x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

'About as rock'n'roll as Dubai gets'

Michael Fillon, lead singer and chief spokesman for Sandwash, a Dubai-based rock band on their debut release and meeting Megan Fox.

Michael Fillon of the band Sandwash, who have just released their debut album, wants to meet the Obamas, Susan Boyle and Megan Fox.
Michael Fillon of the band Sandwash, who have just released their debut album, wants to meet the Obamas, Susan Boyle and Megan Fox.

Sandwash, a Dubai-based rock band, have "big dreams, namely to be big enough to meet Megan Fox," says Michael Fillon, their lead singer and chief spokesman.

For now, though, they are thinking small. A first pressing of around 500 copies of Master Blaster Hole, the band's debut album, trickled into record shops (principally branches of Virgin Megastore) around the nation late last month. One of Sandwash's previous singles, Alabaster, has received a smattering of airplay on local radio stations. October, their new single, will be released later this month.

Master Blaster Hole had been six years in the making. The release is self-funded, although Fillon says "it's a $1m album produced for the price of an Xbox".

Not everyone agrees. Rolling Stone Middle East awarded the album a one-star rating in the "Unsigned" section of its review pages, describing it as "bewildering" and suggesting that Sandwash "need to work on developing an identity of their own", after name-checking Green Day, Blink 182 and Robert Palmer as identifiable influences.

The band, currently a four-piece, started out as a punk outfit at the American University of Dubai in 2004, a campus that was to provide a small patch of fertile ground in an otherwise arid musical landscape. The metal band Nervecell, another regular of Dubai's underground scene, also emerged from the same period and the same campus.

"The scene here is a lot healthier than it was a few years ago," Fillon tells me as he reminisces about those first tricky steps to stardom. Nevertheless, the band still has plenty of ground to cover.

Sandwash will make a couple of promotional outings later this month, the first in Dubai on December 17, although the performance they would dearly love to give is in the capital on the 16th, supporting Guns N' Roses. Indeed, Fillon holds out some hope that this unlikely turn of events may yet happen. "We've contacted Flash [the promoters of the event]," he explains. Axl Rose and company, he adds, are the band's number-one heroes. "We'd love to meet them."

I ask what he would say if they did end up hanging out backstage. "I'd want to know three things," he replies without pausing for thought. "I'd want to ask Axl if he could find it within him to forgive Slash [Guns N' Roses' former lead guitarist]. I'd want to ask how cool it was to appear in the video for Don't Cry [one of two 1991 music videos made by the band in which the model Stephanie Seymour appeared] and I'd want to talk to him about the lyrics to Estranged." The song features the line "old at heart but I'm only 28 and I'm much too young to let love break my heart." Fillon is 29 years old.

While he awaits news of any last-minute openings on Yas Island, Fillon has time to contemplate what he describes as the difficult birth of their debut album, a turbulent period when the band's creative differences bubbled close to the surface. After one disagreement, the band's drummer (Fillon's brother, Jay), vanished. "He went to China to find himself, but he found out that he didn't like doing his own laundry."

"I kept fighting with Pavel too," Fillon says, of Pavel Duzhnikov, Sandwash's current bass player. "He wants our sound to be more metal. I prefer an old-school vibe." He lists the Beatles and Led Zeppelin as two of his key influences. "We've run through three different bass players," he adds. "Crom, our original bassist, was in seven different bands at one stage." But Fillon has, by his own admission, a possessive streak and couldn't bear to see his beloved bassist playing away from home. Divorce was inevitable.

"We are," he concludes, "about as rock and roll as it gets in Dubai."

Sandwash's music talks, Fillon says, about growing up in Dubai. The brothers arrived in the emirate 20 years ago from Marikina in the Philippines.

"We've lived here since we were kids. The songs are based on our experiences as teenagers and adults in this fast-paced environment.

"When we first moved here, they were dry days for the music scene. We thought it was such a big thing when Bryan Adams turned up for the first time all those years ago." The Canadian rocker will, of course, be back in the Emirates in just a few days time.

Fillon also says his lyrics speak to the universal themes of relationships, break-ups and wanting girls you can't have - including, one assumes, Megan Fox, the recently married Hollywood star of the first two Transformers movie releases.

"She is the ultimate rock chick," Fillon enthuses. "The best part of being famous is you get the chance to meet the people you see on TV.

"Of course, we have serious aspirations to do something great with our music, but we also want to meet the people we most admire. We know we'll have made it when we're sitting in the same room as Megan Fox. She is top of our ladder of importance."

That "ladder of importance"- a sort of social-climbing index for a young bunch of Dubai dreamers - also includes Barack Obama, Susan Boyle and Simon Cowell. "Eventually, we want to be backstage with Susan Boyle, having dinner with the Obamas and in Megan Fox's bedroom."

So it's not just about hanging with the beautiful people then? "Oh no, we'd love to be trashed by Simon Cowell." As for Susan Boyle? "She is a very courageous person."