interview by Michael McCarthy
Today we have the second and final part of my in-depth interview with Eric Martin, the amazing frontman of Mr. Big. It’s my hope that it will get you excited to hear their new album, which is released today on July 21st, 2017 via Frontiers Records! Even if the only Mr. Big songs you know are “To Be With You” and “Just Take My Heart,” I think you’ll still find that the new album has something to offer you. Although the band didn’t try to re-create any of their past albums, they still came up with an eclectic batch of songs that you wouldn’t expect to fit together very well, but somehow they do. That’s the magic of Mr. Big; whatever they do, they still sound like Mr. Big, which is melodic, heavy and beautiful. If you’re into bands like Journey and Boston, you’d be wise to listen to the new album below. You’ll surely fall in love with it. If you haven’t read part one of the interview yet, check it out here: Eric Martin Interview Part 1
MM: Are any of the songs on Defying Gravity covers? I know sometimes you like to do one of those.
EM: No. Billy, uncharacteristicly, he’s usually the guy who’s like we need to make it heavier. He’s always that guy. Years ago when we had Richie Kotzen in the band he wrote “Shine” and him and I did a duet together. And Billy, at the time, was going, “Ah, this song sucks, man. We need to rock.” And it surprised the hell out of me that Billy brought in these two songs that had written with these Swedish songwriters he met somewhere in his travels. Particularly this brother sister team. And he brought in this song “Forever and Back,” which is, I want to say chorus wise it’s like the poor man’s “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” Aerosmith kind of chorus. But then the verses are loaded with imagery and really fast talking. It’s different for Billy. I didn’t know he had a love song in him. He goes, “Yeah, I can write a love song.” I’d never heard one before. I’m shocked. So, “Forever and Back” and then he brought in “Damn I’m in Love Again,” which is poppy but it’s got an acoustic thing to it, similar to a song Pat wrote on our last album called “East West.” Maybe it’s not the “To Be With You” song, but it has that acoustic feel.
MM: Yeah, I really like that one. And that is the one that I’d say comes closest to being a “To Be With You” type of song. Do you prefer performing live or making albums?
EM: I used to hate the whole record process. I actually had the most fun writing it when they gave me some time to write it. I go into the studio and I would just kind of sit there. Say I bring in a song I go, OK, this is how it goes. I never do demos. I play myself live. Super intimidating but you get your point across. Then you can talk. And nobody feels restricted to play. They go, “Is it exactly what you want me to play?” And I go, “No, I’m just giving you the tools and then you run with it.” And we spend about a week doing that and it’s not bad. Sometimes you’re like, oh, man, that’s not the way I’d do it, but that’s the way it is. The part I hate is the guys are all in there rocking out and doing their thing and I’m stuck in a completely different room doing guide vocals. If they want me to do it or not. And for the most part I have to wait two or three weeks until they get all their shit together and then when it’s time for me to do it they’re all gone. They leave and it’s just me and the producer and I have nobody to perform in front of. Getting to your question, I actually do like it live better than I like it in the studio. If I had 100 people who could actually be quiet in the studio I would do it in front of them.
MM: I always wondered about “CDFF – Lucky This Time.” What’s does the CDFF stand for?
EM: You’re gonna kick yourself. In the beginning of “Lucky This Time” it has that kind of weird [makes the guitar sound]. You can kind of make out a “Green Tinted Sixties Mind, “Addicted to that Rush,” it has all these songs and talking on it. It’s Compact Disc Fast Forward. I was like why do we have it CDFF? I think it’s a Japanese thing. Maybe it’s Paul Gilbert. He does something weird with some of his songs. I go, “Man, I love that song “YRO.” Man, what a cool tune, what is that?” And Paul goes, “Yngwie Rip Off.” [Both laugh]
MM: On your Timeless album you did a collaboration with Miho Fukuhara on “Happy Xmas.” She’s one of my favorite Japanese artists.
EM: Totally so different than all the other J-Pop artists. You don’t hear a woman that sounds like Mariah Carey in Japan, you know? I never have. And she was the first one we spotted out.
MM: So, how did the collaboration come about?
EM: It was when I did that Mr. Vocalist series. I always thought that name was corny as hell. Also, it was like a little play on Mr. Big as well. Mr. Vocalist went over big-time in Japan. I couldn’t believe that series sold. It sold more than my solo albums. The first Mr. Vocalist record sold 300,000 records. And it was not too long ago. With the music business the way it is, that’s pretty good. That’s a career anywhere. Yeah, my record company, Sony, put that together. She might’ve been on Sony. Maybe that’s how it worked out. But I wanted to do one of her songs. Maybe that might’ve been it as well. Most of the songs that I did on Mr. Vocalist on the first and second record were songs made popular by women. And Miho was one of them and I wanted to do one of her songs and I think I brought up the fact that I wanted to do a duet with her. There was another girl, too. Her name is Ayaka. And I did sing with her. I did a DVD of a one night show in Tokyo and we did a song called “I Believe” together. But, yeah, they were throwing all these Japanese pop singers at me and I sort of point to Miho and said, first of all, she’s easy on the eyes, second of all, she’s a phenomenal singer. Let’s work with this woman. And that’s how we did it. It was Christmastime and “Happy Xmas,” I thought it was kind of a cool idea, you know? Like John and Yoko.
MM: Do you speak Japanese at all?
EM: You know what, I’ve been coming to Japan almost twice a year since 1989 and I can speak stage speak. I don’t. But Paul Gilbert, he’s not gonna say he’s fluent in it, but he’s pretty damn close. He’s also married to a Japanese woman, Emie, who plays keyboards on a lot of his projects. But even before Japan sparked him a long time ago and he really picked it up. I can barely remember my own lyrics sometimes.
MM: When you put out the first album with Richie Kotzen, Get Over It, I read on Wikipedia that you made videos for “Superfantastic” and “Electrified” but somehow the director said he owned them and wouldn’t let them be released or something. Is that correct?
EM: I don’t know about that. But we did sort of the making of. Wait, I’m thinking about something different. I spaced out. I’m kind of burned out and the coffee kind of kicked in and the rocket ship took off. But “Superfantastic” – and what was the other song?
EM: Man, I don’t remember that at all. I don’t think we ever did any videos for it.
MM: You should get Wikipedia to change that. It says you made videos but the director claimed he had the rights and they were never released.
EM: You know, the thing about Wikipedia is that people can write whatever they want and they just put it in there. Yeah, I’ll check that out. I don’t remember doing that at all. The only video that we did [with Richie] is “Shine” because that’s all the time we had, too. Plus, it was starting to be a little bit of turmoil making the record. We did a tour after that but then we broke up as well. So, I think we only did the one. That was for Actual Size. But Get Over It, shit, “Superfantastic,” man, if we did I blanked it out. Maybe I was on drugs. Was I? I don’t know. I don’t think I was. I don’t do drugs. But if Wikipedia said I was doing an 8 ball then it must be true. [Both laugh]
MM: When you called you first album with Richie Get Over It was that kind of thumbing your nose at the fans who were still whining about wanting Paul back?
EM: I didn’t even think about that. You know, I don’t come up with the titles. It’s usually Pat and Billy coming out with a tongue in cheek thing. But Get Over It, I forgot the connotation. Maybe. It makes sense. It’s funny that we would do that. Because we’re not a band that rocks the boat, but we had to do it. When Paul left, we did everything we could to get him back. But he had his mind set to be a solo artist and he didn’t want to be in the band turmoil either. He never talked about it ’til this day. But me and Billy Sheehan always butted heads back then. It was always about songs or stage stuff. It was music related. And Paul left. And when Richie Kotzen came into the picture maybe we got a little sick of people talking about it. But I don’t know. It’s hard for me to remember that far back and it’s also hard for me to think that we were telling fans [to] get over it, Richie Kotzen’s the guy now.
EM (CONT’D): We knew in our hearts that Richie Kotzen at the time saved the band. But we also knew we were gonna lose a huge chunk of the audience because of changing an original member. Because it was Paul Gilbert. How can you replace him? But we had things to say and we needed to keep the torch burning and Richie kind of took it in a different way but I don’t think it lost the spark. It was just a different flame. I sound like an ’80s songwriter. [Laughs] I remember I was trying to change Richie, saying you need to play like this, you need to play like that. And Richie was like, “No, man. This is the way I do it.” And it was cool because all of that blues, rock ‘n’ roll stuff that we’d talked about for years came into fruition when Richie came into the group. He brought that rhythm and blues into it. I was never intimidated by Richie because I thought he was a superstar guitar player and a great singer. And I thought of this idea where instead of me singing all the songs I wanted to do like a Righteous Brothers thing. And come up with an idea where he and I would do a duet together on songs like “Suffocation” and “Shine” and there were a couple others. We even wrote a song called “You Don’t Have to Be Strong.” I don’t know if it was a B-side for something. I love Richie’s contribution to those two records. Get Over It was a little bluesy and Actual Size is kind of an AOR pop record.
EM: I like them both. I like the melodic sense of Actual Size and it was a quirky record. I wrote a song called “Nothing Like it in The World.” It was a piano song. And I remember the guys going, “I don’t know, I don’t think Billy’s gonna dig it.” It was too pop, you know? I was like, well, he ain’t here. I think I got over on that one. And Billy and I wrote a quirky, almost punk rock song called “How Did I Give Myself Away.” There was some cool stuff. Come to think of it, even to this day, in the interim of when Mr. Big takes a hiatus and stuff I play acoustic with different partners all over the world. I’ve gone to Europe. India five times. Asia. Yeah. And I play acoustic when I have these pickup bands. And a good chunk of the material is from “Get Over It” and “Actual Size.” It’s just more pop sense and bluesy and stuff. A little tidbit of information. A little useless information for ya.
MM: That’s cool. That’s some interesting stuff to know. At the end of our interviews, we always ask some RANDOM QUESTIONS. Is that cool?
EM: It’s all random, baby. Go head. Random shooter.
MM: The first one is what is a fake name you’ve used when checking into hotels?
EM: Oh, man, if I give it away…
MM: You’re still using the same one?
EM: I still use it. And it’s the greatest name ever. You know what? It’s been too long. If people call it, it is what it is. This is the best rock ‘n’ roll singer name of all-time and I’m gonna tell it to you right now. Ready?
EM: Mike Stand.
MM: [Laughs] That’s funny.
EM: I know. I shouldn’t even give it away but I’m brave enough. I think I can handle two or three soccer moms calling me. In this decade, you know?
MM: What was the last album you bought and what format was it on?
EM: God, I have an interesting show tonight. I found all these guys in the Bay Area where I live. And Neal Schon’s son Miles Schon, is a phenomenal guitar player. Super great. He’s like his dad. Amazing player. And sings as well, unlike his dad, lead singer-wise. So, I picked up this CD of John Mayer. It was a live record that he did. I go, aw, man, you’ve gotta check it out. And Miles, who’s like 25 years old, he looks at it like, “They make CDs?” I was like, oh, dude, you’re killing me here.
MM: Who was the coolest musician you ever met?
EM: Steven Tyler. I’ve met so many rock stars. I’ve met Clapton. A lot of idols. But Steven Tyler, Mr. Big was on either the Pump or Permanent Vacation tour – whatever came first. And we’re on the road and our tour bus can’t find this gig in Barcelona. The bus driver is going, oh shit, I knew the coliseum was around here somewhere. And we pull up and we’re late and Aerosmith is yelling at us and the crew and I remember me and Billy and Paul and they’re like, “Get out of the way, Eric. We’re moving the cases out.” And everybody in the band and the crew were all pushing the cases and our guitars so we can get on stage and play our 45 minute set. And I’m walking up and kind of freaking out and I could hear the crowd and [smell] the smells. It was showtime. 15 minutes. And I look up and Steven Tyler’s coming right at me and I go, holy shit. I idolize this guy. I think the first time I had sex – well, not the first time, but one of the times I had sex I put Lord of the Thighs on on vinyl. I’m looking at this guy and I want to shake his hand and say thank you. But he comes up to me and he puts both hands on my shoulders and he goes, “Hey, you’re a star.” But in the whole tour he came in our dressing room and him and I and the rest of the band sang together, doing Beatles songs. You can see Steven Tyler. He’s an old school guy with his finger in his ear. That total old school guy and I’m singing “Nowhere Man” and we’re all harmonizing with him. It was only a three month tour. But we actually have spoken many times after that. Even Mr. Big played a millennium concert in Osaka. It was Aerosmith and Mr. Big and Buckcherry at the Osaka Dome, which was 50, 60 thousand people. New Year’s Eve millennium concert 2000. And I was backstage and Steven Tyler is coming down the hallway and he goes, “No way! You cut your hair?” [Both laugh] I go, “She cut my hair,” looking at my girlfriend at the time. Her name is Denise and we later married. He’s like, “You fool.” Yeah, he’s got controversy wrapped all around him lately and over the years, but what a superstar. I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s and Mick Jagger was the guy for me, but Steven Tyler was sort of the doppelganger of Mick Jagger. He had a lot more piracy in him and I like that.
MM: I’ve got a little recent story about him that you’ll like. Someone who knows someone I know has kids who are friends with his kid and Steven Tyler shows up to pick up his daughter and the mother is making pasta and he’s like, “Oh, I love pasta. You really know how to do it the Italian way.” And she goes, “You can stay for dinner if you want.” So, they’re going to do that and the kid’s father comes home and he has no idea who Steven Tyler is. And Steven Tyler introduces himself as his daughter’s father and the father who just came home asks him, “So, what do you do?” And he’s like, “I’m a singer in a band.” And the dad’s like, “What’s your band called? Maybe I’ve heard of you.” And he goes “Aerosmith” and the father goes, “Oh, I never heard of that one.” And Steven Tyler just hung out and had dinner with his kid there and then he left. He was never like, “You should know who I am” or anything cocky.
EM: You always hear these stories about him being cocky and kind of crazy and I swear to god we’re at Wembley Arena in London and this was when the whole band was on their drug free, alcohol free kick, and they had AA people with them, and they’re eating almost vegan now. And we were going off to do a club tour after that. And I went backstage and there’s the band sitting at a card table and Steven Tyler has little granny glasses on and he’s got a velvet robe on him. He kind of looks like a grandpa who sits in the corner, you know? Hair up in a bun. It was Joe Perry, Joey Kramer and Tom Hamilton and their keyboard player, a Tom, I don’t remember his last name. And they’re all sitting down eating chocolate cake at the end of the show. I’m knocking back beers and asking him to sign my tour book, living the rock life, and he’s like, “You better slow down, kid.” Anyway, it was pretty cool.
MM: I’ll ask you one last question. If you could resurrect any one musician from the dead, who would you bring back?
EM: Jimi Hendrix.
MM: Cool. That’s a good one. Was he a favorite of yours growing up?
EM: Well, Billy Sheehan saw him play and Pat Torpey saw him play when they were younger. And I never got to see him play. Yeah, I remember next to John Lennon that made me upset when I was a kid. I loved Jimi Hendrix. I loved his music. And I loved “Wind Cries Mary,” which was a childhood kind of thing. But I was crying like a baby when he died. I would love to see him. It would be such a fantasy to resurrect him. It would be good. And Jesus! Jesus would be good.
MM: Yeah, nobody’s ever said that before, but that’s a good point.
EM: I would say Jesus first. You gotta put that in. But you did say musician, so… Who knows?!
Extra special thanks to Amanda Cagan for arranging the interview and to Eric for taking the time to do it!
For part one of our interview with Eric, go here: Eric Martin Interview Part One
At the time of this writing, the deluxe edition of Mr. Big’s Defying Gravity, which comes with a bonus DVD filled with videos, interviews and more is just $8.99. That’s a buck less than it costs just to download it!