What’s On team up with Hype to bring you an interview with Dubai-based band The Boxtones, who have developed from classic covers to rock originals.
In a local music scene saturated with covers from a standard set list of Kings Of Leon and Bryan Adams, it’s rare to find a band like The Boxtones that have created a balance between making music and pleasing fans by putting their own spin on hit songs.
The five-piece rock group with roots in Canada and the UK has developed a solid reputation in Dubai as a covers band over the last three years. But last February they decided to strike out on a major endeavour: producing an original album. Their debut LP In The Pockets Of Clowns is the result.
“We worked for a year on our record. I spent five months of that in a dark room mixing it on headphones and getting it all ready,” says lead singer and songwriter, Gary Tierney. The starting point was for Gary to sit down with the band – sister and drummer Gillian Tierney, singer Louise Peel, bassist Patrick Thibault and keyboardist Will Janssen – to dig through his collection of over 200 songs. Each of them chose their favourites and came to a near unanimous decision on what would be the core of the album. Evident in the first single After All Is Said And Done, co-written by all the band members, their rock and grunge influences are clear. “I think we felt that it represented what we do,” reflects Gary.
Each of the artists herald from different schools of music: Thibault likens his style to ’70s and ’80s punk, Janssen performed with his church choir before hitting the Winnipeg metal scene, and the Tierneys grew up on a diet of Bush and Soundgarden, whilst Peel sings everything from contemporary to hard rock. “We all do our own thing and it combines and comes out in The Boxtones’ sound. We’re not trying to sound like anyone,” says Gary.
They don’t lay claim to any one influence on the album’s energetic sound, composed of powerful vocals, occasional guitar solos and a healthy dose of distortion. However, it’s not all heavy rock & roll; there are some slower tracks that demonstrate just how much care and thought has gone into the songwriting. UFO is a definite audience-winner and is the band’s secret weapon, possessing a catchy sincerity that Gary says has been through eight years of edits, while Identity Crisis is lighter on the instrumentals and focuses on melody and lyrics that contribute to the album’s overarching story. “A lot of the record, lyrically speaking, has that sort of escapism of getting away and changing your life – trying to do something that’s not the same,” muses Gary. “And the whole album, when you put the thing together – when you read it and not so much listen to it – is like a love story.”
While working on the album The Boxtones turned the project into a cottage industry, each member taking on tasks such as marketing, events and equipment management. The formula worked well; the band was welcomed into a new phase of interest and development when they won the 2013 Rolling Stone Middle East Street To Stage competition. The prize was a mentor package with Sony, recording time, a photo shoot and, of course, an obligatory trophy.
Since then, The Boxtones’ profile has continued to rise; shows at the Taste Of Dubai, Jebel Ali Jockey Club Gala and the recent Comic Con brought with them new audiences and has allowed them to put plans in place for their album to be stocked in Dubai’s Virgin Megastore.
Now, toting In The Pockets Of Clowns at every performance, the band regularly plugs in their original tracks alongside the ever-popular covers. By merging their own sound with the usual hits, they’ve maintained their long-term fans, who’re now showing as much support for the The Boxtones’ grunge-rock tunes as they do for the traditional tracks.
The Boxtones – nominated for Best Band/Act in the first ever Hype Awards on April 23 – don’t plan on staying a local band either; they’re already planning gigs in the UK this summer to test the international waters, and are discussing various music festivals, as Gary cites, “Festivals are the way forward.” But before the band sets out on the global circuit, you can still catch them live around Dubai.
Check their facebook page – facebook.com/theboxtones – for upcoming gigs.