I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Byrne, a renowned Portland musician who was chosen out of thousands of applicants in 2009 to serve as the replacement for Jimmy Chamberlin as drummer for the Smashing Pumpkins. He now drums for and is an active member of his new band Bearcubbin’! and lives in Seattle, Washington.
Q: At a young age, what got you interested in playing the drums? When did you first become interested in music?
A: I grew up in a musical setting. I had parents who appreciated music, and I was exposed to it at a pretty early age. I started playing drums because it looked like the fun thing to do. At the time I didn’t see the fun in playing any other instruments, so when I picked up drums it was like, “Whoa, this is cool.” I started playing piano when I was about 9 years old until about 7th grade when I finally started to play the drums. I went through a bunch of different instruments that were not nearly as cool. I even played the flute for a hot second; that wasn’t great.
Q: Who were your primary role models as a kid? Did they play a large part in you continuing to play the drums?
A: I had a of couple teachers that I was really inspired by and looked up to. I feel like I had a lot of friends at a young age that were pushing their musical game in a similar way to what I wanted to do, and it was cool to watch them further their craft and feel the need to match their pace. I think that is what did it more than anything.
Q: What were your favorite bands as a teenager? Were the Smashing Pumpkins one of them?
A: Oh man, yeah I was a big dork for that band (The Smashing Pumpkins). It really depends because I was ridiculously scatterbrained when it came to that stuff, so for a week I would be into cheese 90s alt rock and then a week later I would be listening to ridiculous free jazz. I liked a band called Tera Melos a lot when I was 16 and they would just play weird stuff.
Q: What was it like playing drums for the Smashing Pumpkins and working with Billy Corgan at such a young age?
A: It was great. It was cool because it put my feet to the fire a little bit. You have to learn how to work at a really high level pretty immediately or else you don’t get to work at the high level, so you learn things very quickly. I feel very fortunate to have had that experience.
Q: Was that stressful for you?
A: I feel like it was stressful in the same way for kids going into college, because that was my college you know? You are going feet first into a situation where you are not quite sure what to expect but a lot is expected from you. I learned that you have to confront 50,000 people in a crowd much differently than you do people in a small club.
Q: What was the best moment for you as a member of the Smashing Pumpkins?
A: We played the Sunset Strip Festival in Los Angeles. It was the first time my parents had ever seen me play in front of the big crowds, which was really fun. The funniest part of it was probably when we were all holed up in this restaurant next to the stage and my parents were hanging out with the band. My mom needed to use this bathroom that was right next to the stage that Fergie had set up as her personal makeup room. My mom essentially got to have our security kick Fergie and her guys out of that bathroom. For like a split second she was more powerful than Fergie. The show itself was nuts and it was giant. The best moments are like that festival where you are looking at massive crowds.
Q: What sound do you hope to achieve with your new band Bearcubbin’!? Where does Bearcubbin’! draw influence from?
A: We have no idea what we want to sound like from a day to day basis. There is a certain set of weird rules that we have given ourselves where we don’t really know what we are going to sound like record to record. We steal a lot of sounds from bands like Battles and a band called Adebisi Shank, bands that are on the label Sargent House. We like a lot of their sounds so we borrow from them a lot.
Q: Is the band coming together as you hoped it would?
A: Bands are weird, the idea of a band or a piece of music or a piece of art coming out “as you hoped“ is kind of a hilarious idea. We are a unit and the way that we are constructed forces us to work together very well.
Q: You use elements of electronic music in your new band, what are your opinions on the rise of electronic music in popular culture?
A: I totally get it and I am totally for it. I can understand why people get excited about things like dubstep in the wake of rock and roll becoming more of a chill affair.
Q: What is next for Mike Byrne?
A: I don’t know. I play music pretty much any chance I get. I am still teaching drum lessons in the Seattle area. I do some soundtrack/score work, and obviously I have bands that I work with on a regular basis.
Q: Do you have advice for any aspiring musicians?
A: Regardless of whether or not you want to play music professionally or just as a hobby and be the best you can be, you have to practice. You can't go halfway into music as a passion and expect to get what people who put themselves in 100% get.