The formation of The Boxer Rebellion was the result of pure chance: the crossing of paths at a London venue between American vocalist Nathan Nicholson and Aussie guitarist Todd Howe. As fate would have it, Nicholson’s powerful yet ethereal vocals couldn’t have found a more perfect accomplice than in Howe’s relentless guitar assaults. Completed by a thunderous rhythm section in Englishmen Adam Harrison (bass) and Piers Hewitt (drums), The Boxer Rebellion set about making their eponymous debut EP, which earned a rapturous reception from press and public alike. However, on the eve of a potentially career-breaking tour with The Killers, lead singer and lyricist Nicholson found himself on a life-support machine undergoing a potentially deadly operation. In the ensuing months, the band were put on indefinite hold as they watched their momentum slip away into the ether as their lead singer fell in and out of consciousness.
Following Nicholson’s year-long recovery, the band were invited to perform on Glastonbury Festival’s New Band stage, delivering an explosive performance that led to a record deal with Alan MacGee’s Poptones/Mercury Records imprint. In 2005, The Boxer Rebellion’s debut LP EXITS was unleashed: NME proclaimed, “This band can alter your life.” Kerrang wrote, “If you’re crying out for substance in music, The Boxer Rebellion are here to soothe your soul.” Both The Fly magazine and MusicOMH dubbed the album “flawless”. But what should have been the grand campaign that finally brought The Boxer Rebellion to the world’s attention turned instantly to dust as the album’s ill-fated label simultaneously breathed its last and imploded.
As the guys returned to their day jobs, EXITS began to live a covert, underground life – being passed quietly from person to person until it had amassed itself an army of feverishly devoted fans. The band continued to perform live in London and across Europe whenever possible, and it was at these decisive shows, always underpinned by new songs well before they could ever be recorded, that the spirit of a new album came into being.
The aptly-titled and self-produced UNION is the result of what can be achieved when ability, commitment and relentless drive converge towards a shared, immovable goal. From the opening assault of 'Flashing Red Light Means Go' through the insistent 'Spitting Fire' to the redemptive closer 'Silent Movie', the overriding effect of UNION is of going through an emotional storm and arriving replenished on the other side.
“We’ve never really aspired to anything that’s out there,’ guitarist Todd Howe insists. “Throughout the recording of the album, it was a kind of seclusion as a means of extracting what we were as a unit. I suppose that’s why the title felt so apt to us.” And so with the bitter taste of label-related disaster and ill-fated dreams still in their mouths, the band decided to release UNION independently in early 2009. The album’s success to date has been nothing short of ground-breaking….
On January 13th 2009 UNION was pre-released in digital format via the iTunes Music Store. Lead track ‘Evacuate’ became the first global iTunes Single of the Week – generating a staggering 560,000 downloads in seven days. The album went Top 5 in both the iTunes US and UK Albums Charts within 48 hours of release, resulting in The Boxer Rebellion becoming the first unsigned band to break into the Billboard Top 100 Albums Chart on a digital-only release. UNION also knocked My Morning Jacket off the iTunes US Alternative Albums No. 1 that week, and at one point was outselling the likes of Coldplay and Kings of Leon.
“Pre-releasing the digital version of the album the way we did was crucial to maintaining our collective mental stability. We were always passengers on a shaky industry roller-coaster, and eventually the thrill became about getting off the ride and being in control again,” says bassist Adam Harrison. To which Nicholson punctuates, “I think if we were solo artists we’d have all quit by now! All we ever wanted and needed to do was get our music directly to the people without being beholden to a record company, and I’m proud to see we’ve done that.”
Over the past year, the band have relentlessly toured across the UK, Europe, US, and are soon to tour Australia and Japan in early 2010.
In December 2009 iTunes US, North America’s largest music retailer, proclaimed UNION their ‘Alternative Album of the Year.” Not a bad way to wrap up the last 5 years of hard work.
Drummer Piers Hewitt sums it up beautifully: “The best thing about what we’ve gone through is that no band in the world would like to have done it, but almost every band would like to feel what we feel now….”
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