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Mr. Big

Iedereen kan de grootste hit van Mr. Big mee zingen. 'To Be With You' zit in ons collectief geheugen zonder dat je misschien de naam van de band weet die achter deze grote hit zit uit begin jaren negentig. Mr.Big was destijds een van de zogenaamde supergroepen die onstonden met musici die hun sporen al elders verdiend hadden. Ga maar na, Billy Sheehan kwam net uit de David Lee Roth band, Paul Gilbert timmerde aan de weg met heavy metal groep Racer X, Pat Torpey was een succesvol sessiemuzikant en speelde in The Knack en Eric Martin had er inmiddels al een aantal jaar als succesvol solo artiest op zitten. Aangezien Mr.Big een meer dan goede nieuwe plaat uit heeft zocht ik contact met Eric Martin en ik kreeg hem aan de telefoon in zijn prive studio in Marin County, Californië. Eric deed zijn bijnaam Mister Bigmouth eer aan want het werd een lang en aangenaam gesprek over de nieuwe plaat 'Defying Gravity' en over die megahit uit 1992. Ook Avantasia en de Europese rockscene kwamen voorbij en Eric blijkt een meer dan groot liefhebber te zijn van Europese heavy metal.

Door: Henk | Archiveer onder hardrock / aor

Hi Eric, great to have on you on the phone! Where are you right now and what are you up to?
Hi Henk, pleasure speaking to you. At the moment I am in Marin County where I have my house with the wife and kids. It's in the northern part of California, the wine country which is a good thing! I am currently at my studio which is a mile down the road, making coffee and learning old Mr.Big songs for the upcoming tour. Also we will do a medley and an acoustic portion and that what we call a switcheroo where Paul Gilbert plays drums, Billy Sheehan plays guitar, I play bass and Pat Torpey sings. I am still waiting for the bass chords I have to play. Paul needs to send them to me. We are reaching back to our 'Lean Into It' album and play some songs from that album that we never played before like 'Never Say Never' and another one we haven't played in years called 'Lucky This Time'.

Well that last one is a great tune Eric.
Well we aim to please Henk, and we love playing live, I love playing live, way more than being in the studio. Usually the stay in the studio is so long and tedious and that for months at a time, except for this time (laughs). This time it was six frightening panic filled days for me.

Yeah, I heard that you recorded the album in six days and it sounds great. It has this natural vibe to it where nowadays bands tend to overproduce it and vocals are recorded with all kinds of studio tricks to make it sound better. I do not think your voice was processed through any kind of studio equipment at all.
No, it never has been and even if we wanted to this time, we did not have the time for it. We all brought in some tunes, I had a couple , Pat had some unfinished ideas, Billy had a few tunes and Paul Gilbert brought in seven tunes. And it was always like this. I remember years ago we did an album called 'Actual Size', it was with Richie Kotzen, those days. Billy was on the road with Steve Vai at the time and he said, I'm going to send a couple of hard rock tunes and trying the best he can do but it was actually Pat Torpey who wrote the majority of that record. And during the recording of 'The Stories We Could Tell', the album that nobody likes it was mainly me who wrote the songs. But I like the album (laughs). And now here we are, we did the new record in six days, wrote it, recorded it and shrink wrapped it and it was just so fast! I believe there was a little hype to it because it was Kevin Elson producing it making people think it would be some kind of 'Lean Into It' album but it is not. It is super raw, dirty and crunchy with rock guitars and no velvet curtains or violins or whatever.

Yes, and that is actually what I like about the album. The natural sound and the playing is really great. I heard that Paul did a lot of solos on the fly.
You know, it was all improvised by Paul. There is this song 'Everybody Needs A Little Trouble' and Kevin Elson, the producer asked Paul what kind of solos he can come up with for that one. He recorded four solos for it when somebody walks in a tells us that Chuck Berry just passed away. When thinking of that for a minute Paul said: He was an influence, I am going to pull a Chuck Berry solo for this one right out of the hat. So that is what he did and Kevin goes, yeah this is the one I want! And we immediately started with the next song. There was no months shooting a record which is a good thing I think. Even though I did not like being with my back against the wall, because I am a songwriter and I do like to spend time writing a song and not just popping them out you know.

I can imagine that you now just had to shoot the songs out of you instead of being comfortable with the lyrics so you can bring your heart into it.
Yeah, even with 'Everybody Needs A Little Trouble' Paul, Kevin, Billy and me decided that we needed another song on the record. Paul Gilbert said: well I have this instrumental, maybe we can work that one out. And I went, instrumental? Can I write something to it? And he goes, no it is just a guitar piece. So here I am, sitting in the other room, sweating and thinking this is not going to happen. Ten songs on the record and one instrumental, that is not fair. They were saying, why don't you take a break while we work this instrumental out. I was going fuck man, I need something to do about is. Then I remembered this kind of Bo Diddley lick that Paul played to me and I just kept playing it over and over again. So I got on Skype and played it to two of my friends, Andre Pessis and Tony Fanucchi with whom I worked before and we worked it out. Twenty minutes later I walked into the other room and said to the guys, I think I got something. Paul, you remember that lick you played me? And he goes, no.... Here is the guy that has hundreds of licks in him and asks what have you got? Then I played them 'Everybody Needs A little Trouble' and everybody thinks it is awesome. So there it is on the album, just a simple blues kind of thing and my favorite track on the album. There are others songs I like but this one I like the most because it is just so simple. It definitely has this old classic rock feel, but it also has this Queens Of The Stone Age approach to it of making fifties music more current. I was not trying to write anything current but just wanted a cool sounding blues tune. And it worked. That whole song took about two hours to manifest from writing to recording it. So it took us six days to write and record the whole album, after Kevin Elson took it and mixed it while I was doing some vocals in my own studio. I did also vocals in those six days and we kept some of those but I worked with Chris Manning, the bass player of Jellyfish in my own studio on vocals and melodies. Because there was so little time I tried to have as much fun as possible so I even sang through an paper towel to give my voice an old radio kind of feeling on 'Everybody Needs A Little Trouble'.

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It shows on the record that you had your fun recording it. One song I would like to talk about is the song '1992'. It is about the breakthrough and the big hit you had with 'To Be With You'. What would you say happened there and then in that time if you look back at it.
All kind of crazy stuff happened in those days. We got signed by Atlantic Records without them having seen us before. Me and Billy had a couple of demos and a few labels passed us and Atlantic came out to see us but somebody got sick in the band. Atlantic had to leave and so we gave them a demo and they signed us on that demo. The name recognition of Billy and Paul was enough to convince them. Billy of course was known of his work with David Lee Roth, Paul was still a young gun but already had a couple of great albums made with Racer X and then we had this powerhouse drummer who used to be in The Knack combined with an Otis Redding kind of singer, really weird but it worked. So the demo basically was also our first album with a lot of great tunes like 'Addicted To That Rush' and 'Take A Walk'. A really strong first album for a band.

I had this other song still in my pocket called 'To Be With You'. I had it for years before I played it to Paul Gilbert. He immediately went, that's a great song! This would be nice to put at the end of an album. Well, we did put it on the 'Lean Into It' album and it took a while because we had other songs in front of it. We did not get top 40 radio until 'To Be With You' hit and sold millions of records. The single itself sold more than 500.000 pieces in the first few months. It was our manager Herbie Herbert who was also the manager of Europe and Roxette back in the days who pushed the record company to release it as a single. He was a great manager, retired now.

So every album after that the record company kept pushing for a new hit. Where is the next 'To Be With You'? Also they wanted us to wear clothing that we did not like. Paul used to make his own crazy clothing, Billy had a flashy style. I was the one wearing jeans and a pirate shirt back in the nineties but they wanted us to wear other things that they picked. What started about our music and primitive rock and roll turned in to something corporate. And we did comply. 'Wild World' turned out great and I love our version of it, but they pushed us to write songs for the radio. I always felt like that is the kiss of death. We were no band that would write tunes for the radio. We wrote tunes that made us feel good and then somebody would say that it would work on the radio. And then we go, it would? With 'To Be With You' we caught the public on a good day and we were just lucky. For me it is the best thing that could ever happen to us. It keeps on giving, even to this day. Just look at all the stamps in my passport.

It still is your signature today. I told a couple of colleagues today I had an interview with Eric Martin and they asked me who you were so I played them this song and they knew it right away.
And then when you play them 'Addicted To That Rush' they go, is that the same guy?

Yeah sure, but that is the great thing that Mr. Big is so diverse and you have also the real rock songs like '1992'on the new album.
In a nutshell '1992' is about the song that I wrote for a girl when I was sixteen or seventeen years old and I just wanted to Kiss, but that did not even happen (laughs). I put her in a song with some greens and blues! And about the record company who wanted to drop us, and asked us to wear shirts we did not like. All of it happened and it was Paul who wrote this song about it. Paul was super affected by the fact that the record company asked us after the 'Bump Ahead' album where the next 'To Be With You' part two was. He actually wrote this song 'Seven Impossible Days' about it. We recorded 'Wild World', gave it to them and they went, yeah, the next 'To Be With You'. After that we decided we are not going to do this anymore. We should be in it together with the record company. They signed us and they were supposed to get a career going. But because of the early success they were kind of chasing the dragon and we were going to be a singles band. We wanted to keep our hard rock following and that was a little difficult to balance. People were coming to the shows thinking the sound of that one single was our sound. So, then either we hooked them and they loved the other stuff or we scared them away and they did not understand our sound. We toured for two years on the first album and we barely struck gold. Today with all the technology it's easier to reach more people. But there also way more bands. I used to go a record store and try to find a Mr. Big album but there were also Blue Murder, Badlands and others but now it's crazy.

But it's good to see that the big bands from then are still around. Like Skid Row, Mr. Big and Tesla.
Yeah that's great but are you familiar with Avantasia? They are calling it rock opera but there is no narration or anything. It is more a power metal concept thing that Tobias Sammet put together with seven singers from around the world. I just played Wacken with them for the second time. And what a thrill to be with those European singers. I love European melodic rock like the band from my friend Ronnie Atkins, Pretty Maids. Their albums 'Kingmaker' and 'Motherland' are great and also the production. If I ever do a rock solo album again, that I threaten to make for the last twelve years, I want that producer. I also never known Helloween until I met Michael Kiske on this tour and that is a whole different ball game then what we do. Avantasia was my introduction to European hard rock and heavy metal and I think it's great. Also Jorn Lande is in the band as well. He is phenomenal. I hate singing after him. He sings before me when we tour, and the crowd just loves him.

One last question Eric, you will be doing a tour in Asia now and after that Europe.
Yes, we are going to Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea. The thing with North Korea is now in the states it reminds us being in the cold war again. It's like a bad James Bond movie. But getting back to the world of rock and roll, Asia first now and after a week after we come home it is off to Europe where we play The Netherlands, England, Germany and a few other countries. After that I maybe will go out on another solo acoustic tour all over Europe. I really like that very much.

Well thank you for the conversation. I hope to see you in Eindhoven.
See you there man!

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