Sitting in St Kevin’s Arcade in a nearly empty café on a Wednesday afternoon, the faint sounds of music from some of the stores fill the hall, harmonising with the smell of old books, trinkets, and vintage clothes. It’s a world far away, a perfect kaleidoscope of the many different influences and creative energy on which the centre was built. It’s very much the same feeling you get when listening to Yoko-Zuna.

It is in this little hub that we meet Swap Gomez, drummer of Yoko-Zuna, for a long chat. The urban vibe of the band, both in terms of the music they put out and the influences that shape them, can be credited in part to the ethos of Auckland; diversity.

Placing Yoko-Zuna’s ‘sound’ can be quite hard, since their music seems to flow through and accept every genre. “I think it definitely has to do with our different backgrounds and also our ages. For example, I’m quite a bit older than the other guys in the band,” Swap muses. “Not that it’s a problem. It’s never a problem because we’re all bringing our own experiences and it’s just a reflection in the music we create. Being so different from each other is definitely a blessing rather than a curse.”

Swap reminisces about the start of the band, in the home known to others as Rakinos. The open mic nights, hosted at Rakinos, were a siren call for many musos, including (then) jazz school students Kenji and JY, both members of Yoko-Zuna.

“Imagine this as a weekly thing; just meeting new people and always having something unexpected happening. That’s pretty much how the four of us started there. That’s pretty much how a lot of our musical relationships started. Not just for us, but for a lot of other bands. We miss that place,” Swap comments. “We do have Fuzzy Vibes now, which is sort of our rehearsal space and art space… but that’s shutting down now as well. I don’t know, maybe we have a curse or something like that – everything we touch shuts down!”

Swap comments on the changing landscape in Auckland’s art scene, currently the heart of Yoko-Zuna’s life. Being a musician for a long time before Yoko-Zuna sprouted, Swap travelled through various countries and cities following his passion.

“Auckland is cool. It’s becoming one of those mainstream metropoles and unfortunately, a lot of the creative spaces are shutting down, like Rakinos, and it’s just being taken over by businesses. A lot of people can argue that the creativeness of Auckland is dying, which I think, if you take a closer look, it sort of is.”

“Look at Kings Arms for example, which is one of my favourite venues ever; it just got sold. I remember being in that room and thinking, man, this place used to be so happening! I just hope that if one place goes down, new places come up to replace it. I think Wellington is much more receptive and there’s a lot more art in different forms. Whereas in Auckland, things are very temporary and in Yoko-Zuna, we’ve always focused on longevity and continuing on for as long as we can.

“We don’t want to be the victim of the classic NZ trend, where you hear a band and then a couple of years later you don’t hear about them at all because they’ve fizzled out. We’re lucky to live in a city where we can rehearse and make music full-time, but it can be better; Auckland can be way better,” Swap states.

Despite the circumstances, Yoko-Zuna have created quite a name for themselves, successfully conquering the city and attracting fans from all over the country. They’ve also built strong relationships with numerous artists including P-Digsss, Team Dynamite, Bailey Wiley and Tom Scott, as well as producer-extraordinaire Cam Dawson.

Talent and passion that burns this bright is hard to find, and even harder to ignore. Yoko-Zuna’s music stands firmly organic and free; a unique colour in its own right. “We’re not all influenced by the same thing, so that’s always a cool thing for me ‘cause I get to [learn] about new things and new genres and new bands,” says Swap. “We’re always learning from each other ’cause we’re not from the same social scene or demographic or anything like that. But what makes us work is the music that we put into together to make Yoko-Zuna.”

Swap expresses his appreciation for pop music, and the former metal-head even admits to indulging in Adele and Céline Dion. He draws the line at “trendy music which is just played over and over again for a season and then it dies out.”  

He says that music should be made with “good intentions”, regardless of genre or style. “I just believe in timeless music. A lot of Kiwi artists have a tendency to make their songs sound exactly like American artists and you just sort of think, why should I listen to it if it’s exactly the same? Just be original without being exact copies.”

Yoko-Zuna are always evolving and remaking their own songs, or remixes of their songs when the feature artists cannot join them in live shows. Moving from the heavy jazz essence in the first album, Swap predicts that some of the other influences, such as their metal and dance music background, will shine through. 

“For the first album, we had no preconceived idea of what our music should sound like. There was no canvas of sorts, which helped us figure out what we liked and didn’t. We try to stay away from traditional structures, unless we have feature artists, whereas for our instrumental tracks we always leave a bit more space. But it always comes out coherent somehow; we try to round off our albums as a whole – it has to make sense. Our next album is going to be a balance between having these structures and a lot of that freefall.”

They were busy over the summer, touring around the country, blessing each venue with their presence. Swap emphasises the perfectionist in each of them: “We’re always working on new music and we’re always keen to test that music out in shows, so our set changes quite a bit. And that’s mainly ‘cause we want to give people more. We don’t want to be recycling the same set over and over again, you know? I feel like we have ADD, all of us. We’re always changing things up and trying to do better, trying to outdo ourselves.”