By Adam Lovinus
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Nathan Nicholson, singer and lead figure of the Boxer Rebellion, isn't so much a man without a home as one with two, both audible in his voice. Speaking from Chicago during a break on his band's current North American tour—stopping by Detroit Bar this Sunday—his voice constantly reveals a blend of his Tennessee upbringing and the past 10 years spent in London, something just a little surprising but always in an engaging way.
Though it's true the Boxer Rebellion haven't called a label home for some years now, the band are more than happy with that. The foursome's alternately crisp-then-lush approach to rock & roll was derived from postpunk in the vein of the Chameleons and "Sit Down"/"Laid"-era James. But with their own moodily anthemic bent, they have won increasing attention, culminating in their third album, this year's The Cold Still. Like their recent work, it was a self-released effort—and in an era when the digital marketplace can even things out more than ever before, it's suiting them perfectly.
"There's always going to be elements of us wanting to do something we can't do because we are independent," notes Nicholson, "but we always weigh what we're trying to achieve. We just wanted to make an album we wanted to make and not really pander too much to outside judgment."
Nicholson speaks with justifiable pride on this point. While the Boxer Rebellion started shortly after his arrival in London and worked their steady way along to initial attention and eventually a debut album, Exits, for Alan McGee's Poptones label, the band almost gained more attention for their travails than their music. Poptones imploded a couple of weeks after Exits was released, while Nicholson was felled on the road by a ruptured appendix.
The band's self-released follow-up, Union, followed four years later, but it proved to be their ace in the hole. Even the resultant television-soundtrack appearances were trumped by a featured role as themselves in last year's Going the Distance, which led to a further change for the band on the live front.
"The kind of audiences we see . . . definitely changed since the movie happened," explains Nicholson. "The demographic's younger than it used to be—a lot more younger teen girls! Up until then, we had mostly appealed to middle-aged men, which wasn't too surprising because that's all of us in the band as well. I don't think we'll be totally in any more movies that way, but I would love to keep writing and doing that kind of thing for movies."
The creation and release of The Cold Still, according to Nicholson, feels like more of a proper buildup and event for the band than anything they've done yet. Further shows for summer are planned in Europe, along with another possible tour in the U.S. in fall. Beyond that, who can say what's next? Whatever it is, Nicholson welcomes the challenge.
"I honestly don't think you ever can be satisfied," he says. "If you're as big as U2, you want to continue being as big as U2, not go, 'I don't mind if we drop off the face of the earth!' We want to keep growing and keep making music."
This article appeared in print as "Going the Full 12 Rounds: The Boxer Rebellion have weathered everything from ruptured appendixes to teenybopper fans."