The Great Escape | Boslen’s Healing Through Music

Photo Credit - Cameron Corrado

Boslen is putting on for the city of Vancouver. Stylistically, his lyrics flirt with this idea of escapism to introduce the juxtaposition of self, separating Corben (the man) from Boslen (the artist). In one moment, Boslen’s ignoring the red flags of what’s perceived as good. In the next, Corben’s lost in a cloud of emotion trying to rediscover love. Down this path of self-discovery and enlightenment, it’s Boslen’s pop-tinged vocals that begs the question: is music the highest form of expression?

Born in Chilliwack, a neighboring city about an hour away from Vancouver, the former rugby player was on scholarship at the University of Victoria before two ACL injuries shortened his career. Bouts of depression ensued and it was at this low point in his life when Boslen’s faith was tested. “I remember specifically, I was bawling my eyes out on my bed and I prayed to God,” he shares. “I said, ‘God, if rugby is not for me, can music please be for me,’ because I wanted to do something. I wanted to give back.” Clearly, his prayer didn’t fall on deaf ears. In fact, the singer-songwriter’s invocation was answered almost immediately: “…ten minutes go by and my manager (Isaac) runs into the room saying, ‘I just got an email from a label and they want to sign you.’ ” 

Since then, a string of singles have allowed the Haisla Nation descendant to foster a relationship with his fans. Through music, Boslen has found purpose. The fulfillment behind completing a song gives him a euphoric feeling, which he describes as “the highest of highs.” Even after the dopamine wears off, Boslen’s desire to impact others with words, using his voice as an instrument for the silenced, is what keeps him going.

Today, DUSK to DAWN proves to be a fitting full-length introduction for Boslen, backed by his signature croons and idiosyncratic style. His vulnerability has fathered a new language in music, pivoting into a sonic direction that promotes healing and self-awareness. While much of the subject matter covered throughout the album is deeply personal, Boslen’s expressing a melange of emotion that makes it almost impossible to pinpoint what he feels naturally, though.

Growing up in Vancouver, can you recall the first time you were introduced to music?

I grew up in a small town called Chilliwack. It’s like an hour away from Vancouver. Basically, it’s full of farmland. I grew up in a very white, suburban neighborhood. I lived with a single mom for a bit and then I met my stepdad. He kind of introduced me to music. My mom would sing a lot, she had an amazing singing voice. It was just me, her and my sister. We married into that family, and Chris (Boslen’s stepdad) played the guitar. He had the big family get-togethers (he was Italian) and from there he would play Johnny Cash around the house and Elvis Presley. My mom was obsessed with Marilyn Manson and she loved Whitney Houston. I wasn’t introduced to hip-hop until around eight or nine. I went on a trip to Mexico with my mom and sister: I had an iPod and for some reason I just dived into Kid Cudi. I really resonated with him because he was talking about how he didn’t have a dad. On the plane ride to Mexico, all I had was that album (Man On the Moon: The End of Day), so I just listened to it over and over and over again. I just became obsessed with him. From there, when I turned 13, my balls didn’t drop yet, so my voice was so fucking high. I would rap over Kid Cudi type beats and it was so fucking cringy bro. For some reason, my heart wasn’t in it yet, from a music aspect. 

Was this around the same time you started playing rugby? 

When I went to middle school, that’s when I saw all the cool kids playing rugby and I was like what the fuck is this? I dropped music and went to rugby: I devoted six or seven years of my life to it. I just thought that (rugby) was going to be my end goal. I thought that was how I was going to get my bread. I went to the University of Victoria for rugby, tore my ACL the first year, got depressed, and that’s when I started picking up the pen to write. That’s when I met my friend at the time (who’s my manager now) and from there I just played him voice memos. He eventually convinced me to pursue music. I started making my own music in my dorm room, we played it at parties, and that’s when I got the confidence to think damn, this could work. I was balancing music and rugby at the time, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. It was my fourth game playing, I was hyped. I went in to score a try (touchdown) and my knee popped again. It’s kind of crazy because I wasn’t religious before, but that day – and I’ve never told anyone this before, it’s really interesting – I went back to my dorm room and I was crying. I remember specifically, I was bawling my eyes out on my bed and I prayed to God. This was my first time praying in so long bro. I said, “God, if rugby is not for me, can music please be for me,” because I wanted to do something, I wanted to give back. And I shit you not bro, ten minutes go by and my manager (Isaac) runs into the room saying, “ I just got an email from a label and they want to sign you.” I’m not going to say the label name, but they offered me a recording contract. From there, I dropped out of university, slept on his couch for like six or seven months and just kept going. 

Has your bicultural heritage influenced the way you consume art, to any capacity?

I think so, yeah. My mom is full-indigenous and my dad is Jamaican. When I was raised, I was raised in a  very indigenous home. My mom and step dad told me to always respect my elders and to take my time with whatever I’m doing: don’t rush and do something else. Be a man of your word. I feel like giving back to your community is so big with that. My goal has always been to give back to my community because I’m Haisla Nation. Haisla Nation is a reserve that’s like eight hours from Vancouver. It’s very isolated, so there’s a lot of self-suicide there, deaths, it’s very unfortunate. There’s no Walmart there, there’s just a corner store and a river. Till this day, I wanna give back to that community. Even with Vancouver, I feel like there are kids just like me who are biracial and feel isolated in a place where Vancouver is overshadowed by Toronto. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Toronto, mad respect to them, they’re going crazy, but I feel like there’s a time and place for kids like me. Kids out here need their own space and they need to be heard. 

Your pop-tinged vocals flex the range of your natural ear for melody, while your lyrics channel a palpable sense of escapism. How did we end up here? 

(Laughs) You’re good at what you do. I’ve never been asked that question before in my entire life. That’s crazy. Okay, I’ma be dead honest. Two things: I’m from Chilliwack, so at the time bro, growing up in high school, there weren’t that many Black people around. Kids would call me nigger and I’m not saying it was the worst neighborhood to grow up in, but for me it was tough. I felt out of place. I felt like everyone was okay with the mentality of graduating high school and going to work in construction or being a farmer. People were okay with staying in that bubble and I just wanted to get out. Everyone was so content and it was bringing my mood down. That’s my number one, I feel like everyone never wants to go back to where they started from. That’s what drives a lot of us. I was watching a Mike Tyson interview earlier and that really resonated with me. Number two man, in the middle of when I started making this project… probably a year and a half ago, maybe five months after COVID hit, I had just got out of a relationship and I dated a girl for like five years. It ended really badly. I’m okay now (obviously), but I found out she had fucked my best friend. It really destroyed my world. At the time bro, when you’re developing as a young man in high school, you don’t have a lot of friends because you’re dedicating your time to your significant other, that becomes your best friend, that becomes your world, especially in a small town. When you find out that flip happens, loyalty and trust goes out the window and that becomes very aggressive and self-hatred. And I wanted to push that away from me because the way I was developed was by a mother who was very loving. It really built a contrast in my head where it was push and pull, so when it came to this music (DUSK to DAWN), I felt like the only way I could get it out, resonate, or even tap into that mentality of who Corbin was again is by being vulnerable. Being vulnerable on this album and trying to get away, talking about myself a lot, that really helped me. 

DUSK to DAWN symbolizes the transition from dark to light. Does this theme juxtapose Corben’s existence with Boslen’s or are those two personalities one in the same?

With the title, you kind of hit the nail on the head. I really wanted to tap into that dark and light, empowerment and vulnerability. I went into this album with three songs: “MY WAYS,” “HAVE YOU” and “VULTURES.” When we started this album, I really didn’t know where I wanted to go, I just knew that I wanted to tap into who Corben was and really represent that. Me and my executive producer (justsayin) really wanted to make music that’s timeless and has weight to it. I felt like with Black Lotus, it was very much a project that you could pick up and put down. I wanted this project to really have that weight and be able to sink into that journey. A lot of these artists nowadays, they don’t build projects that you have to listen all the way through. For me, those are the albums that resonate with me the most. Those album cuts like “Impossible” on Rodeo or “Soundtrack 2 My Life” on Man On the Moon: The End of Day, those cuts that aren’t singles, those songs you know when you listen to them; songs that really show character and artistic integrity. On this album, we really resonated with the shadow theory – one of my creative directors (I think it was Natasha) brought it up – and basically there’s a philosopher (Carl Jung) who talks about how everyone has a shadow and projects that onto other people. For instance, if you’re sitting at a meeting and there’s 20 people at the board meeting and you’re about to do a presentation but another person has to go before you (this is one of the many examples you can use this for), an individual walks in, does a presentation and kills it. He has so much charisma, is confident, knows how to speak and is connecting with people in the room, and you’re sitting there nervous, then you start to project that feeling. That’s the shadow theory. With this album, I really wanted to tap into that and show how you can transition from the shadow theory into empowerment. From the branding of the merch to the music videos, it’s all tied into one. I wanted it to be a world of DUSK to DAWN. I didn’t want it to be just this moment. I wanted to build this world and really use my imagination because I feel like that’s a creative’s strongest super power. I wanted this album to be more of an experience. 

Is there any significance behind the timing of your debut album? Why now?

In a time and place where I’m developing as a young man and where the world is finally opening up, there’s no better time to drop a project than right now. Other than the obvious reasons, just for my soul, I was dropping single after single and I just signed to the label. It just felt like there was this big snowball building because this project was pushed (if I’m being honest) five times. It was supposed to drop last October. And the reason being is because of the music. The music wasn’t there, man. I’m not saying I’m a perfectionist, but it has to be a certain way for me. It can’t be in between or fluffy, it has to be very direct or let it simply happen like mother nature. Things have to happen at the right time. I was in L.A probably a week ago, and I’m forgetting his name but he’s a producer for Kanye. I was asking him what Kanye is like, what’s his work process like, and he was telling me the way Kanye moves in the studio, or the way he moves in a rollout is very much, it’s not even to do with religion because it’s transitioned into religion. It’s his mentality of things have to happen at the perfect time. It’s like the universe telling him that it’s perfect: it’s now or never. And I felt like a lot of things were aligning in my life. That window of opportunity only lasts but so long for so many artists. You have to hit it at that perfect spot, and if you don’t, then you miss it and that’s it, the artist has (in consumers terms) “fallen off.” I feel like with this project bro, I had to hit that window and I had to hit it fucking guns blazing. I just feel like we’re ready and I’m excited for what’s next. 

This project doesn’t stray away from the melange of emotion introduced with Black Lotus (2019). Are there any outside influences rooted in your pain that tend to go unchecked? 

This is another thing I don’t tell people but I’m down for it to be out there in the universe. The thing that helped me in rugby when I transitioned into music was because I was raised by a single mom for a bit. I really wanted to make her fucking proud. She had to work like three jobs, we had to sleep on mattresses and shit. It wasn’t fucking pretty. I remember it very clearly. I’d go to school with some of the same clothes and kids would make fun of me and shit. I’d always compare myself to others. I’d get very competitive as a kid because I wanted to make my mom and my family so proud because there wasn’t a man in the house. As a kid, every sport I played, whether it was dodgeball or this, I’d compare myself to that kid and be like cool, if he can do it then I’ma do it better. And then it transitioned into rugby. Okay, he can make that team, give me five months, I’ll make that team. He can score a try, I’ll score three. And then when I tore my ACL and I got into music, I was in Victoria at the time and I didn’t know about the Vancouver scene. So when I transitioned here, I came in with a chip on my shoulder because I was like who are the best artists here? Who’s Manila Grey, who’s bbno$, who are these artists that run Vancouver, this little pocket, a bubble. How can I get to their level and how can I get bigger. And it’s not like envy or anything, it’s more like friendly competition because I’m boys with them. Just like how Drake moves in his city, you have to show love. You have to be a genuine person.

First of all, I’m Corben Bowen. I’m not Boslen when you meet me. I really have that competitive mentality and I feel like I came in as an underdog. People either looked past me or didn’t think I was shit. Having that mentality of not being anything, I wanted to be something, not just for me but for my mom, my sister, my nieces, Natasha that stays up until five in the morning to work on my visualizers, for my producer that literally flew from Turkey to pay his own bills and sleep on my couch while we were living on Hastings and his car got broken into. He didn’t give a fuck because we were building a project and he knew it was going to be something special. It’s those people that sacrifice everything they can for you, and if you don’t realize that then you’re ignorant. Everything at once, it really inspired me to create this project and man, it’s crazy because there’s really an opportunity in Vancouver right now. If you think about it, the city is so condensed but there’s not that one artist, there’s not that Drake for Toronto. There’s not that Jack Harlow for Kentucky or that Eminem for Detroit. There’s not that Travis (Scott) for Houston. There’s not that guy, and when I came here, everyone thought they were that guy. No disrespect to any of the artists here, but I know how bad I want it, I know how bad my team wants it and I know how hard we work. I’m not saying I’m trying to be that guy to put on for Vancouver. I know I will do it. 

Your creative process feels like a form of self-liberation. What does exercising your right to create do for your mental health? 

I think it gives me purpose. My big thing, and I hate to compare, but with comparing it to rugby one more time, when you play a sport – yeah you win a championship for your city, you do it for your team and the next year comes and you gotta do it again – but when I was making this project, more than anything, I wanted it to last. When I was creating it, it was very therapeutic for me because I wanted those kids, the people that went through a lot of what I went through, to know that they’re not alone. That’s what kept me driving in the studio. When you’re creating something during COVID, you can’t really go out anywhere in Vancouver. It was cold, so we were stuck in the studio everyday, just building this project. Thinking about what this project could potentially do is what kept me going. I knew how it was making me feel because when I made “DENY” I was bawling my eyes out. It took so much weight off my chest, denying something that you thought was good for you. Or when I made “FORSAKEN,” I literally had to kick my best friend of eight years out of the room because that take for the chorus took me like 11 tries to get that. My voice kept cracking and I almost gave up but my producer was like nah, keep going. When I finally hit it, you get this sense of dopamine and it’s like fuck, I wanna do it again (laughs), and then you fall into this rabbit hole. It puts so much energy in your soul. When you’ve finally done a song, it’s the highest of highs. There’s no better feeling in this entire world than completing a song and you know it’s fucking dope and you know it has meaning.

The word “debut” is significant. Can you put into context how it feels to reach this milestone in your career? 

It still hasn’t hit me yet if I’m being honest. Let’s talk about it as a consumer, as a fan for sec. When you find an artist, that new Kid Cudi or Don Toliver, when you hear their music for the first time, it’s a make or break moment. There’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of eyes. A lot of everything, but I feel like if someone is going to do it it’s going to be me. If someone has to do it for Vancouver and where I come from, it’s going to be Corben. Getting to this moment wasn’t just me: it was my entire team, it was the city, and I just wanna make sure that it was a moment. When I think about my debut, I think about it like a family and what it took to get here. I’m getting chills just thinking about it. This is my first time actually sitting down because I’ve been doing so much shit lately, so thank you for giving me this, but bro, I’m actually getting kind of choked up. This is a big fucking moment for me, man. I’m very grateful for everything that we’ve done. With this album, I know a lot of people aren’t going to understand it because it happens, and I’m okay with that. That’s part of the development stage and I know that I’m going to be here for a while because I know how we move and I know exactly what type of artist I want to be. In a year, I know it’s going to be completely different. Right now, it’s like yes, DUSK to DAWN is coming, but in another two weeks I’ll be back in the studio working on something new. It’s all part of the journey, bro. I’m grateful for you, I’m grateful for this moment, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear DUSK to DAWN.

About the Author

Derrius Edwards
Derrius is a music industry professional with experience in content strategy and editorial writing, sharing relevant and resonating stories as a conduit for hip-hop culture advancement.

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