Drax Project invites you into the immersive world of their debut album

The New Zealand four-piece Drax Project’s journey started in 2014. They released their first EP on Bandcamp and began their musical journey. We often hear about the “dollar and a dream” stories when it comes to artistic ventures, but with jobs such as painting and selling insurance, Drax Project as a whole is a personification of the grind.

When I talked to the band in their stop in New York, it was important for me to get to the heart of the composition of the songs because they are both unique and complex. Complex in the manner that you hear something different in repeat listens. The band takes care in the recording process with songs, both older and new, that invite the highest parts of your energy. It could make you dance, can make you contemplative, or make you fall in love with someone or something.

Describe how it felt hearing “Woke Up Late” on the radio for the first time. That had to be surreal chasing the dream while working painting jobs in between. Everybody imagines that moment, but it happened to you guys. It had to feel like the hard work paid off, right? 

Matt Beachen: That wasn’t the first time I heard our music on the radio. That was the first time we’ve heard our music 30 times a day on the radio, but that’s the song was getting absolutely slammed. It was funny like how you mentioned we were painting. The song would come on multiple times a day on multiple stations while we were painting. That was kind of the big moment where we thought, “maybe we should think about maybe stop stopping painting and giving us a full time crack.”

Sam Thomson: I remember we dropped the song. The song came out on a Friday. It was November 3rd, 2017. The song was out on radio on that Wednesday. There were two days of it be slammed on the radio in New Zealand’s before it was available on streaming services. It was real cool because it was the first time that we had a song that was properly planned., People were Shazaming it and it went to the top of the Shazam charts. Like number one for months.  It was crazy for us. It was the whole thing was quite surreal and was definitely unexpected. We are grateful for that song.

I know from the song “Toto,” it starts off with the lyrics, “quit my job/ now I’m waiting on the rain”. I know, that song was written when Chance stopped selling insurance. In terms of transitioning to the successes of his band,  how does it feel? You all were working these menial jobs, and then kind of transition in full time doing your thing and doing what you love.

Matt: That’s a good question, but the thing is, it’s also been a very slow process of getting to that point. We’ve been a band for three years before “woke up late”, did a whole bunch of shows up and down the country, and released a couple of EPs. It was just a slow grind and then “woke up late” was that song that was the catalyst for us to go full time.

Looking back, where we are right now in a hotel room in the middle of Manhattan and thinking about two years ago, when we were painting. Before we were just getting some food and Sam said it before, I just said, “man, I’m so grateful that we get to do this.” Seeing these people working the rat race and all that which is fine. We had a grateful moment where we realized we were so lucky that we get to do music. That’s quite surreal. We’ve had many “pinch yourself” moments. We just want to keep it keep the momentum going and keep pumping out music. Also, making sure making sure we enjoy as well while soaking up what’s important.

So you guys wrote the sum of the debut album in LA. How’s that experience, especially being away from New Zealand for so long and where you call home from? Did you guys ever feel like homesick or where you able to balance that being inspired by a new place?

Sam: It’s definitely a different feeling writing music in LA then it is in New Zealand. It’s mainly because of the fact that the people who we have worked with in LA. There were way more people to work with in LA then in New Zealand. In New Zealand, we pretty much write within the group of us and a couple of other people. It’s a pretty small group of people that we work with.

I think that there’s definitely been some elements of being little bit homesick. It’s there is a song on the album which kind of expresses that called “Holiday.” It’s just a different experience. We knew that being in LA at that moment, we were learning so much. Every time we went into a session with someone, we kept in mind that these people are some of the top writers and producers in the world for what we want to do. We’ve learned so much from those situations and I feel like we’ve grown as writers and and musicians since being there.

Matt: When you’re hanging out with people who are way better than you, it makes you better hanging out with all these amazing writers in LA each day. Just being in a studio with someone else who’s written 13 massive songs. We can take that back home and be inspired by.

Sam: Everyone has like a slightly different process. We have a way that over the years, we’ve refined within our within the band of how we like to write music. Basically just what works and what doesn’t work. We’re just grateful that we get to do it and be in the room with some amazing songwriters and producers. Seeing how they do things and take little bits from their process and apply it to our own systems.

Now the go off of that, because you mentioned “Holiday”. There’s a line in it. “Happy birthday from my hotel room.” As you guys are touring and you all are doing this interview from Manhattan right now, how difficult is it maintaining relationships by being so far away?

Matt: It’s very hard. Last night, I said Happy Birthday to my girlfriend literally because I got her a present and her and I got her sister to hang it up in her room. Well, it wasn’t her birthday, but we’ll be in two different places, so I had to send it early. You have to do extra things and make sure that we are maintaining the relationship, like staying up really late to make sure we talk.

Sam: We have to stay up real late sometimes to make goals. That’s the only thing. If we had to change one thing that would be being away from home so much.

Matt: That’s what we’re trying to tell them. We’re working hard now, so we don’t have to in the future. Which is what holidays are about, yeah?

Sam: I also think it makes the time that we have with those people so much more special and precious. I think that that’s something, you know, when you get into the daily, I wouldn’t call it grind, you know, but daily life and your daily routine, sometimes it’s… it becomes a little bit different. You don’t appreciate the people around you maybe as much as you should because they’re there all the time. It’s that they’re just integrated into your daily routine and vice versa. You’re in their daily routine all the time.

So, it’s interesting to kind of have these moments of, okay, we get to spend like a week together. Maybe every four months and that way, it’s going to be really good. You cherish those moments and you kind of realize how special those people are. I think being away from people can make you realize how much they actually mean to you.

I wanted to talk about “Brain” because I really liked how the song is composed. With the guitar part and how the lyrics come together, it shows the state of your brain when you’re unsure and distraught from loss of love. Everything’s just scattered all over the place. I love like the tempo. Take me through composing that song and how you all went about putting all the pieces together.

Matt: That song is quite interesting on how it started.It started with the guitar line. At the time, I was kind of messing around with that. I remember sitting on a porch with him, he was playing the guitar and on my side, I started beatboxing the bass. We kind of fleshed out the skeleton of the song just by beatboxing.

Sam: Straightaway, I remember the first thing you hummed was the first melody that’s in there now. Then we would be like, ok, that’s cool. Then, we’ll ask for the pre chorus, the guitar and vocals. They should be the same melody and then we’re good. That’ll be it.

Matt: We didn’t have lyrics at that point. we kind of just had the the melody in our heads. We took it to a studio and fleshed out the stuff that we knew we had down. Just for the beat and then the guitar. From there. We’re working with a very talented radicals for us.

Shaan Singh: We were writing the words together in this room.  I’m not sure where we how we landed on heartbroken brain, but we did. That was just a concept born from trying to write like a love song, but like a really modern and almost scientific take on it. I think it’s something we all resonated with and what people probably will understand.

if you’re sad from a relationship, you feel you feel heartbroken. It’s not just that. It’s like more, you feel like you were saying. Everything was kind of crazy at the time and it was kind of a song about that.

Sam: It was funny because the day that we actually initially worked on the song in the studio with the end of the day that we’ve been working on a different song. We kind of hit a wall and we were working on this little idea that we kind of had floating around, what do you guys think of that. We didn’t have much time left. The whole process was not frantic, but we were just trying to get things done.

We had like get three hours, I think? We even didn’t even have a whole guitar on it. It just had the diverse part. That’s the advantage of being four of us. It’s because when we go into spaces and we’re working with other people, t’s all fully collaborative with everyone in the room. Some people will go wander around outside for a bit and kind of of remove themselves and come back with like a fresh perspective on it all.

The guitar part is super frenetic and like not in a bad way. It’s quite busy itself. We wanted it to have that element to it, but also wanted it to sound epic. There’s this balance between the intensity and busyness of that part versus like the parts on the drums. Then there’s the very simple like bass part. Lots of the other stuff is quite simple.

Shaan: We actually started writing started writing that around August 1st, 2018. So over a course of a year.

Matt: We had all of the lyrics down to the core, but we were struggling to get the pre- chorus right lyrically. So, we ended up going back to New Zealand and finishing the lyrics there during that time. It’s definitely one of our favorite songs off the album, for sure.

So, with “Catching Feelings”, it one of the oldest songs that you guys have for the album. You all were working with Six60. Some songs on the album are a little bit older, like from your EP  I feel like listening to as a whole, it chronicles the whole journey that you guys have here so far. How you all have grown both musically and personally? Listening back to the whole thing with both the older songs and the newer songs that you’ve done, what do they mean to you all now? Have they taken a new life with releasing your debut album?

Sam: Well, it’s funny because when we decided that we wanted to bring these four tracks on the EP that were already out. We decided that we wanted to put them on the album because we think that they are good songs and they are cohesive with what we’re still doing. We were a little bit nervous that they might be it sounds a bit disjointed from the stuff that we’ve been working on now. Even “Catching Feelings” is super old. The initial idea for that song, the chorus and stuff was done two years ago. There was no real rush for us to finish that song.

Suddenly, someone would come up with a new verse idea and we would mess around with that. We would be like, “okay, that’s cool for now.” Leave it for a couple months and then come back to it. It’s also kind of been the same with the older songs as well. Like they all it’s nice now because we have the album done to say that everything still make sense. The main thing is Shaan’s vocals and the older track is like he’s gotten better at singing in the last year. He listens to “Only Us or “Toto” and says “damn, I wish I could re-record those vocals.”

Overall, the sonics, the style of writing, and the feel of the music is cohesive. It’s  cool for us because we’ve worked with a lot of different people on it. It’s nice to say that our sound, whatever that sound is, it comes through. No matter who we working with or the style of the song .

Oh, definitely! Listening to a track like “All This Time”, it definitely captures the live feel of the band. You can definitely listen to it and get  an urge of wanting to hear these songs played live Do you feel with the debut album it captures your live energy?, All these songs seemingly move through many genres and are very upbeat.

Sam: The thing that we tried to do with every song is put the energy from a live performance into the recording. That’s how we started is playing live shows. Before we were writing our own music, we were covering other people’s music and still playing gigs. It’s just the most important thing for us. The most fun that we have as a band is playing a show. We really want the feeling that we have on stage and the energy in the room to translate into the music.

With “All This Time,” that initial idea for that song happened two years ago. We’ve had been playing it live at our shows that whole time. It had been a highlight of our set. We just couldn’t get that energy, especially for like the drop and the big saxophone part. We couldn’t get that to sound or feel the same. So ,we just never released it. We kept working on it. It’s super important for us when you listen to the music on the record and live that it all makes sense. It’s not like a totally different thing. We changed things up a little bit live, but it’s still the same song, you know?

Matt: Playing live is super important to us. We’re a high energy band and we’ve always have been. Obviously, there are moments where we like to take a little depth on the set. In general since day one, we’ve been high energy. Loud, fun, and dancey. We want our recorded music to obviously reflect that. “All This Time is like the biggest nod to our live show. We’re so happy it came out. It was a long process. There were times where we thought it would never come out.