In 2022, it’s not enough to simply wait in hope that your song will take off on TikTok; you have to really innovate in order to stand out from the crowd. Enter Drax Project.
The Wellington pop favourites combated the boredom of pandemic lockdowns by creating the #blindbeatchallenge on TikTok, with each of the four-piece given 10 minutes on their own in the studio to come up with song parts on their respective instruments.
Each part was then put together blind to witness the outcome, with every member’s reaction to the final product filmed and posted on the band’s TikTok.
In terms of forging your own path to viral stardom, there can’t be many greater independent success stories in recent years: Drax Project’s #blindbeatchallenge clips racked up views in the millions, leading to them ending the year as the most newly followed artist from New Zealand on TikTok.
And after receiving literally thousands of comments begging for the #blindbeatchallenge songs to be officially released, Drax Project duly dropped the very well-named Blind Beat EP last Friday.
Containing six tracks, including a bonus one inspired by none other than Judge Judy (more on that later), Blind Beat is genuinely innovative and curiously creative, with several of the blind creations recalling the glistening pop messiness of Justin Timberlake in his early 2000s era (what this says about JT’s production during that period, I do not know).
After humbly beginning busking together on the streets of Wellington, Drax Project have risen to become one of the biggest Kiwi acts of the last five years, and this surprise EP feels like the next step to launching Drax Project outside of Aotearoa.
To celebrate the release of Blind Beat, Rolling Stone AU/NZ caught up with the band to find out more about the TikTok challenge, their background and, yes, Judge Judy. You can read their interview below or head to Rolling Stone AU/NZ‘s TikTok to watch clips from the chat.
Drax Project’s Blind Beat EP is out now via HNT.
This one could be ridiculous Part 2 we’ll put it together 🔥🔥 #blindbeatchallenge
Rolling Stone AU/NZ: I heard you guys got your start busking in Wellington. How did you first form as a four-piece?
Matt Beachen: At the very beginning there was two of us, Shaan (Singh) and myself on drums and sax. We decided to go busking together for a laugh basically.
Sam Thomson: I was at jazz school with these guys in Wellington and kind of weaseled my way in! We were living together and ended up busking together. Then we were at high school balls and random bars playing covers and stuff. We decided we wanted to start writing our own music and we wanted somebody else to join the band and Ben (O’Leary) had a laptop! That’s how we came together as a four-piece.
I heard someone’s mum actually suggested the band name… whose mum was it?
Shaan: It might have been mine! We didn’t know what we were going to call ourselves. People were asking us what our name was so they could upload the videos of us busking to YouTube. We basically came up with it overnight on a Facebook chat and it stuck.
How do you harness the virality of a platform like TikTok to let the world know about your music?
Shaan: It was an accident probably (laughs). Specifically these Blind Beat songs were an exercise in writing music but we didn’t realise how many views it was going to get. It wasn’t like, ‘let’s make something that’s going to get millions of views.’ It was the complete opposite. Matt thought we should film them and we had the videos on our phone for like a month before uploading.
That first one now has more than 10 million views. But back then it was like, ‘oh my god, this is the weirdest video we’ve ever made.’
Matt: We’d been on TikTok for a couple of years but we hadn’t had anything go viral. When we uploaded it we had no idea it would get this viral.
Normally when we write music it’s a slow and gruelling process, but with these songs it was literally 10 minutes, just throwing something together to put up. Now it’s a full product we’re trying to let the world know about in the same way we would with other stuff that we’ve poured our hearts into.
Sam: I feel it’s nice because it wasn’t expected that the initial videos would even go well. We spoke about it and thought we should finish the songs and it all happened really quickly. There were no expectations which was kinda nice. It’s nice to just put these songs out and see if people are into them.
Shaan: I think the reason people enjoyed watching it is because it made them feel part of the process. You got to be in the studio, and we were all listening to it together for the first time. It’s engaging in that sense.
Would you recommend this form of producing to other bands?
Sam: I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it in a situation where you don’t know the people. That’s one of the reasons it works well for us because we know each other so well. Instinctively we lean towards things that might work well together because we’ve doing this together for so many years.
Matt: It could be interesting doing it with somebody you don’t really know though!
Ben: There’s no pressure, that’s the thing.
Shaan: It’s intense pressure for 10 minutes and then it’s all off! That 10 minutes is so intense.
Ben: You’ve just gotta make sure you’ve got your specific role.
Shaan: We talked to some musician friends about it and they seemed to enjoy it too which was pretty cool. It’s nice that both non-musicians and musicians can watch it and find it interesting. It’s not common to see such content.
Ben: The original idea was there had to be two things that work together – either the bass and the drums or the vocals and the guitar etc. Something had to line up.
Shaan: But that’s not really how it went (laughs). We ended up having to make some pretty odd parts work together.
Were there any recordings that hit the cutting room floor or did you post every single time?
Shaan: The first five we did. We did some after that just for ourselves, but those first five are genuinely the first five.
Sam: As soon as the idea of us releasing the songs happened and we tried to do other ones, it was more difficult because it felt like we had to put them out.
Matt: That definitely changed the thinking around it.
Shaan: For me as a singer, having the freedom to write melodies without chords was something I haven’t really done too much of before. This process completely reinvented the way I think about writing. I can just write a whole melody with no idea of the chords or riffs or rhythms now, and just see what comes of it.
What are three main rules that you would say is needed to become a viral sensation?
Shaan: People don’t realise but you can always tell when people are being real. Even if it’s social media, even if it’s creative content, you can fucking tell if someone’s being themselves. I feel that’s super important. It might take a while for you to be able to be yourself in a way that’s palatable on social media, but if you keep doing it, you’ll find your people.
Matt: Also attention spans are so short now, you really do have to hook people in within three seconds.
Shaan: And have a good editor.
Matt: The editing was very choppy and zoomy.
Sam: And then instantly you’re like ‘what is this?’
Shaan: Matt edited them all by the way!
Matt: And a little trick is to dangle the carrot at the end of the video. Have people wait for something at the end. Preferably not too long though. We stumbled upon that.
Sam: The things that we’ve thought about the least are the things people have tended to care about the most.
Shaan: So just fucking be yourself and edit your videos really well.
What would be your mum’s favourite track on the EP?
Matt: I know my dad’s – he loves “Stole A Car” interestingly.
Sam: I reckon my mum would like “Confessing”.
Matt: I could see that.
Shaan: My mum would pick “The Judge”.
Matt: That was a little extra song.
The honourable Judith 😫 we gotta get her to hear this song hahah @JudgeJudy
How did that one come about?
Shaan: We were in Sydney hanging out with a new friend of ours, we were tired and fucking around in a writing session.
Sam: It was the first time we’d met this guy and done anything with him. It was the day after a gig and we’d been up until like 2am.
Ben: We tried one song first and it was average. We can say that, it was average! Then we tried working on something else, and one of us said it’s like the time we met Judge Judy. We met her once when we were in LA randomly. So we just wrote it about that.
Sam: It has a West Coast hip-hop vibe.
Shaan: Which is obviously Judge Judy (all laugh).
Ben: And then Matt posted a video for Shaan just recording the chorus and it went well. We were doing some promo for another single in New Zealand and all the radio people were asking us if we’d ever put out the Judge Judy song!
Sam: My girlfriend was like ‘yo, you have to put the song out’, and I was like ‘it’s a joke’. Maybe a joke is a good thing.
Shaan: So we cranked it out and I reckon it’s the best one.
Are you going to send it to THE Judge Judy?
Shaan: We’re trying to get it to her. We want her to react, we want her to reply, maybe even put a rap verse down. Who knows.
Sam: Maybe we can release another version where she does a little intro.