Music News & Reviews

Strange, thrilling garage rock found in Drug Apts

Singer Whittney Kebschull and drummer Mike Thiemann have formed Drug Apts, which has an album due out Sept. 1.
Singer Whittney Kebschull and drummer Mike Thiemann have formed Drug Apts, which has an album due out Sept. 1.

Longtime Sacramento locals may remember Greta’s Cafe on 19th and Capitol for its beloved veggie burger, but back in the kitchen it was all about the music.

The time was the mid-1990s, long before the space became occupied by Chipotle, and its employees included Mike Thiemann, Tristan Tozer and Zach Hill. Thiemann and Tozer doubled as members of Yah Mos, a pivotal Sacramento punk band. Hill would later emerge as one of indie-rock’s most heralded and bombastic drummers through the bands Hella and Death Grips.

Two decades later, they’ve joined forces again, but this time on a musical project instead of a cooking collaboration. Thiemann and Tozer are two founding members of Drug Apts (pronounced “apartments”), a blissfully frenetic post-punk band that’s receiving national buzz. Hill and Andy Morin of Death Grips, which was named Spin magazine’s 2012 “Artist of the Year,” are the producers of Drug Apts’ upcoming EP.

In yet another Sacramento connection, the self-titled EP will be released Sept. 1 through Interference Pattern Records. The label was founded by Tyler Pope, bassist for LCD Soundsystem and formerly of Sacramento dance-punks !!! (pronounced “Chk Chk Chk”).

This Sacramento-centric project has already received press from the tastemakers at Pitchfork, which premiered two Drug Apts tracks on June 10. For those interested in hearing these songs and more live, Drug Apts are performing Monday at downtown’s The Red Museum.

“All of this stuff is just me and a bunch of Sacramento friends working together because we always liked each other and what we were doing,” Thiemann said about the collaborators behind Drug Apts. “I want to be clear that this has always been a friendship thing, not a strategy.”

While many of his musically inclined co-workers from Greta’s have since moved on from kitchen work, Thiemann remains well-regarded in the culinary world as the co-owner and chef of Empress Tavern and Mother. But music has always remained a core part of his creative life. Over the years, he has played with a variety of groups including the indie-rock band Crash & Britney and garage rockers Pretty Girls with Tozer.

“In no way does my band life and professional life have anything to do with one another,” Thiemann said. “They’re two different expressions. Music is something that I just have to do.”

This latest band formed in 2014 under the name Gymboyz – a play on the Jimboy’s fast food chain – with Tozer and Matt Maxwell on guitar, plus bassist Dylan Craver and Thiemann behind the drum kit. Singer Whittney Kebschull joined the lineup a year later, and the group ultimately switched its name to Drug Apts. The moniker originated over a decade ago, when Thiemann and Tozer were roommates at a place on 19th and P streets in midtown.

“You’d walk around midtown surrounded by all these drug apartments, back in the late 1990s especially,” Thiemann said. “We felt like (Drug Apts) was a pretty telling Sacto name.”

In May, Drug Apts recorded nine songs over three days at Death Grips’ midtown studio, with six of those forming the EP to be released in September. Hill had offered to record the band after seeing Drug Apts play locally. Around the time of recording the Drug Apts EP, Death Grips released “Bottomless Pit,” a face melter of an album that might be the noise-rap band’s best effort yet.

“We’ve kept in touch forever,” Thiemann said about Hill. “The recording was wildly efficient and fast, and what got spit out turned out really neat. Tristan and I had talked for a long time about getting a weird punk band together. (Hill and Morin) took it and did their thing.”

Some people don’t know how Sacramento has been putting together some of the most artistic and rad musicians in America.

Mike Thiemann

Under the production touch from Hill and Morin, Drug Apts’ unabashed drum attack and angular guitar lines were taken to even headier heights. The song “Concrete Jungle” is built on an insistent drum pattern from a ska song of the same name by The Specials. But with washes of thick reverb and echo effects, especially over Kebschull’s vocals, there’s a nearly ethereal touch that soothes the primordial garage rock surge.

Pope, who joined Yah Mos after Thiemann left the band, connected with Drug Apts while he was in California to play the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April. The Drug Apts EP will be the first release for Pope’s Interference Pattern Records, which is based in Berlin.

In true indie-rock form, Thiemann says Drug Apts is a serious musical project, but pursued more out of fun and the need for sonic kicks than careerist ambition. It’s a mindset not much different from those days in Greta’s Cafe, when he was surrounded by a community of like-minded musicians.

“Some people don’t know how Sacramento has been putting together some of the most artistic and rad musicians in America,” Thiemann said. “It’s a microcosm.”

Chris Macias: 916-321-1253, @chris_macias

Drug Apts

With: Secret Drum Band, Vasas, New Doubt

When: 7 p.m. Monday, June 27

Where: The Red Museum, 212 15th St., Sacramento

Cost: $7