Indie rock band The Boxer Rebellion released their first live album this year recorded not in their ‘homeland’ in England but in singer Nathan Nicholson’s hometown of Maryville, Tennessee. It could be seen as risky business to play in the state of bluegrass, country and blues with the sound of The Boxer Rebellion but the champions of unsigned bands have definitely made a successful attempt. How far have they come?
The band appeared in front of a wider audience for the first time at Glastonbury 2003 where singer guitarist Nathan Nicholson, guitarist Todd Howe, bassist Adam Harrison and drummer Piers Hewitt played the New Bands tent. They got a record deal at the one and only Alan McGee’s Poptones label and released their debut ‘Exits’.
‘Exits’ gave us a debut most bands would be proud to call their 2nd or 3rd album and thus the promise of a group of musicians who knew their sound and where they would like to expand. Features like thought-provoking, atmospheric, still accessible lyrics, Todd Howe’s sometimes psychedelic, sometimes strai
ghtforward guitar work (a level and character The Edge from U2 could’ve got to if – instead of fiddling with his pedals – he had concentrated on the guitar side of the whole thing – no offense), solid bass grooves and some ‘educated’ drum work. Nothing fancy though, Piers Hewitt knows exactly what fits into the rock context, still giving our ears something really rhythmic and fresh. Songs like ‘We Have This Place Surrounded’, ‘Watermelon’ and lush, still epic piano ballad ‘World Without End’ surely gave a taste of what one could only want more of.
After Poptones had to be winded down due to financial reasons the band found themselves without a label but after what seems to be their cleverest choice ever, The Boxer Rebellion stayed and has been unsigned since then and with their second album ‘Union’ they made history: they became the first unsigned band to land a record in the Billboard Top 100 at spot 82. ‘Union’ saw the band polishing their sound, incorporating a more consistent sonic character which track by track gets from ‘consistent’ to ‘signature’. ‘Misplaced’ is the first song on a Boxer Rebellion LP to clock above 6 minutes and the song surely delivers: with a memorable instrumental arc with the drums entering and exiting the song and a heart-breaking coda at the end make ‘Misplaced’ a song to remember. With the success of the digital version, the band could release ‘Union’ on CD a year later.
2010 was definitely a turning point for the band – with a gradually and rather quickly expanding fanbase already, the band raised the stakes even higher by being in Hollywood motion picture ‘Going The Distance’. They performed two songs in the film off ‘Union’, namely ‘Evacuate’ and ‘Spitting Fire’, plus they contributed to the soundtrack with the exclusive song ‘If You Run’.
Besides touring heavily with now two albums to perform songs off, the band recorded their third album ‘The Cold Still’ at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios with producer Ethan Johns and engineer Dom Monks. The album shows a different aspect of the band’s sound, a certain openness in instrumentation which gives a musical proof of the band marching from smaller venues to concert halls and arenas. The interesting dialogue of acoustic and electric guitars in ‘Cause For Alarm’, the darker-than-usual sound
and pumping rhythm section of ‘Step Out Of The Car’ and the stadium-filler ‘Organ Song’ and the dramatic ‘Both Sides Are Even’ all stand out from a generally solid effort.
By 2011 The Boxer Rebellion have reached higher than before. We don’t know if it’s the peak (it’s definitely not, if you ask me) but this year they are going on an extensive tour in North America and have already released ‘Live in Tennessee’, a concert album recorded in singer-guitarist Nathan Nicholson’s hometown of Maryville. The album yields essence of an evolved band dynamic and professional enough in both studio environment and in a live setting. ‘Live in Tennessee’ is available as digital download either as lossless .wav or lossy .mp3 packages with four different covers (with one member of the band featured) and a short booklet. The opening ‘These Walls Are Thin’, ‘Misplaced’, ‘We Have This Place Surrounded’, ‘Watermelon’, ‘The Runner’ and a 6-minute rendition of ‘The Gospel of Goro Adachi’ all stand out and show us the power of The Boxer Rebellion in concert.
“What’s past is prologue…”
Their story is a great example for emerging bands in the age of changes when talking about music industry: everything is going digital, staying independent is key for artistic freedom (thus, success). Without a major label’s backing, how can you be successful? The Boxer Rebellion have given us creative and fun answers: go busking in different cities, perform in a hotel room, sell your records through your website for a really low price, license your songs for television series like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘NCIS’ (among many others), and – of course – tour and make records. And we could go on. And I hope they do.
The Boxer Rebellion live in session: