Drax Project

The New-Zealand band Drax Project has seen a lot of success in their home country, but their latest single ‘Woke Up Late’ featuring Hailee Steinfeld has really managed to catapult them into global success.

Their music video featuring YouTube-star Liza Koshy has garnered over 11 million views, and the song’s been steadily growing on the radio. I got to interview one of the main members – the band started out as just Drums and Sax, hence their name Drax Project – drummer Matt Beachen, ahead of the release of their new single All This Time. We talked about the band’s newfound success, whether or not they’ll ever return to their jazzy roots, why Ed Sheeran apologized to them, and how fans have influenced their creative process.

“Woke Up Late” is doing really well right now in the US, which is amazing and very much deserved. However, you’ve kind of already lived through the first release a couple of years ago – what’s that like for you?
Thanks, I really appreciate that! I wouldn’t say it’s weird, it’s actually quite nice to see this song reach new people. There have been other instances where songs take some time to grow, and it is, of course, a little different in the sense that this version’s now got Hailee on there as well. It’s crazy to think the song came out at the end of 2017, and we’ve been performing it ever since, and it just keeps on growing. Live performances really are what Drax Project is all about, so it’s great to see the reaction to the song evolve as well with the crowd. I wouldn’t say we’re tired of performing it just yet, but it’ll also definitely be fun to incorporate new material. Though we’re really proud of “Woke Up Late,” of course.

As you mentioned, there are other artists who’ve seen an older song suddenly catch the eye of a larger audience – like Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts.” Do you think streaming services have also helped make that possible, especially for artists like yourselves who aren’t originally from the United States?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, there’ve been other artists like Lorde from New Zealand who’s also made it big before all that. But streaming services that allow people from all over the world to find new artists and new music all by themselves is amazing. I can see how that’s helped us as well, thanks to the internet. And it’s great for us too, to be able to connect to fans and see people’s reactions to our music. But also, there’s so much music now within reach all the time, it also pushes you to continue to make high-quality music, to make sure that it stands out amongst all the other material out there.

The fact that you’ve been able to open up for big artists like Ed Sheeran and Camila Cabello on their tours is a testament to your quality music, so I wouldn’t worry about that! What have you taken away from that experience and seeing them perform?
In terms of what we took away from them – it’s two different things. From Ed, we saw that it’s possible to stay really humble and grounded even at that level of fame. We got to open up for him in New Zealand, and the first night he came to visit us in our dressing room to introduce himself to everyone and checked in with us every night. He even apologized to us about the bad weather, said he was sorry it was raining. He apologized to us about the weather conditions in our own home country! From Camila, we saw how much time and effort, how much hard work she really puts into everything. She was performing every single night because she was also opening up for Taylor Swift’s European dates as well – and she was spending three hours meeting fans before every single show. The level of dedication was really inspiring. But I think being an opening act is also cool because it allows you to kind of test your songs on people who probably haven’t ever heard of you. You basically get the opportunity for each performance to win over new people and see whether the music’s any good – you have to prove yourself. We started out busking, and are essentially very focused on the live performance, so to have that stage and see how your new material is working out is amazing.

And some of that new material will be part of your upcoming debut album, right? How do you balance those songs – the ones people have already heard – with fresh material that’ll be new, even to people who’ve been fans for years now?
I’d say we’re about 95% done with the album right now, and it’ll be a good mix of songs people might’ve heard – as well as some new songs that we haven’t ever played live yet. We’re kind of finishing it all up now in the States. It’s funny because we’re actually quite used to having the live experience kind of be part of our creative process. This time around, we’ll have to wait to see how people respond to our material once the album drops instead, so that’s going to be a little odd for us, to not have that immediate feedback while still working on it.

But also, we’ve actually noticed that sometimes it’s pretty difficult to fully translate a song that sounds amazing live into something that sounds just as awesome as a studio recording. Luckily we’ve been able to work with some great producers here in LA, that could pull it all together and help us out with that.

Have you also been writing on the road, or was most of the album recorded and created in LA?
Most of the final production has been done in LA, but we’re usually non-stop creating music. Our guitarist, Ben, might just have a little melody that he randomly plays, or someone’s got a cool lyric – or maybe I’ve got a certain drumline in mind that we could use. And then we just build on each other’s ideas and have it all kind of come together. So I’d say actually the majority of the songs have elements that were created in different places. Thank god for voice notes, you can just quickly sing something and record it on your phone, and then take that idea and bring it to the studio later on.

Shaan is the main vocalist in the band, but there were some harmonies on the EP as well. Will there be more of that on the album?
You can expect some more of that on the album for sure. Shaan is just really talented with finding the right melody lines and he’s brilliant in creating harmonies on the spot – so we’ll be in the studio and he’ll just come up with them as we go. But we’ve also taken inspiration from Ariana Grande for example. She’s great at adding multiple layers of just vocals to really buff out a song and build up the sound, and so we’ve also tried to incorporate that into our own music because it can create amazing effects.

You all studied music, with three of you doing jazz. Do you think that’s something that you see yourself returning to in the future? Do a full jazz album?
Good question! I don’t think we’ve ever really even considered that, to be honest. It’s an interesting idea, and I’ll probably go back now and talk about it with the other guys. Jazz is difficult because you kind of have to be fully immersed, train and practice every single day to be able to do it well – so I don’t see that happening right now, or any time soon, because it’s such a particular way of playing your instrument. But there are still elements of jazz that feature in our music, probably. Sax is, of course, a key jazz instrument, and we do have a bit more of that on the album. And it’s easy for us, I guess, to make music? We don’t have to spend much time describing certain melodies or sounds to each other because we’ll just know what the other person is talking about – and we know how to play. It’s also easier when you go into a studio and can explain in detail what you want a song to sound like, production-wise.

In that sense, Drax Project offers this cool mix of both having the busking experience as well as the educational background in music. Do you think that sometimes you have to balance those elements a bit? Pleasing the crowd versus making the song that you want to make just because?
Well – I guess it’d be a lie if I said you don’t take that into account at all. Of course, you want to make something that is going to do well and is going to really lift up the crowd and connect with your audience. But I don’t think that’s a very conscious process for us. You have to at the very least be happy with your own material. I think if the music’s good, people will like it. Actually, because we’re such a live-focused band, it’s kind of – there was one song that was called “Toto” and we weren’t really sure whether it should be on the EP or not. We weren’t sold on some of the lyrics – but we played it anyway. And then after the show, we got this message from a fan with all the lyrics typed out, so she must’ve recorded it or something, asking when this song was going to be released because she thought it was fantastic – especially the lyrics! And it’s because of that reaction, that we decided to keep the lyrics as they were and have the song on the EP. So I guess that balance of creating something you like, and also having the crowd like it in return has always been a part of our decision-making process.

There’s also the new single coming out soon – tell me a bit more about that. Is that also a track you’ve played live before?
So the new single is called “All This Time” and it’s actually one of our oldest songs, and one that’s been an absolute crowd favorite whenever we perform live. This is the song that people go crazy for, that brings down the house during our set. There have been so many reactions after shows asking us when this song is going to be released, where they could buy it, it’s almost strange that it’s really happening now. The track has actually got a big sax drop, and like I said before – we found out that it’s kind of hard to translate the same energy and build-up that you can create live with a sax to a studio version. It’s difficult to record sax in a way that still allows it to shine, and maintain that same live feel to it, which is why it took a while for this song to be ready. But we had a really great producer here in LA help bring that out in the sound recording as well, so I’m excited for people to finally get to hear it.

Clean Bandit also tries to incorporate their classical background and orchestral instruments into their electro-pop songs, so there are some similarities there. Are they someone you look up to are inspired by?
Yeah, that’s a great compliment to get – they’re really talented and have been very successful. Their song “Symphony” with Zara Larsson is fantastic, and the way in which it builds is super inspiring – creatively speaking – for us as well. Their career is fantastic too, so to be compared to them in whatever way is great, thank you!

Obviously, with the new single coming out and “Woke Up Late” still going strong, you must be very busy. What do you to unwind, and make sure you take the time to process everything that’s happening?
That’s a good question. Actually, we recently had a little hoop installed here at the place we’re staying in LA, so we’ve been doing that whenever we’re here. But I also like to just kind of go on runs, walk around in the cities we go to. As a band, we spend a lot of time together and it’s nice to hang out together and reflect on what we’re experiencing together now. We were mates first, and we all like sports – we used to watch sports back home as well – so we do that here too. But it’s also nice to have some time alone, I think I need that as well to kind of process. So I’ll just go for a jog. I remember when we were in New York, and I was going out for a run, and this song by Lauv came onto my playlist, “I Like Me Better”- and it’s got this lyric: “To be young and in love in New York City” – that was a really strange moment. To realize you’re suddenly actually here. Just like how I’m sitting on a park bench in LA right now, the morning sun shining down on me while I do a phone interview with you for Euphoria – it’s all still a little surreal.

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