Nathan Nicholson, vocalist for the Boxer Rebellion, says there are certainly things he misses about East Tennessee:
“I really miss the weather, and the thing I miss about this time of year is watching football. I miss the buzz of that.”
Calling from his home in London, Nicholson says the journey from being a Maryville High School kid dreaming of playing rock music to co-founding a London-based rock group with an international buzz has been “weird” and “kind of cool.”
The son of Maryville lawyer Joe Nicholson and the late Susan Nicholson, Nathan says his music career in East Tennessee was of little note - a few gigs at open-mike nights and such. He loved the British rock of the 1990s and early 2000s. And, loved England when he visited with his family on a vacation.
In 1999, Nathan was a freshman at Florida State University in Tallahassee when his mother died of cardiac arrest. It was one week before Christmas.
He says it was devastating, but it also helped force him in a positive direction.
“It kind of fueled me into doing something,” says Nicholson. “I was really nervous about doing music. It made me realize you only have one life, and you better make the most of it.”
Eight months later, Nicholson moved to London where he met guitarist Todd Howe, who was a transplant from Australia. In time, the two added English drummer Piers Hewitt and Nicholson’s Maryville buddy Rob Loflin on bass, and formed The Slippermen. Loflin, though, decided his calling was medicine and returned to school. He was replaced by Adam Harrison (another Englishman), and the group became the Boxer Rebellion.
Alan McGee, the same man who had signed Oasis and had managed the Jesus and Mary Chain, signed the group to his Poptones Records in 2005. However, Nicholson says the label (which was distributed by Mercury Records) imploded the same week that the band’s debut album, “Exits,” was released.
“At first, it was, ‘What are we gonna do?’ But we didn’t rush into any big decisions.”
It turned out to be a good move. The group financed its own second album, “Union.” With no money to have physical copies made, the group released the album as a digital download-only. The single “Evacuate,” was named “Single of the Week” on iTunes and 560,000 free copies were downloaded. The album became a digital top seller, and the group became the first unsigned band to make it to the Billboard Top 200 Charts (at No. 82) with a digital-only release. iTunes named the disc “Alternative Album of the Year” in 2009. The disc has since been released on CD.
Nicholson calls the band’s success “a combination of stupidity and blind faith and confidence in what we were doing.”
The band has a new album due in early 2011 (produced by Ethan Johns), which was recently seen and heard in the film “Going the Distance.”
Nicholson says he’s a little nervous about his band performing in his hometown for the first time.
“I’m not much of a natural frontman. I kind of have to put on some kind of facade. I don’t want all my family and friends to think that I’m acting weird.”
He says there’s always the possibility that the Boxer Rebellion could relocate to the United States to become a “trans-global band.” The group is starting to sell more in the United States than in England, and Nicholson is more enamored of the rock music coming from the U.S. than England now. He says he still calls East Tennessee home:
“You go home, and you notice little things, like when you go to a restaurant, and the waiter or waitress is nice to you! My wife notices. She loves coming to East Tennessee. She sees my stepmom, Molly, and my mom was the same way, as a nice Tennessee lady with a strong Southern accent. Somebody who would do anything for you ... I think my wife thinks she wants to be a Tennessee lady.”
The Boxer Rebellion will perform at the Clayton Center for the Arts at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 12, in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre. Tickets are $20, $18 and $12 at the Clayton Center or through Tickets Unlimited, 865-656-4444.