There are a few bands we've had the pleasure of working with over the years, following their evolution through albums and line-ups and different sounds. We can't say we've been there for every Boxer Rebellion album (there have been five of them to date), but over the years we've had the pleasure of sitting down with the band, catching up (in this rather primitive session), filming a few songs (like this concert), and saying goodbye, knowing our paths would cross somewhere in the not-so-distant future.
Our latest encounter with the band came earlier this summer when the band swung by our pad to show us super-stripped down, but totally blissed out renditions of songs from their shimmering, technicolored new album, Ocean By Ocean. In addition to the three song session we also spent some time chatting with Nathan Nicholson and Andrew Smith. It was our first time talking to Andrew, who signed up with the boys about two years ago. Sadly, there was no million dollar check. "Maybe a hug," Nathan joked. But when longtime band's lose a key member, it can be hard. Thankfully, Andrew told us how he seemed to slide right into the role, first touring with the band and getting the hang of things on their older songs, and then jumping in and contributing the band's sleek new sound on Ocean By Ocean.
being in a band for so long is we all get along with it well. It's rare that you would find like-minded people wanting to do this for so long. There's always a bit of negativity towards being a band like sleeping on someone's couch or...it doesn't happen as much anymore. Well, it does. I don't sleep on couches anymore. But just stuff like struggling for years and years and years and having that blind faith that it's going to work out. And even with Andrew joining on this record, he's not joining Coldplay. There is not like. . or Metallica. We didn't give him a million dollar check to join, we gave you a hug maybe. first of all, we did a tour together. Well, I actually met when I was on tour supporting the band with another group. And then after Todd left, I joined the band playing the usual set. And then after that, we wrote the album together. - When we wrote the song "Weapon" that was a keystone track, and that was one that we realized was very different to previous Boxer Rebellion style of songs. And then everything followed after that. We decided to package everything in this new bold sound along with the artwork, as you say, and other elements. - We made a record that we're really proud of with a new guitarist. We were already started writing. the three of us, Adam, Piers and I. And then when Andy came onboard, it worked really well very quickly. - No, I don't think I felt that I had to achieve a certain sound and stick to a certain sound. But one interesting thing that happened was I toured with the guys before I had written with them. So I was already playing all of Todd, the previous guitarists' parts using the whole setup. So I like to think that I nailed that sound anyway because I was playing those old songs. And that was quite a good starting point to then go and write from. But no, the guys never said to me we want it to sound like this or this. It was just...I think everyone wanted some freshness as well, so. - He had to use a delay pedal. - Yes. That was the only rule. No while we're...and that rule was broken. And you have to use a delay pedal. There are so many guitar parts that's so heavily affected, they don't even sound like guitars. They sound like sympathizing... - Yeah. Some people...some of the comments were like,"Oh, there's no...I can't hear any guitars. . " And there's tons of guitars. It's just they sound like... sound like... - They don't sound like guitars. - Yeah. They sound like...I don't know. On "Big Ideas," for instance, the first sound is a guitar, but it sounds like a... - A flute. - Like a flute. - Hi. This is Nathan and Andrew from The Boxer Rebellion and you're watching Baeble Music.
With all that's befallen them, London-based quartet The Boxer Rebellion have a history that reads like a grand, intricately woven design. For a band who have been together almost ten years - during which their first (and, to date, only) label went bust shortly after their debut release and a key member had a near-death experience - such fluctuating fortunes would surely see most bands imploding in frustration. So what marks The Boxer Rebellion out from the rest? How have they endured in relative obscurity, held down day jobs to self-release a follow-up, and arrived at a kind of renaissance so far down a jagged career path? Well, one could point to the quality of the songs or the almost wanton uniqueness of their sound, but that would be remiss - they've always had the talent. Perhaps it could be faith in their own abilities - a bloody-mindedness that refused to go away? Not so - every band that has ever existed (or not) tends to think they're the reincarnation of The Beatles. The simple fact is, the reason The Boxer Rebellion have endured thus far resides in a single word, a concept that was the insignia of their second album: Union.
In an industry replete with egoism, showmanship and self-aggrandisement, The Boxer Rebellion have always remained refreshingly understated, whilst producing a musical output that is anything but. Comprising a line-up that neither eschews nor basks in the spotlight, what you get with this band more than any other is a sense of shared purpose - a unity impervious to external influence or critical sloganeering, which divides itself into equally vital parts of a greater whole.
"We've always been a band that's had a sense of seclusion, which has helped us extract the essence of what we are as a unit," guitarist Todd Howe reveals of their working process, a point succinctly and wryly punctuated by frontman Nathan Nicholson: "I think if we were solo artists, we'd have all quit by now."
It's this sense of alliance that has allowed The Boxer Rebellion to navigate a path beset with industry indifference and financial hardship to forge a career that has set industry landmarks from the base materials of undeniable talent and a cast-iron will. One such landmark came in the band's recent live appearance on the silver screen in Going The Distance, a Hollywood feature film starring Drew Barrymore. In the movie, the band play themselves and effectively superimpose their name into the popcorn-chomping eyes of movie-going audiences throughout the world - performing two tracks from the Union LP ('Evacuate' and 'Spitting Fire') while also providing an original song, 'If You Run', for the film's finale. All this on the back of a chance encounter with film industry spotters at a showcase in LA, who were so impressed with the band's sold-out performance at The Troubadour, they promptly nudged the film's director, Nanette Burstein, to make them the movie's musical focal point. Since then, the band have found themselves attending red-carpet premieres in Los Angeles and London (in a location literally around the corner from where two of the band used to work in a shoe shop), before launching into a packed-out 20-date US tour in September 2010.
Having self-released and virtually self-financed the follow-up to debut Exits, the band's Union LP saw them make history by becoming the first unsigned band to enter the US Billboard 100 Albums Chart (no. 82) on digital sales alone. By the end of 2009, iTunes US declared Union their Alternative Album of the Year. A fitting climax to a year of toil and tussle, after this The Boxer Rebellion were primed and ready to embark on their third studio record.
Enter producer Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne), whose unorthodox approach to recording became the perfect foil to the Boxer Rebellion's almost tunnel-vision creative perseverance.
"There's no conventional approach or formula to how I work," the producer states. "But working on this album, I felt there had to be some natural way of recording, because the tracks were coming fast. So recording it live seemed like the logical thing to do - there was a synchronicity to writing and recording, and the way it all came together so naturally I think adds to the whole feel of it."
The result of this dynamic - and the first album The Boxer Rebellion have handed over to a single producer - is the forthcoming breathtaker that is The Cold Still, an album that might never have seen the light of day from a band of lesser conviction. And beyond everything that has sought to restrain them, this is one band who have taken the trials of their formative years and built themselves a future that glows from the resurgent embers of the determination that refused to be extinguished all those years ago, and burns ever brighter still.
For The Boxer Rebellion, what's past is their prologue. Here's where their story truly begins...