Meet the guys who have gone from busking to worldwide success.
Growing up in Wellington, New Zealand, Shaan Singh, Matt Beachen, Sam Thompson and Ben O’Leary cut their teeth busking on the streets. Eventually being asked to play shows by passers-by who loved their drums and sax shows (that’s where “Drax” Project comes from btw), they released “Woke Up Late” back in 2017 and were catapulted into the spotlight.
Now back with a brand new bop “All This Time” and their debut album on the way, we caught up with Matt, Sam and Ben to chat their journey so far.
Hey guys! Going back to the beginning, how did you all meet?
Matt: Three of us were studying at jazz school – me, Sam and Shaan. Ben was studying at another music school, but the band started with Shaan on saxophone and myself on the drums on the streets of Wellington busking. Drums plus sax is Drax, that’s how we got the name! From the very beginning, it was a live band having fun. It wasn’t even a serious band, it was just trying to get a bit of cash to pay for rent and stuff.
We were playing things that people knew, things that were on the radio, but doing our own little twist on it, like “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore with the saxophone. We’d play that every 10 minutes because you’d have a different crowd every 10 minutes, it’s a beautiful thing. That’s the thing when you’re busking, you don’t have to have a massive repertoire because the crowd’s constantly changing. The shop keepers around got kind of pissed off, but they’re not the ones paying…
How did studying music help with your career?
Sam: Wednesday night in Wellington was the student night, so they went out on the town and they’d be out until 3/4am and then have class at 9:30am the next day where they’d have to show up and play then. So, when you’re just playing your instrument that much, it doesn’t matter what type of music you’re playing, you just get used to playing for extended amounts of time.
M: Also, with studying music, it’s now very easy for us to communicate. This is kind of nerdy, but it’s very easy for us to communicate the language and the technical side.
Ben: It has been a little detrimental because you get so hung up on if something is theoretically correct rather than if something feels good or sounds good. When we were first starting out as a band and writing music, we were often overcomplicating things so it was a learning curve just trying to get that if it feels good and sounds good, then it is good and it doesn’t matter if it’s technically quite simple.
So, when did you decide to become a band?
M: It was such a natural progression from busking. Sam moved into our flat and he plays the bass and we were studying with him, so he naturally joined us busking. We did that for about three months or so, but during that time we had a lot of bar managers walk past us and give us their card and say, “Come and play at our bar!”
From doing that, you get people at the bars being like, “Come play at our 60th birthday party” so then we go play that and then the kids there ask you to play their school ball, so we play at their school ball, and then we’ve got a whole bunch of fans from a high school. Over this time we started to write our own music, so we decide to do our own gig for like $5, and then the kids come that came to the school ball.
S: Basically, there was never a decision made to take everything seriously, it was a natural progression from show to show. And we were just naturally writing music together because we were spending so much time playing around together.
You’ve described your sound as “musical pop music”, how did you land on that?
B: We all have a common ground when it comes to what music we like and listen to, but we all come from different musical backgrounds, so everyone’s influences draw from different genres and different eras of music.
S: We all listen to so much different music individually, everything from classical piano to heavy metal, lots of different types of music, so there’s elements of everything we enjoy personally and as a group.
M: That’s the beauty of having four of us is that it is actually a big melting pot. We didn’t decide to make a musical pop band, it’s just a natural, it’s just what comes out of having four opinions.
Your song “Woke Up Late” from 2017 has been super popular! How has it been, having released it two years ago, for it to still be doing so well?
M: Before we released that song, things were pretty slow, we didn’t have that one song that we needed.
B: Even having “Woke Up Late”, it was a real natural process of writing the songs. We finished the song wanted to release a single and we just thought “shall we just put this one out?” It was just natural, there wasn’t a massive plan to release that song, and it’s just exceeded everyone’s expectations.
S: It’s cool, we go to all these different places, last week we were in a place called Rochester which is in New York, and we play a show and people sing that song back to us. They sing some of our other songs back to us, but that song has just taken us so many different places and put us in front of so many people and it’s really amazing, so at this point we just want to give them some more good music.
Speaking of which, “All This Time” is out today! What can you tell us about it?
B: “All This Time” has been the highlight of our set for the last two years which is how long we’ve been playing it. This whole time we’ve been working on it and trying to get it to sound good in the studio but there’s so much energy when we play it live that we hadn’t been able to translate that when it comes to the studio version of the song, until really recently when we’ve come to LA and met some amazing producers who helped work on the song with us. Now we’re so stoked because there was a time we thought that we’d never release the song because it was just too hard to get it right, but we think it sounds great, it’s got the energy we want it to have, we couldn’t be more happy with it.
M: There’s a nice little nod to the beginning of the band with the drums and sax, there’s a big saxophone part in the song that you’ll definitely notice. It sounds great, so we’re very excited.
What’s the story of it?
B: Lyrically, it’s about the person or the thing that you keep coming back to and, in a way, you don’t necessarily mean to keep coming back to this person or situation but you both know that every time you meet up or whatever, it’s really great. Things turn on and it’s fireworks. That’s the basic meaning of the song.
Even with the two years that you guys have become really well known the popularity of boy bands in the music world has become massive. How do you think you stand out amongst the boy bands?
M: We are a band of boys that play instruments, and we’re happy to embrace the boy band set up but at the end of the day we are a band of boys. I think that’s the difference that’s what we are first and foremost.
B: It’s not like we see all these other bands and think of them as competition or whatever. I think everyone’s in their own little land. It’s actually pretty crazy to see how big BTS is getting and all that.
S: The thing for us that makes us stand out from other bands in general is that we started out as a live band without no intention of writing pop music or anything. It’s just been a really natural progression from five years ago when we first started playing as the four of us together in tiny little bars, to here. Playing live is our favourite thing to do by far and I think it’s where we differ from other acts at the moment.
Did you ever think when you guys started off that you would be getting out of New Zealand and travelling the world?
S: No! I think the biggest thing that we could have hoped for would be to play some festivals, and that ended up happening and is still happening in New Zealand, so I think that was the biggest tangible thing in our minds in that point in time.
M: We kind of just put our heads down and just worked away, chipped away slowly. I don’t think we ever thought we’d be here, seeing more of the world than New Zealand. But we’re very, very grateful to everyone who’s listened to our music and supported us.
Is there a bigger body of work on the horizon or will it be just one more single in two more years?
M: We’ll be dropping an album very, very soon, we’ve almost finished it. “All This Time” will be on the album, but it’s going to be good because it’ll be our debut album! We’ve never released more than five songs at a time so it’s going to be good to have a bigger body of work out there.
Can you tell me anything about the album?
S: It’s very eclectic, lots of different things on it. It’s a combination of everything we enjoy and that we’ve heard in our musical career.
M: It’s definitely the best thing that we’ve ever written.
What else are the goals for 2019?
M: We always say we just want to release more music, play more shows, meet new people and the fact we get to do that already is cool, so we just want to keep trucking along. The immediate goal is to finish the album. We’re 95% there!