The Winnipeg Sun – 9th June
Oakbank rocker living in Dubai's fast lane
By Doug Lunney
Winnipeg is called a wholesale city, so when Will Janssen joined a rock band based in Dubai — one of the world’s most expensive cities — it was an eye-opener.
First, there’s the calibre of vehicle he sees daily — Porsches, Ferraris, Bentleys and Maseratis. In order to keep up, the Dubai police also drive Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Aston Martins.
“It’s like living in the video game ‘Need For Speed Hot Pursuit,’” Janssen said.
“I now don’t even look twice when I drive past a bubble-gum-pink Hummer stretch limousine.”
It has been life in the fast lane since Janssen’s musical career took him to the heart of the oil-rich Middle East in 2012. That’s when he and Montreal’s Patrick Thibault filled The Boxtones’ vacancies on keyboards and bass guitar, respectively.
Janssen was still employed at Mother’s Music in Winnipeg when he left for the Kingdom of Bahrain for what was supposed to be a four-month tour.
The five-member Boxtones — a high-energy rock band with touches of metal, soul, and pop — are described as Green Day meets Stone Temple Pilots. Janssen and Thibault are joined by Louise Peel (lead vocalist from Edinburgh, Scotland), her fiancé Gary Tierney (lead guitarist/vocalist from Glasgow, Scotland), and his sister Gill Tierney, the band’s drummer (and Janssen’s girlfriend).
Their big break came in September 2013 when they won the Rolling Stone Middle East magazine’s Street to Stage competition out of more than 2,000 acts.
“That gave us a mentorship from Sony Music ME, recording sessions with the SAE Institute, press coverage in Rolling Stone magazine, and a big-ass trophy,” said Janssen, 35. “The next month we performed all three days of Gulf Bike Week, showcasing our original music for the bikers of UAE and a support slot for ‘80s hair metal band Europe to 5,000 fans.”
The Boxtones played two days of the Taste of Dubai festival that fall, which led to gigs at the Hard Rock Cafe Dubai.
“Our latest accomplishment was making it into the top 40 bands out of 10,000 entrants worldwide in Hard Rock Rising 2014 — another global voting competition,” he said. “But my personal highlight of the year was headlining Middle East Film and Comic Con. This event is huge.”
Janssen went to school in Oakbank before graduating from Vincent Massey Collegiate in 1997. He studied classical piano and played a variety of instruments as a teen. For nine years, he was the organist and choir director for Lutheran Church of the Cross on Arlington Avenue.
Leaving Winnipeg was difficult, but like his hometown, Dubai has “friendly people and talented musicians,” Janssen said.
Major differences include “summer heat that reaches 50 C, maniacal driving skills on seven-lane city highways, and an abundance of stray cats” he said. “Then there’s shopping malls that contain ski slopes, world record-sized aquariums, and dinosaur exhibits.”
Janssen lives in the newer part of Dubai, close to the best beaches, Mall of Emirates, and the Dubai Marina.
“(The costs) of food and drink at the bars and pubs are insanely high,” Janssen said. “If you want a Jagerbomb, you’re looking at about $21 per shot. A pint of beer is around $12.”
“On the other hand, gas or petrol for your car is dirt cheap here in Dubai and all over the Middle East.”
The Boxtones album sales do “pretty well” in North America as well as the UK, Germany, New Zealand, and South Africa, Janssen said. They tour Scotland this summer and “definitely” plan to visit Canada in the future, which would be the reverse of how most bands operate.
“Usually when a big-shot band is on tour, they often start in North America and eventually make it here,” Janssen said.