New drum tracks in Los Angeles, new Drum Coffee in the Florence Building.
John Wicks, who holds down the rhythm in hit soul-pop band Fitz and the Tantrums, recorded a new album in California last month. Here in his home base of Missoula, he and his wife and Drum co-owner, Jenna Wicks, are opening a new location right in downtown.
The lobby is "tailor-made for our vibe anyways," he said. "It's like walking into a Wes Anderson film."
Wicks said they were excited to branch out into downtown, and the lobby of the historic Art Deco-style building. They already have locations on South Avenue and East Broadway, and will serve their own roasts, baked goods and sandwiches at the lobby coffee stand. Posh Chocolat, which currently operates the outlet, asked Drum to take over the coffee portion. Posh will still serve its coveted truffles, chocolate bars, and more.
Jenna Wicks said they like a welcoming atmosphere, more like the 1990s coffeehouse style, before the third-wave trend of austere design and service became popular.
"You had your regular customers, you were making their drink before they were through the line. It was that social scene. For us, we wanted to try to bring the science third wave was doing, and have every shot so consistent and so dialed in, but we didn't want that intimidation factor," she said.
They opened the first Drum Coffee on South Avenue in 2016. Zoning restrictions in the residential area prohibited them from branching out into roasting their own beans, so they opened the second branch on Broadway in part to accommodate a shiny roaster from Probat, a German manufacturer.
John Wicks, a self-described coffee nerd, started working at coffee shops in Seattle when he was younger — he could play in bands at night and sling shots in the mornings.
Drum, which now has 22 employees including several roasters, has moved into online sales and wholesaling — the coffee is available at most Missoula grocery stores.
Their signature roasts have a particular purpose, Jenna Wicks said. The "Airto," named after a Brazilian percussionist who played with Miles Davis and Weather Report, is for drip or pour-over. The "Luigi," in honor of Louie Bellson, who backed with Duke Ellington and Count Basie, among others, is an espresso roast designed to maintain its flavor even when it's cut with milk.
They favor an Italian style that's different from many third-wave trends, which get into lighter roasts with fruity, citrus notes. John said that's not particularly the kind of coffee that he wants every day, and they prefer a flavor that can "feed" the daily ritual.
Wicks read up on roasting long before investing in one, and took classes in Chicago from Probate.
"The great thing about roasting is I get the same rush when I do a roast that I get when I'm on stage. That is, as the drummer, you can't screw up. If you screw up, the wheels fall off. Everything. And so there's always that pressure, which frankly is pretty addictive," he said.
The roasting process can take from 10 to 15 minutes, and if you're not monitoring it closely it could ruin a batch. Creativity comes in the research.
"Each region and each bean is different. The density is different, the weight is different, the amount of water in the bean is different, and the way that it reacts to heat is different," he said. Plus, you get to learn more about the countries the beans come from, and why soils might result in different flavors.
There's plenty of seating in the lobby. Thomas Taylor, a historic preservation expert, bought the building last year and plans to redecorate.
The stand will reopen as Drum on Monday morning. Hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.
A new single
Oh, and with his other job Wicks also has a new single, "123456."
The band was originally assembled by singer/songwriter Michael Fitzpatrick, and friends and fellow studio musicians in Los Angeles. Their first album, 2010's "Pickin' up the Pieces," had an updated soul feel that looked back to the 1960s without forgoing the present, not unlike Amy Winehouse. With 2013's "More Than Just A Dream," they experimented more with contemporary pop and R&B production. That route led to 2016's self-titled album, which scored them a twice-platinum single with "HandClap."
The band's success meant that Wicks could live anywhere he likes while he's not on tour, so they moved back to Jenna's hometown to raise their twin daughters, now 10 years old. (They have a cameo on the countdown for "123456.")
He commutes to LA to record, and the band recently finished recording its new album, due out in early fall.
This time, Fitzpatrick wanted to work with writers and producers. On "123456," they collaborated with John Hill, whose credits include Demi Lovato, Carly Rae Jepsen, Young the Giant, Imagine Dragons and more. Others are Busbee, Jonas Jeberg, Tommy English, and more.
John said that Fitzpatrick likely will take what he's learned and start writing for other pop artists, who produce hook-filled songs for big artists.
"I think his history and his mindset is those hooks, and he's really good at finding them," Jenna said.
John said he has a contrasting outlook, since he grew up on punk, jazz and hip-hop, and the ultimate goal is finding a balance between those two worlds. The album will be diverse, too, and the single isn't representative of the style on all the new tracks.
"There's some edgier stuff that doesn't sound like that at all," he said.
The single, "123456," has plenty of electronic pop production sounds, but the Tantrums are very much a live band. You can hear baritone sax from James King that blends in a bit with a synth sound. Wicks' drums are layered with programmed beats. "When it really separates is when you can hear me play the fill," he said. As a whole, the album has a lot of "sweet old-school live drums." In some cases, he said they recorded in a studio with a two-story ceiling not unlike the Florence Lobby, specifically to get a certain reverb sound.
When on tour, Wicks plays both a traditional drum kit and electronic drum pads. When he was living in California, he knew of the creator of the "Drum machines have no soul" sticker and he couldn't disagree more, even if the intent was to support drummers.
"I'm definitely not a purist. I have a collection of vintage drum machines that would make your head spin. I love them," said Wicks, who has listened to hip-hop since he was a kid.
Producers who might not have experience behind a kit have "changed the way we play drums. It's actually moved modern drumming forward more than anything else ever has."
They don't care about what is "physically and ergonomically correct" from a traditional standpoint, and so it's challenged drummers like him to replicate those innovative sounds.
On the new album, producers often came in with demos with temporary drum tracks and that will be fleshed out. And it's "always the drummer that goes in first," he said.
It's part of his session days in Los Angeles that he misses, "having that clock ticking, where it's up to me to make this track better right out of the gate," he said.
The band is embarking on a summer's worth of dates, many with Young the Giant. One of the first is in South Korea, where "HandClap" has been a hit for several years. A K-pop act covered it, and YouTube was subsequently filled with instructional dance videos. Here in the United States, they'll play big dates like Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado and Lollapalooza. (For his part, Wicks would love to play the KettleHouse Amphitheater in Bonner.)
After two years of touring behind the momentum of "HandClap," Wicks is happy to be touring with a fresh album's worth of material.
"I'm excited to work that part of my brain again, learning songs and playing the unexpected again," he said.