The Boxer Rebellion
Article by: Jamie McCormick | Photo Credit: Mark Prins | Posted: 04/18/2012
Riffing off of each other, like a guitarist riffs off a frolicsome bass line, Australian guitarist Todd Howe and English bassist Adam Harrison, of UK-based group The Boxer Rebellion, discuss the fact that lead vocalist Nathan Nicholson's wife was able to attend last night's show at Mercy Lounge, supporting the group in person for their first show in Nashville. “It's like Skyping, but more real,” says Harrison, his face full of philosophical pondering. In an equally serious tone, Howe adds, “Yeah, Skyping, but more human.” After a beat, Harrison finishes the thought with sincerity, saying, “It's the future of Skyping, basically.”
Just as with the unexpected rhythms, tones, and lyric lines in their music, The Boxer Rebellion casually sprinkles their conversation with these trinkets, their own unique brand of artist crazy. Devilishly playful and insistently comedic, the 4-piece must transform trips in the band bus into the same antic-filled delight as their stage show. Even drummer Piers Hewitt--stuck at the merch table and unable to fraternize with the press--added his quirkily comic tidbit. “It's a shame, really, because I've probably got the most decent shit to say.”
But though the atmosphere stays light and fun onstage, and energetic capers--such as spontaneous trips to the top of the speakers--are a must, The Boxer Rebellion makes serious rock. It is not meandering sound bites nor rage-releasing screams, but rather music with a purpose, performed with talent and conviction. Mischievous and intricate drumming underneath a more-than-rhythm bass line lends a driving beat to an otherwise rollicking, epic, and shimmering sound. And between the beat lines, soaring guitar solos waver between power rock runs and dainty keyboard-esque romps. On top of it all, Nicholson lends his pure, clean, crisp vocals to repeating melodic lines that give each song a sense of familiarity, even on first listen.
So how did such a powerhouse of a rock group with members from three different countries come into being? The universe simply willed that it be so. While studying abroad at an FSU satellite campus in London, Nicholson, (a Maryville, TN native), became enamored with the city and ended up staying. Meanwhile, transplant Howe, who had moved to London for work, began wanting to collaborate on some music. “While I was looking for work, I just bought a guitar,” Howe says with a shrug. Shortly afterward, Nicholson responded to Howe's online post, and, as Howe puts it, “It's been love ever since.”
The duo did some separate collaborative work before filling out into a full band, but the process happened just as naturally as the initial convergence. Harrison asserts, “Each member was the only response.” They even picked up a ringer in Harrison, who had already achieved some chart success. “He still bangs on about the Top 10 hit he had,” chides Howe, ribbing at Harrison. “The word Eurovision comes to mind. Oops, have I said too much?” But Harrison's previous success no doubt provided a mine of experience and advice from which the young band could glean at will. After a few major overhauls and a couple of iterations, The Boxer Rebellion emerged victorious. “It's nice that we've outlasted a lot of bands,” says Nicholson. “We've kept going. A lot of bands, especially in England, kind of blow up then fade out. And we've just been steadily blowing up.”
The band achieved their first major success, and a chance to play Glastonbury alongside major international acts, when they won an online competition called PlayLouder. Unawares, they were entered into the competition by Saul Galpern of Nude Records, who hoped to sign the band, and perhaps thought he'd give them a taste of the big time while giving the music community a taste of The Boxer Rebellion. The endeavor was a success all around, and the band was signed, although by another label, shortly thereafter.
But lasting success has not come easily. Rather it has come on the back of a determination that refused to allow the fires to extinguish. Stoking the glowing embers, The Boxer Rebellion have fought their way through unusually hard times, like the implosion of their first label Poptones shortly after being signed, and producing their second album, Union--which they were not able to properly market. But neither the financial and momentum-sucking setback, nor the disappointment over the letdown broke their will to make it in this fickle industry. Instead, learning from the mistake and remaining unsigned, they pushed ahead. Howe says their success has been about “learning to trust your own judgement and ability, and seeking insight into how things work, and just learning as you go along. I think when Union came out, we were ready to go independent and do it ourselves.”
And fighting through those hard times cemented the group together as well, making Union into a lesson, a metaphor, and a motto. What emerged was a family. “We treat each other like brothers – quite often with contempt,” jokes Harrison. “Then also with a lot of love, too.” Howe adds, “Yes, a bit of lovely contempt,” before Harrison can finish his thought, saying, “We hate each other in equal amounts that we love each other, and get on in that kind of discordant family way.” And as the men grew, so did the music. Speaking of Union and their material before it, Howe says, “It was all fresh and pre-pubescent. Now, looking back it seems almost like it was an overnight thing, where it just happened, and we changed, and it was good.” They resurfaced stronger for the pounding.
Now, with the release of their third album, The Cold Still, The Boxer Rebellion have found themselves relaxing into their sound--kind of like easing down into that really comfy couch. “We tried to write a fairly natural album,” says Harrison, “an album that felt very truthful and organic.” No longer overanalyzing or sweating the details, Harrison explains that “the imperfect take can actually be perfect and feel great. It doesn't have to be technically perfect.” Nicholson furthered that sentiment, saying that they recorded an album “that we could play live, because we recorded it live.” After all of the lessons learned and the hardships endured, The Boxer Rebellion can finally relax and just make music.
Though their first tour “across the pond,” in April of 2009, brought a sold-out show at The Troubadour in L.A., (which lead to sold-out shows at Mercury Lounge in NYC and being spotlighted in the film “Going the Distance,”) the upcoming tour promises many highlights as well, be they small pleasures. As Nicholson explains, “Life doesn't stop,” so keeping sanity and maintaining relationships on the road proves a challenge. But touring offers its joys readily. “It's the random gigs that you don't expect to be amazing, that turn out amazing,” says Howe. “And the local beer!” adds Harrison, continuing with an explanation of why he is excited for the last stop in Mexico City. “It's going to be the biggest show of the tour in a venue that holds 2000 people--lots of tequila, great food, and Lucha Libre.” Tacos, tequila, and tight pants on Mexican wresters in masks – that should be enough for anyone.
To see highlights from the show at Mercy Lounge, check out our flash revue page, featuring Jamie McCormick's photography.
The Boxer Rebellion - "The Gospel of Goro Adachi (Live)"