When Mr. Big formed in 1988, the band was viewed as a supergroup. Billy Sheehan had toured all over the States and Canada with Talas before becoming David Lee Roth‘s bassist. Guitarist Paul Gilbert had been a part of Racer X alongside future Judas Priest drummer Scott Travis. Drummer Pat Torpey had already played with The Knack, Belinda Carlisle, Roger Daltrey and Mike + The Mechanics. Frontman Eric Martin was a member of 415, later signed to Elektra Records, before leading The Eric Martin Band. Thus, the members of Mr. Big all brought a lot to the table musically and experience-wise.
Although the average rock fan thinks of “To Be With You” — which went to #1 in more than a dozen countries — when they hear the name Mr. Big, five of the quartet’s eight studio albums have been gold-certified in the United States and/or Japan. “Just Take My Heart,” “Wild World” and “Ain’t Seen Love Like That” were charting hits, while “Addicted To That Rush” “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy” and “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind” are regarded as classics. Mr. Big went on hiatus in 2002, after touring in support of Actual Size, and has been an active band on a part-time basis since reuniting for a Japanese tour in June 2009. July 7, 2017 will bring the release of Mr. Big’s ninth studio effort, Defying Gravity, via Frontiers Records.
In support of Defying Gravity, Mr. Big — still comprised of Martin, Gilbert, Sheehan and Torpey — is in the midst of a world tour; drum duties are shared between Torpey and Matt Starr. PureGrainAudio had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Martin about his life on-stage and off.
Check out a video on the making of the album Defying Gravity
When I interviewed Paul in June 2016 and I asked about Mr. Big’s future, he said the band would be doing some shows but “We don’t have recording plans at the moment, but that can always happen.” How did the idea for a new album come about? Did someone take initiative?
Martin: Our manager lit that fire this time. He had a conference call with us at the end of last year and told us it was time to make a record. I know we were excited about it, but unfortunately, we all had solo touring commitments that took us away from all getting in a room together and spending ample time to perfect it all. Eventually, Paul, Billy, and Pat went into a rehearsal room in L.A. and started to jam and come up with ideas. They hashed out a ton of ideas — we call “sniglets” — and they sent it to me to write some lyrics, melodies and arrangements. It took a while and a few sessions to get some good stuff.
Out of all the ideas that I sliced, diced, cut and pasted together, I came up with “Defying Gravity” and “Everybody Needs A Little Trouble,” and wrote a couple of my own. Billy had written a couple melodic songs, and Paul brought in a bag full of songs. We all landed home from doing solo tours from all around the world and a couple weeks later we were in the studio with Kevin Elson, the man that helped define our sound. We were given six days to make this record; it was a challenge, to say the least. I’m still processing the songs, it’s all so new to me, but it’s raw and live and kicks ass every day that I listen to it. It’s up to you kids now.
Do you have a favorite song on the new album?
Martin: “Everybody Needs A Little Trouble” is my fave. Paul had written this blues shuffle idea, a cross between Bo Diddley and Muse, but it just chugged along for five minutes. It was simple but hypnotic. I wrote this cool swing chorus, and my two faithful songwriting partners — Andre Pessis and Tony Fanucchi — and I, who have a ton of Mr. Big songs under our belts, wrote the lyrics and melodies and had a blast doing it.
For someone coming to see you live on the upcoming tour, will you be playing a lot of songs from Defying Gravity?
Martin: We’re going to start off with a couple and gradually slip more in the set.
Although the band had multiple hits here and in Europe, Mr. Big is one of the most famous “big in Japan” stories ever. What is it that you think connects Mr. Big to Japan?
Martin: I don’t have the magic answer, I just know that every time we play there it’s like a family reunion of sorts. The same great fans that came in the beginning come every year are now bringing their kids, and their kids bring their kids.
When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?
Martin: I try to spend as much time as I can with my sons Jacob and Dylan, 12-year-old twins. I’ve worked so hard for so many years to take care of them and provide for them, but I feel like I missed out on their childhood. Other than that, sleep! Yep, I have had the worst case of jet lag for the last three years.
Finally, Eric, any last words for the kids?
Martin: The kids, huh? Ahh, we’re all getting up there in age, but if you’re a true believer in the power of rock & roll music, then we’ll all stay young at heart forever.
Check out the music video for the song “All The Way Up”