If you thought boybands were on their way out, you may be about to change your mind. Drax Project are the four Kiwi boys who, if you’re a fan of Lorde, Camila Cabello or Ed Sheeran – you may already be familiar with. When we meet the Drax boys, they’re every bit as dynamic as you’d expect of an excitable four-piece boyband - a rapidly growing one at that - yet still refreshingly nice people ('Would you like a sweet?'). For a group of guys whose musical careers began by busking on the streets of Wellington, they’ve built up an impressive portfolio so far.
Shaan Singh, Ben O’Leary, Matt Beachen and Sam Thomson are the twenty-something talents behind Drax Project, who banded together after three of the four met at music school in Wellington and began street performing together. Fast forward a few years to the end of 2018, and the boys re-released their original track ‘Woke up Late’ with the enthusing addition of American singer and actress Hailee Steinfeld – who tracked them down herself when she heard it. The Drax boys describe this as a surreal career moment: 'A massive artist, who’s music we love, on a song we wrote… it was crazy.'
Along with the track’s re-release came a brand-new music video, which they shot in LA with YouTube comedian Liza Koshy. On their venture into the US: 'America is massive, they have like 150 radio stations just for top 40 music – in New Zealand we have two! But it’s been so cool, seeing people responding well to the song and starting to play it.' Having already opened for some pretty huge acts on tours in New Zealand and elsewhere, it sounds like Drax Project can expect more a lot more of this. 'The best thing [about touring with Ed Sheeran and Camila Cabello] was to see that they both had time for everyone, in the corridor or the catering area. It was just great to see people at the top of their game, still being nice people,' Ben tells us, recalling how Ed strolled in to their greenroom to introduce himself, proceeding to ask them all out to dinner with his team. 'We also opened for Lorde in Auckland, and it was great to see her so genuine and thankful for the support from her hometown. It was nice for us to see that home is still important to someone so successful.'
When we asked the boys for some Drax insiders, it emerged that Matt is a ten-pin bowling champ, Sam’s a sleep talker ('I’ve got recordings!'), Shaan’s 'a bit of a gamer' and Ben is the dancer of the group. The latter could be convenient if their dream collab with Beyoncé ever comes true - someone has to keep up with her choreography. Besides Bey, the Drax dream would be to write with Ed Sheeran, and in another life, work with Prince or Amy Winehouse.
We were keen to hear what the boys thought of our home-turf, London, too. According to them, the best things about the UK are our accents, the mighty Greggs vegan sausage roll, and our famous fish and chips (although Shaan argues that Wellington’s version of the British delicacy is a close contender). Having spent a fair amount of time in the US of late, they describe London as 'kind of squished, but very aesthetically pleasing' in comparison. Fair.
Drax Project have evolved their song writing process into what they call 'almost a system', which consists of starting with a guitar base, constantly noting lyric ideas on their phones, and ‘scatting’ ('You know in jazz, when they’re like: ‘ba de badum de dadum be dum…'). As music school graduates, the boys are all pretty immersed in the production side of music too, so they’re by no means one trick ponies. 'We’re a live band, we play instruments. Shaan even plays the saxophone.' Matt explains (‘Drax’ is a fusion of drums and sax). Shaan goes on to tell us that, as a band who started out by performing live, it’s something that will never get old for them. Their live shows are, essentially, just four guys having a great time.
If you’re curious as to what a Drax Project show entails, their newest single ‘All This Time’, released last week, is what the boys have called 'the closest representation of what a [Drax Project] show is like. The contrast between the clean guitar and vocals to the heavy distorted saxophone is something we’ve been looking to do for a long time, just haven’t quite been able to until working with [producer] Rogét.'
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Voir feature without an injection of style – so we asked them about theirs: 'In the past, I never really thought about what I was wearing. It’s only recently we’ve had to be like "you’re in the public eye, you’ve got to look good bro."' Shaan explains, 'I’m saving photos on Instagram [for inspiration] now that I’m thinking about it more.' Ben, who grew up by the beach, suggests the boys start donning wetsuits to make his visits home more practical…
Whether it’s their combination of Pop, Jazz and R&B sounds (Justin Timberlake is a big musical influence), or their contagious on-stage energy – something separates Drax Project from the masses. Watch this space.
Artwork by Sasha Green and Luke Walwyn