The Boxer Rebellion - Photo by Vincent Dolman

Photo by Vincent Dolman

There are plenty of bands in the wide world of music that claim to be indie. Quite often, it looks like a lot of people have forgotten about the real meaning of the genre. Once, it was about being independent, free from the rules and restrictions of the big labels and their promotion machinery. Within the short list of bands who are still following this path, there are few shining as bright as Britain’s THE BOXER REBELLION.

This Spring, the four piece, focused around American frontman Nathan Nicholson, released their fourth studio album Promises. The album is, once again, available via their own label. THE BOXER REBELLION are about to go on tour soon – presented by NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION . The band’s DIY spirit born out of desperation since no label wanted to sign the band. They were forced to re-think their methods and are now the living proof that you can do it as long as hold your breath and can muster a massive amount of passion. We sat down with drummer Adam and guitarist Todd from THE BOXER REBELLION on a sunny summer day in Berlin and talked with them about their free spirits, their worst concerts and their love for good movie soundtracks.


Okay, so recently I asked THE NATIONAL in an interview how it feels to be the world’s biggest indie-band. And today I’ll begin by by asking – how does it feel to be the biggest unsigned band of the world?

Both: (laugh)

Adam: It feels really good to wave the flag for independent artists. We always tell that to people. First, it really was that nobody wanted us and then we ended up having an opportunity with iTunes in 2009 by releasing our album Union via them. This gave us the chance to at least sell the album in some form. And during the process of releasing Union we actually learned quite a lot of how to do it on your own. And when we came to the next album The Cold Still we learned even more and we wanted to do it again and learn even more. And by this time we found ourselves in a position where we had great relationships we people all over the world. You know, great contacts, great friends and everything. We’re able to have a network of people all over the world to just … well, do it on our own terms.

Todd: And I mean the three years before Union came out we had nothing. We didn’t even have a manager for a year. And once the album came out it was really a slow process. We were just doing stuff like pressing our own copies to sell them on the shows. And then things got better and better, we could release the album in a proper way, founded our label and so on. It’s good to have this complete freedom and control.


Totally. It’s like you created your very own microcosm. Was it kind of hard to stick to that path?

Adam: It just means there are certain luxuries that you don’t have. You don’t have tons of money just to be able to fly everywhere. We have to fly where we can make it work with promoters and cover our own costs and all that stuff. So there are a few restrictions but if you look where we’ve been in the other side. America, Mexico, Australia, Japan, pretty much all of Europe – so, when people truly wanted us we always found a chance to get there. We may not have big adverts on the TV but our fans are loyal and our word of mouth spreads through the music.


And the new album is the first one you’ve recorded in your own studio as well. Must have been a great feeling.

Todd: Great. We’ve build it early last year. By that time we thought it was the best way to approach the recording of the new album. Just write and record as we went along and see what’s going to happen. We needed a fresh perspective and for us the songs were just too good so we wanted someone else to get involved. That’s how we got producer Billy Bush on board and mixed the album in Los Angeles.


Adam, you said you always found a way to play for your fans if they want you to play. And I remember seeing you in front of thirty people five years ago… and now there’s a much larger audience.  You didn’t give up to easily,  it seems.

Adam: It’s just that we love playing live. People consider us a quite good live band compared to some of the other bands they see so they love to come back. And every time we play these people return and then they might bring a friend, more people would come. So, we never really lost fans over the years. People like our music and they don’t like us because we’re the ‘big hype of the summer’ or something like this. Although we started quite small in the first years there’s a certain progress you can’t deny.


Do you think many young bands these days don’t have this stamina?

Todd: Yeah, we see a lot of these younger bands. They go to all the indies and majors and get a lot of money pumped into them. They think it’s all gonna come quite easily but when it doesn’t – after the first album – they think ‘Well, that’s it.’ We could have easily done that as well. Especially after the troubles we’ve had with our debut album. But we wanted to keep going. And then we had a strong enough second album which people wanted to hear and which got great responses. So this kept us going.


And with all these gigs you’ve played. What was the worst one you can remember?

Adam: Anywhere in the world? Puh, that’s tough…

Todd: I would say Derby. They have a venue there called ‘The Victoria Inn’ …

Adam: I can’t remember hating it though. (laughs)


Okay, what went wrong?

Todd: We supported BIFFY CLYRO back in 2004. And the first band that was one for that night was a band called RUBEN. And I remember watching them and they finished their first song and nobody clapped. It was a bit like …

Adam: … the worst crowd ever.

Todd: Like zombies. And then we got on and there was maybe three people more clapping. And it was the only gig of the tour when BIFFY CLYRO did no encore. It was a nightmare.

Adam: But there’s been a lot of bad shows. I mean we’ve been around for a while now.


THE BOXER REBELLION: “I would just hate to be stuck with something I wasn’t passionate about”

Let’s get a bit philosophical right here. If the record “Promises” would be a promise to your fans, what would it be?

Adam: It would be the promise that no matter how worried you are about life when you’re younger and you’re making big promises to yourself what you’re gonna be when you grow up that real life can be beautiful. And it’s good even if you don’t got all the dreams you wanted – you’re gonna be okay. Real life will work itself out, there’s nothing to worry about.

Todd: I would just say ‘Keep sticking to your guns!’ Perseverance is the key.


And it sounds a bit different than the previous album “The Cold Still”, doesn’t it?

Todd: Yes, we wanted to do something that was a bit more uplifting, with more beat and stuff.

Adam: It’s kind of boring when you always do the same thing. We wanted to approach things different every time, with every new album.


I also read that the record was build from certain tempos or grooves. How would you explain this process?

Adam: Yes, a lot of loops. It might have been a live drum loop or an electronic beat. And then Nathan was always there with a computer and he constantly wrote melodies or chords with the piano. And then we would all jump in and join him with new ideas and sounds. And if it was something we liked we would continue on working with it.


You’re also doing quite good in a lot of US TV shows. You’ve been played a few times in “Grey’s Anatomy.” Since this is said to be quite lucrative, I assume you are enormously rich people.

Both: (laugh)

Todd: Well, it’s not THAT lucrative.

Adam: But it’s actually been one of the reasons why we’ve been able to stay independent and keep touring while surviving as a band. There can be a lot of money in it but often people are looking for indie bands because… well…


… they cost less.

Adam: Indeed. It’s just that they maybe wanted the sound of ARCADE FIRE or COLDPLAY without having to afford them. We’ve always written music that is very cinematic so we’re in a great position to do these things.


And having your songs and you as a band prominently featured in the indie movie “Going The Distance” might helped also a lot.

Todd: That really helped to grow our fan base. And since then I think the people who got into us via the film have really stuck with us.


And the people will always combine you and songs like “Spitting Fire” or “If You Run” with the movie. Do you have any favourite musical moments in cinematic history?

Todd: I really like the song at the end of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It was BECK covering Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometimes.

Adam: I always remember THE DOORS in Apocalypse Now. (singing) “This is the end / my only friend…”

Todd: RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE at the end of The Matrix was also quite good. And the Guy Ritchie films always good these good songs as well. And the Wes Anderson films usually.

Adam: Oh yes. There is this moment in The Life Aquatic when they start playing SIGUR RÓS.

Todd: There’s always good stuff in his films. There’s these Portuguese guy doing DAVID BOWIE.


Well, you can’t go wrong with BOWIE and SIGUR RÓS.

Todd: Fight Club‘s got good music as well.

Adam: (laughs) As you can see we could go on forever.


Okay, so we’re at the final question. What do hope and passion mean to you?

Todd: I think the way we all live is that we’re passionate about what we’re doing. I would just hate to be stuck with something I wasn’t passionate about. I’m really glad I’m stuck at music and that I am able to do the thing I always wanted to do.

Adam: I think if you truly have passion to do something then all you really need is the perseverance to see it through. And a lot of people think they wanna do something or they do it for the wrong reasons. Like they want to have all the things that come with music but not the music itself. But these people will end up unhappy. So even if you’re broke you have hope and you have passion to do it.


You’ve had a few difficult times but you’ve managed to maintain your hope. Was there ever a point of giving up?

Both: No, not really.

Adam: There were times that when someone else would have looked at our situation and they might have said ‘You should better give up.’ But we really never wanted to.

Todd: We’ve been together for twelve years. We had good times and bad times but we stick together.