After spending the last 15 years as a professional drummer, touring the world with bands such as Great Lake Swimmers and Gentleman Reg, Greg Millson has now put down roots at the unlikely junction of Dovercourt and Hallam with this palace of percussion.
How he got started: It was Millson’s enthusiasm for collecting vintage drums that led to him opening the shop. “My house was like a drum shop,” he says. “It was getting ridiculous. I’ve been a vintage nerd since I was a teenager. I had always bought and sold parts and pieces, almost to a fault—it became an obsession. But it was something I loved, so I really wanted to have a spot that was special and to share whatever love and knowledge I could with people.”
As a gigging drummer, Millson felt there was something missing in the city. “There hasn’t been something like this in Toronto,” he says, “since Songbird closed down. And there used to be junk stores where you could find an old cymbal and really cool stuff, and now there’s nothing like that around. I want people to walk in here and get excited, to see things they’ve always wanted and not be intimidated by High-Fidelity-esque music store workers. I wanted a real community vibe to it.”
What’s in-store: Century Drum Shop has a narrow mandate. “The aesthetic behind it is all vintage, handmade, and custom drums,” says Millson. “Old drums sound better to me, there’s just something about it—old wood is molecular. And I really want to stick to the program, not waver, and not get cheap Chinese drum sets for Christmas just to get that clump of money. I really want to stick to the niche, and that’s the only way this can succeed.”
The brick-and-mortar advantage: The mercurial nature of how a vintage drums sound means there is a real advantage to purchasing from a proper shop you can visit rather than online. “When you come into a shop, you can have it all in front of you and you can mess around with it,” says Millson. “I think I’ve bought 20 vintage cymbals on eBay and I’ve probably landed one of them [for myself]—there’s often a reason people are junking them off on eBay, and that’s because they’re manhole covers.
How a drum or a cymbal sounds is a highly subjective matter. “When you’re advertising online,” says Millson, “everyone has their own ridiculous lingo for things, like this sounds ‘dry’ or this sounds ‘wet.’ It’s really an opinion thing. I’ll have a bunch of vintage cymbals and if I only pick the ones I like, I would never have anything in here. It really blows me away when a touring drummer that I’m a fan of comes in here and the one cymbal I didn’t like, that I almost didn’t grab, he’s like, ‘Wow, that’s exactly the one I want.’”
Location, location, location: Finding something in Millson’s first choice of a neighbourhood came down to good fortune. “I was just going anywhere I could, looking at anything that I could afford, which was almost nothing,” he says. “Going through with a real estate agent, I said I want to be right here. I love that [this area is] not going to turn into Ossington, because it doesn’t have storefronts going all the way down—it’s houses and then we have this little pod [of shops]. This is the neighbourhood I wanted to be in, and I remember someone said, ‘you won’t be able to afford it, it’s already taken off.’ Then I found this myself. I walked in and there was an old Chinese-medicine guy here and he didn’t want to deal with real-estate agents—it was an interesting transaction. It was the only way a professional drummer could get a place, really.”
Lessons learned: Century Drum Shop is also providing drum tutorials. “The idea was that kids and adults could learn from people who do it, and not from disgruntled guys working in the basement of a drum shop their whole lives, mad that they didn’t get on the stage back in ’76,” Millson says. “They can learn from punkers or jazzers, professionals that actually go out and play shows and have done the work.”
Millson was inspired by a shop he found while on tour. “I got the idea from this drum shop in Portland called Revival, run by this super-nice guy Jose who plays in The Breeders,” he says. Their lesson department is amazing. They’ll have Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney or the drummer from Fear—this arsenal of awesome professionals and just a great vibe.”
Who shops there: Millson’s customer base is more varied than he expected. “It’s surprisingly a wide range of people,” he says. “It’s a pretty specific shop, so I was a little scared. I knew that I had the touring drummers, but I’ve also found out that there are lots of awesome old drum nerds. I’m surprised by the people that are coming in here and who are excited about it. The best is when you get vintage drum nerds who live in the neighbourhood. They walk in are just like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ Those are my favourites.”
985 Dovercourt Rd., 647-956-9035, www.centurydrumshop.com.