How a €1,500 video made in Cork made Hozier the biggest name in music

As the Irish singer gets ready for the Grammys, Eoin Edwards hears the story of the €1,500 promo film that helped bring him to an audience of millions.

WHEN the contestants for Grammy award song of the year are announced on Sunday night in Los Angeles, nobody will be more excited than Brendan Canty and Conal Thompson. The Cork duo are the main men behind the video for Wicklow singer Hozier’s nominated song, ‘Take Me To Church’.

Not long out of college, they are still coming to terms with the fact their video has clocked more than 100 million views on YouTube alone.

“It’s mindblowing really and amazing to see an unknown song you found, tweeted about and made a video for, in-and-around Ballincollig and Ovens, being watched by some of the greatest artists in the world,” says Canty in reference to the star-studded line-up at Sunday’s awards. Hozier’s song will be competing against the likes of ‘Shake It Off’ by Taylor Swift and ‘All About That Bass’ by Meghan Trainor.

Conal Thompson and Brendan Canty made the video for Hozier's 'Take Me To Church'

While the other four nominees in the best song category already had record company backing for their videos, the ‘Take Me To Church’ promo took a very different route.

Back in 2013, Canty came across the relatively unknown Hozier’s rough attic demo of the song online and tweeted about it.

Hozier responded and the seeds of a relationship were planted. The song got the attention of the indie label Rubyworks, who teamed the singer up with producer Rob Kirwan, best known for his work with U2.

To promote the song, Rubyworks hired Canty and Thompson’s emerging production company, Feel Good Lost, to create the video. “It was a huge break, we talked to Hozier about ideas and the budget for the video over email. He had a big part in the idea and came to Cork. Normally when a video is finished it takes two to three weeks to release it. Rubyworks wanted it the next day,” says Canty.

The idea for the story on the video was Hozier’s. He wanted to address the issue of the repression of gay people in Russia.

Last week, the singer said the film has led to many people presuming he is gay. “Yes, people do make that assumption, which is fine, but for me I don’t think it’s the point. It doesn’t come into it, what my sexual orientation is,” he told Reuters.

“Regardless of the sexual orientation behind a relationship, it is still a relationship and still love... So people are free to make any assumption they want, it’s grand.”

Cork features heavily in the video, with locations such as Inniscarra dam. Actors Emmet O’Riabhaigh (son of well-known uileann piper, Eoin O’Riabhaigh) and Patrick Sheahan are from Dripsey, while Daniel Coughlan is from Fountainstown.

Actors Emmet O’Riabhaigh and Daniel Coughlan in the video for 'Take Me To Church'

“The fact that they are close friends helped. They were comfortable with each other,” says Canty.

Following its release Rubyworks said they were just going to focus on Ireland for 12 months, said Canty, but it soon took on a life of its own.

“I remember someone texting me to say it was getting 10,000 views an hour,” Hozier said last year. “I went home that night and watched the views rise hour by hour.”

Months later, ‘Take Me to Church’ gained a very different kind of exposure in the US through a Beats by Dr Dre advert, and Hozier’s performances on Saturday Night Live.

The snowball continued with an appearance at Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in London last year. ‘Take Me To Church’ eventually hit the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, and Hozier’s self-titled debut album entered the American charts at No 2.

On Sunday night, while Hozier takes to stage for a performance with Annie Lennox at the Staples Centre, Canty and Thompson, who met in CIT, will be observing it all in very different surroundings.

‘I’ll probably be watching at home,” says 26-year-old Canty, a former pupil of Ballinora national school, Coláiste Choilm, Ballincollig and a 2011 multi-media graduate of CIT. “But it’s a big thrill to see your work, which had a budget of €1,500, contribute to Hozier’s explosion onto the world stage.”

While Hozier is now a household name, the video for ‘Take Me To Church’ has also helped Canty’s career. Feel Good Lost has gone on to produce TV adverts for Gas Networks Ireland, and the company is pitching for bigger-budget music and narrative video work.

They also manage up-and-coming artists such as Talos and Young Wonder, trying to do for them what they did for Hozier.

But Canty’s hunger for more is always grounded in reality. “The best thing about the Hozier success for me, outside of all the exposure, is that at last my granny, Ann, understands what I’m doing,” he laughs.

  • The Grammy Awards are on Sunday. Highlights on RTÉ2 on Monday at 7.30pm


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