Sleep Token has taken the world of heavy music by storm over the last couple of years, having released its third album, Take Me Back to Eden earlier this year. Of course, one of the standout facts about the band is — following in the tradition of KISS, Slipknot, Ghost and more — that
everybody nobody knows who its members are.
But beyond the opening sell, Sleep Token has backed up the hype with some of the most interesting heavy music released in recent times. The band’s blend of metal, atmospheric post-rock and electronic influences combine to create a sound that appeals to fans of multiple heavy sub-genres. Now, in a world-first, Sleep Token founding member, drummer and co-songwriter, ‘II’ has broken the band’s cover to sit down with leading online drum education platform, Drumeo for an interview.
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In the 53-minute video (above), II performs play-throughs of 12 Sleep Token songs (full list below), while also giving some insight into his influences, the evolution of his drumming, how he goes about crafting Sleep Token’s drum parts, some of his favourite drummers of all time and more.
Sat behind a DW drum kit, equipped with Istanbul cymbals and Roland electronics (an SPD-SX Pro and multiple BT-1 bar triggers), II remains in character throughout. With his voice obscured, he’s robed and masked: this is what Johnny Lawrence’s Cobra Kai gang would have looked like on Halloween if they’d studied music rather than martial arts.
II’s impressive play-throughs are interspersed with short interview clips which (thanks to II's mangled mic track) aren't easy to understand, so we've transcribed them below. With such a clandestine approach, what can we glean about the drummer in metal’s current most-secretive band?
II isn’t 'just' a rock drummer
“I’ve always personally taken a lot of inspiration from the UK dance music scene. Listening to the various sub-genres of drum ’n’ bass, specifically, has allowed me to incorporate various stylistic traits from those genres into my vocabulary as a drummer.
“I would say that while my stylistic approach and goals have generally stayed the same, my vocabulary on the kit has expanded. I try to work on not always using the same phrases, or [not] using those phrases in the same voicing to ensure that the parts remain somewhat interesting.
"However, this in itself is a continual work-in-progress. As a player, I will admit that I, like others, don’t always achieve this, but to me that is very, very much all part of the journey itself.”
Sleep Token drum parts are crafted
“I’m also a big fan of R&B and pop, which has worked its way into my playing. I grew up primarily playing metal, so the next obvious step for me was to blend these other styles in amongst heavier playing to add versatility to my drum parts.
“Most if not all of the time, I try to pay close attention to the vocals and figure out any specific syllables that can benefit from accents on the kit. I sometimes use the vocal line as a guide of sorts to dance in between what’s being sung to. Filling in those gaps, if you will.
“Typically speaking, songs don’t start from a particular drum part, although this isn’t necessarily deliberate. Another element I look for when writing is any specific syncopation that the drums must match.
“This could be a pattern on the guitar, a breakdown of sort, or something electronic. But I feel this takes away a lot of the guesswork when initially writing parts, and provides me with a clearer idea of the song in question.”
II loves linear
“I’ve always been a big Eric Moore fan, and gospel drummers in general. But I’ve taken a lot of influence from a couple of Eric’s licks and [they] find their way into my playing. As an example, I use an eighth-note linear phrase which is played as R-L-R-L-K-R-L-K.
“That, along with a phrase called the 3-1-3-2, which is a triplet phrasing of nine notes played as R-L-R-K-R-L-R on the hands, and is finished with two notes on the kick. (R-L-R-K-R-L-R-K-K). What I particularly like about this phrasing is that it’s three notes short of resolving itself. So, as a drummer, you’re forced to be creative with those last three notes and finish the phrasing in any way you see fit."
He also knows his rudiments
“Additionally, I’m a big fan of the standard paradiddle. I use this as a chop-starter. Often, as I feel it’s an organic way to prepare the listener for a slightly busier section, meaning the drums themselves.
“I also use the six-stroke rolls often in various elements of my playing, whether it’s groove or fill-based. Another song i enjoy playing live is entitled Like That, from our second record. Arguably, the parts in that song are to this day, my favourite that I’ve written."
A Sleep Token live show isn't exactly like the record
"I would say that most of the parts that I tend to play in a live setting vary drastically to what was tracked on the record itself. This happens for a number of reasons.
"Sometimes, when I have more time to sit with a finished track while rehearsing for a tour, I can look at it through a different lens and subsequently come up with a more interesting variation live.
"On the other hand, these things can happen more naturally, and take on a different feel or sticking due to simply playing a certain song for long periods of time.
"There are of course certain parts in each song that must remain true to the original. This could be a syncopated guitar part or even an electronic part on the pads that serves more of a supporting role within the song."
His influences are exactly who you might expect
“When I first started playing, I, like many others in my generation was heavily into drummers such as Joey Jordison, Matt from the band Mudvayne, as well as the more extreme speed players such as Derek Roddy.
"I was very much obsessed with the gospel style of playing. I spent most of my early adulthood studying those players. Tony Royster Jr, Eric Moore, Thomas Pridgen - simply slowing-down the YouTube videos in a feeble attempt to understand their concepts, their stickings and influences.
"These days I would describe my playing style as a mixture of that signature Abe Cunningham, Deftones-inspired heavier sort of grooving, with the linear-style, gospel influence."
These are II’s favourite Sleep Token songs to play live
“I’ve always enjoyed playing a song from our first record (entitled Sundowning) called Higher. The parts in that song have always felt very interactive to me. Very fun to play, while maintaining a fair deal of variance across the song itself.
“In regards to any newer material, I enjoy playing a track called The Summoning due to the live addition of a drum solo that gives me a little more creative freedom, as well as its challenging feel.”
Sleep Token II Drumeo play-throughs
- The Night Does Not Belong To God
- Dark Signs
- The Apparition
- Like That
- Take Me Back To Eden