July 10, 2018 Interview – Eric Martin of Mr. Big
Back at the end of the 1980s, the tides were changing in the music world. Hair Metal was drifting out and Grunge was the new wave, but through shifting trends, the one thing that remained timeless was exceptional musicianship. One of those bands that truly did not fit in any genre of Rock was Mr. Big, a band made up of seasoned musicians who had traveled many paths. Together, they formed an alliance that would be a unification of a Hard Rock leaning style with passionate vocals.
Mounting a slew of their success with their sophomore album, 1991’s Lean into It, minus a hiatus in the early 2000s, Mr. Big has kept it together as they approach their 30th anniversary in 2019. Each having their own personality, colorful and unique, Lead Vocalist Eric Martin recently took the time to rap about the fun times of the band, the tragic loss of their bandmate and dear friend Mr. Pat Torpey, their latest live record, plus more.
CrypticRock.com – Mr. Big is celebrating their 30th anniversary next year and over time the band has attained a good deal of commercial success, toured the world, and continue to make new music. First, briefly tell us, what has the journey been like for you?
Eric Martin – That’s a 20 minute answer right there. I will try to keep it simple but that’s going to be hard, because I call myself Mr. Bigmouth. It’s been kind of a roller-coaster ride. When the four of us first got together in 1989, we played forever. Paul Gilbert left in 1996, and Richie Kotzen was in the band for a couple of albums. Then we had a break for around six years and we were doing other things. We ran into each other, we did write songs together. There wasn’t hate, there were just a couple of moments of “I’m getting sick of looking at you, you’re getting sick of looking at me, let’s take a break.” When we got back together we didn’t do a Some Kind of Monster movie like Metallica, go to a psychiatrist; we didn’t even really talk about it, we said, “Let’s get the band back together,” swept animosity under the carpet and just started where we left off.
The big part of this band and how it stayed together for so long, sometimes we get along, sometimes we don’t, but we do have mucho respect for one another. I think Billy Sheehan, Paul Gilbert, and our dear departed friend Pat Torpey, are some of the best musicians I have ever played with in my life. They are so dedicated to what they do; they are workhorses, they just make me look bad. I felt so bad! I do a couple of situps and a little bit of a vocal lesson and go out on stage, but these guys are practicing every single day and honing their craft. I was proud to be on stage with these guys for all those years.
We wrote some great songs together; I love the chemistry of me and Paul Gilbert – he wasn’t just a riff Rock writer. I have written with a lot of guitar players, but he understood melody and would write some really quirky lyrics at the time, but that was him. He is amazing to play with. He is isn’t just a pyrotechnical lead guitar player, he is a damn good songwriter as well. Billy Sheehan as well, he has definitely played more notes than anybody in the whole wide world that I know of; he is a great singer-songwriter as well.
And Pat Torpey, his loss, it’s hard for me to even speak about it. You never met a greater drummer and person than Pat. I didn’t know this, but when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and we were doing …The Stories We Could Tell (2014) album, he was starting to feel the effects. He played with us, he rocked out, and there were a couple of little mistakes here and there that he heard, we never heard any of it. When it started to turn for the worse and he only got to play 7 or 10 songs, we had to get a sub drummer to fill in all the blanks.
We suggested doing something like Rick Allen of Def Leppard with some sort of special drum kit. Pat didn’t want to go that route at all. Our sound engineer told me that Pat went into a rehearsal space and relearned how to play the drums with his arms and legs to play the 7 songs he was playing with us. Jesus, nobody does that! He was just a proud guy and was the glue that held this band together for so long. I am going to miss those looks he would give me when it was time for ‘Eric to have a timeout’ or chill out. He would look at me and go, “Eric, just buck it up and do it.” When it came from him it wasn’t offensive or anything; it was like he was the Gipper. I loved his comradery. I loved everything about him; he was our anchor. The recording and making records was fun, sometimes I hated it, but the best part of Mr. Big was playing live.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like the band truly are brothers through it all. Speaking of Pat, we had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2015, shortly after he came out with his diagnosis. He could not have been a nicer person, and he will sorely be missed.
Eric Martin – I am glad you had that connection. He was kind of quiet and shy, didn’t do a lot of talking backstage. He was that way with everybody. With some bands, they are blasting music and it’s a big party atmosphere; it wasn’t like that with Mr. Big, we left all the party stuff on stage. But when people would come to do meet and greets, they fell in love with the guy. He was just a really down-to-earth, super knowledgeable about music and politics. Oh god, him and Billy with their politics. I always used to say to Pat, “You ought to run for something. I would vote for you in a minute!”
He had an effect with everyone he came in contact with. I loved singing with the guy, he was just an amazing drummer. I was just thinking about it, if John Bonham and David Garibaldi from Tower of Power had a baby, it would be Pat Torpey. There were a lot of great drummers, but Pat Torpey was one of them.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly seems to be a universal constant how wonderful Pat was, not only as a musician, but as a person. Mr. Big are actually set to release a live record on July 13th, Mr. Big Live From Milan, which was recorded while on tour for 2017’s Defying Gravity record. What lead to the decision to record the album there and what was that show like for the band?
Eric Martin – It was kind of spur of the moment, I didn’t really think about it. I remember seeing a management email saying, “By the way, we are going to make a live album.” There wasn’t this plan while I was in Europe thinking, “I have to go out and find a pirate blouse or I have to get a haircut.” It was just one stop on a four-month tour. It was cool, everybody loves Milan. There is something, lack of a better world, magical about this city. I have been to Europe umpteen times and Italy is just it for me. I even grew up there as a kid, I lived in Vicenza, Italy.
It says it’s Milan, but it’s maybe 10-15 minutes away from the city of Milan in this sort of farming suburban area. I pulled up to this building, walk in, and the first thing I notice, it’s hot as balls in there! I am going, “Oh god,” because I know we are going to be on stage. That we are going to go do a video, and there is going to be a lot more lights than there already are, and yours truly is going to be sweating like Janet Jackson on stage; it was going to be like Eric Martin and the Rhythm Nation Tour. (Laughs)
It was a hot, sweaty, Rock-n-Roll show, it was very raw. We had two other bands with us, The Answer and Faster Pussycat. They rocked out and got the crowd fired up, almost kind of beat them together a little bit. They were either musicians in the audience or regular folks, and Milan is kind of like a New York City; I don’t care who you are, you have to prove it. That’s no problem, nothing’s free, we are not going to paint by the numbers here. We are having a great Rock-n-Roll show, but hey, let your guard down and enjoy it. We pushed a little harder than we usually do; it was raw, it was cutting loose and jammy. When I listen to the record and watch the video, it has energy; we were having a good time. Me and Billy were goofing around a lot more than we did on that tour, I don’t know why, we just were kicking the piss out of each other a couple of times.
We did this song called “Price You Gotta Pay,” where Billy plays a harmonica solo on top of this kind of Blues Rock song. I wrapped my arms around Billy’s bass and play this little piece before the solo. It’s says on my ID I am 5 10′, but I swear I am 5 9′, I must have shrunk. I am tiny compared to this guy! It’s just a funny kind of moment. I remember watching that thinking that looks weird.
I found this different than other live records, and we have done many. I don’t have my signature soul-belting voice like I had in other live gigs we had done. I found myself attacking the audience a bit, kind of a screaming Rock-n-Roll kind of thing. There is still a good portion of soul in my voice, but at times there was some screaming going on. Billy and Paul still have that thing that they do, they are really good at it. That particular gig was kind of a free for all, and that’s not a bad thing, there was just no strings attached on that one show. Very hot and sweaty. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – Very cool! It is like Mr. Big uncensored in a way. (Laughs) As mentioned, the band released a strong album in 2017, entitled Defying Gravity. What was it like putting that record together?
Eric Martin – It was a difficult record to make because we only had six days. We had written the material prior, but it was six days in the studio – pre-production which was 2 hours, then we recorded. I didn’t care for it as far as rushing the record. We wanted to work with Kevin Elson to do it, but he had a prior commitment and was going on tour with someone. We did all the basic tracks: I did half the vocals and Paul did all the solos. We did everything in 6 days, if you could believe it. Then I might have had three extra days, Kevin was mixing it in those three days. I went home from L.A. to the San Francisco Bay area to work with Chris Manning, the bass player of the band Jellyfish. Him and I did the rest of the vocals together.
I don’t care for the recording process that much; it always seems it is kind of over in a heartbeat anyway, but this was way too hard. I didn’t have any fun on this one. I did like a couple of songs and liked how they came out, but I wish we would have had a little more time to write some more songs. I would have loved to have had more pre-production. That is one thing about us, when we woodshed and put this together, we can make the song sound great. I felt it was right from your head, right to the paper, and right to the tape, boom. I didn’t care for the mix that much. People say it’s earthy and organic, but I thought it was a little on the dark side; a very ’70s Classic Rock, which is okay. I wanted it to be more like Lean into It (1991), because hadn’t worked with Kevin in so long and I thought that was one of the best records he did with us.
I think a lot had to do with working with Matt Starr for the first time in the recording studio. Pat was teaching him and kind of like being his guru, but it didn’t feel the same. It’s a good Rock-n-Roll record, but I know what I like. I like when Mr. Big is polished.
CrypticRock.com – Understandable. Everyone has preferences in production.
Eric Martin – That being said, I like Mr. Big being polished but when you put the live stuff we have, all the records are super different, because it’s a show. It depends on how the audience is or just how we’re feeling. I like doing live shows! I just hate all the technical stuff with the camera on you, you have to perform to the camera and you have to perform for the audience; I don’t particularly care for that. That seems like way too much work. It’s supposed to be work and it’s supposed to be fun. I feel like I am contradicting myself, but I do like the rawness and the off-the-cuff shit on a live performance. That being said, I like it a little bit more perfect on the record.
CrypticRock.com – That all makes a lot of sense. Live is live and should have those textures of that feeling, while a studio recording is different. Again, it’s a matter of preference.
Eric Martin – For songwriting, I know Paul, Billy, Pat, and even Matt now, it’s like riding a bike; we have done it so many times. We have made records quick before, but also taken a lot more time for pre-production and songwriting. I think “1992,” “Everybody Needs a Little Trouble,” and “Defying Gravity” were cool. There are some songs I even wrote that I wished I spent a little more time on. I am glad you dig it, though; I should just shut up and let you pat me on the back. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) Your honesty is not negative at all. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock covers music as well as Horror and Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of Horror or Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorites?
Eric Martin – I am a huge Sci-Fi fan! Star Trek and Star Wars. Our sound engineer for Mr. Big, her name is Michelle Pettinato. She would kill me right now and say, “Come on, there is so much more!” Me, Billy, and Michelle were talking at the airport in China, and one of our favorite movies is The Thing (1982) with Kurt Russell. It’s awesome! The three of us had our top 10 and The Thing was on it.
I don’t really like scary movies, but for some reason I get locked in aliens. I was a Lost in Space fan when I was a kid, and Netflix just did Lost in Space. It has humor in it, but it’s a little bit darker. I am a huge The Expanse fan now. You have to check it out, it’s brilliant. It’s pretty graphic and dark.