Longmont-based coffee roaster Jake Schell, a native of rural Missouri, relocated to Boulder County six years ago after a long stretch in Kansas City. Moving between houses and apartments over the years has made his longtime hobby of playing the drums, which he took up at age six, difficult to keep up.
“When I moved out here, housing was crazy expensive, and I could only afford to live in an apartment, so I couldn’t play, and I spent probably five years without a drum set," he says. "I was always looking for my fix to be able to play drums. The only options that I saw were studio spaces that rent for $300 a month."
He didn't have that kind of money to play drums for fun, so he bought an electronic drum kit. But he missed the real thing.
"I always wished that I could, like, go somewhere and jam for an hour," says Schell, 38. "But I continued to look for that and never found it, so I started thinking that if I had that problem, there were probably a hundred other drummers in the area that probably had that same problem. I started thinking about how I could solve the problem — not just for myself, but for other people.”
While working as head roaster at OTIS Craft Collective in Lafayette, Schell, who admits to “an affinity for abandoned buildings,” kept noticing a defunct walk-in ATM in a strip-mall parking lot just off South Boulder Road. The little old brick building had been decommissioned many years ago, like a lot of other walk-in ATMs, waiting for someone to turn it into a drive-through cafe.
“I would drive by that little building on my way in and out of work every day,” Schell recalls, “and I was always thinking about what I could do with it — and then my idea of having a way for people to be able to play drums out loud kinda morphed over to, ‘Okay, that’s what I could do with that building.’ I started scheming about how I could make it work.”
In July 2019, Schell’s dream finally came true, when the first customers started signing up for thirty-minute, one-hour and two-hour sessions in his sound-treated 10-by-13-foot Drum Box, where two drum sets — a small jazz kit and a bigger, more rock-focused one — sit ready for professionals and weekend warriors alike to cure their drummer's itch.
“It was a slow start, trying to just grow by word of mouth,” Schell says. “I’m funding this all myself, and I’ve never worked in jobs where I made a ton of money, so I was trying to do it as cost-effectively as possible — just get it going and make sure I was right about people wanting this kind of concept. I never spent any money on advertising, but it’s just continued to grow pretty consistently, month after month. It’s going great now. I’m constantly upgrading equipment, so I’m putting most of the profits back into making a better experience, a better space for people to play.
“It started breaking even pretty quickly, and that was the main thing — to not lose money on it, and to provide a space for people to make music and have fun,” he adds.
He had to close things up for two months during the pandemic, when non-essential businesses were forced to shut down, but he didn’t suffer the fate of some Colorado businesses that have been lost forever.
“That was real tough, because the rent doesn’t stop, the utilities don’t stop, but all the revenues did," he notes. "That was tough and scary, but once we opened back up, people pretty quickly started saying, ‘I’d like to get back in again.’ I put lots of effort into making it safe.”
Schell just sealed the deal on a second space in Longmont that he’s preparing to open soon, and the constantly improving Lafayette Drum Box sounds great and is private and safe. Unlike many big rehearsal spaces that can feel like the difference between enjoying a nice workout at home and having your exercise and weightlifting skills on display at an intimidating local gym, Drum Box isn’t so much a place to rehearse or even practice as it a place to just play.
Schell knows from experience that in larger, more band-specific rehearsal spaces, “you know that people can hear you, so instead of just playing and having fun, or practicing to get better, you’re just playing stuff that you feel comfortable with so you don’t sound like an idiot and get judged by other people. Whether that’s reality or not, it’s definitely what’s in your head most of the time. That’s what I wanted to create with Drum Box, and why I’m continuing to look for standalone places where it’s just a very small space; it's for you to do your thing and feel like you can do whatever you want and not worry about the rest of it.”
The goal for Schell is to open one new Drum Box location per year and eventually add a mobile Drum Box that stops by offices and breweries.
Clientele at the Lafayette location comprises people who had never sat on a drum stool before booking their first Drum Box session, longtime hobbyists who've had to use headphones to play electronic drums in their noise-regulated apartments, touring drummers who haven’t had a place to rock out on real drums since the pandemic began, and even White Stripes-style duos who want to jam together.
A few experienced local drummers, such as Michelle Pietrafitta of Banshee Tree and myself, have received Drum Box “ambassador” discounts to make it easier to stop by and keep our chops fresh while the live-music industry prepares to recover.
“I’ve never been a touring drummer,” Schell explains. “I’ve never been super-duper serious about it, but I’ve always really loved it, and it’s been a great outlet and a hobby. I want people — whether they’ve never touched a pair of drumsticks before or they're that pro touring drummer — I want everyone to have fun playing the drums and have access to that, because especially out here, where housing is really expensive, people aren’t going to get the chance to do that on real drums, and I want them to be able to experience that as much as possible.”
For more information, go to the Drum Box website.
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