The Boxer Rebellion – Interview with Adam Harrison

Adam Harrison (of The Boxer Rebellion) & Andy Whorehall talk about an orchard of subjects;  Cheap Trick, Rockford, Noel Gallagher, Jimmy Buffett, Elbow, Thom Yorke’s happiness, & some serious stuff too. They did not talk about low hanging fruit, the economy, Wisconsin, pot smoking teachers or clip art; but Adam does offer up a secret for all of you to seek out in Yreka, CA.

… quite a few people expected us to go for the jugular with a record after ‘Union’ but we were not going to be tempted by that, we care too much about the music.

– Adam Harrison, of The Boxer Rebellion

The Boxer Rebellion just released their 3rd full length record, The Cold Still, a tight, 10 song record, produced by Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, Ray Lamontagne, The Jayhawks, Ryan Adams).  They also made their debut American TV network appearance on David Letterman’s show with an invading performance of Step Out of the Car, that reintroduced memories of The Smiths & U2 at their most musically determined. They’ve been a band for a decade strong now. These 4 original members from all over the world (Tennessee, Australia, England), calls London home; and not so strangely, 1 of the 2 Englishmen in the band has a special, Rockford, IL connection. Having said that, meet Adam Harrison (pictured below), bassist of The Boxer Rebellion.

Andy Whorehall: You guys come from all over the world and have been playing together for 6-7 years now? Where does the band call home base, and is there one place you miss?
Adam Harrison: It’s actually been 10 years now, all based here in London. I’d say that Nate misses Tennessee, and having been there myself I can’t blame him. The mountains and food of east Tennessee would be hard to be away from if you had grown up there.

AW: Chemistry is everything for a group of guys lasting more than 5 years together in anything. It’s definitely present in your recordings & the few live outtakes I’ve heard. Were there a few bands, artists, that you four felt a connection with that brought you guys together closer?
AH: We have a few artists that we share as influences but I’d say that it’s actually our differences that bring us together, so much has been written in modern music that to be original you have to be the sum of many influences. I think like all good relationships it is our differences that keep things fresh. Having said that, we share some common loves; it is a cliche but Radiohead have to be right up there, also bands like Sigur Ros who create the kind of atmospheres that we aspire to.

AW: Any artists you guys fight over?  Fist fights?  Wrestling?  Yelling?
AH: I love Dub, the rest of the boys don’t though—we don’t fight but I plot to eventually brainwash them into digging it!

AW: Dub seems to be a line in the sand for many bands, most bands are afraid to go heavy on the bass in the studio; and wind-chime synth effects—talk about an automatic indifference.  Anytime I hear synthesizer windchimes in a song I want to hi-5 the guy that actually got away with talking the others into leaving it in a final mix.  Was there ever a point where you knew as a collective that there was a level of professional craftsmanship you set out to meet and achieve together?
Yeah. I think about 2 or 3 years in we we finally crafted our sound and what we wanted from it. I think it takes a while for that to happen and for some band it never happens at all.

AW: What UK/Euro bands should we, here in the States, keep an ear out for?
Everything Everything‘ are good friends of ours and make some pretty eccentric guitar music, also the new ‘Elbow‘ album is out soon and Guy Garvey, the lead singer, hung out with us for some of our recording sessions—they are an amazing band and he’s an inspiration.

AW: Any artists stateside that keep your respective attention?
AH: I love so many US bands, favorites would include ‘The National,’ ‘Interpol’ and ‘Band Of Horses,’ but there is also a really great wave of new acts, like ‘Buke And Gass’ or ‘We Are Augustines‘ that are emerging at the moment.
What’s most likely being played in your tour bus, van on long drives to the next gig?
AH: A big mixture, all of the bands and artists I have mentioned already plus some wacky stuff thrown in for comedy value!

AW: Best diner you guys made a pit stop at to eat?  Anywhere in the world- please tell us, our readers will find it, and eat there!
AH: Grandma’s House (pictured left)… It’s in a place called Yreka (California) and can be found just off of highway 5 before you hit LA. It was a really surreal experience and almost exactly like walking into a random grannys front room but the food was great and the service super-friendly!

AW: I know you know where Rockford, IL USA is at, we’ll get to that, but what do you think of Cheap Trick, the band?
AH: They are great and deserve their legendary status. Would I listen to them on a regular basis- no, do I respect them- definitely.

AW: You have a very personal Rockford, Illinois USA connection, care to share?  Protect names need be. We take pride in the little facts we hear here because the majority of the news we hear about Rockford, IL is about how awful we are as a city to the rest of the world.  Brag about your connection to Rockford- and was it that bad, to you, when you’ve been here as an outsider before?
My wife’s family are from Rockford and I have to say that I really do enjoy visiting. Rockford seems to have some very down to earth people and I love hanging out with the in-laws and their friends. I think you can get surrounded by people who are out for themselves in the industry that I’m in and in Rockford you get none of that. The restaurants are great value and the atmosphere is relaxed. Not bad at all!

AW: Thank you, Adam. I’ll tell ya a local secret though, it’s pretty easy being down to earth living so close to Wisconsin, and then to it’s complete opposite, Chicago. We like it too & do take pride with little things, like not having a trainline, because anything we do decide to do well at this point in history is like being congratulated for Baby’s first steps. ; )  Your entire band snuck in and out of the N. IL area recently, did you make it out to any local dive bars? Catch local music? Eat anything spectacular?

AH: We’ve had a few great gigs in Chicago- unfortunately the boys only got to see Rockford at night and then briefly during the day before we set off for Madison so no dive bars- we did however have an excellent lunch at JMK Nippons!

AW: You know JMK Nippons is one of Rick Nielsen’s (Cheap Trick guitarist) favorite local spots too; there’s a sushi roll named after him there called the Rick n’ Roll. I enjoy JMK greatly, though it gives me the diarreah within 30 minutes of intake everytime. I think it’s the butter.  Moving on, Adam. Many kids start bands with grand intentions, at what point did you realize The Boxer Rebellion was becoming your life, that it was more than a weekend excuse to travel a bit, meet people, play for drinks?
AH: I think I’ve been serious about making it in a serious way since i was 12! But in all honesty it was only when we signed out first deal with Universal that i thought, ‘hang on a minute, i may actually have a career here…’, since then we’ve had periods of going back to the grind but for quite some time we have been fully committed to making this happen full time, and for the last 2 years we’ve once again been 100% band, 0% shop assistant…

AW: On your newest release, Cold Still, you worked with Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Jayhawks, Kings of Leon, Ray LaMontage / pictured right) who’s produced a few of my favorite Modern American pop records; was their any apprehension goin into the sessions for ‘Cold Still’ that it might not work? Or were you simply excited to work with him?
AH: Not at all. We are very protective over our production, to the point of self producing our second record ‘Union,’ so we all had to have total confidence in his abilities before we even approached him. His past work has been beautifully crafted and his natural approach was the change we needed for a new and fresh record.

AW: What other producers made your dream list for the new record, care to share?
Rick Rubin goes without saying, a true legend from Johnny Cash to The Mars Volta. You have also got to give huge kudos to Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois for what they have done in the past. Markus Dravs is also becoming a bit of legend and deservedly so.

AW: Nice mention- Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Coldplay, Bjork, Brian Eno, Bjork, Mumford & Sons) is definitely a name that’s joined the list of great modern album producers. Was their an effort with Johns at the helm to slow down the songs brought into ‘Cold Still?’
AH: Not really, the songs were all written apart from one and we had set out from the beginning to go a little deeper with this record—what Ethan did was to reach the potential of each track and bring it to the best possible place it could be.

AW: There’s an obvious mood, pace, and melodic difference between ‘Union’ and ‘Cold Still’… Union seems to draw more emotion from melody, tapping into a mid 90s Radiohead vibe, vs what ‘Cold Still’ draws from, rhythm- intentional? What’s the writing process like?
AH: Nathan and Todd brought ideas in for songs on past records but as we progress, more material is written by all of us as a collective, that may have led to the rythmical changes you have noticed but we still focus hard on  melodic hooks, perhaps just not as many commercially obvious ones—I think that quite a few people expected us to go for the jugular with a record after ‘Union’ but we were not going to be tempted by that, we care too much about the music.

AW: There’s definite influential nods within the atmosphere of the production to Joy Division, some of the bass lines; U2 with the guitar; the vocals tease the inner Morrisey/Chris Martin. These are the words of random music fan ‘Yanks I’ve asked for opinions from.  Me personally? I hear alot of Elbow in your music, mood and atmosphere, especially the new one. All the parts melt. Having said that, both of your full length records are very UK, European and lean towards those artist comparisons.  Is this something you’re aware of and does it ever bother you now, knowing this is your life, career?
I am aware of all of the artists we are compared to, luckily though we are never referred to as ‘a rip off’ of one particular band, some bands really do have one major influence and it’s hard to avoid that when listening to them. I hadn’t read this question before referencing Elbow earlier and am completely comfortable in calling them an influence.

AW: (I’m pretty happy you mentioned Elbow earlier. I felt an honorable connection to their music through listening to The Boxer Rebellion.) Anything you else thought you were gonna be in life besides being in a band, and seeing the world?
Honestly? I have never given any serious consideration to doing anything else. I’m sure that attitude will bite me on the ass one day but it provides the determination needed to slog it out in today’s music industry.

AW: Do you feel lucky to be a musician in this world the way it is?
AH: Definitely. I wake up feeling lucky and i never take for granted the fact that i can make a living out of something i absolutely love doing. Not many people can say that.

AW: Do you ever feel as if Thom Yorke and Eddie Vedder should just go work in a cafe if they’re still so sad about life and being a rock star?
AH: Thom is, contrary to popular opinion, a pretty happy guy- Eddie I have no connection to so couldn’t tell you but I think there should be space for people to explore that side of life artistically. They may experience the world from a darker perspective but without the beauty they create from it we’d be missing the whole picture.

AW: I’m happy you pointed out the differences between the artist and the person, how they can differ, and from the rest of us- as they should; it is an artistic right to personally explore other voices and being misunderstood as a person, rather as an artist, is the most common result of artistic critique. It’s pretty fun. Enough of that- favorite records at the moment?
James Blake (self titled), Buke And Gass- ‘Riposte,’ and Radiohead- ‘The King Of Limbs.’

AW: 2 more loaded fun questions to end this:  Why don’t more people cover Jimmy Buffet songs? And who wins a karaoke contest between Noel & Liam Gallagher?
AH: Because not everyone can pull off a shirt like Buffet and not every venue serves a margarita of sufficient quality. Noel would win as he’d have a far better knowledge of other artists, Liam could possibly manage about 3 Beatles songs and a Stone roses cover…

AW | End

{Thank you, Adam, for your time; and to Sumit & The Cobbs for making this conversation possible for SMS.}

The Boxer Rebellion - Interview with Adam HarrisonAndy Whorehall