December/January 2018

by Tom Broome

Get Yer Kit Off: Swap Gomez

by Tom Broome

Get Yer Kit Off: Swap Gomez

Auckland drummer Swap Gomez likes to keep himself busy – behind the kit and away from it. At the beginning of 2017, he organised the Drummer’s Day Out held at the Auckland Showgrounds. As a drummer, he has made quite a name for himself in recent years as drummer for those kings of collaboration that are electronic hip hop act Yoko-Zuna. Swap first let NZM know he was keen to be featured in Get Your Kit Off a couple of years ago. With the generous help of another busy drumming pro, Tom Broome, we are very pleased to be able to include him in this special issue.

My earliest memory of Swap Gomez is from some time back in the mid 2000s. It was the early age of YouTube drummer sensations and I stumbled across Swap on some weird, long binge of drumming shred/shed videos. Still in his teens, Swap was regurgitating (really well) licks from all of the Modern Drummer-day-type drummers (I know he messed with Dream Theatre and Neil Peart, pretty heavy back then) of the era, and wearing wrap-around shades. I recall being really impressed and intimidated. He was so serious and good and obviously young enough to still be at high school.

In the 10 years or so since, I’ve been lucky enough to know Swap and watch peripherally as he’s worked at his craft. This year we did a drum clinic together where he performed with his band Yoko-Zuna, and he demonstrated what he was doing behind the kit. I was completely floored. Swap has mastered the Roland SPD- sx. Mastered it!

To most drummers, the SPD-sx is a glorified metronome, or an awkward, un-ergonomic impedance, plonked in the middle of a drum kit. Swap’s incorporation of it is phenomenal. I’ve never seen anyone play one like he does, which in turn means I’ve never seen anyone play the drums like Swap. Now 28, he is one of a few drummers in NZ, or anywhere for that matter, with a genuinely distinctive voice.

gyko diagramme swap gomez

Where were you born and where did you start drumming?

I was born in Bangladesh, moved to NZ at age four. I grew up mainly in Mt Wellington and went to Penrose High School just before it changed to One Tree Hill College. I started drumming at 12. I was probably going to learn tabla if I stayed in Bangladesh but the western world drew me into drums pretty quick.

How’d you link up with so many local musicians and get your start professionally?

I started to get gigs real early, pretty much as soon as I started drumming. Firstly through my dad playing eastern/ classical music, and then it just snowballed from there into gigging with bands of all sorts. Early days were great, opening a wider network of local musos to connect with. Starting with my dad, I met experienced musicians that would take me under their wing and teach me the ropes. Oui Groove was a hip hop group I did some recording with and definitely one of the bands that opened me up to the world of hip hop drumming.

Are there other family members you play with or taught you or inspired you?

My dad is Leonard Shekhar Gomes and he is basically my reason for pursuing music. He had an amazing career in Bangladesh as a well-known singer. He gave it up for our family to have a better life in NZ. The situation wasn’t great back home politically, and we are from a very small minority group in Bangladesh, so to carry that banner for me is huge.

Of course, being the badass he is, he eventually reclaimed his throne in the music scene back home. My wider family members reside all over the world. Many are musicians, producers and managers who have performed with Alicia Keys, Rihanna, The Roots (to name a few) and managing artists like Fabulous – so the influences are pretty massive!

DJ Disk is a musician/turntablist who I linked up with through one family member. He’s performed with Herbie Hancock and made quite a name for himself. The guy is a freak turntablist and we were able to tour to almost every continent in the world. I have been fortunate enough to tour with Disk and other artists / projects.

Tell us about Yoko-Zuna?

Yoko-Zuna is everything I’ve wanted to do since I started drumming. I wanted to create a band, make music and basically put everything I was good at into one place. I was ready to leave the hired gun/session drumming life.

About four years ago I played a festival in Sydney opening for Skrillex. I got so inspired, I said to myself it’s finally time. I was lucky enough to meet Frank (Eliesa) doing a session, then the other guys through jam sessions we were hosting at Rakinos on High St [Auckland]. From there it’s been a trip, to say the least. Yoko is an electronic/progressive/hip hop instrumental band. We focus on instrumental music, however, we do collaborate with many NZ singers and MCs. We all write together with Frank helming the production side of things.

You’ve done well to survive as Yoko-Zuna, let alone record regularly.

Yeah! The band is signed to Loop, who have been really gracious with us. They saw us playing with Bailey Wiley three or four years ago and hit us up back then. It’s been pretty crazy what we have been able to accomplish together.

We just wrapped the new (our third) album which was recorded at Stebbing Recording Studio. We had a pre-production phase, then a recording phase, which was just over month altogether. I was in there the most, recording drums.

We worked with veteran engineer Nick Abbott, who was so patient and understanding with the recording. I had to get through 18 tracks in just over a week, which was a massive challenge and really took it out of me. I developed tendinitis from that session! I had to stop playing for two weeks because of the pain.

Who’s working FOH for you now your longtime sound engineer/co-producer Cam Duncan has moved out of town?

Without Cam there would be no Yoko-Zuna, he helped so much not only recording/engineering/live sound, but also managing the band. We now work with Creative House studio manager Danny Fitter for live.

The evolution and opportunities we have been given over the course of Yoko-Zuna has been humbling. e.g playing festivals, collaborating with our fave artists, getting endorsed, getting a deal, getting funding, touring overseas – the works. Of course, the sound and live show have changed dramatically with our own visual/sound/lighting crews etc. making things so much more epic, always trying to out-do our own selves.

Any career highlights to date that spring to mind?

Oh man, heaps! Travelling around the planet, meeting new people, starting Yoko-Zuna. There is no better feeling than experiencing this band evolve. Out of all our shenanigans, playing Rhythm and Alps this year will be pinnacle material for us. Midnight slot, NYE, main stage – straight after Fat Freddy’s. Nah, not nervous at all!

It’s so hard to make a living in NZ as a musician. How can you commit to being in (just) one band?!

Having a side hustle always helps pay the bills. I did run a film production business and tutored drums on the side to stay afloat. Now I work full time at SAE. In the beginning, I struggled to work on anything else due to Yoko being so ambitious and taking up almost all of my time. But now it’s a bit easier. I had to figure out a balance between Yoko-Zuna, teaching, film and all other things, which was and is always a mission. Keyword: sleepless.

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