Releasing their debut album ‘Dream Days’ back in 2020, reggae/surf-rock band Flaxxies have become an exciting fixture in the Auckland scene. ‘Beach Rudes’ is the name they gave the follow up EP which dropped in May 2022. Amid their mid-year university exams, Kat Parsons caught up with Benji Humphries and Chris Manning to chat about music, mental health awareness, and DIY funnels. Made with the support of NZ On Air Music.
“So the band first started with me and Nick [Tait] the rhythm guitarist and a few others,” opens Flaxxies’ bassist Chris Manning. “I think I started off playing trumpet, and I was the singer for a little bit. I played drums for one gig and we basically had one practice a week with the band teacher at school.
“We started properly doing stuff when we were in Year 9 or 10. We started doing this thing called K-Rock, basically a holiday programme. We started getting a bit more knowledge about recording and writing. Eric [Goodger – lead guitar] and Jayden [Welsh – drums] came in a year or two before Benji, but when Benji came we started actually doing stuff.”
Literally just fresh out of a university exam, vocalist Benji Humphries takes over the story of how five otherwise unconnected Saint Kentigern College students became known as charismatic Auckland band Flaxxies.
“Yeah, I guess that was when we kind of all connected. Jayden’s two years older, and then Nick’s a year older than us. We just kept practising and as we left school we became best mates. It’s fun jamming with each other.”
The chosen band name stands as a bit of a mystery for anyone other than a true Kiwi. When asked where Flaxxies stemmed from the pair share a smirk before answering.
“Flaxxies is a Kiwi DIY funnel,” chuckles Humphries. “Head on down to your local flax bush and cut yourself off a flax. Yeah, we got asked what it is the other day on a radio station, and telling everyone has always been a bit of an interesting one!”
“We don’t really associate with that anymore,” claims Manning. “But the name kind of stuck and we can’t change it.”
“At our gig over summer I got thrown a piece of flax,” Humphries laughs. “So that was peer pressure at its finest!”
“Other than that, we don’t associate ourselves with that funnel lifestyle,” asserts Manning with a grin.
Poignant single Lot 61 dropped late in April and is the focus track of Flaxxies’ subsequently launched four-song EP ‘Beach Rudes’. Its propulsive reggae rhythm, paired with tight guitar lines and captivating vocals elevates and supports the raw lyrical theme that the band wants to emphasise.
“Lot 61 is based around a lot of mental health issues,” explains Humphries. “It’s about finding yourself and what you want to get out of this life. We’re just kind of trying to create a bit of open conversation around mental health with it, and also just kind of get people bouncing.
“So [the actual] Lot 61 is a little shack down on the Coromandel,” he expands. “I was living there over summer the past two years, just working at Lukes Kitchen in Kuaotunu. I spent some summers with some really cool people, I kind of found my people which was really nice. It was a good place to reflect on a lot of issues that I’ve been encountering, and what I felt a lot of people were encountering.
“I came to the boys with a rough demo. And then Chris added his bass line and Eric put his little part on it. I guess that’s how our writing process goes. We usually have a member who comes in with a rough idea or a little lick, and then we’ll get jamming together. We went to the studio and did a few things on the production and it kind’a like pieced together exactly how we had wanted it. We were really, really stoked.
“I think, as a lyricist, I’m always wanting to get a deeper meaning to what I’m speaking about,” adds the singer. “I think my main inspiration in music is Bob Marley, the movement he made is something I love and get ideas from. So for us, it’s about exploring deeper meanings through our music, but also getting everyone bouncing at our shows. Make sure everyone’s having a good time in a safe space.”
The EP’s four tracks were recorded at The Lab in Mt Eden, Auckland, the band’s high school friend Ryan Cruickshank producing alongside renowned producer and engineer Olly Harmer. In fact, the entire project has been created with the help of Flaxxies’ friends and peers; a real ‘community of the arts’ affair.
“I think one of the cool parts is the harmonies,” says Manning, describing their newest single. “They were done by Christie Martel and Grace Kelly. I think they brought the song to the next level. Before that, it felt quite empty and when those parts came along, I was like, ‘Wow! That’s what it needed.’ Also, after the first pre-chorus, there’s that stop after the line, ‘Did you take your medication?’, and Eric’s little ‘wah wah wah’ guitar sounds!
“Something for you to know – Christie and Grace are both from our high school and the person who produced it [Ryan Cruickshank] and our film crew are also from high school! We’ve got our own little group, which is something pretty special to us. We’re always surrounded by our mates. We’ve just got a really talented group of friends that always keep pushing us further, which is mean!”
Filmed, directed and edited by another Saint Kentigern alumni, Jono Do, the Lot 61 video includes stunning cinematic footage of the Coromandel coast and an expressive, captivating performance by Humphries, supported by the rest of the band.
“Lot 61 was written in the Coromandel so there wasn’t a better place to shoot the music video,” notes Humphries. “We got all the boys up at 5.45am and made sure everyone was dressed up. I just had kind of the ideas I wanted and Jono made it come to life, which was awesome.”
“We just did random stuff to try and make it look good,” adds Manning. “I think Jono had a bigger idea of how to fit it together. He just told us to walk or sit somewhere and we just did it. It was just our mates there so I think it was pretty easy and simple. It worked.”
There’s a definite sense of surf culture running through the EP, most obviously in the opening track, King Of The Reef, which dropped as a single back in 2021, and has become their favourite to play live.
“King Of The Reef is a bit of a fun one,” Humphries smiles. “As I said, I was working at Lukes Kitchen, and one of my best mates Zeke, he’s got a little story as he is the ‘king of the reef’ around the Coromandel. It comes from a bit of a funky story but basically, he’s a bit of a local legend. I wrote it about his kind of life story. It’s also about just cruising through summer and just those summer experiences. It’s mean when we’re playing gigs; we have all the boys singing the choruses!”
Second song off the EP, Sober, is a surf-rock anthem written by guitarist Nick Tait. Classic indie guitar tones, shimmering crashes with thick harmonised chorus vocals create a full and energetic listening experience. Despite the spirited feel, the lyrics touch on the theme of heartbreak.
“Nick came to us with the song idea and he had never really written a full song before, I don’t think,” explains Manning. “He sort of had it on acoustic. I think he was kind of going through some of his own shit and it was a bit of a breakup song.”
“It was kind of like dealing with a breakup and also that Kiwi kind of substance use and substance abuse, and kind of the peer pressures of that,” expands Humphries. “You know, teenage-hood in NZ can be pretty brutal.”
Leaning more towards the band’s reggae roots, Karma Goblin resonates with blended guitars and narrative lyrics.
“That was my personal favourite track on the EP,” gushes Humphries. “Eric came to us with this piece and he kind of had a bit of a jazz and reggae fusion. When I heard it, I just thought, ‘Oh, this is sounding like a much bigger song’.
“When I was writing the lyrics I kind of wanted to write a little bit of a bigger sequence of things. I kind of explored spirituality a bit more, and a bit more of that family tradition and the breaking of that – and you know – the hierarchy within families. I took quite a general big perspective, but tried to make it as fine as I could.”
“Eric and I love reggae, so when we wrote it we kind of clicked and when he kind of brought in that solo everything just flowed nicely with that song. We find with the reggae tracks, when we bring it to the boys it’s mean because everyone comes in with their parts. I learned Chris’s bass line the other day and I was like, ‘Holy, this thing is mean!’ So it’s cool that we’re all kind of like learning each other’s parts and taking inspiration from each other.”
“Oh, fun fact about Karma Goblin,” offers Manning. “You’ve got the sibling vocals on that one – Benji’s sister did the BVs.”
Needless to say the shadow of Covid-19 lies over the EP, at least in timing if not lyrical tone.
“The day that old Jacinda said “lock-down”, we decided to shoot up to Mangawhai,” remembers Humphries. “Eric’s parents have a little pad so we shot up there. So we took the whole band except our drummer and did a lot of the work up there. So, so lucky. We all helped each other out with uni and did a bit of music. We learned how to sail! That was a pretty fun one. So it was kind of cool because we got a good balance of uni, music is just doing fun stuff. Yeah. I mean, it’s not great. Covid’s been a real pain.”
“But I think it feels a bit more behind us now,” says a hopeful Manning.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has had more lasting consequences for the band. Due to some unforeseen after-effect Humphries has been having issues with his built-in instrument. Lacking the full range of his voice Flaxxies have had to reschedule a few shows for later this year.
“I’m slowly on the mend, but it kind of feels like forever,” the singer grimaces. “It’s been frustrating and disappointing. The last thing I want to do is cancel shows and let the boys down. We probably want to get one or two singles out this year, but we’ve got tonnes of new music,” he states, excited again.
“With ‘Beach Rudes’ we felt like that’s where our sound belongs. We love our surf rock. We love our reggae, but we want to make sure it’s crafted into our own sound. We’ve been doing a fair bit of writing. Obviously, with my voice being out it’s been frustrating because we can’t do too much. But yeah, lot’s more shows, lots more music. I’d say towards the end of the year it’s gonna be pretty pumping.”