Starting out as buskers, Drax Project have had a rise to fame like you wouldn’t imagine. First meeting at university, the Wellington four piece – made up of Shaan Singh, Matt Beachen, Sam Thompson and Ben O’Leary – have gone from street side performances to supporting the biggest names in pop, including Camila Cabello, Ed Sheeran and Lorde. Not bad, eh?
Releasing their “Noon” EP last month, the group are now showing their potential for joining those huge names in the pop rankings. Inspired by beginnings, the tracks follow tales of first encounters and first experiences – something the lads are experiencing themselves as they enter the music world outside street side busking sessions.
Eager to find out more, we caught up with the emerging stars to get the inside scoop.
So firstly, how did you guys meet?
Shaan: So when I was at uni studying the sax, Matt was in the same year as me playing drums, and so was Sam playing bass. Me and Matt started busking during the holidays one year, we needed to pay some rent and we wanted to figure out how to make some money off what we studied. We were just playing pop tunes on the streets. Sam came and played some bass – we got, like, a car battery to make sure we could play music on the street. And then maybe like 8-12 months later Ben joined on the guitar and that was when we started writing original music. Ben was studying at a different university just up the road from us.
Were you studying music as well?
Ben: Yeah. Not jazz though, contemporary music.
Shaan: The three of us were at jazz school and then Ben was at music school.
So did you ever want to be jazz musicians?
Shaan: We studied it, and we definitely still enjoy listening to it. Maybe if we had more time to play jazz then we’d have fun doing that, but I don’t think any of us are disappointed with how it’s turned out. I’m really happy, personally, that I studied jazz.
Matt: It was awesome, I think it really helped us to develop musicianship. Not necessarily songwriting or performing… Maybe performing a little bit.
Sam: It definitely gave us that basis of being able to play our instruments.
Shaan: I think one of the good things about studying it is it just helps us communicate easily about what we want to do musically. We know exactly what we want to say.
So what was the process towards writing your own songs?
Shaan: What we were doing when we started was strictly covers. We were playing covers and seeing what people really engaged with. And then that actually inspired us to write our own music.
Ben: We didn’t want to be a covers band forever. And we had to start doing our own shows because people wanted to see us play, and we were like “Man, we don’t have any songs that we made!”
Sam: The covers were more like versions of the songs though, we’d change them up…
And so was it a harmonious idea of how you guys wanted your original stuff to sound?
Matt: It’s taken a while to craft. It’s been pretty organic though.
Sam: We’ve all got different tastes so that really helps us to take these different sounds that we like and mix genres and stuff.
Shaan: If you’re a jazz musician and you’re like “Man, I want to write some music that’s going to go on the radio,” and you don’t listen to anything that’s on the radio or haven’t played it before it’s a pretty weird perspective, so I think that helped.
Sam: It definitely took us a while to accept that we were a pop band though. Pop was a dirty word when we were studying.
(LEFT) Jacket model’s own, shirt RIVER ISLAND
(RIGHT) Sweatshirt GYMPLEX, jeans TOPMAN
Do you feel a lot more comfortable saying you’re a pop band now?
Ben: Yeah, pop’s cool man!
Shaan: Pop’s epic and it’s changed as well in the past 10 years. It’s gotten so much more diverse. What’s on the radio is crazy different! The fact that we can play what we play live and be called a pop band is testament to that, I’d say.
Sam: It’s a fusion of so many kinds of music, presented in a pop context.
And so what do you think makes you stand out from the other pop bands out there?
Shaan: We kind of pride ourselves – well, not pride ourselves – on that we all play our instruments. Ben’s the guitarist, Sam’s the bassist, Matt’s the drummer… We were instrumentalists before we were playing pop music in a band, if that makes sense.
Ben: And Shaan being the front man also plays the saxophone, so in the context of a band where there’s four members, sax isn’t normally an instrument that comes up very often.
And you’ve dropped your EP now! How are you feeling?
Shaan: Very excited! It’s crazy, we released one single and that got pushed in New Zealand – it’s been available around the world too but before that it’d been quite a while since we’d released other music so it’s exciting.
Amazing. So what can you tell me about the EP?
Matt: It’s colourful and fun and bright – a great reflection of us.
Shaan: We’ve teased little bits and pieces of some of the tunes. We’ve been playing them live for the last few months and working on them and revising them through that context, thinking “this worked really well so we want to keep that” or “this didn’t work out so can we change that”. So the EP has definitely been a process of live and studio work.
Sam: Some songs have been a work in progress for about year, more than a year, and some were last month.
Shaan: All the lyrics are about the beginning of stuff. “Woke Up Late” is about meeting someone in a club and waking up with them… A bunch of them are about first encounters. It’s the beginning of a story.
Ben: It’s quite a good reflection, I’d say, of where we’re at and our musical journey. Not necessarily in our personal lives but in our musical journey I’d say it reflects that. New and exciting things ahead!
Where do you hope your musical journey takes you next?
Shaan: To keep doing this! We get to keep writing music, playing cool shows and meeting cool, interesting, nice people!