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Stereoboard Chats with The Boxer Rebellion (Interview)

Thursday, 19 August 2010 Written by Adam Simpson
Stereoboard chats with The Boxer Rebellion.

Stereoboard interviews The Boxer Rebellionís drummer, Piers Hewitt and talks about the recording of the bands third album, which is due for release next year, their involvement with the soundtrack to Drew Barrymoreís new film, ĎGoing The Distanceí and their upcoming US tour.

It has been four years since their debut album, Exits, was released and since then the group have released Union and also wrote a third album, yet to be titled, which will be released early next year. The Boxer Rebellionís first two albums came in for much praise and critical acclaim.

How did producing a single for the Drew Barrymore movie come about?

"I donít think it is your average single release, itís not pushed in the same way a single would be normally, basically itís been released and itís running alongside the movie soundtrack as a leading track from the soundtrack, rather than as a standalone single. We wrote it originally as a kind of, write to hire, for the film really, it was specifically for a set scene in the film."

So presumably you were approached by the film makers, to write a single for the film?

"Yeah, we did a couple of tracks last March and then we were approached to write a single specifically for a scene, which was quite different for us. Itís the hardest thing that we have written, in terms of we have never written for anyone else before, we normally only write songs for ourselves. So in terms of getting it right and also the experience of having conference calls between us and then somebody else in a different city was a new thing and a very different way of doing things. We fancied having a crack at it and once the director had seen us play, that was it really."

Do you expect big things, from the back of the film soundtrack?

"Iím the guy that will always expect it to rain, but at the same time, thereís a film coming out that we are in and also weíve just had a new album come out, so yeah Iím guessing it will be a big thing for us. Iíve been in New York now for half a day and Iíve seen massive press for this film, so itís quite weird. I donít know what parts in films does for bands really, Iíve never thought about it, but I canít really think of many films right now that are bigger than this one."

Your new album will be your third album. So you have got through the clichťd, difficult second album. Has this latest record been easier to write then previous ones or is the same pressure still there?

"As a group, we're a special case really, the second album we put out in quite a unique way. You mentioned the difficult second album, often a difficult second album is difficult because you are signed and the label puts pressure on you to deliver quickly, so they can follow up momentum. We werenít on a label for our second album and we spent an awful long time writing the album, so there wasnít really that pressure. We still had the same comfort with time as we did for our first album. So by doing things independently we have bypassed that pressure. We put pressure on ourselves, but the worst pressure really is pressure exerted on you by others. By doing what we do, we avoid that pressure and really in terms of time, this third album came together quicker and it felt the easiest, but I donít really know why that is. It felt great though, we wrote it in 9 months, not solidly, just bits here and there and it came together really easily for us, so yeah this third album was quite easy."

Your first two albums achieved critical acclaim and did very well, what are your expectations from the new album?

I expect people who are already into the band to like it, itís not a diversion in the way that some bands seem to get bored of what they are doing and just think, "hey, letís do something else", we are not alienating anybody but its defiantly a step forward. I donít really think about what people, other than us and our fans will make of it really. I donít want to say that itís the best stuff we have done, because weíre not that type of band, we're very much a band to be retrospective about. We have moved on production wise, we recorded this one with Ethan Johns, which is the first time we have worked with a top producer and heís really moved us on and I really think that will come out and help how people receive the album. Iím really confident, Iím happy with it definitely, but I donít really dwell on that really. We're quite happy being that kind of outsider band, we have steadily grown our fan base, but I wouldnít say people in the music industry care about us too much. That not anybodyís fault, itís just how it is, we have never been part of a scene or anything like that, we donít really dwell on what people like that make of it. But yeah, you're right, everything I have read about our stuff, reviews wise has been good, so Iím pretty confident."

ImageHow excited are you about your US tour in September?

"We have wanted to tour the US forever, we never got to do it on Universal, when we were signed for the first album. We have done so much more being independent, then we ever did on a major. One of the things we have not done yet, is tour the US, itís pretty expensive and being in a band like ours can be a bit of a poisoned chalice really. Thereís never really been a right time, but now feels like the right time for us, we did a couple of dates last year, but not a tour. We really only did LA and New York, but we are very much aware of doing things at the right time and were pumped to be honest, we canít wait. Weíve never done a tour of the US, so yeah, were well up for it! Weíve toured Europe and weíve done pockets of touring, but we did 6 weeks around Europe and it was one of the best things we have ever done as a band, so Iím really up for it and I think itís going to go down really well."

So you obviously love playing live?

"Iím the one who loves playing live the most, if you would have said to me 6 months ago, "what do you enjoy most, what do you hate the most?" I would have said, I hate recording, however recording this new album with Ethan has completely changed that. I really enjoyed it, but touring is really still at the top for me. I never get bored of meeting new people and playing in a different town every night. Thatís really what you get in a band for, you join a band to play, if you record your music and get to sell it, thatís great, but you start, playing live. I love it."

What was it about working with Ethan, which you particularly enjoyed?

"Largely, we recorded everything live together, which we had never done before, we played live and laid down a drum track and then individually laid things down over the top. Thatís largely how we did things, not to say that didnít work, thatís how most bands do things really, but Ethan completely changed how we recorded, he set us up in a circle facing each other, we had never played facing each other, ever. We recorded to tape and it was basically just press play and letís go. There was just this magic to it, you donít really know when you are going to deliver the take, but when you do you just go from having nothing, to having almost everything within 10 minutes. It was really exciting and I think it really came across in the tunes really, we stopped layering things and it was just a completely different way of doing things. It was fresh as a drummer I felt more involved, because previously it was very easy to just lay down a drum track and then spend the next week just listening, so you can feel quite detached from the process as a drummer, but this way I felt very much a part of the whole recording process. Heís just a great guy to work with though, heís turned off at the right times, he switches on at the right times, he knows when to walk away from the desk and his relationship with you is excellent."

It sounds a very natural way of doing things?

"Yeah, thatís how it used to be done. The old jazz music was recorded like this; theyíd record whole albums in a day this way. Itís unspeakable nowadays, but the old jazz music is some of the hardest music you will ever listen to, but that how they all used to do it. Thereís lots of different ways to record now, but sometimes itís nice to come back to the basics and thatís how Ethan works."

You have mentioned the pressures and constraints that are put on you, when signed to a major. Are you as a band particularly attempting to avoid this and stay independent, or is this just how things have worked out for you?

"Itís all a bit case by case, the music would not have turned out as well for us if we had been on a label, I donít think. Thereís been massive repercussions from iTunes really, sticking their neck out to give us single of the week and thereís a lot of stigma and buzz that went around regarding how well the album did, because we were unsigned. Weíre very proud, but also the industry has changed so much that you can do this now, a band like us can put ourselves in a better position by not being signed, but just by working with that real essence that we have. There is a place for labels definitely, whether that place involves us, I donít know, maybe that might change in an album or two. There are pros or cons, but to now it has suited us to not be with a label. Labels are kind of like a bank now, they can stifle bands creativity, but at the same time they can also put you in places that band us like us struggle to get in. But if you can get over that hurdle, it creates a hell of a lot of work for you as a band and as a management team; I can tell you that for nothing. It is do-able, itís just a different way to play the game, but it really is case by case and week by week. So possibly, maybe, no and yes."

Tell me about your name?

"Itís quite simple really, itís very hard to name a band, we really struggled for quite a while to the point where we were sat in the studio one day and we picked up a political dictionary and went through A, nothing, B, quite liked The Boxer Rebellion and thatís it, people think because of it, we are really political but weíre not. We may have written about it at the time, but really it just came from a book. When we were dropped after album 1, people said we had to change our name, well we were never dropped because we didnít sell records, we were dropped during the week of our album release. So there was no need to change our name and Iím really glad we didnít."

Other then the album release and the tour, what have you got planned?

"At the moment it looks like weíre going to do a handful of UK dates in October time and then follow up with more extensive UK dates and a tour in Europe to push the album, the plan really is to get the album out, early in the New Year. The film is really the priority over the next month or so, but itís really nice to have a new album in the bag. None of the new stuff is on the movie soundtrack, itís all from Union, you wouldnít believe how long weíve been playing Union now, we spent so long writing it and its been out now for a year and a half. But once the dust settles on that, we can crack straight on with a new album campaign."

The Boxer Rebellion begin their US tour in September, including the following dates.

21st September Ė Johnny Brendaís Ė Philadelphia, USA.
22nd September ĖMiddle East Ė Cambridge, USA.
23rd September Ė The Bowery Ballroom Ė New York, USA.
24th September Ė Black Cat Ė Washington DC, USA.
25th September Ė The Bell House Ė Brooklyn, USA.

Check the bands web site. www.theboxerrebellion.com for the full listings.
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