MR. BIG’S ERIC MARTIN: THE METALSUCKS RAMBLE
When I was very young, I remember having an intensely heated argument with my mom over who sang, “Wild World.” I insisted it was Mr. Big while she tried in vain to tell me it was a cover of a Cat Stevens song. Of course, she was right. But she should’ve known better than trying to reason with a smart-ass eight-year-old.
My mom has never spoken to Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam, and probably never will due to his lifestyle and beliefs. I, however, did get to speak to Eric Martin lead singer of Mr. Big. So I still win.
Hi, I’m sorry did you try calling earlier?
Yes, I left a message but I figured another interview went on too long.
I’m sorry, I was on the radio and I thought you were my mother-in-law so I completely blew you off.
Don’t worry, it happens. I do that to various family members too. I’m going go ahead and ask you some standard questions so bear with me-
No, no! I don’t get standard questions. I mean, I used to get, “Why did Mr. Big break up?”, and anyway… wait. Is that the one?
I actually wasn’t going to ask that. I meant the other typical question: a lot of bands are reuniting these days, so what inspired Mr. Big to get back together?
Well, you talk to the other guys in the band, they have their opinions. I would say that, after 4-5 years went by after the band’s break-up in 2002, I kind of lost my taste for hate, you know. We had some problems back in the day, you may have heard about it [laughs]. We had some communication breakdowns and bad-mouthed each other. Not Paul, though. Paul Gilbert. He had too much class. Me and Billy always… butted heads back in the day. It was a shame, though. We did get along on our first few tours, but something changed. I guess maybe the music or the climate or being cooped up on a tour bus… get out your box of tissues now people! Nah, just being together for so long and having the corporate record company jungle hanging over us going, “Give me that next, ‘To Be With You,’” I don’t know what it was, but maybe we just had too much passion in our music that it just spilled over, our horns came out.
Anyway, that being said, after 5-6 years go by, you kind of lose all [the bad feelings]. And remembering how great I felt when I stood onstage with those two guys each side of me, like two rock ’n’ roll bookends, I missed that and the music. I’d been a solo artist for a long time prior to that, and now I was forced to be one… okay, I admit it. I took it for granted that I had [the members of Mr. Big], and was sort of like, “Yeah, yeah whatever.” It didn’t hit me until five years after the band broke up that these guys made up the best band I’d ever been in or would ever be in, for that matter. So years and years go by, I become a solo artist, and I’m not going to say I used my son but…
Okay, I had a bass guitar in my house, and my son, who was five at the time, picks up the bass, and he’s left-handed, and tells me, “Daddy, I want to learn how to play this.” I’m paraphrasing but he did sound like that [affects high-pitched tone]. I don’t know how to play bass. I can play like, “Inna Gadda Da Vida,” or, “Sunshine of Your Love,” or something but I don’t know what I’m doing. And the bass was huge and he was left-handed and I don’t know any other bass players. So I got up the courage to call, no I emailed. I wasn’t brave enough to call. I emailed Billy Sheehan and asked him if he knew if his company, Yamaha, made a left-handed bass guitar for little kids. I also added a, “Hey, remember me?” and threw out an olive branch and he emailed me back right away. He said the company didn’t make that but he’d look around and added a, “Wondering how you were, hope everything is good, oh yeah I got married.” It was something like that, short and sweet and it was just like, “What was the big deal? Why didn’t I call the guy years ago?”
And so this was in November, and I thought I could get my son his guitar for his birthday but about ten days before Christmas this big package arrived. It had the bass guitar as well as a how-to book and a video, all from Billy. You can imagine how surreal it was; here’s my son playing bass guitar and there’s Billy on the TV explaining how to do it.
So I called him and told him all the things I’d been thinking of over the years and just, “I’m sorry if I upset you in the past, I’d love to get Mr. Big back together, but even if not, just spark up a good friendship. Truthfully, everybody likes me except you.” He admitted he’d been thinking about Mr. Big, too, and I told him I’d seen Pat Torpey recently. Ironically, Pat was touring with Richie Kotzen, and we’d done this show in Naples, Italy, and I was opening for Richie. And here I’ve got this Argentinean band playing Mr. Big songs and there’s Richie and Pat, another surreal moment. But Pat was talking about how he missed Mr. Big and the energy, just the excitement of being onstage. And I said if we didn’t get this thing together, we’re gonna be old men. In the back of my head, now, I was like, “Well, Billy is into it, Pat’s into it, but Paul would never in a million years consider doing it.” So long story short… it is a long story, sorry. You probably have ten questions and I’m taking an hour to answer one.
Oh no, by all means, go ahead. You’re actually also answering the standard question I didn’t ask, so… two birds!
Hah, wel,l you couldn’t even write this in a script, this is so like a soap opera.
I talked to Billy and asked him to give Paul Gilbert a call, ask him where his head’s at, you know? The guy puts out like ten albums a year, is he gonna be free to do something? So I’m going to see him play at the House of Blues and opening for him is Richie Kotzen and Pat Torpey playing drums. Which is like, “What the fuck?” It was inevitable. I mean the crowd sees Pat and Paul and they just… it’s like a spiritual want. They wanted something to happen. It eventually did and we all got onstage and played “Thirty Days in the Hole,” an old Humble Pie song we used to cover, and the crowd went nuts. Way louder than for anyone else. And Paul looked over and was like, “I’d like to see Eric Martin standing there,” where Richie was. I got a call a few days later from him going, “Hey, how you doing? Let’s put Mr. Big back together.” It was simple and painless and stress-free, and that’s how it’s been ever since. And that’s how it’s going to stay, because I’m gonna keep my backyard clean and not open my big mouth and not going to do anything that, you know, will ruin this relationship. On my part, anyway. I don’t know how the other guys are going to keep this band together, but that’s how I am.
You’re all set for tours then, right? I know Mr. Big was really, really popular in Japan. I think the news that the band was back together was announced there before most of the rest of the world. You have a pretty big international following actually, I think. Any plans to head back out into the world?
Yeah we are, dates are coming in right now. We’re touring Japan and Southeast Asia and we’re playing a bunch of festivals in April and in the summer. I don’t know if we’re on the first or second stage, but we’re playing with bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and Whitesnake. I know we’re playing a gig in the United States, we’re playing M3 in Maryland, and the dates are coming in slowly, but our manager basically says, “Hey, secure your love at home because you guys are going back on the road for a whole year or so.” We’re looking forward to it, because it’s been fifteen years since we actually toured. I mean, we did the 2009 thing, but that was only maybe 30-40 shows, maybe more. But this is going to keep us out a lot longer. And so be it! Keep it A-list, as Paul Gilbert would say.
Excited about any place in particular? I keep coming back to Japan, but it’s just so different to see a show there. I got to experience it once and I was one of maybe three non-Japanese people present, and the whole thing was incredible.
Yeah! They love classic rock ’n’ roll. And I’m not saying anything bad about Americans or Europeans or Australians or whatever, but [the Japanese] keep the torch burning for rock. And they’re really into it. But they’re like everyone else, too — when there’s a shake-up in the band, they look at it like, “We grew up with you guys and we’re in this, too. We’re in the club, in the band, too.” All million of them. When there was turmoil in the band when Paul left and we got Richie and then the band broke up, I mean, I thought it was going to take a lot of coaxing to get them back in the room. They were hurt in the beginning, a little crushed, but they kept the door open for us longer than anybody. And it’s a great experience. God, that’s how a rock show is: total give and take. Back in the day when we’d play some places, it would be like a blind date, the curtain opens and you’re looking at us, we’re looking at you, and we’re just like, “Uhhh okay. Here we go.” But in Japan, it just felt like going to Burning Man or something. It was a spiritual experience.
And they’re so polite! I didn’t get trampled at all. Anyway, okay I have to ask: how do Billy Sheehan’s beliefs and affiliation with Scientology come into play with band? Has that even come up ever?
No, not really. I mean, it’s his religion. Or, it’s his thing. That’s Billy, y’know? Is it Scientology that helped him or is it something else, some entity? I don’t know. I mean he swears on his religion, he loves it. He loves the people around it and loves what it does for him. Granted, personalities have definitely changed over the past fifteen years, he’s a lot more approachable as a person, for me, and I’m a lot more comfortable around him. Has Scientology helped that? I don’t know. Hey, the only time I’ve ever seen anything to do with Scientology is that Kirstie Alley came to a show one time [laughs]. That’s all I know.
Whatever works for each individual right? She probably had fun.
I hope so.
I used to get most of my news about “my” bands from this other website. I grew up in a kind of, well, we didn’t get many bands back home, let’s just say that. I didn’t get to see anybody live back in the day, so —
Yeah, sure. How old are?
[sheepishly admit age]
Ohhhhh [groans comically]. Totally experienced, right? But hey, you’re a fan. Is it just metal or all kinds of rock ’n’ roll?
I have a special place in my heart for metal before any other music of course, I mean I write about it and I wouldn’t if I didn’t love it. Then there are classic bands like Thin Lizzy and AC/DC that I love, too, and I guess, I call them, “my bands” —
EXACTLY. That’s a good stance on it. That’s how I look at it too. They are MY bands, too. Because you grew up with them, and they’re so much a part of your life. That’s how you look at it. I’m 25 years older than you, but here you are, and that’s how I look at it, too. They’re our brothers and sisters, too.
Yeah, I grew up with Queen because they were my parents’ favorite band. I’m jealous that they got to see them, especially Freddie Mercury, live.
That was my first band I ever saw.
Yeah, them and another metal-esque band, Y & T. Have you heard of them?
Yesterday and Today, as they were called, and they opened for Queen. And I went to see them specifically because they were friends. Well, they were the peoples’ band from San Francisco, and Queen, man, what album was that? Night at the Opera. That changed my life right there.
They’re one of very, very few bands my entire family agrees on.
I got one of those, too. My family was always into Frank Sinatra, which I am, too, but, y’know, it was hard for them. I’d put on something safe, like “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin, and go, “Listen to this guy’s voice!” My mom would be like, “…I don’t get it.” And then years later, she would be like, “Eric, I love your voice when you’re doing the softer side,” so, obviously, with ‘To Be With You,” she was in heaven. Then, later on, she became a metalhead. She loved it.
Well moms like to support their kids. My mom’s slowly becoming one, too, just because she wants to get what I listen to and write about. Her biggest complaint is that I swear too much when I write.
Yeah, it’s like if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I remember my dad used to say it was the devil’s music. And then when there were enough people that were moved by it… heavy music, rock and heavy music, to me, is like a big punch in the chest. It’s a good punch. Or a slap on the back. It feels like a club. My dad saw that. He could see the energy of my friends and how good it made me feel the next day after singing at a gig, and he was like, “If it makes my son happy, maybe I’m missing something here.”
Anyway, back to my original music source. This site was the most engrossing thing to me, because it was like metal high school. There was so much gossip and shit being flung across factions and people taking merciless shots at each other. Your name came up a lot, too.
How did that affect you and the band? I mean, Mr. Big isn’t technically an 80’s hair band, but you still get lumped in that category a lot.
It used to bother me. Metal Sludge, Blabbermouth, all that stuff… it kind of still does bother me. We’re losing sight of [what’s important]. You got metal right? Metal is a derivative, no, not a derivative. It’s a brother, from another mother, to rock n’ roll. There are people that want to listen to that one thing and not be open-minded to another, and hey, to each his own. Do what you want. But don’t turn rock n’ roll into this gossip situation. Although, rock n’ roll shouldn’t be taken too seriously, so I’m not trying to make… let me contradict myself. Rock n’ roll is like a movie. There’s comedy, there’s drama, there’s pathos, there’s idiocracy [laughs], there’s satire, political views, all in one. But it felt like some of these things were taking the piss out of somebody, not about like, “Huh maybe they got something.” It ain’t everything. I’m not going to give you everything that you need, but my aim, my source of entertainment… I’m going to give you something. And if I don’t, I’ll move on. But, man, I don’t wanna be picked on. And I can take it as much as anybody, but at a certain point it kind of feels like… there are sites from people that don’t care about rock n’ roll music, that just pick it apart.
My life, like the earlier part of my life, I had bullies that were just like, “You suck, man, with your long hair and bell-bottom pants and screaming into the microphone, Robert Plant’s a queer!” Stuff like that. And at a certain point you have to stick to your guns. I believe in what I do. And if you don’t, that’s all good with me — [because] maybe somebody else does. I just don’t like being constantly picked on about it. I looked young for my age up until my late 40s, and all of a sudden I went, “Man, I’m getting old.” I had some funky hair, I had long-ass hair with bangs. Come on! A grown man! What was I thinking? Most of the time I prided myself on wearing black jeans and a t-shirt, but then somebody at a record company would be like, “No you have to wear this”… If I could change from the past, I’d like to say, “Geez, what was I thinking wearing those clothes?” It made me feel good at the time but if I could go back, I’d like to change all those stupid rock poses in magazines and all that kind of thing.
But I got nothing to be ashamed of. I’m comfortable in my own shoes. It’s like being in a rock band and you bring a song in and if no one tries it, that song doesn’t stand a chance. So try it, you may like it. Just try it don’t say no or cut it down right off the bat. That’s what I was trying to say, but hey man, get a box of tissues out, who gives a shit right?
Okay, I thought this was awesome because it’s my my generation, but I found out you did the theme for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie. That’s kind of cool!
Yeeeah. You know what else was cool? Matt Sorum, from Guns N’ Roses played drums, Tim Simmons, a keyboard player who played with everybody, all sorts of rock and soul and metal bands, and, um, who else was it? Bass player played with… Huey Lewis and the News? It was like a hodgepodge, a smorgasbord of rock n’ roll bands, and Ron Nevison, who produced Led Zeppelin and Heart, produced it. It was a Japanese idea, actually. The company Bandai, who make the Power Ranger toys and everything, came up with this corny kind of movie, and they asked us if we would sing this thing, and they asked a bunch of people and some would say, “Aw I’m not singing that, that’s beneath me!” But it’s not beneath me, because I love that genre. I love those campy, corny karate shows and toys and anime and anything to do with that. I jumped at the chance. I didn’t have children at the time, but my nieces and nephews all loved me. “My Uncle E” — they called me “Uncle E” — “My Uncle E sang that song!” I used to get so much shit for it, from my rock n’ roll brethren, but now people are like, “Wow, that’s so cool!”
I remember we sang and played it in two or three takes and Matt Sorum was shaking his head going, “God, man.” It was a long song with a lot of that, “Go, go Power Rangers,” and like the weirdest lyrics in the world because they went with the movie — “The ability to morph and even up the score!” And it was slick, but energetic. And Matt [Sorum] goes, “This is going to be so big when we play it live!” I thought that was a joke because we would never, ever play it live, that might be too corny. But it was fun doing the movie. It didn’t feel like work, it felt like, “How fun is this?”
You were ahead of your time! There’s a band called Powerglove now that released a whole album of their versions of theme songs just last year.
I’m not ashamed of it. I got some shit for it ,but I did some weird stuff back in the day and… Now my kids are like, “Daddy, do you like Power Rangers?” I’ll just stand up and get the old album, dust the cobwebs off it, and go, “Daddy sang for the movie.”
That’s about all I had, anything to add?
Yeah maaan! Yeah wo-maan! I enjoyed it. Every time I talk to somebody, a journalist or whatever, you’re getting the honest Eric Martin. I don’t look at it like you’re dissecting my brain, I look at it like I’m talking to my bartender or my psychiatrist. So it’s okay! Who is your next interview?
Uhh, I don’t know. I think Whitesnake was up for grabs.
If you do talk to them, ask them why they got rid of Chris Frazier. He’s a friend of mine, and a great drummer.
I’ll pass the message along.