Nathan Nicholson's soaring falsetto floats over the city on San Francisco in "Pull Yourself Together."
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...