Fireworks Magazine Online 43 - Mr. Big

Fireworks Issue #43 features Mr. Big on the cover, and a three page feature interview with members Eric Martin and Billy Sheehan, written by Monica Castedo Lopez. The duo talk about their brand new album 'What If...' Below is an extract of the interview.


Musicians, drop your instruments, music fans hold your jaws tight, for here comes, piping hot from the oven, the first Mr Big album since 1996 with the monstrous original line-up of Eric Martin on vocals, Billy Sheehan on bass, Pat Torpey on drums and Paul Gilbert on guitar.

When Gilbert decided to leave the band in 1997 and then the group disbanded altogether in 2002, no one would ever thought Mr Big would get back together, given the constant heated comments between the singer and the bassist. Fortunately, the deities up there heard the millions of voices of their faithful fans and in 2009 they re-united to our most exuberant joy. At the time, it was uncertain they would make an album after their successful reunion tour last year, however, this is now a welcome reality and the new release ‘What If…’, due out in January, is unbelievably awesome.
To dispel rumours that the foursome got back together because of the money and that there is still tension in the band, I can testify that nothing is further from the truth and Billy and Eric get along brilliantly well and laughed cheerfully with each other. I hung out with the pair, who I had known separately for years, for almost two hours at their five-star hotel in Hyde Park the evening of this one-hour long and full of laughs interview. I also saw them perform an incredible intimate acoustic set organised by Planet Rock in front of an audience of prize winners and industry folks the next afternoon at the famous jazz club Ronnie Scott’s, then had drinks and dinner with them that evening. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to see them get along. That resulted in one of my favourite bands of all time return with an awesome album that, produced by Kevin Shirley, was pretty much recorded live in the studio in a matter of weeks. Let’s hear from the super talented singer and bass player who also make an entertaining comedy duo:

My first question is obviously about the album and how magnificent it is: mind-blowing guitar and bass playing, amazing drumming and Eric, your voice is as great as ever even after so many years. What’s your secret, guys?

Billy: We can’t give it away, or it won’t be a secret anymore! No, the secret is that we love what we do. We have a passion for music.

Eric: Also, we never really believed in all those bells and whistles and all the effects and the crazy stuff going on. We’re a foot-on-the-floor, straight-ahead rock band, instead of the golden curtains other people put on their records. Especially on this one.

B: Yeah, there wasn’t much in the way of any help other than our hands and our voices, and our hearts and minds, of course. We did multiple takes of songs rather than going in and overdubbing and fixing parts. I overdubbed a grand total of about 45 seconds of bass. Eric sang along with every song, full on, and didn’t go back two weeks later and re-sing everything.

E: That’s because he wouldn’t let me! In the end he was a godsend, but in the beginning I looked at Kevin Shirley, our producer, as a slave-master. He wouldn’t let me do any overdubs, which I was so used to: like the band goes in and they do it all live like in all the rest of the records and, in the past, I did a guide vocal, kind of like a pace car for the big race, and then I’d come back in a week and overdub my lead vocals. On this one all four of us were in the same room, very close together. Billy’s hands were bleeding, pieces of wood were flying everywhere, Paul Gilbert picks are flying, I’m spitting on a glass. Even when I listen to one of the first mixes you can actually hear drums come in out of my mic. We were so close. It was probably like Led Zeppelin when they first made a record, you can hear bleeding.

B: The band actually really played and they actually played this actual song and the job of the studio was too record them playing, as opposed to using the studio as an instrument and stack up parts and parts to build this monster. That’s why a lot of bands, I think, lost their credibility when they went to play live and they couldn’t do it. Mr Big has always been the real thing. I remember we where rehearsing years ago, we would rehearse a lot on our own without Eric because he lives in San Francisco, and we were getting ready for a tour back in the early 90s and me, Pat and Paul were singing all the background vocals so you wouldn’t hear any lead vocals at all. These people outside our rehearsal room were listening and after we were done they asked: ‘What sample are you guys using? How did you get those vocals in?’ And we’re like ‘We’re singing it!’ And then a similar thing happened when we went on tour for the reunion, our sound person, Michelle, before we were getting ready, goes: ‘How are we going to do the tracks?’ ‘What tracks?’ ‘Tracks for vocals’ ‘No, we sing it!’ And it’s so commonplace now for almost every band to play to tracks and we don’t, we didn’t and we never will. I’m proud of that and I’m glad the situation arose, we got shoved into a room and: ‘Let’s do it. Let‘s do it right, if we don‘t get it right, let‘s do another take.‘

E: There wasn’t a lot of pre-production. We kind of did it right there on the floor, writing our charts, and changing some lyrics right there. We didn’t really jam, we kind of just cut it.
We wrote songs prior to that in the studio and we kind of got together for about a month but not consistently, it was three days in the studio, these guys wrote some songs together, then we’d split and come back at different times. But when we all got together that song I sent you the other day, I changed a couple of pieces of it and it’s called ‘Once Upon A Time’ and Kevin Shirley is going: ‘Okay guys, you’re ready?’ And I’m like ‘No, I’m not ready yet’. Pat Torpey was singing the song to me, singing the melody.

B: So he’s learning it, in the room whilst Kevin is getting ready to hit the start button!

E: Yeah, and then I went in there and he’s like ‘Just do what you do, man’ and boom! So we didn’t hardly do any overdubs and the only overdubs that we did was for me was sing background vocals and when we sing background vocals I could sneak a little lead vocal lick in there and Shirley would be looking at me going: ‘Don’t try to trick me, man! I’d been hearing about you guys for years, talking about your influences, British blues rock and Humble Pie, Free, Spooky Tooth and all this stuff. Here’s your chance to prove it, instead of talking about it. This is your chance, so go for it’. And we went: ‘Okay’. Years ago when we did ‘Bump Ahead’ we cut the song ‘Mr Big’ by Free, where we got our name, and we did that completely live, just like we did this record. That’s what it reminds me of.

B: We cut that, we finished it and at the time our producer, Kevin Elson, stood up and said: ‘That’s the way you make a record.’ ‘Exactly!’

E: I know we should have followed that lead.

B: And that is the way we wrote this record.

Well, I don’t think there are any copies available yet, I only have it on my computer as a stream.

E: Yes, I got the same as you.

It’s due for release in January, so it’s still two months to go.

B: I remember the record by Steve Vai ‘The Real Illusions’ they sent copies off for review and the reviewers were selling it the next day on eBay and that wasn’t fair to Steve Vai, but it wasn’t released to the public. I don’t download anything that is available for commercial purpose. I pay for everything, but I understand some people don’t agree with it and don’t like that and think music should be free. I disagree with it and I think they are copyright anarchists, basically they don’t believe in any copyrights.

E: I write a song for you to hear and when I play live you pay me to play live…

B: …you do something in return for your money.

E: and in my head I’m trying to give you more bank for your buck

B: Well, you know, it’s an unfortunate situation now with the way it is, but the good thing is Mr Big always specialises in a live band. Being there live in a room with your friends in front of a band that is actually playing, you can’t download that.

Read the full three page interview with Eric and Billy, including them discussing the brand new album track by track, in Fireworks #43

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