The Bigger Empty wasn’t supposed to happen. In 2014, Mike Felumlee went into the studio, joined by his longtime backing band, to record his new album–but this time, something was different. At some point, he realized, they’d stopped making a record, and had inadvertently started a new band. After nearly ten years of serving as a live vehicle for Felumlee’s solo material, the newly-minted group released its debut EP, The Bigger Empty “Vs. The Cloud“, via Artistic Integrity Records in 2015, with a full-length album to follow.
However, the addition of singer/pianist Amanda Moudry fundamentally changed the group’s sound, leading Felumlee, drummer Kevin Baschen and bassist Reuben Baird to scrap the album and start over. Guitarist Tom Counihan joined in 2016, as the quintet focused its energies and braced for the future. Their second EP “Lakes & Oceans, Vol. 1 Michigan” just came out in February, be sure to have a listen embedded below.
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Sean Ritchie: To start this off, why don’t you talk about where you’re from in Illinois? What would you suggest a first-time visitor to see when visiting the state?
Mike Felumlee: That’s a tough one. Illinois is drastically different depending on where you go in the state. I live just outside of Chicago. If you go an hour south of Chicago, it’s pretty much an entirely different state. Chicago is very urban and liberal, with lots of cool stuff going on, and then when you go south it’s more like farm towns. It’s very sparsely populated. It’s kind of a couple states in one.
For people coming to the Chicago area, one of my favorite things, if they’re into live music, especially if they like rock music, is the amount of venues here. There are really cool small venues that even if you come during the week will have 6-10 [acts on stage]. I would check out Quenchers Saloon, it has a lot of good shows almost every night. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall venue. There is a great beer selection, great tater tots and soft pretzels. Not too far from there you have the Burlington Bar, so it’s in a great spot.
© Mariano Mantel
SR: Yeah, my dad’s actually from Frankfort, Indiana, and spent a lot of time in Illinois, so I understand what you’re saying about the different sections of the state.
MF: Yeah, my brother lives in Bloomington and that feels more like Missouri down there compared to up here in Northern Illinois. I grew up in Ohio too, and down there feels like Ohio to me in a lot of ways.
SR: Now, to tie it into your music, how did you originally get interested or how was it exposed to you? How did that interest turn into what you’re doing today?
MF: For whatever reason, I was just obsessed with music for as long as I can remember. I would save up money from chores and buy vinyl records. Down the road, when I was a teenager, I got a drum set and started drumming for some punk bands. Played drums for The Smoking Popes for many years — I still do. Along the way I learned to play a guitar. I was really into writing music too, so it was better to learn that to record songs.
I have boxes and boxes of tapes I’ve recorded, from the time I was 15 on. I don’t think there was a whole lot of good stuff during those years, but I did it because I liked recording. As that went on, I started getting better at writing songs and that led me into playing in my own bands where I would write and sing.
SR: It’s always interesting to see the path of a career — awesome that you started so young. To fast forward, your second EP “Lakes & Oceans, Vol. 1 Michigan” just came out. Touch on the inspiration behind that release. How has it been received since it’s been out?
MF: This release is actually the first of a four-part series of EP’s we’re doing this year. The inspiration for all of these, and what ties them together, are about relationships. Whether it be about family or romantic relationships, just about the ups and downs you go through in relationships in your life. Each EP is going to be titled with a different body of water, because they can be really calm and beautiful or they can be really turbulent. We picked Michigan, because we live right near Lake Michigan. We haven’t decided what the others will be yet. It’s been received really well from everyone I’ve gotten feedback from. This EP is the first one that has our newest member Amanda [Sena], playing keyboard and vocals.
SR: That’s great to hear. I really love how you’re breaking it up into a couple of volumes. It’s cool to see that staggered release. Tying it into travel, when you do have some down time and are looking for a personal getaway, are you more of a beach guy, up in the mountains somewhere or in a city?
MF: I’m more of a lakes guy, which is partly why we call these EP’s “Lakes & Oceans”. I like both big and small lakes, especially in The South. If I have time for a vacation I like going to Florida and fishing down there. I went to Okeechobee a few years ago, that was really fun. I just like being around water in general. Not necessarily the beach, because I prefer to be doing something, but I’m not opposed to the beach either.
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SR: I heard you’re big into fishing, and I really want to expand on that. Talk about its appeal to you. How often do you go throughout the year?
MF: I don’t really know what the attraction was. I first fished when I was a little kid when my parents took me fishing, but then I didn’t fish again until I was a teen. I had a buddy that was big into bass fishing, went along with him and caught a couple. I don’t know what it is about it. I just got hooked on it. I think it’s just the mystery of what’s down there. It’s also really relaxing and something that I can fully immerse myself into. I’m just not thinking of any of the other stresses that are going on in life outside of that moment. It’s more of a meditation/relaxation type of thing.
SR: Speak to your travel history a little bit. Would you consider yourself well-traveled?
MF: In terms of the United States I’m very well-traveled. I’ve toured in bands from 1993 to 2004, so I’ve played shows in just about all of the continental 48 states. There’s maybe like two states that I haven’t played in, but I’ve been to all of them. I haven’t been to Hawaii or Alaska, but I’d like to go to both of those. I’ve toured the [United Kingdom] a couple of times. I’ve been to Spain a handful of times for different work. So, I’d guess I’d say I’m fairly well-traveled.
© Bud Ellison
SR: Lastly, being well-traveled as you are, do you have a few places that you haven’t been to that you still want to hit?
MF: When I was touring a lot I would keep track of a list of them that I wanted to go back to. That’s the frustrating thing about being on a rock and roll tour. You see all of these places, but you have little time to go out and actually see them. One place that I would really like to go back to is Shasta Lake and the area surrounding it in California. California is supposed to be really good for bass fishing. Another place I really love is San Diego. I think it has the absolute best climate you can have. It’s not as big as the bigger cities, but it has everything that you could ever want in a city.
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For more on The Bigger Empty find their new album on iTunes: