Before he found pop glory with “Take Me to Church” — released 10 years ago on Sept. 13, 2013 — it was more like “Take Me to College” for Hozier.
“When I started working on the lyrics for a lot of that song, I was in college,” the suburban Dublin native — who was born Andrew John Hozier-Byrne — told The Post.
“The label was offering to pay for studio time, but that studio time conflicted with an exam timetable in the university, and I chose the studio time. I was sort of forced to make a decision to either stay or leave my coursework in university, so I left college and was focusing on music full time.”
But leaving Trinity College Dublin helped Hozier, 33, graduate from playing local open mic nights to becoming an international sensation with his hit debut single, “Take Me to Church,” which was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2015 Grammys and kickstarted a career that continues to reach new heights a decade later. In fact, the Irish singer-songwriter will headline a sold-out Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday — one month after releasing his excellent third studio album, “Unreal Unearth.”
Strangely, though, he’s never even set foot inside the iconic venue that has hosted many of the greatest musicians of all time.
“It’s a big landmark for me,” said Hozier. “And I feel super fortunate that I have the support, that audiences are kind of growing, and people are still coming to the music 10 years on. That is something I’m delighted about.
“New York has always been so good to me,” he added. “It was the first city I played when I came to the States — and the first time I ever played to an audience that far from home … It felt like I had a future in playing music around the world. That was a feeling I got for the first time in New York.”
Indeed, in the last decade, Hozier has continued to fulfill the “mission statement” that he made with “Take Me to Church.”
“I figured that if I was as honest in the work as best I could be, people would resonate with it,” he said. “You know, that’s all I tried to do with that song — and still try to do in the work now.”
Still, he’s surprised that “Take Me to Church” managed to go all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, while spend 23 consecutive weeks atop the Hot Rock Songs chart.
“The way that the song crossed over into a pop hit was amazing,” he said. “And I was so proud that that the song could do that.”
Although Hozier grew up Catholic, he now identifies as agnostic, and the lyrics of his signature song are critical of the Catholic church.
“I guess part of me wanted to address, as an Irishman, the particular legacy of the institutionalized Roman Catholic Church in Ireland,” he said. “And also to take a look at and sort of comment on the idea of original sin — so, before we even get into sexual orientation, that fundamentally all human beings are born as something that carries sin. So I just wanted to question that and sort of turn that idea on its head a little bit.”
The gospel-charged “Take Me to Church” made even more of a statement with its video, which depicted a gay male couple — one of whom comes under homophobic attack.
“It was around the time the Olympics were about to be held in Russia, and at the time the Russian state had engaged in this sort of misinformation campaign where they were targeting the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “They were putting them into the same bracket of laws as beastiality. And there was this massive uptick of attacks against gay people in Russia. And we decided to sort of draw some awareness towards what what was happening in Russia at the time.”
However, some continue to misinterpret the lyrics to “Take Me to Church” as more pro-religion than they actually are.
“There’s definitely some people who didn’t understand the message,” said Hozier. “And I think I’m at peace with that … It’s a risk that you take when you release something, it might get misunderstood.”
Nevertheless, the song took Hozier all the way to the Grammy stage, where he sang it with Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Annie Lennox in 2015.
“It was a wonderful experience getting to perform with Annie Lennox, who’s just a total legend and was a wonderful supportive energy as well around me,” he said. “Just getting to know her, getting to talk to her and getting to sing with her — it was great for so many reasons.”
There are more gospel vibes on “Unreal Unearth” tracks such as “All Things End,” “Butchered Tongue” and “Damage Gets Done,” featuring Brandi Carlile. And Hozier gets all that soul from his papa.
“My dad was a drummer, and all of the music that he listened to, all the music that he played, was from the blues tradition and soul tradition,” he said.
While “Unreal Unearth” is one of the best LPs of 2023 — a true album that is meant to be listened to from start to finish — even Hozier doesn’t expect everyone to consume it that way today.
“I don’t frustrate myself by trying to swim against that tide,” he said. “For those who will have time to sit down and listen to an album, it’s great that you can do that. But I recognize that’s not always easy … So I’m at peace with the way that people come to the music however they come to it.”