Every student has a master. Bruce Lee had Wing Chun. Anakin had Obi-Wan. Michael Phelps had a pack of magical dolphins. In this case, Mike Byrne, the 19 year-old drum god who was recently announced as the latest member of the Smashing Pumpkins, honed his skills with the help of Justin Matz.
So, how long have you been drumming for? How long have you been an instructor?
I have been drumming for 25 years now and have been teaching for the last 20 years.
How long have you worked with Mike Byrne?
I taught Mike for four years while he was in high school.
What was he like when he first started drumming?
When he first came to me he was full of energy and eager to learn how to play. Mike was listening to a broad range of music too. I helped him figure out songs as well as show him proper technique. I taught him loads of grooves, fills, rudiments, coordination and timing exercises. I taught him how to sound great playing any style of music.
Is he a drumming prodigy?
Yes Mike is an amazing player. I can't wait for everyone to hear him. He is going to be a great role model for other young up-and-coming drummers out there.
Can you describe what it was like the day Byrne got the position with the Smashing Pumpkins?
It was very exciting. As soon as I heard that he was one of the 12 finalists at the audition I just had a feeling he would be the one to get the gig.
How did he beat the competition? Do you know a drumming secret? Like drum magic?
Billy Corgan said "What made Mike stand out was he just seemed to have that X-factor that all the great drummers have, a stunning blend of power, speed, and grace". I think that is a great way to describe Mike's playing. Wait till you see him play. He is a ball of energy. He has worked very hard to get to that point. Do I know any drumming magic? Well, I am a pretty good teacher but honestly the secret to becoming a successful drummer is three magic words: practice, practice, practice.
Do you like the Smashing Pumpkins? Are you tired of hearing the beat for "1979" or do you still dig it?
I love The Smashing Pumpkins. I got to see them open for Primus at The Melody Ballroom in 1991. I have taught many of their songs to my students. Actually, the beat to "1979" is on the very first page of rock beats you will learn at the very first lesson with me. I think it's number seven or something. My students learn how to play all styles of music including rock, metal, funk, blues, jazz, fusion etc. They need to be ready for anything. You never know who will hire you to play drums for them.
I didn't realize kids listened to the Smashing Pumpkins still. Did Byrne learn Smashing Pumpkin songs on his own, and does he know all (or most) of them?
Kids seem to be listening to music from all time periods now. I try to show my students as much as I can. Maybe the "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" games are helping with that too. I did teach Mike how to play various songs and grooves but more importantly I taught him good technique and how to listen and have the ability to figure stuff out on his own. He has an incredible taste in music and a hunger for learning new stuff. The Smashing Pumpkins were one of his favorite bands. He can play all the tunes backwards and forwards.
Is he stressed to be in this situation, or excited?
He is very excited. If anyone can handle the pressure Mike can.
Will he become a junkie like Jimmy Chamberlain did, or does he have a pretty good head on his shoulders?
Mike is smart and he is a good person. I am not worried about him at all. He will be fine.
What are you doing next? Are you still instructing Byrne or do you have a line of hopeful drummers standing outside your door?
I currently teach here in Beaverton, Oregon and I am a freelance drummer. I really love what I do. Drumming is my life. Mike is officially in the band now so I am sure you will be hearing more about him soon. I do have more students who play just as well as Mike and I can't wait to see what they are going to do in the future. If anyone wants lessons feel free to contact me here.