Sheldon Yoko is a killer drummer who is making waves in the SA drum community. He currently plays for Die Heuwels Fantasties, Francois van Coke and Thieve. He also just brought out his signature sticks from Promark and has started his clothing line called Yoko. SA Drummer had an in-depth chat with Sheldon about his career, his beginnings, his clothing line, and much much more!
Hey Sheldon. How are things going?
Great man. Thanks for having me.
What got you into playing the drums?
My dad used to play a bit when he was younger, and so when I was about three, my parents bought me a little kit to see whether I was into it. I left it for a while, and then when I was about nine, I started playing properly. I got asked to join the school band as a percussionist, and somehow I eventually ended up on the drum kit when I was ten and played that thing all the time. I just became obsessed with playing the drums from that point on.
Who were your main influences when you got into playing, and who are your current influences?
I remember my first kit came with a VHS demo tape featuring Mike Portnoy, and so, being one of the first excellent drummers I got exposed to, he just blew my mind. He was a massive influence for a few years, but when I saw John Blackwell play, it changed everything for me. My approach to drums changed so much as I tried (badly) to copy all his grooves and fills and use them in my playing. In doing that, I started trying to learn how he made those grooves sound and feel so good.
These days, I’m really into drummers like Mark Guiliana, Chris Dave, Spanky, and JP Bouvet, all for different reasons. The guys that I get inspired by a lot are my musician friends, like my bandmates in Die Gevaar and Die Heuwels. Those guys are Fred Den Hartog, and Andrew Davenport in Thieve and then drummers like Jstar, Darren Petersen, and Werner Von Waltzleben. They’re constantly pushing themselves, and we’re always open to trying to help each other out with projects and ideas.
How did you land the gig with Francois van Coke and Die Heuwels Fantasties, and who did you play for before?
I played for a few bands in Durban, and one of them was Fire Through The Window. We started touring a bit, and through this, I met the guys from Ashtray Electric. So a few months after I moved to Cape Town, they were looking for a drummer and gave me a call. I ended up playing for Ashtray Electric for about two years. I played for as many bands as I could from 2011-2013, which was when I first got asked to fill in for a show with Die Heuwels. I later found out that some friends had recommended me for the gig and it was a pretty big surprise. I met the guys for the first time a day before the show. We rehearsed for less than 2 hours, and the next day we played for like 4000 people. I had worked so hard on learning their tracks in-depth, so when the show went down well, I got super stoked. When their drummer at the time left the next year, I was lucky enough to get the call again, and then I started touring with them in April 2014. A couple of months after I started playing for DHF, I got a call from Francois to go and record “Moointlik Nooit” with him and Jedd. We kept in touch throughout the year, and then I ended up recording the first album with him at the end of 2014. We started touring in 2015, and it’s been a wild ride since then. I love all the guys in both bands, and it’s always a great time traveling and playing with them.
It’s not always easy, but I’ve learned to focus on one thing at a time these days.– Sheldon Yoko
Tell us about your “YOKO” brand?
The “brand,” so to speak, didn’t start on purpose. I needed a logo for my Promark stick, and so I made some ‘YOKO’ shirts to help promote it. I’ve wanted to get my clothing brand started for a while, and so it was written on the walls to give it a go when people liked the shirts. “YOKO” will be launched online soon with mainly T-shirts and sweatshirts, but it’s going to be quite a collaborative effort, and I’m excited to see where it’ll go. It’s something new for me, but look out for it later this year.
Being on the road a lot with a couple of busy acts, how do you manage them all?
It’s not always easy, but I’ve learned to focus on one thing at a time these days. I try and maintain as much balance as I can when I’m home to stay on top of things, but that’s not always possible. I really can’t complain, though. I’m doing what I love, and I’m so grateful for that.
Do you still get some time to practice between all the madness?
It might sound a bit weird, but I do most of my practicing in my head. I don’t get much time to just jam. I stay in a flat, so I can’t practice at home, so I work on a few of my production ideas on the side, and that keeps me pushing to get better as a musician and not only as a drummer. I’m learning piano at the moment, so that has been quite fun.
Any Specific rudiments or practices you spend a lot of time on?
As a warm-up, I generally do some Pataflaflas as well as a series of single, double, and triplet paradiddles, and I just work through them all for a while. That’s just to loosen up for shows. When it comes to practice, I’ll usually have a pattern in my head that I want to get down and so I’ll work out what the most logical and efficient way would be to play it live in terms of stickings as I go through it. I also think of my playing from the perspective of someone else playing with me and work out what best suits that musical situation, so I’m not generally working on any specific rudimental or independence practice concept for hours at a time or anything.
Do you prefer doing studio work or live playing?
If time is on your side, then the studio is such an amazing process to watch develop, but playing live will always be my first love. I like the chaos of it all, and I always feel so good after playing a show.
What is essential for you as a drummer when it comes to playing with an artist?
Respect for the artist and the fact that they hired you to perform their music live is what’s most important to me because attention to detail and diligence will naturally follow after it has gotten established — being punctual and professional in all aspects as well. It’s not always easy to hold back as a drummer, but I’m learning instead to pick my moments and make sure the band is feeling good before getting too crazy with my ideas.