Interview: The Boxer Rebellion look ahead to a ‘Bigger, Broader and Brighter’ future

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Their story should now be familiar.

In February 2011, ‘The Cold Still’ became the ceremonial cap and gown of The Boxer Rebellion’s graduation to the top table of the independent music scene. The story, of dumping, regrouping, recording and triumphing, is a truly inspiring one, and ‘The Cold Still’ – the band’s third studio album and their second fully independent release – was a shimmering reflection of that inspirational tale which went before it.

The subsequent year or so since the album’s release have seen The Boxer Rebellion harvesting an ever growing army of loyal devotees, hopelessly attracted by an anthemic, crisp classic rock sound and the attitude of a band which positively wills you to climb off the sofa, pull open the curtains and make something of the day which lies in front of you.

Last September, London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire hummed with a few thousand of those energised souls when the group scaled another peak with their biggest headline show to date. As the band explained during an exclusive chat with Live4ever backstage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in New York, the significance of that particular gig was not lost anyone. “We’ve struggled,” they told us. “It wasn’t even three years before that, just before ‘Union’ came out, that we were playing Water Rats which is 200 people. So it was a real monumental milestone for us. We were all really nervous about it. Nath (frontman Nathan Nicholson) wanted to say something along the lines of, ‘This is our 10th anniversary year’, but somehow it came out as, ‘This is our ten year reunion show’.”

The speed at which their career path has taken them from the bolted-up doors of Alan McGee’s Poptones venture to the stage of one of London’s most iconic venues wasn’t just brought home by a raucous capacity crowd: suddenly they were moving in circles befitting their talent, but perhaps not their bank balances. “When we did our Shepherd’s Bush show we actually tried to get a set designer and he came by and had this thing in a box – like how architects have small versions of buildings,” the band told Live4ever.

“Well he had the stage set-up, but he had a sheet over it and then it was like this grand reveal; he turned off all the lights and he had this mini-smoke machine – it was like the apocalypse, Terminator 2 kinda thing. Piers was on top of massive tyres and there were bars going everywhere. It was very awkward. Then we were kinda like, ‘so how much would that really cost?’ and he said thirty grand. If we were to make £30,000 from that show we would be charging everybody £15 a head with no overheads whatsoever. So you wouldn’t be paying the venue, everyone in the venue would be working for nothing, and then we’d hand that all over to some set designer? Unbelievable – he obviously works with much bigger acts! We asked him to come up with a concept but he didn’t understand our budget was about £1,000.”

The landmark concert, complete with sensible stage design, was immortalised in a video for ‘The Runner’, and may also play a prominent part in a more extensive release in the future should the band have their way. “It’s cool to have the content, maybe we’ll do a DVD,” they continued. “It seemed a silly opportunity not to document it, because we don’t play venues of that size every week. It’s good concert footage, hopefully we can compile a bunch of stuff at some point and then in the next couple of years we’ll have an extensive ‘journey’ documentary, and that would form part of it.”

With a long tour of North America about to be wrapped up, eyes inevitably turn to the future. Two years on from ‘The Cold Still’, new songs are beginning to take shape, and are beginning to hint at a new direction. “We’ve been writing quite a bit, we’ve written tonnes of songs,” they reveal. “We’ve probably got 12 or 15 finished songs, but then of ones that would probably be on a record maybe about six, so we’ll just keep writing. We’ll record all of them, hopefully. We’re probably going to record a lot more for this record and then we’ll be able to have a lot of extra stuff, a better amount of b-sides and all that.”

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“The production side of things, because we’re doing it ourselves, will be different because we got Ethan Johns to do the last one, and we’re not going to pretend to be Ethan Johns. But we did ‘Union’ ourselves and that did well, and we’re thinking about people to mix the record, and we’ve even thought we’ll get the bulk of it done ourselves and then if we need to we’ll go find someone to help us finish it off.

But, we spent a shitload of money on ‘The Cold Still’, and if you look at the mathematics, we’ve gotta go do a better record and do it for less money. In an ideal world we wouldn’t need to give a shit about that, but we do because we’re independent.”

For the first time, the new record will be crafted in a permanent home. The laying of foundations will allow the band more time, more space to craft and chisel away at their work with the intention of building up a more extensive group of songs to present to the world when they eventually unleash album four. “We’ve rehearsed there since 2005, it’s where we wrote all of ‘Union’ and all of ‘The Cold Still’ but it’s now ours, we’ve taken it on 24/7,” they told us of the newly acquired rehearsal space. “It’s cool because before it was like a few days a week, a few hours at a time. We were able to take it over full time so we’ve bought a bunch of gear. It feels like a new space to us – we’ve decked it out, we’ve got some recording stuff in there, and it’s kind of brought a new attitude as well. We’ve bought our own kettle – we have our own coffee mugs now(!) It is actually set up very well, we have a full pro-tools rig in there and a load of other gear, it’s good enough for us to track the next record.”

“We’ll be able to record a lot more stuff. With ‘The Cold Still’ all that we had was the songs that were on the record, plus Nathan doing one acoustic song which became a bonus track, because Ethan doesn’t really do b-sides, he’s not there to do that. But with this we’re going to record absolutely everything. So we can do b-sides. We can do acoustic sessions and get more stuff to fans.”

The big question as The Boxer Rebellion prepared to release ‘The Cold Still’ was how new found expectations, and the pressure of following up an album which garnered so many headlines in outselling the likes of Kings Of Leon on the iTunes chart upon its first week of release, would affect the sonic ease which helped to make ‘Union‘ such an outstanding record. Yet the confidence which oozes throughout ‘The Cold Still’ made a mockery of those concerns, demonstrating further a quiet, unerring belief which has carried The Boxer Rebellion over the many hurdles placed in front of them during an already eventful career.

And now, as they prepare to follow an album which has delivered so much, that assurance is beginning to show itself once again with the new material, as the band prepare for possibly their biggest challenge to date. “The next one’s going to be better. Some people felt ‘The Cold Still’ was completely different to ‘Union’; some people felt it was introspective and more personal. It’s going to sound different, the songs will be different and they’ll sound different. It’ll sound bigger – a bit broader and a bit brighter, maybe more upbeat.”

Still lying about on the sofa? Well get ready to rise to your feet and let in some light – the next chapter of the story is about to be written.

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The Boxer Rebellion will close their American tour in Guadalajara, Mexico on May 23rd. The tour is being celebrated with a special free download of ‘Locked In The Basement’ recorded live at their Shepherd’s Bush Empire show. For more details, head over to theboxerrebellion.com.

(Photos: © Live4ever Media)

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