It's understandable if audiences in the United States don't realize that Nathan Nicholson, lead singer of The Boxer Rebellion, is from East Tennessee.
"Over here, most people just assume I'm English," says Nicholson, whose accent is a peculiar combination of East Tennessee and English.
Formed and still based in London, The Boxer Rebellion has retained a steady buzz since the digital release of the album "Union" in 2009. The album made history by becoming the first digital-only release by an unsigned group to enter the Billboard 200 album chart. (It has since been released on CD). The album's single "Evacuate" was named "Single of the Week" on iTunes and, in a free offer, was downloaded more than 560,000 times. "Union" was later named Alternative Album of the Year by iTunes.
The group has since found its music on "NCIS," "Grey's Anatomy," "One Tree Hill," "Huge," "CSI: New York" and several other television shows. They even landed a mention in an Esquire feature on John Huntsman when the presidential candidate found a Boxer Rebellion song on his daughter's iPod.
The son of Maryville lawyer Joe Nicholson and the late Susan Nicholson, Nathan fell in love with British pop and rock while he was a student at Maryville High School. After graduation, he spent a year studying at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Nicholson's mother died of cardiac arrest in late 1999 and a few months later he decided to move to London with the idea of pursuing his musical dreams. In London, he met Australian-born guitarist Todd Howe and with English drummer Piers Hewitt and Nicholson's Maryville buddy Rob Loflin on bass, the four formed The Slippermen. When Loflin decided to go back to the school and study medicine, the trio recruited Adam Harrison (another Englishman) and renamed the group the Boxer Rebellion.
The band signed with Poptones Records in 2005, but the label (which was distributed by Mercury Records) fell apart the same week the group's debut "Exits" was released.
The group members decided that rather than pursue another label deal they would remain independent and finance their next album, which became "Union," themselves. The band followed up in 2011 with "The Cold Still," which was produced by star producer Ethan Johns.
The Boxer Rebellion made its first East Tennessee appearance in October 2010 at the Clayton Center for the Performing Arts at Maryville College.
The band was just gathering its buzz in the States and the crowd was small but enthusiastic.
"It was a cool place to play," says Nicholson. "The Clayton Center is really nice. We didn't expect many more than were there."
The group recorded and released the concert as "Live in Tennessee."
Playing in Knoxville as part of the Rhythm N' Blooms Festival, the group will probably have a much larger audience.
"It could just be my family and high school friends," says Nicholson with a chuckle. "We probably do our best in the U.S., Holland and maybe France. It's weird. In England, we're considered an old band, but in the U.S. we're considered fresh and new."
He considers the group lucky to have never quite been part of a fad in London.
"The English press loves to build something up and then they love even more to knock it down," says Nicholson. "We've never been that kind of flavor of the month. When we started we were just doing our own thing. That was at the time of the Libertines and the garagey-punky types of bands. Then that scene faded out and then another scene came and faded out and another. But we've just continued on. We've never been the cool guys in England, or at least in London, but we've outlasted a lot of those bands.
"Well maybe someday we'll blow up, but we're accustomed to the slow, steady pace. ... When we gain fans we don't tend to lose them."
Rhythm N Blooms Festival
When: Friday-Saturday, April 20-22
Tickets: $50 advance, $60 after April 19 (full three-day festival), $25 advance, $30 after April 19 (one-day pass, not including Tennessee Theatre shows). VIP passes are sold out.
Friday, April 20
Latitude 35: 6 p.m. Farewell Milwaukee; 7 p.m. Lera Lynn; 8 p.m.Kevin Abernathy with Sean McCollough and Greg Horne; 9 p.m. Danny Barnes & Tony Furtado; 10:15 p.m. Chris Knight
John Black Studio: 6 p.m. Danny Barnes & Tony Furtado; 7 p.m. Jamie Cook; 8 p.m. Cheyenne Marie Mize; 9:15 p.m. Hoots & Hellmouth; 10:30 p.m. Darrell Scott
Square Room: 6:30 p.m. Cheyenne Marie Mize; 7:30 p.m. Darrell Scott; 9 p.m. Langhorne Slim (solo); 10:30 p.m. Canon Blue;
11:30 p.m. Boxer Rebellion
Bill Lyons Stage, Market Square: 7:15 p.m. Langhorne Slim (solo); 8:15 p.m. Big Sam’s Funky Nation
Crass Couture: 9 p.m. Jamie Cook; 10 p.m. O Youth; 11 p.m. King Super and the Excellents
Saturday, April 21
John Black Studio: 3:45 p.m. Jeff Barbra & Sarah Pirkle; 4:45 p.m. Annabelle’s Curse; 5:45 p.m. Jessica Lea Mayfield (solo); 6:45 p.m. Kris Delmhorst; 8:15 p.m. Josh Oliver; 9:15 p.m. Mandolin Orange
Latitude 35: 3:30 p.m. Spirit Family Reunion; 4:30 p.m. Katie Powderly; 5:30 p.m. Tony Furtado; 6:30 p.m. David Wax Museum; 7:30 p.m. Fort Atlantic; 8:30 p.m. Hoots & Hellmouth; 9:30 p.m. The Ragbirds
The Square Room: 4 p.m. Kris Delmhorst; 5:15 p.m. Hoots & Hellmouth; 6:15 p.m. The Ragbirds; 7:45 p.m. Jessica Lea Mayfield; 9 p.m. Chris Brubeck’s Triple Play; 10:30 p.m. Angel Snow; 11:30 p.m. David Wax Museum
Tennessee Theatre: 7:30 p.m. Alice Smith; 8:30 p,m. Citizen Cope; 10:15 p.m. The Black Lillies
Crass Couture: 10:15 p.m. The Winter Sounds; 11:15 p.m. The Seedy Seeds
Sunday, April 22
Knoxville Botanical Garden & Arboretum: 1 p.m. Angel Snow; 2 p.m. Lydia Salnikova; 3 p.m. Paleface; 4:15 p.m. Sam Quinn & Taiwan Twin; 5:30 p.m. Jake Shimabukuro; 6:45 p.m. Yarn; 8:30 p.m. Amos Lee
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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