Smoking Popes drummer excited about new band, show at Lombard's Brauerhouse

  • The Bigger Empty, the new rock project led by Smoking Popes drummer Mike Felumlee, plays Brauerhouse in Lombard Saturday, April 16.

    The Bigger Empty, the new rock project led by Smoking Popes drummer Mike Felumlee, plays Brauerhouse in Lombard Saturday, April 16. courtesy of Katie Hovland

 
 
Updated 4/13/2016 10:41 AM

It sounds like a chapter lifted right out of the Rock 'n' Roll Storybook.

Mike Felumlee, a young skateboarder, discovers the Replacements after seeing an ad for one of the band's records in the back of Thrasher magazine. The band blows his mind, inspiring him to check out other members of the late-1980s punk/alternative scene -- the Pixies, the Dead Milkmen, the Cure.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Flash forward roughly 25 years. Felumlee, drummer for the suburban punk band the Smoking Popes, takes the stage at the Riviera Theater in Chicago. The Popes are the openers that night -- for the Replacements.

"It was pretty surreal," Felumlee, a Westmont resident, said with a laugh. "To open for one of your heroes like that … it's something I'll remember for a long time."

Felumlee hopes to create additional memories with his new musical project, The Bigger Empty. Felumlee is the guitarist and lead singer for the high-energy pop-punk band, which has released one EP so far, with a full-length album to come later this year.

The Bigger Empty will headline a show Saturday, April 16, at Brauerhouse in Lombard.

"We're really looking forward to it," Felumlee said. "It's always a blast to play in front of hometown fans."

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Felumlee has played with the other members of The Bigger Empty -- Jim Steinkraus, Reuben Baird and Kevin Baschen -- for years. The three other members served as Felumlee's unofficial backup band whenever he put out solo material, he said.

"It recently dawned on us that we were sounding more and more like a cohesive four-piece band, so we decided, well, let's just be a band," he said. "It's been great so far. Having the guys contribute to the songs is giving the songs a lot more character. They add things that I never would have come up with as a solo artist."

Felumlee has lived in the Chicago suburbs off and on since the late 1980s. He moved from Ohio to Crystal Lake when he was 13 and quickly became immersed in the suburban punk scene. Shortly before graduating from Crystal Lake High School, he joined the Smoking Popes as its drummer in the early 1990s, remaining with the band until it went on hiatus in 1998.

It was during this period that he started playing guitar, getting tips from Popes guitarist Eli Caterer.

"Eli would show me some things after our practices, and it really helped," Felumlee said. "I'll always love the drums, since that was the first instrument I learned, but the guitar gives me another way to play music, and I really enjoy it on stage."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Felumlee played drums with Alkaline Trio, a pop-punk band from McHenry, and released solo records after the Smoking Popes disbanded in 1998. He rejoined the Popes last year, and says he plans to continue playing with them.

But he says The Bigger Empty is an important new part of his musical life, one that he hopes continues for a long time.

"I love making and playing music, and I see The Bigger Empty as being a huge part of that for me going forward," he said. "Doing this is a little more difficult for everyone now, because we're older and we have day jobs and mortgages and things like that. But that means it's also just about loving what we do, and I couldn't be happier with it."

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