Summer '19 may officially be over, but allow Drax Project to keep the sunny vibes rolling through the end of the year.
The New Zealand synth-pop band — comprised of singer and saxophonist Shaan Singh, drummer Matt Beachen, bassist Sam Thomson, and guitarist Ben O'Leary — released their eponymous debut album on Friday (September 27), following up last year's buzzy NOON EP. The 11 new tracks are a long time coming for the Kiwi quartet, who have gone from busking on their hometown streets to opening for Camila Cabello and Christina Aguilera; all while elevating their reputation as an electric, instrument-led live act. (It's all in their name: drums + sax = Drax).
Ahead of an intimate hometown gig just hours before the new album dropped, Singh called up MTV News to go through the project track by track, giving fans the ultimate guide to Drax Project. Check it out:
"Woke Up Late" ft. Hailee Steinfeld
Unsurprisingly, Drax Project's biggest hit to date opens the album — "Woke Up Late" catapulted the band to the international stage, bolstered by a feature from Hailee Seinfeld and a music video starring Liza Koshy.
"In the really early stages of the song, we were like, 'This kind of fits as a duet,' but we never actually did it," Singh recalled. "After the Camila Cabello tour, we got hooked up with Hailee because someone from Camila's team had shown her 'Woke Up Late.' Hailee really liked it, and she asked us if she could be on the song. Of course we said, 'Yes, please!' It was a surreal experience just being this international nobody and then suddenly having this huge co-sign and feature from her. It was a massive deal for us."
"Maybe New Zealanders in general are quite laid-back people," Singh said of the band's go-with-the-flow attitude, which comes to life on the fan-favorite track "Prefer." Unexpectedly, the song has also became something of a consent anthem after fans listened closely to lyrics like, "Whatever you prefer / That's what I prefer."
"To be honest, we hadn't really thought of it like that," Singh admitted. "It's just a song about being nice and kind and it's not something that we tried to be outwardly like, 'This is a song about consent.' We want people to have the same feeling when you're with someone of not being forceful and not being overbearing with what you want. Listen to other people and just go with their flow."
This finger-snapping ditty was penned as an antithesis to all the "booty, hoe, ass songs" of the world, Singh said. "We were in the car and I was looking at a random words generator. I landed on the word 'intelligence' and I was like, 'How cool would it be to write a song about being attracted to someone's intelligence?'
"We wrote it in, like, four hours; it was so quick," he continued. "One of my favorite lyrics of that song is from the pre-chorus: 'Stop you're worrying / I think you think too much.' It's better to just to be in the moment and be present instead of worrying about what's happened before and what might happen in the future."
Those cool, calm, and collected vibes flow right into "Relax."
"We fully wrote that song off the guitar line," Singh remembered of this chill-as-hell earworm. "That came first, and we had this melody and these lyrics: 'Hey what happened to you? / You were my best friend, so content.' We wrote the whole song based on that."
"It's funny because I was just talking about that in 'Smart Love,' but it was just writing about how people overthink things too much and have to learn to relax," he went on. "I think everyone can relate to that. There's always been a time when you said something and someone took it way too far. And like I said, we're all just relaxed guys."
Track No. 5 is, musically, a little all over the place, combining jazz, hip-hop, and early-aughts pop. Describing how they fused all those elements together, Singh recalled working with Rogét Chahayed, a producer who worked on DRAM and Lil Yachty's "Broccoli" and Travis Scott's "Sicko Mode."
"I played the sax line first," he said. "We put it through a vocoder and Rogét started playing these super dope chords and we just rolled with it from there."
Lyrically, "Natural Selection" describes a very specific scenario: when someone wildly attractive starts talking you up and it seems too good to be true. "It's almost like this self-consciousness, and not believing that this extremely good-looking person is interested in you," Singh said. "It's different from these other songs because it's all about an aesthetic attraction rather than a deep one. It's dirty and dark in that way."
The concept of a "heartbroken brain" is one that the band had never heard in a pop song before, and it took on a deeper meaning when one of Singh's friends pointed out that "Brain" could easily be about "orbiting."
"He's like, 'Orbiting is when you know about someone's life but you're not in it. You're looking at their Instagram and you're following what they're doing, but you never connect,'" Singh recalled. "So when the pre-chorus of the song is talking about, 'I'm scrolling your wall, I'm losing my mind / What if I call just to say hi?' Just imagine this person orbiting someone else's life."
It's a clever concept, and a super relatable one. "I'm orbiting probably 20 people right now," Singh laughed. "In a good way! I'm pretty sure everyone orbits artists. Probably everyone's orbiting Ariana Grande right now."
The struggles of a touring musician are at the center of "Holiday," which hit home for the band as they traveled all over the world. "It was exactly what we were going through. We got real specific with the song, and it was therapeutic for us to talk about it," Singh dished. "It's a very real song — this year, I was literally calling my girlfriend on her birthday from a hotel room."
At the same time, Singh says they were careful not to sound ungrateful; after all, they're in a position so many artists would envy. "For us, it was a really fine line with the song to try to not sound like we're complaining. We're missing home, missing our relationships, missing our friends and family. But at the same time, we're exactly where we want to be."
"I wanted to write a song that had a sound like Charli XCX's 'Dirty Sexy Money,'" Singh said. "We started off wanting to make a melody that was steady in staccato like that, but ended up with this really cool, Calypso-esque guitar line."
The band wrote "Only Us" in early 2018 in New Zealand, and it was finished and released just a couple weeks later. "It's a selfish love song about not wanting to share what you've got with anyone else, and hopefully they feel the same way," Singh continued. "It's kind of awkward as well. I like that."
This sunny, optimistic bop features the memorable line, "I wanna bless the rains and dance away like Toto wherever I go," referencing Toto's "Africa." That 1982 jam didn't directly influence Drax's "Toto," but Singh says they aimed to conjure the same joyfulness that the classic tune inspires — which wasn't hard to do, considering the band wrote it at a particularly cheery time in their lives.
"That song was written the first day we quit our day jobs, when our manager called and told us that we could start doing music full-time," Singh explained. "So the first line of that song — 'Quit my job, now I'm waiting in the rain for the bus' — was a sentence that I spoke out loud to my friend who asked me what I was doing after I had just quit my job selling insurance."
"All This Time"
"Out of all our songs, we're the most happy that we got to release this one because it's a representation of our live energy," Singh said about this single, which features an absolute monster of a beat drop. "I've had to start doing yoga to try and head bang a little bit stronger because that song needs you to head bang."
Although "All This Time" is a major highlight of their live show, it almost didn't get released after the band struggled to translate its live energy to the studio. "It's just disgusting, to be honest. A disgusting sax line," Singh explained. "To make it sound good in a recorded context is so hard." Thank the musical gods they figured it out.
"Catching Feelings" ft. Six60
The final track on the album features Drax Project's labelmates Six60, who met the band at a New Zealand festival two years ago. To hear Singh tell it, Six60's Marlon and Matiu gave them some vital advice about stripping a song down to its bones — just a voice and an instrument — as a measure of how solid it actually is.
"They explained it like, 'The song should stand alone,'" Singh explained. "We learned a lot from that, and I don't think we would have written 'Woke Up Late' or 'Smart Love' without it. It gave us a different perspective on how to write music."
The piano outro was performed by Singh's high school friend Leonardo, and the chanting bridge is from March 2017, when the band, Marlon, and Matiu recorded the vocals around a single microphone. "If you take into account when that song was written… we were still working at our day jobs," Singh said.
Certainly, a lot has changed for Drax Project since then — and this new album is just the beginning.