Q&A: The Boxtones

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The Dubai-based band on what they’ve learned during the Street to Stage competition, how they write music, and meeting Biffy Clyro

By Salma Sobh
Sep 17, 2013

How did you guys first get together?

Gary Tierney: Well, me and my… It's 10 a.m.; it's hard to talk at 10 a.m. My sister, Gill, is a drummer and my fiancé, [Louise Peel], is a singer, so we've got a history together for quite a long time. Obviously I met Gill  when she was born, and some time later we started a band in Scotland; me and my sister, an original band. And then that band toured and then we started doing more corporate things, so we met Louise and we started doing weddings at the weekend to pay the bills. So we met in Scotland, before [moving to Dubai].

Louise Peel: We formed The Boxtones to get out.

Gary Tierney: We formed The Boxtones shortly after that, because corporate work in the U.K.'s great, but the weather's terrible. So basically we felt we'd go somewhere abroad. We did The Boxtones for about five or six years. We had one big lineup change recently, Patrick [Thibault] and Will [Janssen] both joined the band from Canada. They were playing in other bands in the Middle East, Patrick was in Abu Dhabi, and Will was in Bahrain. We met them through our travels and we liked the guys, we liked what they played, so they joined us, and we started to do a lot of corporate work around Dubai, playing hotels. And then February this year we started our own business, so we got out of the hotel scene and now we're doing events all around.

LP: We're The Boxtones FZE [laughs].

Gary Tierney: Obviously, during that whole time we'd also write our own material. We've got an album coming out in October – it's called In the Pockets of Clowns; it's about the music industry, I'll say no more – so we focus as much as we can on writing our own stuff, because that's where the real pleasure comes from.

So you guys are full-time musicians?

Gary Tierney: This is full-time for all of us. That's the short story. There's quite a long one, but that was like the short version.

So you were writing your own material even while you were playing covers?

Gary Tierney: For me I'm a songwriter first, I think. Covers just come quite naturally. Covers are easy. It's easy to play someone else's music. A lot of us find it quite simple. It's what we do for a living, to pay the bills. Write your own material, you don't get money for it a lot of the time. When you do, it's great, you can make royalties and publishing rights and all that, that's great. Covers are what pay the bills, but really what's at heart is our own stuff.

Had you made music videos before?

Gary Tierney: Together, not really no.

Gill Tierney: We did the desert one in Bahrain.

Gary Tierney: Yeah, that was like a generic sort of band one where we all went to the desert with our equipment and just played in the desert and videoed it in a car going around in a circle, but putting thought and effort into actually doing our own music video is what the Rolling Stone thing has really given us a push to do. To be quite creative. We're basically brainstorming every day. We get together for a meeting and we go, like, "What are we gonna do next?" And we all come up with these ideas.

LP: It's fun. Cause you're working under pressure but also it makes you be imaginative and think of stuff. We’ve got some cool concepts as well that we hope we'll get a chance to do.

You came up with concept for your first video by yourselves?

LP: Yeah. And the artwork took a while and stuff. But it was so fun filming that video. We were all behind this sheet and we were so squashed, just shoulder-to-shoulder. And you're trying to move your little sticks to move the person and trying to show as much animation as you can just with your face, because you've not got anything else really to do. So it was really fun. We had to do so many takes because we were all giggling.

Gary Tierney: Yeah the outtakes are probably funnier, we've got a lot of those.

Will we see those any time soon?

Gary Tierney: Maybe after. That'd be cool.

Does one person write the songs, or is it more of a collaboration?

Gary Tierney: I guess we have a broad take. I write a lot of the material. I've got a lot of experience with it, and I've got a lot of songs that I've written over the years. So we kinda draw some influence from that. We sat down and discussed what kind of band we wanted to be and how we wanted to move, and we thought that rock was kind of our thing. We've got a heavy background in it, Will's got a heavy background. Patrick’s the same, with a little punk involved. Louise is more soulful, but she really comes alive when she does the rock stuff, so it all fit together quite well. And I guess for the lyrics, me and Louise collaborate on that. She's got a lot of the ideas and a degree in literature and Scottish etymology so it's using that sort of background

LP: Everyone has an input. Gary usually writes the music. I'll do the lyrics, Patrick will do his bass line, Will makes the piano and everything. Gill does her own drums. Our instrument is our instrument.

Gary Tierney: We spend a lot of time on a song, you know? You get an idea, and you get to work at it and work at it until they say, “OK, don't work at it anymore, because you'll ruin it.”

LP: Gary kind of does the initial process and then we all add our bits. Then he finishes it again afterwards, because he does all the mastering

Gary Tierney: I do a lot of the after-work as well, to make sure that it sounds like a song.

What’s your favorite place to gig?

Gary Tierney: We used to work at the Marina Byblos Hotel up at Dubai Marina. That's where we actually had a residency and we’ve got a lot of friends that are there now, like the staff and the regulars. So we still go there for quiz night – it's kind of like a local for us.

LP: And they've been really supportive for the Rolling Stone competition. We've been getting great messages from all the staff and regulars in there.

Gary Tierney: It's great fun. We don't really play there anymore, because they have their own bands now. So we don't really have a local. Dubai's a great place with a lot of different venues. So it's just great to play all of them. As many times as we can.

Will Janssen: Especially the Media City Amphitheatre. We play there all the time now.

Gary Tierney: We do a lot of shows there. And we're doing Gulf Bike Week. We're playing our own original stuff there. The 26th of October, I think it is. Generally we just try and keep busy. Obviously, because we're all full-time, we push our gigs as much as possible. The original stuff is more complicated, and the cover stuff's quite easy to handle, because you go, "That's how much we charge, that's the way you want, finished." So every venue, I think, is a favorite venue.

Who's your favorite band or artist?

Gary Tierney: Biffy Clyro. They're a bit famous now.

Do they influence your material?

Gary Tierney: For me, yeah. I met the guys a lot of years back, when they were smaller. They're signed to Sony now and they're big and they're doing the world and all that. But yeah, they had a big influence just because the way they write the songs – the tempo changes, the songs are very complicated. There's no simple sit-down-and-fall-asleep music, it's more urgent, and I like that. That's a bit of an influence on my songwriting. But there's other bands like Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age and those kind of bands also.

LP: Band-wise, probably Foo Fighters as well. And vocals, I really like Erykah Badu and people that have got, like, a really nice range – a bit more interesting kind of tone. Even some commercial stuff. I mean, I know I always complain because we get asked to sing a lot of Adele and Alicia Keys, but things that are a bit hard and you really have to push yourself vocally, they're fun to sing.

Gary Tierney: Just for the record, Adele is not our enemy, even though we have to play her every single night. We're playing Adele and someone says, "Can you play Adele?" while we're playing Adele. That has happened.

What’s your endgame?

Gary Tierney: Hopefully there isn't one. It just keeps going. No end. Obviously death is the end really. Really old age. Johnny Cash did it and he did it forever. So if he can do it…

Gill Tierney: Reading Festival?

Gary Tierney: Yeah that'd be nice. I think for here though, for Dubai, it's such a small market. A small thing, the original scene, and it's not really getting pushed in the right way, and it's not getting the exposure it deserves. You can see from this competition that there's a lot of artists out there, and they're not getting the platform they need to, you know, play. Because there's not that many venues. With the whole permission thing, there are a lot of problems involved with trying to get [permits et cetera]. All the different rules put in entertainers' way. I guess maybe having an effect on that to start with, that'd be good. And then from there… You know, that's why the Rolling Stone thing has been great for us, because it gives us the chance to broaden our market and show more people what we can do. Like the videos and things; we never did it before. We're actually finishing some of the songs that we recorded a while back but haven't had the time to master and get ready. Now we're pushing it because we've got an album coming out, and then we have to make music videos. So we have to have the audio ready. So we're focusing a lot on this right now, which is good for us.


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