It's like a Cinderella story—except the fairy godmother is a 43-year-old bald man in a silver skirt.
Only a year ago, Mike Byrne was just a typical Beaverton teenager. He worked at McDonald's, played drums in his parents' garage and was about to head off to college.
Then he heard that one of his favorite bands, the Smashing Pumpkins, was holding open auditions for a new drummer. He sent in a video of himself winning a local drum competition, scored an audition, and a week later, his mom received a phone call. It was Billy Corgan, and he wanted to know if Byrne could come over and play.
Now 20 years old, Byrne has spent the past year recording and touring as a Pumpkin. This week, he makes his triumphant return home when the band headlines MusicfestNW. He chatted with WW about being Portland's newest hometown hero.
WW: Billy Corgan must have his pick of every drummer in the country—do you know why you got the gig?
Mike Byrne: Yeah, about a thousand people sent in videos. I think what it boiled down to was that…there was sort of an immediate ease—it was really easy for us to get into the same sort of flow. It sounded real musical right off the bat. So I think that was why we started working together—it just sort of naturally sounded good from the get-go.
Are you all friends now? Do you hang out?
There is an age gap, but we're all real good friends at this point.
Do they have to sneak you into clubs?
Well, I don't know of a lot of clubs that are going to be like, "Whoa, whoa, wait a minute—Smashing Pumpkins, are you saying your drummer's only 20? Whoa, man, guess you're not going to be able to play tonight!" They just look the other way, for the most part.
So Musicfest will be the first gig you've done in Oregon?
Yeah, I'm extremely excited. I always thought MusicfestNW was really cool and I knew we were playing in Portland, but I was unaware it was under the Musicfest umbrella until the last minute and it was exciting to hear that. It was a really nice surprise to see the tour itinerary.
Is it a bit surreal?
It's wild. It's weird to come full circle after having been out doing the road thing and then coming back into Portland and having all my friends come to a show and see what it is I've been up to for the past year and a half.
Will you invite all the kids who picked on you in high school?
No, man, I'm going to make a point of not inviting them. It's exclusive. I'm going to send them a letter like, "You can't come!" (giggles)
So are you going to show the band around town?
I definitely will show them a couple of the key hot spots and stuff. Take them by the obvious touristy stuff.
Where do you take Billy Corgan in
I don't even know, man. That guy's got eclectic taste. He's hard to call. Maybe to the Japanese Gardens.
So is this going to be an ongoing gig for you?
Oh yeah, we're in the thick of working on this 44-song—like one song at a time—project that's going to take the next four years. So there's definitely a lot of work to be done.
That's pretty good job security.
(Laughs) It's a nice feeling.
How do you deal with the fans?
As of right now, I'm still pretty new, so before the show I can still walk around in the crowd. But it's cool because after the show, it is sort of an ego boost to be walking back to the bus and see all of the people right next to it and they know who you are when you walk out of the building and they're like, "Oh—Mike!" I've just gotta keep my head at a size where I can still fit in the door of the bus.
Who's your favorite local band here?
Definitely this band called the Jezebel Spirit. They're super, super, super insanely beyond good. They're actually some of the guys I play with. They're pretty much the whole reason I got into post-rock, math-rock stuff. They're like the most inhumanely tight live band I've ever seen. It's the best show in the world.
Now they can support you.
I definitely wouldn't mind it.
The Smashing Pumpkins play MusicfestNW with Bad City at the Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., 284-8686. 10:15 pm Saturday, Sept. 11. Entry with MusicfestNW wristband or $40 advance ticket from Ticketmaster. Info at musicfestnw.com.