First of all, thanks to all of you for the great responses we’ve been getting to the interviews we’ve been publishing. Bands, labels, promoters, blogs and more have been more than kind. Trust me, the pleasure has been all ours!
On the first post that ever appeared on this website, we waxed poetic about The Boxer Rebellion’s Exit album which was released in 2005. More recently we’ve taken the labels to task for failing to sign TBR prior to the release of their new album, “Union”. We also trumpeted the news, when this unsigned band topped the US and British ITunes charts once Union was released. There music shares the brilliance of early Verve and bears similarities to early U2. Like U2, at the point of the release of Under A Blood Red Sky, The Boxer Rebellion are at the cusp of something mammoth. They’ve built a passionate following by making great music without using the machinery of the music industry to get there. We got an opportunity to speak with guitarist Todd Howe, to gauge where the band’s plans for global domination will take them next.
TDOA: I’ve enjoyed the band since the first album came out and thought the band was my private little secret. The release of Union put you at the top of the ITunes charts in America and England. I don’t read the British music magazines like I used to, so I wouldn’t be conscious of the coverage you’ve received since the first album. Nonetheless, how do you explain how the album was able to crack the charts so quickly after the albums’ release?
TH: It was really a combination of things. Our fans are pretty diehard fans. The first album Exits really grew on the underground after its release as it was virtually impossible to find in a physical format. We really worked hard on building our fanbase while we were recording the album, making demos available for fans, giving away b-sides, releasing a vinyl version of Evacuate. I guess all of this, coupled with the iTunes Single of The Week and album exposure we got from iTunes really did the job. I’m most proud of the fact that so many people liked what they heard and made their own decision to buy the album.
TDOA: You shopped the album to a few labels that passed on it. Is there a sense of vindication now? Has anyone come back to you to beg forgiveness and shower your with gifts so that you’ll sign with them?
TH: I don’t really give record labels much thought at all these days. We were shunned for a long time and we have heavy trust issues outside our little circle. The vindication comes from the way the music was able to do the talking. I feel completely vindicated!
TDOA: You’re playing dates in LA and New York, but don’t have any other U.S. dates scheduled. What gives? Was there ever thought to playing a huge showcase, like South By Southwest?
TH: It really boiled down to money, unfortunately. We are still completely inependent so it makes it hard for us to tour extensively in the US right now. We are working on a bigger tour right now though. Given the chance we would tour the US relentlessly. LA and NYC is a great start for us.
TDOA: Let’s talk about the music. I was first attracted to TBR when they were compared to The Verve. I hate pigeonholing a band but I think there are some similarities to “Storm In Heaven” Verve. Having said that I think the newest album shares the “epic” quality of early (pre-Unforgettable Fire) U2. Do you hear the comparisons and who are your influences?
TH: I absolutely adore that Verve record, but I didn’t actually listen to it until a few years ago so its not really a direct influence. Hard to believe, I know. The ideas behind and principles of that sound are very similar though. As for U2, I was very heavily into “Under A Blood Red Sky” and early U2. Its an album I go back to all the time. Its also become very uncool to say you even like U2 these days, lest I be criticised, but I really couldn’t give a toss about that. I think the U2 references would come from my guitar sound. I also think we’ve developed a style of our own now.
TDOA: Can you talk about the songwriting process of the band? What comes first; lyrics, vocal melodies, bass or guitar melodies?
TH: As far as songwriting goes, its an anything goes, scenario. We’re all open to whatever works best and its pretty diplomatic. Flashing Red Light Means Go and Silent Movie were pretty much complete musically and melodically when Nathan brought them in, it was just arrangement and how it sounded best. I wrote The Gospel of Goro Adachi and recorded it in my bedroom, Nathan actually sung most of it there too. Semi-Automatic was all of us jamming around. We always wanted to write a song that didn’t change chords but was still interesting. Its lyrically my favourite song we’ve done. As for lyrics, its usually always Nathan, who writes the lyrics once the vocal melody is found. We always talk about them and he asks our opinion of them. We all have to be happy with everything basically. You can’t play a song live that you don’t like. Well I can’t anyway.
TDOA: Piers drumming reminds me of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Pete De Freitas whom I regard as one of the great rock drummers of all-time. What drummers influenced his style?
TH: I remember him mentioning that Animal from The Muppets was a key influence…… Also that girl from The Corrs. Seriously, Bonham, Steve White
TDOA: Your guitar parts have the great ability to shift from the attack of ‘Evacuate’ to the calm beauty of ‘Flashing Red Light Means Go’. Can you tell us about your setup (guitars, amps, effects) for the guitar geeks who read us? Any thoughts on your influences?
TH: I use a boost pedal and a distortion. A Marshall Blues Breaker and a Boss Distortion. The heavy parts are full distortion. I use 2 delay pedals, that’s the key for me. I run through a Line 6 DL4 on a tape echo setting that I tweaked. Then I run that through a Boss DD3 Delay on an 800 Millisecond setting. I also use a Digitech Whammy for The Absentee and on Spitting Fire.
TDOA: I love the video for Evacuate. For a band without any label support you seem to make videos and records that appear to have “expensive” production values. How do you do it?
TH: As far as sound goes we strive for the biggest sound possible. I’m really into production myself and on this record I really pushed Tom (Morris – co-producer) for what I wanted sound wise. He was great and I thought he did an absolutely amazing job. The music has to sound like it comes from another place otherwise its not convincing. As for the videos, we had some great friends who helped us out and they’re really passionate about what they do, as well as our music. Dan Morgan (Evacuate) is very good at using all sorts of 35mm adaptors for his digital setup. Grant Berry (Semi-Automatic) is a great animator. He did the video for nothing. He and Dan worked together on Broken Glass and we spent 60 pounds on that video. Evacuate cost 1,500 pounds.We just like the epic, cinematic vibe. I think it works for us.
TDOA: What other bands are you guys listening to these days?
TH: I’m into The Race at the moment. They are so underrated. Also Pela from Brooklyn. Their album is absolutely amazing. Those guys really deserve a lot of success.
TDOA: You have a brutal tour schedule ahead. Beyond that what plans does the band have? Are we going to have another long wait for a new album?
TH: This album took so long more from circumstances we were in. It won’t be 4 years before the next record that’s for sure. We’re looking at Festivals in Summer, releasing the record properly through a good label and really pushing it. We’re ready to tour our asses off now so the rebellion is coming!
If it wasn’t already obvious, Union is available for purchase via ITunes.