David Boswell AKA Bozzwell has had a colorful and highly successful career in music spanning almost two decades, from his early white label rave productions through his years as vocalist, bassist, guitarist and keyboard player with chart-topping act All Seeing I to his recordings as Hiem alongside Nick Eastwood for labels such as Crosstown Rebels, Nang, and Eskimo. He has always let shine his passion for recording, producing and performing, working alongside Pop and Dance music royalty, including Jarvis Cocker, UK rap innovator Roots Manuva and none other than the Human League’s Phil Oakey, and also recording as Bozzwell for a host of international labels such as Relish, Throne of Blood and, most importantly, Cologne-based label “Firm” records which sits under the Kompakt umbrella. He released the international hit “In My Cocoon” alongside his critically acclaimed album “Bits And Pieces,” which was received with glowing reviews from a host of magazines, blogs and broadsheets including a thumbs up from Berlin’s “Speigel Tag” and The Guardian in the UK, where this quote summed things up perfectly: “Bozz is gestating a far more complex pop music. The latest wave of electro-pop acts poses as edgy, arthouse originals. Bozz is true to the spirit of 1982, actually producing music which challenges the listener.” He’s also played some of the world’s coolest nightclubs, attracted by his twitchy Techno DJ sets and the contents of his record box. 2017 saw the release of Hiem’s “Hotspace” album through Nang Records, which once again was received warmly. At present, he’s working on the next Hiem album with Nick and crafting some innovative electronic folk under his original David John Boswell name.
Here’s a chat I had with him.
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Chain D.L.K: First of all, I’d like to ask if you were raised in Sheffield.
Bozzwell: Yes, Sheffield has been my home for 22 years or so; I love it here.
Chain D.L.K: I wanted to ask because I was curious to know how you’ve been influenced by the Sheffield scene of the likes of Clock DVA, Cabaret Voltaire, Human League, Artery, etc.
Bozzwell: Oh yes, definitely. It’s got so much of a musical heritage with all them guys, plus I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with Phil Oakey a number of times. It’s a synth city. I guess the only scene that really differed from that was the Artcic Monkeys thing that happened, but everyone is still mostly here, of the old Electronic heroes.
Chain D.L.K: How was it to work with Phil and what do you think of his career?
Bozzwell: Oh, wow, Phil’s quite a regular guy really. I guess his image in the early days, with the lop-sided hair and makeup, gave him an enigmatic kind of vibe, but he’s great to work with, on stage and in the studio. Me and Nick from Hiem had loads of fun working alongside him. I mean, his career has been amazing, really, all those hits. It’s quite an astonishing achievement, what they did.
Chain D.L.K: I’d like to be able to give to our readers the idea of your musical path, so I’d like to start by asking this: How did you start with music and when?
Bozzwell: Well, I guess I started when I was about 10/11. I started playing the drums first in heavy metal bands, had the double bass drum kit with a million toms and cymbals. I sort of progressed on to other instruments and then started working with computers and sequencers later on. Instruments to me are just tools to get what I’m feeling over. I’ve never been that great socially, so music has been a great place to hide and also to be able to communicate through it.
Chain D.L.K: What year was that?
Bozzwell: Oh, that must have been 1980 when I started, a long time ago…so it was when New Wave was having its best bands as well when classic metal was going on…you know…AC/DC, Motley Crue…
Chain D.L.K: So you weren’t in Sheffield, then…
Bozzwell: Exactly that time for sure, I was totally into all that stuff. I went to all the shows, Whitesnake, AC/DC all them guys. I saw the Crue too. I guess I got seduced by electronic music later on down the line. I was living in North Wales, a little town called Prestatyn, though I had a lot of problems there when I was younger. I was bullied a lot and there were a lot of really mean small-minded people there. I was glad to get out, to be honest.
I’ve still got friends there, though, who I go and visit when I go back to see my mum and stuff. There are only about five people I talk to, though.
Chain D.L.K: How was the music scene where you lived?
Bozzwell: Pretty bad, really; there was nothing there, really. It was impossible to find the right people to work with; it’s just the typical British seaside town, not many opportunities at al. I moved to South Yorkshire to go to Uni/College to study music Technology, so that’s how I ended up here in Sheffield.
Chain D.L.K: So, you moved to Sheffield in the late 90’s, right?
Bozzwell: Yeah, I got here in ’95 and have been here since.
Chain D.L.K: So you got there in time for the whole acid scene blast that was going on the biggest cities of the Kingdom, then…
Bozzwell: Yeh, on the tail end of that. Warp records were there then before they moved to London, so after working with a lot of the guys here in Sheffield, that’s how I got going really.
Chain D.L.K: Is it when you started to produce your white label rave records?
Bozzwell: Ahh, I’d previously lived in Liverpool for two years prior to that. I was producing a few white labels then, which were definitely more part of the Rave thing.
Chain D.L.K: What kind of gear did you use back then, to make your music?
Bozzwell: Oh my, I was using back then an Akai S1000, hooked up to an old Atari ST with Cubase and a few bits and bobs, Synths etc. It was all so different then. Equipment was so expensive, as opposed to today, when you can make a great record on a laptop.
Chain D.L.K: The difference now is that even if you make a great record it’s really difficult to get it out there well promoted, etc…or maybe, was it like that also back then?
Bozzwell: The main difference then was, there was more of a quality control kind of thing, as there weren’t a million tracks released every day like now. I think the internet /downloads etc. has been great for people to get their music out there, though it’s almost like anyone can release a record now, so there’s a lot more really bad stuff to wade through, to find the gems. It was still hard then, though, to break something through though, but nothing like it is now. Everything’s so fast; you can release a record and it’s forgotten about in two weeks or so. It’s like a double-edged sword, the way things work now. I’m so glad that vinyl has had a comeback, though. I think people are getting bored with digital files and want something tangible in their hands.
Chain D.L.K: Vinyl is back, but when I read that well-known labels are printing something like 1000 records or not so small ones 500/300 it makes me think: what’s that? In the ’90s, losers like me were selling 300…
Also…it’s so nice to purchase used CDs for cheap prices and get good music for good money…
Bozzwell: It’s the same now, really; most boutique labels will only press 100/300 at the most. It’s easier for the really big labels, as most of what’s released are reissues, like the Pink Floyds, Zeppelins. etc.: The major labels still have the whip hand, unfortunately, but it’s great for underground music, with more record distributors starting up again. It’s quite healthy again, I think.
Chain D.L.K: Yes, but to get a vinyl you spend much more than a CD, for the item as well for the post, really… It’s a tricky thing, it seems to me…
Bozzwell: Yeh, it can be a minefield with it all; prices have definitely gone way sky high for vinyl.
Chain D.L.K: So…end of the 90’s and we have All Seeing I. How did you start with them? Was it before the huge success they had with “The Beat Goes On”?
Bozzwell: What happened was I was working a lot with Dean from All Seeing I. They’d had two massive hits with “The Beat Goes On” and “Walk Like A Panther” at the time they were working on the album, so I was brought in to co-produce and sing on one of the album songs and also I went on tour and was the vocalist alongside a girl called Lisa Millet. I was also switching between bass, guitar, and keys onstage and tv appearances. It was quite a crazy time, as everyone like Jarvis Cocker and Phil Oakey was also involved a lot also.
Chain D.L.K: They used a lot of vocal samples. How did you balance that with live vocals?
Bozzwell: Well, most of the songs on the album were sung, so it was 80% live if I remember. I’d just sing alongside any samples.
Chain D.L.K: How did it end? You did only one album…
Bozzwell: Ha! I know, it’s crazy. To be honest, I think it just ran out of steam. There was talk about doing another album, but somehow it didn’t happen. I think though it was best in hindsight for it to end when it did. Also, everybody had different commitments, Pulp, etc., so maybe it wouldn’t have worked a second time. It was a great experience, though. I was never comfortable with the pop star kinda thing though, to be honest.
Chain D.L.K: What happened after that? Did you start to work on Hiem?
Bozzwell: Yes, that’s it. Nick, who works with me with Hiem, was at all the festivals with his band “Venini,” which Russel Senior from Pulp started. We hit it off and started working together, so we started Hiem and started releasing records with Crosstown Rebels around 2004/2005. We were getting a lot of press in the NME, etc. and doing radio sessions and the like, so it worked perfectly for us.
Chain D.L.K: The first Hiem album “1/2” was totally different from the stuff you previously did. It’s a mix of dance and synthpop with a bit of 80s touch…
Bozzwell: Yeh, it’s definitely that. We’ve always been a mix of a lot of stuff, really, and thankfully it all seems to fit together. To me, I’ve always thought Hiem has more in common with late 70s acts, but there is definitely a big 80s element to what we do. It’s difficult to get away from that sometimes using retro synths, etc. I think it’s a good album for an introduction to Hiem.
Chain D.L.K: What kind of 70s acts do you have in mind? I’m curious…
Bozzwell: Well, for me and Nick it’s definitely Sparks, Neu, a lot of the Krautrock scene, plus for the last 13 years or so, I’ve spent a lot of time playing records in Berlin and Cologne, so there’s a big influence there of the Bowie/Iggy Berlin period which has always fascinated us both.
Chain D.L.K: With your second album “Escape From Division Street,” you focused your style even more and collaborated with Phil Oakey and Roots Manuva. What brought you to that result?
Bozzwell: I think that album was more focused; it seemed to reign in everything we’d been listening to around that period, plus we’d started to work with Eskimo from Belgium. I’d met Rodney (Roots Manuva) in a pub and he said he needed a hit for Ninja Tune, his label, so I ended up working on some material for his album and also doing a couple of Hiem tracks. Phil just came in for a coffee and ended up singing on one of the tracks, so it all worked out like that. Sheffield’s a crazy place…you never know who’s going to walk in the door next.
Chain D.L.K: That’s crazy…really.
Bozzwell: Yeah, ha!
Chain D.L.K: Four years after that, we have your latest album under the Hiem moniker: “Hotspace.” With this, I hear Berlin of the ’00s, ’70s funk, ’80s pop as well some experimental moments, like for “SSRI”…
Bozzwell: Yes, that’s spot on. Yeh, I think it’s definitely a dark record. There are lots of reference points on there. I guess it’s an odd one, but we wanted to get away from the over-poppiness of the previous album; again there’s a nod to “Low” from Bowie and that period. We just can’t make functional dance music. It has to have some kind of character and some song structure, so maybe with “Hotspace” it was too experimental, but it can only be a good thing.
Chain D.L.K: Yeah, I like that! Also, it seems to me that you also wanted to cover different stuff lyrics-wise. Before, maybe, there was also a certain fascination with the nightlife or so, but with “Hotspace” we have “Monkey Office” or “Telepath”…
Bozzwell: Yeh, we wanted to tackle a different subject matter: anxiety, depression, alienation, etc., and prior to that, Nick was running a nightclub called Le Citrus in Sheffield, so we’ve both come from running nights, parties etc., so it’s always turned up in our lyrical ideas.
Chain D.L.K: What kind of experiences did you have with the nightclub adventure? Did you also have gigs?
Bozzwell: Good and bad. I’ve spent most of my life in nightclubs, venues, etc. With Hiem, it’s mainly a studio project, but we’ve had periods where we’ve taken it out live. Unfortunately, we seem to have rotten luck with booking agents, so we’ve never found the perfect fit for touring so to speak, but we’ve played some big shows before now.
Chain D.L.K: In 2010, after Hiem’s “1/2,” you did a solo album titled “Bits & Pieces.” What made you feel the urge to work on that since you were preparing a new album for Hiem?
Bozzwell: Well, I’ve also put out a lot of solo material as Bozzwell and started working alongside Firm records in Cologne, which was under the Kompakt umbrella of Labels, so they warned me to work on an album, so that’s how that came out. Also, “In My Cocoon” was a really big record in Europe at the time, so we ended up doing a video for it, etc. I seem to be working on about 3 to 4 projects at the same time, so loads of stuff end up getting released ongoing through loads of different labels. I’ve also done a few collaborations over the past few years.
Chain D.L.K: How do you decide under what umbrella the different stuff you make is going?
Bozzwell: The Bozzwell stuff can be really dark, whereas the Hiem material can be a lot lighter. To be honest, I don’t really know what I’m doing, it just seems to come out ok, if that makes sense.
Chain D.L.K: What about your activity as a DJ?
Bozzwell: Yeh, DJing is fun. I haven’t played out for a while but it’s always nice to get a dance floor moving.
Chain D.L.K: What is the kind of stuff you like spinning as a DJ?
Bozzwell: I tend to play a lot of Techno. I guess I’ve been totally influenced by Kompakt and a lot of European labels. There’s always more of an emphasis on vocal tracks as well as big instrumental tunes, though.
Chain D.L.K: What are your future plans and what would you like to do with your projects?
Bozzwell: Well, we’re working on the next Hiem album at the moment. It’s a long way off at the moment, but I think we’re looking at late 2020 for that. There’s some remixes coming out, one for the Cologne label, and also there’s some acoustic /electronic material which should see the light of day this or next year, so hopefully there will be a few new shows and some new music.
Chain D.L.K: Is there something you think I didn’t cover that you’d like to say?
Bozzwell: Ahhh, maybe the Microdosing single with Manfredas!
Chain D.L.K: Tell me about that…
Bozzwell: Well, Manfredas and I got together and collaborated on a track called “The Mind Machine,” which was part of a new label called “Microdosing,” curated by Julliene from The Fantastic Twins, so that was recently released with Kompakt distributing. It seems to have done well. I’ve always had a lot of time for Manfredas’s music; it’s totally left-field from functional dance music, as is The Fantastic Twins’ material, so it was great to be part of that. It was quite crazy writing a song about Crazy Cult leaders.
Chain D.L.K: Well, that’s an unusual theme for dance music…
Bozzwell: Ha ha, sure is. It seemed to have worked.
Also, there is an album released with two of my Bozzwell tracks, vinyl/digital through Society Recordings Sheffield, which is in conjunction with Sheffield University which covers the elements on the Periodic table. It’s called “Elements (A SpectralVoyage).”