An In Depth Interview With MR. BIG Front-Man ERIC MARTIN About The Band’s Forthcoming Ninth Album And More!
Posted On 06 Jul 2017
On July 21st MR. BIG will be releasing their ninth original studio album, DEFYING GRAVITY (Frontiers Music Srl). It will be available at traditional retail and all digital service providers, as will a deluxe edition version with CD and bonus DVD that features music videos and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the new album.
“2017 is filling up quickly with tour dates all around the world,” proclaims guitarist Paul Gilbert. “I can’t wait to play the new songs, and of course our favorites from the old days like ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy’ ‘Just Take My Heart,’ ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind,’ ‘Wild World,’ and ‘To Be With You.’”
DEFYING GRAVITY deftly showcases that patented MR. BIG blend of crunch and melody, from the freight-train ride of opening cut “Open Your Eyes” to the harmony-laden wonderment of “Damn I’m in Love Again” to the grateful/wistful nostalgia of “1992” (recalling the days when the band was flying high atop the singles charts with their international #1 smash “To Be With You”) to the barn-burning slide-blues closer, “Be Kind.” Overall, DEFYING GRAVITY is prime evidence that the only thing MR. BIG remains tethered to is their ongoing pursuit of achieving creative excellence.
Original members Eric Martin (lead vocals), Paul Gilbert (guitars), Billy Sheehan (bass) and Pat Torpey (drums) reunited with producer Kevin Elson (who was behind the boards for the band’s 1989 self-titled debut, 1991’s LEAN INTO IT and 1993’s BUMP AHEAD) for an intensive six-day recording session in Los Angeles. While Torpey was unable to perform some of the songs on DEFYING GRAVITY due to a recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, Matt Starr has been filling in for him on a majority of the album. Starr also been touring with the band for the past couple of years, with Torpey able to play a couple of songs at each stop.
“It was great to get back in the studio with our original producer, Kevin Elson,” says Gilbert. “Kevin recorded all of our original classic albums from the ‘80s and ‘90s, and we immediately felt that magic chemistry with him on DEFYING GRAVITY. We basically played live in the studio. Over the years, we’ve all had a chance to experiment with every recording technique possible, but it’s still always the best just to play together as a band. Most of my guitar solos were tracked live with the band. I’ve worked hard on my improvisation in the last few years, and it really paid off on this record…both melodically, and on the face-melting stuff.”
DEFYING GRAVITY is the follow-up to 2014’s THE STORIES WE COULD TELL (Frontiers Music Srl), which Ultimate-Guitar.com described as “An exceptional offering of accelerated hard rock from one of the more dominant ‘supergroups’ of the late 1980s, MR. BIG return with a vengeance on THE STORIES WE COULD TELL.”
Learn more about Mr. Big in the following All Access interview:
What are some words you would use to describe 2016 for this band and your music?
We didn’t work that much in 2016, just a handful of shows in San Francisco and around Los Angeles. It was sad year for me. I had lost my dear friend, Tom Size, who was the band’s recording engineer for most of the Mr. Big studio & live records.
What were some of the highlights?
Personally, I traveled the world playing my solo music, as well as singing Mr. Big’s staple songs. I’ve got to say that our music is still “Alive & Kickin’” out there in the world.
What has been the most exciting part about this year?
Finally making a new record and getting out on the road. We all made a pact when we got back together in 2009 that we wouldn’t work year-long tours and basically burn ourselves out like we did in the past. We wanted to keep it stress free and as painless as possible. That being said it’s been a few years since we hit the stages around the world and I missed this so much. So I hope we get to hit as many places as we can this year and possibly work into the new year.
Growing up, did you all always want to be musicians?
Yes, I grew up with a musical family. My father was a drummer before he joined the Army and my mother was a great singer, not professionally, but she had a beautiful voice. My brother and sisters all sing as well. We were like the Von Trapp family from “The Sound Of music.”
Can you recall the moment you realized that you could really make music together and be a band?
From our first practice together as a band we wrote the songs for our first record in about eight days. We had instant chemistry.
How did you all first meet each other?
I think it was 1988 when I got a call from a long-time friend in the music business, record producer/and owner of Shrapnel records Mike Varney, asking me if I wanted to be in a rock band again. I was fronting my solo own band, which was kind of a rock & soul group, but going nowhere. I said, “Maybe, but who would be in this band?” And he said, “Billy Sheehan from David Lee Roth’s band and you so far.” I was really intrigued and kind of jumped in the ring pretty fast. I believe Paul was called next and we held auditions for a drummer. Pat was the second guy to come in and got the job immediately. Billy, Pat and I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s and were raised on the same kind of music; from Motown to Led Zeppelin to Frank Sinatra to the Beatles and other great Rock & Roll music of our generation. Paul was young, but had an old soul. That kid can play anything, any style of music perfectly. He’s kind of the closest thing to genius that I’ve ever met. Collectively we all clicked.
On July 21, you are going to release your ninth studio album called “Defying Gravity.” Can you talk about what it was like working on this collection?
I had about a week and a half to come up with songs to bring the band. Billy, Pat & Paul sent me some riffs and song ideas. My songwriting partner, Andre Pessis, and I wrote a few tunes out of it and had a couple more that I had written on my own.
We all got together in a Hollywood, CA at Ocean Recording Studios with our producer Kevin Elson, and showed each other our songs from demos that we made. I had sung my songs live for the band. We had about 12 tunes. One song didn’t make the cut and 11 tunes were tracked in six days. Pretty damn quick. I sung all my guide vocals live with the group and then re- recorded most of it with my engineer, Chris Manning (bassist for the band Jellyfish) back home in the San Francisco bay area. So while Kevin was doing some guitar overdubs and mixing, I was finishing up lyrics and singing vocals. It was really nerve wracking to be rushed like that, but looking back on it I see the great chemistry that this band has under any pressure. I knew that with Kevin Elson at the helm he would make whatever we did sound great.
How do you think this process has changed for this band over the years?
We used to spend a lot of time in pre-production and have over 20 songs to choose from, but for these last two records we basically wrote just enough to make a record. It’s probably because a lot of us have a million other things going on in our lives. Things have changed drastically since Pat was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a few years ago. He didn’t play very much on this new record . Our friend and touring drummer, Matt Star, took on Pat’s role. Matt’s good, but I’ve been used to Pat’s feel and tone for over 20-plus years now. On the road, Pat’s with us playing percussion and singing his heart out.
What was it like working with your producer Kevin Elson on this album? Did it feel like the magic that you had with him on those albums in the ‘80s and ‘90s came flooding back to you all?
Kevin Elson helped create this band’s signature sound. He produced our most popular albums, as well as a host of multi-Platinum-selling artists like Journey, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Europe. So to watch Kevin taking control of the board again…well, it was pretty special. He definitely has the magic touch.
Let’s talk about already released track, “1992.” How did this song come about and where did the inspiration for it come from?
Paul wrote it about the experiences of that huge year for the band; the hits, the constant pressure to come up with more hits and how “ the good people,” basically the fans, brought us to the top of the rock. God love them all.
Are you all excited to be headed out on tour?
We are on tour now in the USA and loving it. We haven’t toured here for years. It feels so good to be playing in our home country for change. I actually was kind of nervous when we started. We’ve been out here for just a couple weeks and have a couple weeks left to go, and then it’s on to South America, Asia, and Europe. I’m loving it out here.
What do you think makes an ideal show for Mr. Big?
It doesn’t matter if it’s a stadium or a barn. This band and this great road crew of ours could set up and sound great anywhere. The ideal show for me is on the festival stages of Europe and of course the infamous Budokan Arena in Tokyo, but tomorrow it’s Texas and just like the song says, “wherever I lay my hat that’s my home.”
I am curious to know what you all think of the music industry these days and how have you all adapted to the changing times?
I don’t think about it anymore. It depresses the hell out of me. I just write my songs, sing them on stage, and hope the management & publishing people that I trust to work my songs are doing the best they can for me.
I am sure you’ve all been able to touch so many fans around the world in your time with this band so I’d love to know what has been a favorite experience or two with a fan?
Back in the day, before the internet and cell phones, it was all about letters and postcards. I wrote so many nights in a different city or country for years. It started out as fan letters and morphed into full friendships with hundreds of people. To this day, I’m friends with most of my fans. I’m moved by their letters and emails, saying that my songs have helped couples get together, soothed people’s souls, get through divorces and deaths in the family, or even got them through the day.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
I love all kinds of music from Motown, hard rock and heavy metal to musicals. I’m more partial to Americana music artists like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Simon & Garfunkel, Chris Stappelton, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Allman Brothers, Keith Urban and the soulful sounds of Otis Redding, Paul Rogers, Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, Hall & Oates.
Who would you like to work with in the future?
I would love to sing a duet with Susan Tedeschi, write a song with Eric Clapton and have him play on the track.
What would be a dream collaboration for each of you in Mr. Big?
Same answer as the last question, but I’d add rock out on stage with the Rolling Stones.
At the end of the day, what do you hope is the message of your music?
There’s big mojo in the power of music. It makes me feel good, heal faster, try a little harder, cry like a baby, remember everything about my life on this planet and the people I’ve loved and longed for…if my words & melodies touch you like that, I’m paying it forward.
What do you hope people take away from your songs?
Love, hope & laughter.