When vocalist-guitarist Nathan Nicholson first left his native Tennessee for exotic England in 2000, his mind was swimming with romantic notions. “I’d always had this affinity for British music, like the whole Britpop era and bands before that, like The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Joy Division,” he says. “So I moved there to start playing music. But oddly enough, when I got there, English music went to hell and the good music started coming out of New York City.” But his Anglicized quartet, The Boxer Rebellion, finally caught on, via 2009’s surprise iTunes smash “Union” and the new Ethan Johns-produced “The Cold Still.”
You guys just played yourselves in the film “Going the Distance,” and Justin Long becomes your manager. How are things going with him in charge? Oh, he’s a terrible manager! No, just kidding. But what was quite cool was our actual manager, Sumit, told us that he gave Justin managerial pointers for his movie role. So he probably just told him about a new way to carry himself, a way to look cool.
How did you land such a dream role? We played our first-ever U.S. show at the Troubadour in L.A., and some New Line Cinema people just happened to see us. So it was luck, really. They just happened to have this role, they needed a band and we fit the bill. And probably my favorite part of the whole thing was getting asked to write an original song to fit the script. So writing the [closing credits] track, “If You Run,” set us up for writing “The Cold Still,” because it helped us get back into the flow.
The movie portrayed you as honest, hardworking underdogs, doing it DIY style with your own label. Pretty close to reality, right? Yeah. It was pretty true to life. And we were actually able to change a few things in the script, so it was more like it really is for us. It says we live in L.A., which is wrong. But other than that, it was all pretty true; we are a completely independent act, just doing our own thing.
And now you’re the kings of soundtrack placement. You were just featured on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and what else? We’ve had a few wrestling ones, which are kind of strange. We were in “Human Target” and even a Buick ad, just all over the place. We wouldn’t do a tampon ad or a commercial for genital warts or anything, but this is the new-age radio — the only way to get your music out there is through TV shows, films or adverts. So it’s been really good for us.
IF YOU GO
The Boxer Rebellion
Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., San Francisco
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $14 to $16