Interview: The Boxer Rebellion

By on Tuesday, 7th September 2010 at 2:00 pm

Interview by Kevin Angel

Like all great things the Boxer Rebellion started out with sadness, after the death of frontman Nathan Nicholson’s mum in 2000, he upped from his Tennessee home and moved to the bright lights of the big smoke some call London. After meeting fellow members Todd Howe and Piers Hewitt, and following several incarnations, the band we know and love as the Boxer Rebellion was formed. Despite their success, the band have suffered multiple setbacks that doubtless played a massive part in ensuring that they aren’t (yet) the massive stadium fillers they should be.

However, they plough on pleasing fans across the globe, and this month sees them not only feature on the soundtrack but also cameo in new romantic comedy ‘Going the Distance’ starring Drew Barrymore and Justin Long. The band are truly proof that, if you want something bad enough and are willing to put in the hours, you can make it happen, and whilst they may not being the group on everyone’s lips at the moment, they sure will be soon. Nathan was kind enough to answer some questions for us during what is amounting to a pretty exciting time in the band’s career.

How did you get involved in the film?
We played a show that was part of our debut US tour in April 2009 at the Troubadour in LA. We knew we had quite a few fans in the film and TV world who had heard our records on a radio station called KCRW, and a bunch of them came to see us play. With this film in particular, the head of music at New Line Cinema asked if we’d be interested in writing an exclusive track for it, 2 days later we played in New York City, and the film’s director, Nanette Burstein, was in the audience. The next morning she called us and asked if we’d actually play on camera. We read the script, checked out her work, and eventually agreed to be a part of it. It was all a very organic and natural process.

What was it like working on a film set?
Filming was quite the experience, we’ve shot videos before, but a Hollywood film set is another level. We arrived on set at 7 am and watched everything take place from the ground up. The film company had closed off an entire block of New York City and at least 250 crew were on hand with a further 300 extras milling about. The weirdest moment for us was at 8 pm when we finally took to the stage. Originally we were going to do the whole thing live, but as there’s dialogue within our scenes we had to mime to a room full of extras. Everyone was going crazy, the mood was great and then Nanette yelled cut and everyone fell silent.

Did you have to change the song writing process because you were writing for a film?
Not really. We usually just work on ideas and if those ideas are good enough we flesh them out into a full song. We’ve realised that the songs which actually make it onto our records are always the ones that happen naturally and quickly. Writing ‘If You Run’ turned out to be a fairly quick process. Todd and I wrote the entire first section of the song in around twenty minutes, but the ending was the sticking point in the studio. We wrote about four different endings, finally hitting upon something that fit the ever-changing script just a few days before we were due to be filmed.

Were you worried you would write a song for a film it turned out you didn’t like?
It was obviously a very considered process, we all read the script and we watched Nanette’s latest film (a great documentary called ‘American Teen’). We knew all about the cast and were pleasantly surprised when he heard Charlie Day had signed on (star of US sitcom ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’). We also worked very closely with the studio to ensure we were written into the script in the right way – believe it or not they actually took a lot of our comments on board. When we finally saw a first cut while at SXSW last year all our worries disappeared. The only embarrassing moment was seeing us on the screen; I’m not sure how anyone could ever get used to that.

You are still an unsigned band; do you have any desire to sign to a label?
For our second album ‘Union’ and our third record it has become all about being able to maintain a choice in what we do. It’s an amazingly liberating feeling to come to decisions quickly with just the four of us and our manager involved. We would never shy away from working with a label; we would just err on the side of caution. It’s all about working with the right people who want to be involved for the right reasons.

Do you think it’s getting harder to be acknowledged as a great band with the internet giving anyone a chance to get their voice heard?
I’d hope that when all is said and done great bands shine through, whatever they’re up against. Likewise, I believe that the internet has given everyone much more choice and therefore no one can listen to it all no matter how good it is. At the moment, the internet helps make sure new music exists outside of just a bedroom studio.

Do you have anything new and exciting planned for your fans in the future?
In January of 2011 we will be releasing our new album, in the last month or so we’ve finished it with Ethan Johns, which was an amazing experience and a total joy. In a band and as with most things it’s great to have something to look forward to. It’ll be great and to see the film released, but I love that we have a new album to play and release just around the corner. Our immediate plans are to play a few dates in the US followed by a small UK and Europe tour in October and November; we’re all dying to get back on the road.

You’ve got a couple of live dates in the UK coming up, which country has the best audiences?
To be diplomatic, every country is different. Even in the UK it is very different from place to place. I know a lot of bands have a fear of playing London because the crowds can be indifferent even though they’ve paid money for the gig. However, since we’re based here and this is where we’ve always played, London usually is best to me. Playing in Japan is quite an experience as the crowds are very respectful as you play, and then when you end a song the place goes crazy. But equally the crowds we’ve had in Germany and the USA have always been welcoming and great. The loudest and wildest crowds are probably in Mexico, it was quite an amazing event playing our own shows there.

Describe the Boxer Rebellion live experience?
Playing live is very important to us and exciting, we have our little pre-gig rituals that’ll never see the light of day and we almost always partake in a little bit of JD (Jack Daniels) for Dutch courage. I’m lucky enough to be in a band with a great rhythm section and I think seeing Piers and Adam play live does a lot more justice to their playing than a recording could ever do. Usually after our shows we try to hang around and see our fans, It’s quite fun for the four of us and we like the connection.

What do you think gives your music an edge over other bands in your genre?
We’ve never really pandered to any trend and that keeps us honest about what we’re doing. We are more interested in writing great albums rather than concentrating solely on singles. Writing music that we’re into is very important to us and keeps outside influences to a minimum. There are many great bands out there that continually try to push themselves and they definitely serve as an inspiration.

Do you have any aims or goals you want to achieve in your career, is the sky the limit?
Continuing to be able to make albums and make a living out of playing music is really all we are after. After that, we don’t adhere to any grand scheme. We are far from making it, whatever ‘it’ is. There are a lot of places we haven’t played yet that we’d all love to get to at some point. As we’ve grown as a band we definitely take less and less of it for granted. Playing music isn’t the most permanent of job prospects and we are pretty lucky to be doing it in the first place.

The Boxer Rebellion tour the UK in October.

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