The Berklee grad and tasteful up-and-comer backs the experimental savant on the road.
Following the release of the album A Million and One this past November, the innovative indie-pop act My Brightest Diamond embarked on a North American tour opening for the Canadian alternative group Stars. Now this spring the brainchild of singer-songwriter Shara Nova heads out on a run through mid May, with select dates opening for Death Cab for Cutie. Behind the skins on the trek with Nova is Jharis Yokley, an up-and-coming Berklee College of Music grad and a 2014 Guitar Center Drum-Off finalist.
As evidenced at a December show at New York City’s Brooklyn Steel last year, from the start of the duo’s live set, Yokley brings an explosive energy to the material while fusing the songwriter’s tunes with occasional gospel licks and impressive technique. The drummer began the Brooklyn Steel show on his own with a fiery, chops-infused solo filled with wild tom fills and rapid one-handed 16th-note flourishes. “For that opening solo, I just try to get the audience’s attention,” Yokley tells MD. “I’m not trying to impress them; I’m just setting a mood for the show. In general, though, I usually try to develop a rhythmic motif in solos to tell the audience a story.”
To maintain his facility, Yokley utilizes a few classic go-to drum books. “For technique and control, I try to run through Alan Dawson’s rudimental ritual as often as I can,” he says. “For one-handed phrasing, studying jazz really helped. I mainly practiced from three books: George Lawrence Stone’s Stick Control, Jim Chapin’s Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer, and John Riley’s Beyond Bop Drumming—all essential reading material for drummers.”
Before landing the MBD gig, Yokley tells MD, a mutual friend, the increasingly busy up-and-coming drummer Lenny “the Ox” Reece, gave Nova his number to ask him to play one show with her, and the relationship between the songwriter and drummer steadily grew from there. “I try to keep most of the drum parts similar to Shara’s album versions,” Yokley continues. “I do add a little bit live just to bring the songs to life. And our rehearsals are pretty standard—we just run through the set a couple of times. We don’t rehearse as much as we’d like to because I’m in New York and Shara is in Detroit. But Shara wrote all of the music, so she knows what each song should sound like. She doesn’t give me technical feedback so much, but instead will give feedback in terms of what my drum parts should make the audience feel.”
The drummer, who started playing drums as a toddler, says that besides his organist father and vocalist mother, his biggest influences include Dennis Chambers, Chris Dave, and Tony Williams. “In some songs in the set, I use a left-foot open/close hi-hat technique that I learned from Dennis,” he explains. “Certain beats are inspired by Chris Dave, and anything I play on the ride cymbal is in some way inspired by Tony.”
Live, to achieve some of the unique percussive elements Nova incorporates into MBD’s recorded material—such as the fat backbeat tones found on “It’s Me on the Dance Floor” or the snare crack that permeates “Champagne”—Yokley says that he uses a minimal yet tailored setup. “I use two 14″ snares, a 22″ kick, and 14″ and 16″ floor toms,” he explains. “I tune the main snare pretty tight while the side snare is loose for a deeper sound. And the floor tom is my favorite drum—that’s why I use two!”
Also on the Road
Jason McGerr with Death Cab for Cutie /// Arejay Hale with Halestorm /// Justin Ennis with Ulthar /// Michael Benjamin Lerner with Telekinesis /// Jason Sullivan with the Well /// B. J. Miller with Health /// Mikel Avery with the Joe Policastro Trio /// Aaron Hill with Eyehategod