By TRACEY ROXBURGH
Matt Beachen vivdly remembers being at work, painting houses, in 2017 when he and one of his bandmates would hear their song play on the radio six times a day.
Fast-forward and that song, Drax Project’s Woke Up Late, has been certified triple platinum by RIANZ and the 2019 version of it, featuring Hailee Steinfeld — who made her breakthrough in music after performing Flashlight in Pitch Perfect 2 — has been certified triple platinum in Aus.
And their latest song, Firefly, released last year, features American rapper Fetty Wap, who’s one of only 44 people globally to have a certified diamond hit (meaning it sold 10 million) with 2014’s Trap Queen.
It seems like a meteoric rise for a band that stemmed from its two founding members, Beachen, on drums and vocalist/saxophonist Shaan Singh, busking in Wellington.
But, true to the old saying, it took years for Drax Project to become an ‘‘overnight’’ success.
Beachen got his musical start earlier than most, courtesy of his mum, a talented keyboard player and singer, who ran music and movement classes for toddlers.
‘‘She used to take me along too, so from the very beginning I was kind of moving around with music and hitting stuff and being kind of annoying in that way.’’
He started drum lessons when he was 11 years old and followed the beat of his first drum tutor, Jonny Wilson, by going to jazz school at the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University, where he was tutored by Lance Philip.
It’s also where he met Singh who, one night in 2013, ‘‘hit me up and said, ‘hey, why don’t we go down and just play some covers on Courtenay Place?’’’
The pair started out playing ‘‘random covers, stuff that was hot at the time’’, like Macklemore’s Thrift Shop, with a bit of Stevie Wonder, some Taylor Swift, Dr Dre and Justin Timberlake thrown into the mix.
‘‘When we started it was actually very lucrative for two poor students because no one had heard it before … we became this little spot outside of the club to come and dance to.’’
The pair went flatting together in their second year at uni with bass guitarist Sam Thomson, who joined the buskers using a car battery to power his bass amp.
The ‘‘thicker, louder, more obnoxious sound’’ gained the attention of nearby watering holes and it wasn’t long before Drax Project — ‘Drax’ being a combination of drums and saxophone — was born.
When guitarist Ben O’Leary joined the ranks, the group thought they’d try their hands at writing originals.
‘‘We were playing these covers all the time and thinking, ‘man, people love this stuff, why don’t we try and do our own?’’’
Beachen says their first songs were ‘‘absolutely horrendous’’, but one, Real, won a monthly competition on a ‘‘user-votes platform’’, providing them with a government grant to record the song properly and make a music video.
That, he says, was the start of ‘‘the originals journey’’.
Two EPs, in 2014 and 2016, had Drax Project on its way and in 2017 the band opened for Lorde and Six60.
But it was the release of Woke Up Late, in November 2017, that took them on a new trajectory.
‘‘Looking back it’s pretty insane,’’ Beachen says.
They were all still holding down day jobs, he and O’Leary painting houses, while trying to make a go of music.
After a yarn with their now-mates in Six60 the guys decided to set a date to quit all their jobs in early 2018 and focus on music.
In March that year they opened for Ed Sheeran in Auckland — ‘‘probably our favourite, of all time’’ — and have never looked back.
‘‘That gig, everything fell into line.
‘‘Woke Up Late had been on the radio, everyone kind of clicked it was a Kiwi band, no one had really heard us on that scale — 50,000 people times three.
‘‘It was absolutely mind-blowing.
‘‘It’s a pinch-me moment [looking back], but we’re just walking around, still living in Wellington … it doesn’t feel like we’re superstars or anything, we just keep plugging away.’’
While they should have been overseas for the bulk of last year, Covid put a stop to that, but they still managed to release Firefly, a song they wrote in about two hours in LA early in 2019.
Thinking it would be cool to have a feature on it, they started batting around ideas and Fetty Wap came up.
He’s on the same label in the States, 300 Entertainment, so they managed to get the song in front of him.
He liked it and ‘‘just decided to put a verse on it’’.
Beachen says they’re yet to meet him — ‘‘it was all done over the internet’’.
‘‘We were in our studio in Avalon in Lower Hutt listening to Fetty Wap’s verse that he just sent over and we were just buzzing.’’
They’ve put their time in NZ to good use — Beachen got married a month ago, and the group’s hunkered down to finish a new music set for release, including Over It, which will drop next Friday, just two days before they’ll perform it at Queenstown’s Coronet Peak, where they’re playing a special gig with the Broods.
It’ll be their first time performing in the Whakatipu and ‘‘we’re so pumped’’.
‘‘We’re just so pumped to actually play shows — all of last year not playing shows, we were talking about it earlier how we’re not taking anything for granted.
‘‘Everything around the show, the fact we can fly down there and do some cool stuff, get on the bungy, get on the luge and all that, actually play gigs for people, with people … we’re just loving it.’’
Drax Project and Broods, presented by Corona, Coronet Peak, Sunday, March 21, 4pm till 11pm. Tickets $80 plus booking fee, transport add-on options available, from The Ticket Fairy