|Posted on December 2, 2013 at 11:05 PM|
To a lot of people Mr. Big may simply be "that band" that sang "that song" To Be With You back in 1991. To a degree I guess, you could not blame people for thinking of the band in that way, after all To Be With You was the bands biggest commercial hit reaching Number 1 in 15 countries. They would go on to release other singles but would never capture the same success as that one song and on the surface some might think of them in terms of a one hit wonder. However the band has forged a career spanning 30 years, releasing 7 studio albums, 10 live albums, 4 compilation albums and countless world tours and boasts one of the most talented line ups of any band I have heard, Billy Sheehan (bass), Paul Gilbert (guitar), Pat Torpey (drums) and Eric Martin (vocals). In addition to his status as the lead singer of Mr. Big, Martin has also had a productive solo career releasing 11 solo albums, 5 of those under the title of Mr. Vocalist. So with great pleasure I spoke to Eric Martin about Mr. Big, his solo efforts, the changing music industry and naturally, that song.
Rock Man: You have been riding a wave of success for three decades now, you must feel very blessed to have been in the business for so long?
Eric Martin: I am thankful for what has happened to me. I mean, I think I did everything by the, you know, how you paint by the numbers, nothing came easy which is good. I did my struggling period and I did my crying about ‘how come I ain’t making it at 19/20 years old’, but I learned a lesson, my own kind of mantra lesson that when you least expect it things will happen for you. So by just applying myself and motivating myself to write and play every instrument, obviously not the trumpet, I do not really need it in the band, but just trying to better myself over the years and have some success and everything was lucky. But I like the fact that I did not stress about it too long, I stressed about it a little bit when I was younger and then I just kept doing it, I love my gig, I love playing music and it is kind of cool to get paid for it as well. I love doing it and I do not see myself doing anything else.
RM: Who were some of the artists that inspired you early on and are there any artists today that you are a fan of?
EM: Yeah well, this is probably something that a lot of singers, they bring up the king’s name, and I am not going to say Elvis, I am going to say Paul Rogers. I mean, I grew up listening to a lot of Motown, Otis Redding and stuff like that and obviously I grew up in the 70s, so stuff like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, but when I heard Paul Rogers when he was in the band Free, when I heard that voice I went ‘Oh man! I want to sound like that’. I love that, kind of the best of both worlds, you know, kind of crunchy rock and roll voice, but with this little soul belter, you know, the soul side so I really like the best of both worlds and Paul Rogers he has always been my, like an icon. And the singers that kind of emulated him as well and they found their own originality as well like Lou Gramm and Joe Lynn Turner, who is a friend, there is a lot of them, Frankie Miller and believe it or not, Jagger. Totally out there but I loved Jagger’s swagger [laughs] and the way he slurred his words it was almost kind of, it was not lazy it was just a like more sexy, but I really like Jagger and Rod Stewart, the list goes on but Paul Rogers was the king for me.
RM: In Mr. Big you are surrounded by gifted musicians, Billy Sheehan on bass, Paul Gilbert on guitar and Pat Torpey on drums, can you describe what it is like to work with such talented individuals like that?
EM: Well as soon as I got the call from Billy (Sheehan) back in 1989, I mean I could not, I watched that ‘Yankee Rose’ video and I could not really tell what kind of a bass player he was, you know, he was really flashy and kind of larger than life in the video. I came down to hang out with him and write with him and when we eventually got Paul Gilbert and Pat Torpey and when he got into the room, that is when I kind of went ‘Oh my God, this is not like the garage band I have been in’. I almost started to second guess my own talent because I went ‘Oh my God am I good enough’ [laughs] these guys were the cream of the crop, as my father would say. And I knew that they were a great talented bunch of guys, but they were really special because they loved what they did, like me, they worked on it forever, anyway I was blown away and I almost took advantage of that, not took advantage, I should not use that word, but over the years going on tour, playing gigs you could see the fans in awe of Billy and in awe of Paul and I was like ‘I do not see what the big deal is’ after a while because we were just a great band together, I do not want to say it like that I want to say it like, the first time I saw them they were mega talented people, you know, but over the years I kind of took it for granted I went, you know, they are great, whatever. I did not walk around like, ‘Oh I am walking with giants’, they were just really talented guys. But I did notice when the band broke up, when Paul Gilbert quit back in the 90s or something like that, I had to form my own band because I was doing some solo work, that was really difficult [laughs] to find people who were the same, I never found people who were the same calibre as these guys, they were great in there own special way but how Billy, Paul, Pat and myself clicked, you know, how we clicked as a band I never found that again until Mr. Big got back together.
RM: In 2011 you released What If … this was the first album by the original band since 1997. It felt like it was a fun album to make and that everyone was happy to be playing together again, was that the case?
EM: Yeah it was. You know, we had toured before that, in 2009 when we got back together and toured that was when everything kind of came together, we got along great everything was hunky dory again and we cut some tracks and kind of put it on The Best Of , you know, like another ‘best of’ called The Next Time Around and it was fun to get together and play the old songs again and as well as a couple of new ones. But in 2011 when we got in to the studio it was just like, I don’t know, it was like riding a bike, got in to the studio and we cut everything live, we wanted to have a great live feel and no over-dubs, you know, except maybe 2 to 5 takes at each song and just sing it live. Like my guide vocal was my live vocal and we did not want to come back and fix or anything like that, which is what we talked about in the beginning when we wanted to, like I said, make a live record with nobody in the studio but just have that same feel. And when we cut it I was like, ‘Oh, man, I really want to do it again’ because I kind of felt like we recorded the record in a couple of weeks and it took a little while to mix it, but I almost felt like ‘Oh man, I miss the experience of being in the studio’, it just kind of felt like it went so fast. But we were all in one room and I was behind this sliding glass door which had a microphone and we had Pat, Paul and Billy behind the glass and we locked the door and we rocked 1 or 2 songs a day and it was, for lack of a better word right now, magical. And it was easy, you know, and everything was so fluent, we did not argue about shit, ever, we just kind of went “Well how about this?” or “How about that?”, the one thing about Mr. Big is that we try everything we do not say “No, no that is not going to work” we basically try everybody’s idea and if anybody wants to say “You know, that bridge sounds more like a verse” fine, whatever. Nobody’s hanging, nobody’s married to anything, it just felt really comfortable just like it used to back when we got together in 1989.
RM: The four of you keep busy with other projects outside of Mr. Big, what is the current status of the band, will we see any new material in the future?
EM: When we got back together in 2009 we all agreed that we were going to tour, we weren’t going to make a record, we did not really have a plan to make a record, but we did when we were touring in 2009 and a few little things in 2010 and then when 2011 came around Paul goes “Hey, do you guys want to make a record?”, we go “Yeah, cool!” everything was like I said, not pre-planned like it had to be back in the 80s/90s where record companies were always saying “You got to have this”, “Give me the next To Be With You” crap, you know. So we just took our time and we agreed that we would make everything painless and not forced and other members had other things to do like vacations with families or wanted to do a solo album, so be it, or like Billy Sheehan doing Winery Dogs, so be it, do it, do your thing, do anything you want. But as far as I know we were going to think about doing a tour or a record every couple of years, so it has been over a couple of years and I’d like to see us do another album. I mean, I heard some talk earlier in the year where our management was saying “You guys have got to start writing for a new album”, so that is what I have been doing. I hear that 2014 will be another album.
RM: 1991/92 was a massive time for you, the band had a U.S. Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single on its hands with To Be With You and the album Lean Into It was going through the roof, do you recall how crazy those days were?
EM: That was a lot of touring. From 1989 we had the first album called Mr. Big and we went up and down the coast of the United States and Europe and Japan and rode the gauntlet of all kinds of adversity but had a great time, we really worked hard those 4 or 5 years. But when Lean Into It came out we, I think we, I do not know if there were singles then or album tracks that went out to radio, but I think Green Tinted Sixties Mind was one of the first to come out and I just remember that there were maybe 4 or 5 songs, not To Be With You at all, 4 or 5 songs that went out to radio and we were touring with Rush, Scorpions, Bryan Adams, and anybody who would have us and we toured for all of 1991 and we were touring into 1992 and I guess To Be With You, I do not know if you know the story or not, but there was a radio station in Lincoln, Nebraska and I remember the guy because the program director that played it he was one of the first, as far as the U.S.A. is concerned. But he did a kind of ‘Smash or Trash’ format were they played the song just like they used to do in the U.S. back in the 50s and 60s, they would play a record and ask the audience, it was kind of like the Roman’s in the coliseum and the guy would put the thumb up or down, and they would play the song and people thought it was a smash. And it spread like wild fire throughout the whole of the United States and yeah it went to Number 1 and this is like, for us, we did not read Billboard Magazine, we are a rock band, you know. I remember being at a place in Florida at Daytona Beach, a really divey club and there is a line around the block, you walk in to this place and it has peanut shells on the ground and sawdust and it was like a beach kind of bar or something and all the sound equipment is piled in the middle of the stage and the band is kind of burnt out from the road and how hot it was is Florida and I went over to play some pinball by the bar and the TV was on and it said “Now the Number 1 song in the country, To Be With You”. I was ecstatic and everybody in the band was like “Don’t bother me I’m really hot and burnt out” and we knew that it was on the charts but we did not really pay attention, I think we popped Champagne when it was 98 on the charts. But I ran out to the guys “Great news, To Be With You, Number 1” and we just kind of stared at each other and we were just so f***ing happy, it was nothing that we had ever experienced before and I was blown away, having written that song when I was a kid and having it come through decades and having it become Number 1 and then over the course of time we find out that it is Number 1 in 15 other countries and yeah, things were looking up.
RM: In terms of all the solo records you have recorded, is there one or maybe two that stand out as personal favourites?
EM: There is an album called “Somewhere In The Middle” that is my favourite album, I do not really have a big catalogue of solo albums, but I like it because it was kind of a therapeutical album for me, I mean, everything happened that year (1998), I think a couple of years before Mr. Big broke up and my wife left me, my dog died, it was like a country album [laughs], it was like a really devastating year for me and then I started writing all these songs about my relationship and my loves demise and all that and it helped me get over a lot of stuff. It definitely helped me get over a very painful divorce with Mr. Big and my wife and it is more of a folky-rock and roll side of me that I love, that is kind of my passion for Americana folk with a little soul put into it. But I think “Somewhere In The Middle”, the songs and the lyrics, I really worked hard on it and when I listen to some of my songs in the past I cringe and I cannot believe I made that or the production is terrible or the lyrics sound like some sort of cock-rock 80s thing that I did or something, but I am really proud when I look back on writing for “Somewhere In The Middle” if that was the last album I ever made I would be okay.
RM: You have recorded several albums under the Mr. Vocalist banner, can you tell me about how you go through the track selection process for one of those albums?
EM: Well, Mr. Vocalist, how about that name? yikes! Somebody is capitalizing on Mr. Big. Sony Records Japan approached me to sing hit songs made popular by women on 2 or 3 albums and then the other one was Japanese males and they are like million sellers and really popular in Japan and it is J-pop, it is really poppy kind of music, lot of ballads and they asked me to be the English/American representative for these songs and most of the lyrics were written by Japanese translators which was really difficult because the Japanese language when singing, I do not know if they are called syllables or not, but the Japanese phrases and syllables do not match up when it comes to English, that was the most difficult part of the whole Mr. Vocalist process. The fans usually picked the songs that I did because I had only heard those songs on the radio when I was in Japan touring with Mr. Big, I was not really familiar with any of that stuff, so the fans picked it. I thought the record company did but they had some kind of contest, some kind of write in deal on each album and all the Japanese fans picked it.
RM: Over the decades you would have seen the music industry go through a number of changes, is it in a healthy state right now or is it almost unrecognizable from when you started?
EM: After getting dropped by Atlantic Records, when the band broke up, you know, I did not even pay attention to record companies anymore, I mean, I do not even know what is going on anymore. I mean, I do know what is going on, all the record stores are gone and everything is downloadable and iTunes and kind of at the mercy of all this stuff, you know. It has always been, Me the creator, Them the, just THEM … the suits, you know, and no matter what kind of format it is, if it is record companies or iTunes, I mean, one thing that has definitely changed, I do not know why I had so much weird pride back in the day where, I would never have thought “Oh sell your CDs at websites? … that is kind of lame” or “Sell it out of the trunk of your car? … that is lame” and I have completely changed my mind on that because now I just have to do that shit and it actually works. In a way it kind of works better, the big record companies would have all the tools to put your record in the record stores and all that stuff, but a lot of times you could not count on them, you know, if you are in the Top 10 then they will do it but if you are just one of the many, I use to hate going into stores and seeing only 1 Mr. Big album or no Mr. Big albums, you know, and it use to kind of drive me nuts a little bit and now everything is kind of in your hands. I mean, you can hire people to help you out and get it out, but obviously it is not the same like it used to be, but you kind of have to do everything yourself which in a way you can kind of keep track of it, before I used to be, like I said, at the mercy of these record companies and I would always wonder “God, are they doing a good job?”. I remember when I would go to radio stations and I would see all these reps from record companies all lined up trying to get the CD to the program director or the DJ and they would go “Please, please can you listen to my stuff” and the Dj would be like the king walking down the hall way going “Yeah in a minute, in a minute”, I can imagine that shit was hard to sell a band. But now it is kind of like you are doing it on your own, you are on your own and it is up to you, if you cannot get your product out there it is your fault. We all know that everything has changed, I am not telling you anything new, I am just telling you I am surviving.
RM: Once again, congratulations on all your success to date, on behalf of everyone here at Full Throttle Rock we wish you all the best for the future.
EM: Thank you man, thank you very much.
For more information visit the official website at www.ericmartin.com