Hiem: ‘We’d do Jools Holland if we could blag it!’
Bozzwell and Nicco Eastwood are Hiem, a musical production duo who are based in Sheffield and responsible for some really well-made, alternative dance music, though still readily accessible and not too far leftfield to ostracise people.
I interviewed Bozzwell last year and found him to be a great subject, having worked with Jarvis Cocker and Phil Oakey in the past, and even appearing on Top of the Pops. So I followed up with this second interview focusing on his collaborative project with Nicco. Hiem have a new album in the pipeline and some interesting projects, including a single with British lyricist Roots Manuva, so here’s what they had to say when we caught up with each other recently.
What have you been up to music-wise so far in 2013?
Nicco: We can’t complain – we’re doing something that we love. That can start from a small idea in our heads, to rocking a dancefloor somewhere I’ve never been.
Bozzwell: I’ve given up smoking and we also have a new Hiem puppy in the studio, she’s called Poppy. There have been a couple of releases out so far in the first two months or so; a remix we did for Black Strobe and also the Hiem/Roots Manuva collaboration was out last month..
Did you start the year with any firm plans? If so, what were they?
Nicco: I think our plan for the coming year was the same as always, to try and make interesting electronic music – whether that’s a ‘poppier’ track or a dancefloor kind of thing.
You seem to have a fair bit of music scheduled for release, can you tell me a bit about the releases you’ve got coming up and how they came about?
Bozzwell: Well there’s a few things coming out, I have a couple of Bozzwell records on the way. One through Throne Of Blood from New York – a collaboration between me and Vosper from Canada. It’s very spooky, I think it should do well! There’s also a remix out soon [that] we did for The Finger Prince in Australia on Motorik Records. Hiem’s own label Startalk International has got a few new releases scheduled for this year. Also Nang Records are reissuing the “Escape From Division Street” album soon, so there will be a few singles from that coming out as well. All in all, there’s quite a lot of material due for release, plus the Roots Manuva collaboration was just out last month.
I know Vosper, too… How did you hook up with them?
Bozzwell: I think we just met over the net – on Facebook. I really liked their single Release on Meant Records, so we’ve been in contact for the last year or so and we ended up doing some stuff together.
And what about the Roots Manuva link?
Nicco: Well he met us in Sheffield he was living here for a while and said he wanted us to produce some stuff for him, so we did some tracks – in the end Ninja Tunes said it was too commercial so it didn’t make the album, which ended up being the Slime And Reason album. In those sessions we also did some Hiem stuff and that’s where the recent record came from. It doesn’t sound like a hip hop track to us, it just sounds like a Hiem record with him on the top.
How’s touring at the moment?
Bozzwell: Actually we’re chomping at the bit to get out and play live but because we’re writing our second album at the moment we can’t get out much. We’ve never really done loads of touring but we do the odd show here and there as we prefer to play cool parties and go on stage when we want and play what we want. We’ve got a couple of festivals to do this summer which should be fun.
I hear you’re working on a second album? How does it compare to making the first one?
Nicco: We’re 80 per cent done on the new album, so we’re still in pre-production. We’ve brought in a few different instruments like the Fretless bass and a few odder things to make things a little more interesting. There’s a bit more Saxaphone and a more acoustic feel to the new record compared to the last one.
Is there a theme? Do you have many guests so far?
Bozzwell: The ongoing theme in Hiem music revolves around a struggle of some kind, whether that’s in the lyrical content or musically. As for guests, we’ve got a couple of special guests lined up but we can’t say at this time. What I will say is that it’s looking and sounding really positive .
How important do you think albums are within dance music and what’s the last one you picked up that impressed you?
Nicco: Usually we both can’t stand dance albums, just throwing 10 dance tracks on a record makes little or no sense to us. It’s a shame really because I think there are people out there who still want to buy albums, apart from a few things (like DJ Hell) I think the only albums dance music-wise that have stood out for us have been Homework and Discovery by Daft Punk. I think they definitely set the standard for all of us really.
Speaking about shaking up music, is there anyone you’ve heard lately who you imagine might be able to do that?
Bozzwell: The only thing recently that’s really affected us recently is the new Bowie album The Next Day, it’s amazing! It seems to me that although we’ve had some great stuff this last 10 or 15 years, it’s taken him to turn up out of the blue and say, “Hey everyone, here it is and this is how you do it”.
What else is happening with you guys this year?
Nicco: We’re hoping the Startalk International label will get off the ground properly this year, so apart from running that. It’s mainly working on the new album, remixes, DJing and doing some live shows.
Has the dance music ‘explosion’ had much of a knock-on effect in Sheffield?
Bozzwell: The funny thing is with Deep House and Techno becoming so popular, which to be honest I hadn’t really realised, it’s really weird seeing all the young townies getting into it. I played a club in Sheffield last week, it was just rammed with students – which, five years ago wouldn’t have happened unless it was a hyped-up mainstream act. They weren’t pilled-up either! Just drunk students dancing to house and techno!
It seems as though a lot of DJs/producers are benefiting from the increased popularity of your music… have you noticed much of a difference yourself?
Nicco: The whole scene now is a bit over-saturated with stuff, with new producers coming out every five minutes. But unfortunately with the aid of software like Ableton, it’s easy to get instant success for a lot of people. There’s that much bad stuff around, you’ve got to dig deep to find the real stuff these days. But I guess it’s always been the case, there’s just a lot more people making music now.
Although the music is a lot more popular, there still seems to be little money around – why do you think this is?
Bozzwell: The whole industry has been turned upside down over the last seven or eight years with the digital thing and the actual physical product becoming less needed, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on really. I think digital sales are getting better but on the whole there’s not much money for artists – especially in the underground scene. I think for the mainstream acts it’s not so bad but it’s ruined a lot of things. At the same time we’ve got to work with it, it’s definitely a case of ‘adapt to what’s going on or go under’.
How do you keep your head above water working as a musician?
Bozzwell: You have to do other bits and bobs as well just to survive really. It is tough for everyone, writers musicians etc. We have to do extra work to keep out heads above water. I do a bit of teaching guitar when things get really bad, it’s so difficult now to be an artist and survive. As the Bowie song states, “Fame, what you need you have to borrow”. I’m sure everyone thinks once you’ve made a couple of records you’re a millionaire… far from it. You’re probably 10 times worse off than they are, unless you’re Elton John or The Rolling Stones.
Do you think it helps living in Sheffield rather London?
Bozzwell: Yes of course, everything is double the price down there. I can’t live in a place like that, it’s too full on for me. London seems like such an aggressive city – as soon as you get off the train there’s billboards everywhere, “Buy this! Buy that! You need this! You have to have this or you’re a failure!” type of thing. Everyone seems to be running around chasing something or working towards something, but I’m sure they don’t know what it is they’re actually chasing or why. I think that’s why I like Berlin and Sheffield so much, they’re both so laid back compared to London. It’s easy to romantasise about Berlin with all its historic and musical past culture but it is an easier place to be, just like sheffield – both cities are cheap to live in compared to London, so there’s less pressure on your way of life.
Do you ever imagine going back to the times when you appeared on TOTP with your new music?
Bozzwell: Yeah, I guess. Of course if it was still around we’d jump at the chance. We’d do Jools Holland if we could blag it!
What’s inspiring you at the moment?
Bozzwell: Our friends, fears, love, music and hope.
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