You can hear it in his voice — The Boxer Rebellion guitarist Todd Howe is really itching to hit The City tonight, just to preview tracks like “Doubt,” “The Runner” and “Step Out of the Car” from the band’s upcoming third set “The Cold Still,” produced by the red-hot Ethan Johns. “The way we made this record was completely different,” the Brit says. “We did live takes as much as possible and virtually no editing or overdubs — Ethan really went the extra mile for us.” But the band’s story is an odd one.
When the legendary Alan McGee first discovered you, you must have been overjoyed, right? Yeah, it was pretty cool. But you’re talking seven years ago when that happened. But it happened pretty quickly — we knew people that knew him, and they were saying nice words about us. So then he just took us to the pub and said he wanted to release our records.
When did you sense things might be going wrong? Well, that deal took a particularly long time to sign, for starters — it was 18 months, maybe more. But McGee’s Poptones had signed a joint venture with Mercury, which was Universal, basically. And then the whole thing imploded the week we released our first record, “Exits.”
How did you come up with a Plan B? We were pretty close with a band called Editors. In the beginning, they went completely underground, concentrated on writing, and made sure they had it together before they resurfaced. So we self-funded our next record, “Union,” and decided to take as long as it took to get it done. Then we got an e-mail from iTunes — this guy there was a fan of ours and he said, “Look, I hear you’ve got a new album nearly ready, and I really want to help promote it.” And within two months, it was up on iTunes in the U.S. and we’d sold 10,000 copies in the first week. We went from absolutely nothing to a bit of a vindication.
A perfect example of a band reinventing itself in the digital age, correct? Yeah, pretty much. We got our rights back within a month from Universal, so we own all the rights to our own material now. And we actually run our own label now, so the next album will come out under that imprint. But when you call all your own shots and you make all the money off your own records, you don’t need to sell as much to survive, pretty much. It’s a good position to be in.
IF YOU GO
The Boxer Rebellion
Where: Popscene, 330 Ritch St., San Francisco
When: 9 p.m. today