Interview with Eric Martin – Mr Big – September 2011

Planetmosh: Hi Eric, I’m Ant from Planetmosh.

Eric: Hi We’re shaking our hands, centurion you may pass, cheetos and handjobs for my friends.


Planetmosh: Mr Big split up in 2002 before reforming in 2009.  What sparked the reunion?

Eric:  I would say well, I was on the road in 2007/2008 and I was playing this festival and ironically Richie Kotzen was the headliner at this festival, it was all these guitar players and then me you know, and Pat Torpey was playing drums with Richie at the time, so it was a great reunion for me and Pat – I hadn’t seen him for like five years or so and we talked for a really long time, and the subject that kept coming up was that every time we signed an autograph or talked to the fans they don’t really want to know about our solo stuff, they just want to know when’s Mr Big going to get back together.  So I said to Pat, would you be opposed to, would you be into it any more, and he says “Yeah I’ve been missing playing Mr Big’s music” and I said the same thing.  You know there was some bad blood when we left but so many years have passed, and all that baggage, all that luggage is missing anyway – no one can remember anything that happened badly, and so I reached out to Bill, in a completely different manner.  I was asking him if he knew of a…if they make a little bass for a little kid, like Yamaha, and he said “no we don’t make that” and I said “and my son’s left handed as well” and he said “absolutely not but I’ll be on the lookout for it” and this was the first time I’d reached out to him in like 5 years or something, a really long time.  Then around December, a present came to my house and it was a bass guitar that Billy had found in a pawn shop and kinda custom made it a bit you know, pulled out some wires, plugged stuff in , and you know it was a present for my son and right then and there I thought this was a great olive branch, and then I wrote back and said I’m forever grateful for this, and oh by the way lets get Mr Big back together, and he goes yeah I wouldn’t be opposed to that either, the same kind of deal as Pat said. And he said I’m going to be seeing Paul at the house of blues – this was in 2009, no 2008, no this must have been…the timelines all fucked up.  He went to see Paul at the House of Blues and ironically Richie Kotzen was opener for that show and Pat was playing drums with him so Billy was there and it was an inevitable situation – Paul said “hey you guys want to jam”.  They played the old cover song we used to play “30 days in the hole” by Humble Pie, and the crowd goes nuts and Paul looks over at Richie who was singing and envisaged me being there and he gave me a call a couple of days later, like it was his idea you know, putting the band back together.  So the initial spark was seeing Pat in Italy a few years ago.


Planetmosh:  You’ve recently released a new album.  When you put the band back together, was it always planned to produce new material?

Eric: No it was complete baby steps.  I wanted to do a record because I knew that if we did a record then we’d tour on it and we’d keep the band going and keep that spark going – keep it alive.  Paul and the rest of the guys were saying Lets make it stress free, lets not think about what’s going to happen in the future, lets just have a good time playing together and rekindle our friendship.


Planetmosh:  How would you describe the latest album (“What if”) compared to your earlier albums?

Eric: I think it goes together quite nicely you know.  It has elements of “Lean into it” and elements of the first album, but you know with all those other albums they were pretty much dissected, a lot of pre-production – you’d write the song then there’d be lots of jamming on it, and I think we jammed on some of the songs too long and we’d chop them up too much, and they were really good songs but I think the first impression is the best, you either like it or you don’t.  This time what we did was, we didn’t have time to do a lot of pre-production, and we just wrote a load of songs, individually we brought in a couple of our own that we’d been writing and we gave the whole hot mess to Kevin Shirley to pick his favourite songs, and the guys been doing it for so long I guess he knows how to put together an album.  There have to be four or five that didn’t make it but that was another thing – we didn’t want to have any kind of situation where we’d go “oh really, but I really like that song”, we made it so we weren’t married to these songs, you know we just wrote them and felt that this was….. when I wrote some of the songs it was like this is a Mr Big song, I could never do this as a solo thing and it doesn’t sound like anyone else, it sounds like a really cool Mr Big song with some sort of…I really like the 70s invasion, you know the British rock’n’roll invasion so I had that in mind and that’s pretty much it, we try and pull harmonies, put some places for solos and a place for me to shine


Planetmosh:  What’s your favourite Mr Big song?

Eric: I like more of the funk side you know, I love all the ballads of course – it definitely showcases the soulful side of me, but I like the funky stuff like Merciless and there’s this one song in particular, Temperamental, which is on, I think it’s on the Bump ahead album, and I like the whole vibe of it – it’s got a Grand Funk kind of style to it


Planetmosh:  “To be with you” is the song you’re most famous for, having reached number one in countries around the world. It is quite different to most of your songs, do you think it people still judge you based on that one song?

Eric:  Not now that things been out for twenty plus years you know. No not at all, all those kind of questions were answered back in the early 90s.  I’m proud of the song, I love it, I mean I wrote it when I was sixteen, and I cant believe how long its been, the longevity of that song, its been through so many different styles, first of all it was a Crosby Stills Nash & Young style, then I changed it up to make it a little Up-tempo if you can believe it, and then it changed to kind of a Beatles style.  I love playing the song, and yeah granted, all the folks from the 80s, 90s, early 2000’s, they come out and expect it, but it’s like the dessert after all this meat and potatoes, on top of meat and potatoes you know, but the new crowd who only know us “from To be with you”, I like to think… when I was younger I used to research a band. I’d hear something on the radio and think there’s got to be more than this, but some of the folks I see, some of the young generation sitting in the front row and waiting for “to be with you”, it ain’t coming for like two hours you know, and they’re either like – either they go with it because its heavy hard rock and roll, either you go with it or sit there miserably waiting for “to be with you”.  Hopefully these guys see the whole big picture with Mr Big, its everything, it’s like a play or something you know, or a musical, its got all kind of different acts in it, there’s some serious rock and roll, shredding and shit, there’s also humour and even “to be with you”, there’s actually a lot of ballads on our other records you know, but “to be with you” the little acoustic style comes out, the little engine that could, and its great because it kinda breaks up the set, you’ve played all this heavy hard rock and soul, and then “to be with you” comes and it’s a little bit lighter fare, then all of a sudden we’ve got about four or five more songs, takes you down a whole different path.


Planetmosh: I notice you’re playing a very long set with no support.  Why did you choose to play such a long set?

Eric: There’s just so much to do, I mean I didn’t like it much in the beginning, I was like “way too much information”, plus I thought I was going to be burnt out and granted I can’t talk during the day, but I can gear up for the show.  I mean in a ways, we used to play some long sets, 18 songs, and after those 18 you’re kind of cooking along and it’s like “let’s play a couple more” and that’s what this is about you know, we just feel we don’t want to leave any stone unturned and make sure everyone has a good time, and we don’t want to answer that question “how come you didn’t play this song”.


Planetmosh: It’s nice to see a band with that attitude, because a lot of bands play 90 minutes at most.

Eric: We play a lot of songs, and I think five or six from the new album, and there’s like what seven albums or something? Six or seven albums, and then we also throw out all kinds of funny, well not funny but some surprises as well.  By the time this gets out, well we’ve already played pretty much the whole of the UK portion of this tour but the band do this Beatles song that was also done by Three Dog Night, called “it’s for you”, and the three of them do this harmony thing and then they go into this jam and the jam ends with “Hoedown” by Emerson Lake & Palmer, and there’s no keyboards obviously, there’s just guitar, bass and drums, and it’s un-fricking-believable, so there you go.


Planetmosh:  After tonight you’re heading across to Paris I believe then playing Europe for another month?

Eric: Yeah about four weeks and then we take a long break which I wish we weren’t doing, because last time we took ten days and it’s like ten days and it’s like we only need about three or four days or maybe five days to recuperate, because ten days you can get in trouble, and a month – oh god.  I think Paul and Billy have some things that they’re going to be doing within that month like some clinics and stuff and I’ve got a side project that I’m going to be doing in Japan, so maybe take care of that.  Then we’re going to get back together after that month and come back in December and do Indonesia, play some of the festivals.


Planetmosh:  Mr Big have always been very popular in Japan.  You’ve played places like India and the Philippines as well as North America and Europe.  Where would you like to tour that you haven’t played yet ?

Eric: I thought about that the other day.  In the beginning, no like years and years ago, I remember Collective Soul went to Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan, I don’t really remember – they might have even gone to Iraq, and it would be kind of cool to go there and play for the G.I’s, the patriots who are you know going to war over there and have all kind of things on their minds.  It might be nice to go over there and rock out and entertain the troops.  Definitely I’m a little sceptical to go now you know – that’d be completely foolish.  That would definitely be on my bucket list though.


Planetmosh: You’ve had a very stable line-up over the years with only one change – what do you attribute that to?

Eric:  There’s nobody better.  I mean Richie Kotzen was an amazing player but it was from our perspective it was trying to be like a new band, but from the fans perspective it was a substitute for Paul and what Richie did for those two albums “Get over it” and “Actual size” was great but there’s just nobody better than the original, but I can understand if somebody dies off or whatever but there should be a reason to go back to Richie, and it’s great that we went back to Paul.


Planetmosh: What bands did you listen to growing up that inspired you to take up singing?

Eric: I like Soul music from the sixties. Stax-Volt, two record companies that did like Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, and Motown era and I grew up in Italy and Germany – my dad was stationed there in the army, and we used to get a lot of soul on the radio for some reason – lots of black G.I’s I guess, and then when we came back to the United States somewhere in the late seventies then… I got Led Zeppelin later you know, I loved Free, and Paul Rodgers – what singer doesn’t.  I met him a couple of times and geez I go to pieces, but I really like Free, and Steve Marriott, and then the sixties soul dudes.


Planetmosh:  You mentioned growing up in Europe, do you think that has made it easier for you to cope with touring?

Eric: Yeah I’ve said this before, it totally prepared me for what I do, I mean we travelled to so many different places in the United States, and Germany, Italy, Switzerland and then like god nearly ten different schools while I was growing up.  Yeah it made it a lot easier to travel, and I like it too, I mean I like camping, and this is like a giant camping trip – it’s easier I mean we’ve got a tour bus and I really like the people I’m camping with you know, I’m so lucky that we put our differences aside, we don’t speak of the past, we just, the cool thing is that we have history – a really good musical history and we did have a friendship that was on fire, and now that’s back. I thank my lucky stars every day that I’m playing with these guys and sharing a tour bus with them.


Planetmosh: It must help when you get on well with the people you’re spending so much time with

Eric: Its great, I mean before we used to play gigs and we’d come off stage and maybe because of so much touring and travelling we were always together…now it feels great to go to work and after work is awesome too, there’s a lot more conversation than there used to be.


Planetmosh: Ok, final question.  What is the highlight of your career so far?

Eric:  There are two.  The first is 1992 when “To be with you” came out, and that lasted for something like 20 weeks in the chart, but I was too nervous to enjoy it at the time in case it didn’t last.  The second is now.  It sounds clichéd, but I’m playing with these guys again and there’s no stress.  If your next question was going to be if there will be another album, the answer is that I certainly hope so because that means another tour.  I’ve been saying it every night on stage, but Mr Big is definitely back !


Planetmosh: Thank you for your time.

About Ant May

I spend half my life at gigs or festivals and the other half writing the reviews and editing photos, and somehow find time for a full time job too. Who needs sleep - I've got coffee.