut, “Take Me to Church.” - COURTESY ALEX LAKE
  • COURTESY ALEX LAKE
  • Singer-songwriter Hozier has struck gold with his provocative debut, “Take Me to Church.”
Some composers are content to skim the love-song surface. But Celtic crooner Andrew Hozier-Byrne, who performs as simply Hozier, likes to dive deeper. He used to ponder his life’s purpose, but he’s way beyond that now.

“Because you’re looking for an answer without there having ever been a question,” says the musician, who appears in The City this week. “Questions were invented by man, because we’re hard-wired to try and figure things out, and we assume the universe has these answers for us. But I think the universe is quite indifferent, and that’s the wonderful thing about being a human being – you just never know, for the most part.”

The Bray native – who once worked with Irish vocal ensemble Anuna – spent years trying to find his voice, both literally and figuratively. The first effort he felt comfortable releasing was his worldwide breakthrough – the multi-layered, gospel-fervent smash “Take Me to Church” (from his eponymous debut album), which was nominated for a 2015 Song of the Year Grammy.

It begins as an ode to an ex-girlfriend, then expands to broader subjects in the chorus of “Take me to church/ I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your life/ I’ll tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife.” The video takes it further, depicting two gay lovers set upon by homophobic thugs.

“Church” was penned shortly after a breakup, Hozier, 24, admits.

But subliminally, he intended it as Christopher-Hitchens-inspired agnostic swipe at organized Catholicism. He runs down a brief litany of the church’s crimes in Ireland – preaching against contraception, denying Communion to the divorced, discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“It’s just shockingly irresponsible and backwards,” he says. “So the song is about an organization that undermines what it means to be a human being, and about asserting yourself through loving somebody, through an act of sex.”

Hozier was stunned when fans started contacting him online about what “Take Me to Church” meant to them: “People shared very personal stories of their experiences, either with hate crimes or prejudice or discrimination, and I wasn’t prepared for that,” he says.

The hit is no fluke. And with Hozier’s minimal R&B arrangements, Van Morrison-ish delivery and koan-like wordplay, his album has more rafter-raisers, such as “Work Song,” “Jackie and Wilson” and “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene.”

Lately, the vest-pocket philosopher has been contemplating more serious subjects, like man’s headlong hurtling toward his own extinction. “But even the universe is destined for death – it’s only a matter of time, really,” he says. “All the stars will eventually die. So even if we found world peace, we’re doomed anyway.”

IF YOU GO

Hozier

Where: Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland

When: 8 p.m. Feb. 10

Tickets: $29.50 to $39.50 (sold out)

Contact: (510) 302-2250, www.ticketmaster.com

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Tom Lanham

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