Call & Response: The Boxer Rebellion
The Boxer Rebellion are a classic underdog story. Nine years into their career and their second full-length is a breakthrough album that almost never was. Earlier this decade, TBR were set to open for The Killers on a big career-breaking tour, but singer/guitarist Nathan Nicholson suddenly fell ill and almost died. A year later, TBR bounced back from this near-tragedy and signed a record deal and released their impressive debut album EXITS in 2005. Then their record company went bankrupt, handing the band a second major setback.
Now 100% indie, TBR have made an even better album (UNION) and recently released it across Canada thanks to an unprecedented distribution deal with HMV. UNION will see worldwide release this fall and the band are playing all across Europe based on the popularity of lead single "Evacuate".
After selling out their first two North American shows in LA and NYC, TBR make their Canadian debut Saturday night at Mod Club with local opener These Electric Lives. I spoke with Nathan about overcoming odds, their new album and why the other guys pick on him.
blogTO: How has your summer been so far? How are your shows going over there?
Nathan Nicholson: Our summer has been great - we've been on the road for most of it, and in-between festivals we've been in the studio writing for a film soundtrack. Our favorite show this summer would probably be Glastonbury. We've played there a few times before, but this year was a bit more special because we were on the "Other Stage" which was huge. We also played our first US shows at Troubador in LA followed by two shows at Mercury Lounge in New York. They were really awesome gigs, and now we're finally making it over to Toronto for our debut Canadian gig.
I really like your new album. What songs are you most proud of?
Probably the ones where we are doing something a bit different from our usual four piece band vibe, like "Flashing Red Light Means Go" with the guys all on percussion or "The Gospel of Goro Adachi" which is more about the electronics and the caked-in-reverb backing vocals.
What is "Evacuate" about?
A lot of our songs tend to be about escape. Leaving your situation. "Evacuate" is a mix of that as well as making the right choices.
Reading your Bio I was shocked by the adversity you've overcome. How many times did you guys almost quit?
We actually think about quitting everyday! Not really. It's been either shear determination or a bit of stupidity that we're still at it. At any rate I don't think any of us would rather do anything else.
Are there any TBR songs about your medical issues? Was it difficult to settle back into a lead singer role after your illness?
It was difficult to sing for a few months just because I had to get back into it and practice, but being at home all day for a couple of months gave me some time to write. Nothing involved the medical issue though. I've never been one to write lyrics that are personal. Not because I really care all that much, I just want our songs to be more broad and less specific so more people can relate. Plus, my life is fairly normal and probably wouldn't make for a wholly entertaining listen.
It's great to see an independent band get exposure in a big retailer like HMV. How did that come about?
Ken Kirkwood from HMV Canada, who has since become a great supporter of ours, called our manager as soon as UNION hit iTunes. He was turning people away at his stores because HMV didn't have the CD version and he wasn't too happy about it. We told him the CD didn't exist apart from a special edition we managed to make for our gigs. To cut a long story short he offered to just give us the money so he could stock the album across HMV Canada. We promised him that if he actually did that and made the album available in-store, for the first time anywhere in the world, we'd play a show in Toronto. And, so, here we are!
With American, Australian and English members, are there cultural jokes flying around about each other's nationalities? Whose country gets picked on the most?
I'd say the fact that I'm American. It's usually down to the way I say things or the sports I prefer. Due to the fact that two Brits reside in the band and we are based in England doesn't really help my cause.
Are there any new English bands/artists Toronto should check out?
I'd probably have to say Fink. They're a three-piece based in Brighton that sound like melted butter on a comfy leather sofa - you know, it makes you feel all nice and warm. You should also check out The Joy Formidable, The Race, and The Beatles, who are a band from Liverpool.
Will this be your first trip to Toronto? Will you have time to see anything in our city while you're here?
It'll be our first time going as a band. I believe Todd has visited before, but we've made some great friends in that city so I'm sure they'll introduce us to your fair city in fine fashion. Hopefully we will remember it the next morning!
What can we expect to see/hear/feel at your Mod Club show?
Well, first off it'll probably be the best gig y'all have seen in recent memory. A full on rock assault! In all seriousness though, we're really looking to finally playing in Canada. It's something we've wanted to do for quite some time, but haven't been able to get it together until now.
Call & Response is a series of Q&A's with bands from or playing in Toronto. Photo: Tessa Angus.
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