Eric Martin’s Big Plan
The frontman of American rock band Mr. Big on how they got back together, his ongoing India tour, and writing a “clusterfuck” solo album
Although it’s been 28 years since American rock band Mr. Big made their debut, lead vocalist Eric Martin’s smiling face and brimming enthusiasm have remained unchanged. “My mouth is working but my brain hasn’t caught up. That’s why they call me Mr. Big Mouth,” jokes Martin over Skype from his home in California. He has just returned from the German leg of a European tour with symphony metallers Avantasia the previous night and with a quick fix of three cups of coffee, he is ready to take on India as part of his upcoming 12-city tour. “I was on the airplane last night coming up with a set list,” he shares, adding that while he will indeed play Mr. Big crowd-pleasers like “Just Take My Heart” and “Wild World,” he has also added a few solo compositions to his repertoire. “There’s a song called “Bigger Man” that I’ve been playing with lately, and I’ve also got a couple of new ones that I’ve just written.”
In an exclusive first-time interview with ROLLING STONE India, Martin talks about touring with Avantasia, his brief but successful project with Japanese master guitarist Tak Matsumoto and what it took to bring Mr. Big back together.
Your 2009 concert in India was a mega success (20,000+ attendees.) How did it feel to see that kind of response from fans in India?
It was amazing because I couldn’t believe that many people showed up. I knew there was going to be a lot of people because we had never played India before and it was a long time coming. I don’t know why we didn’t play in India back in the Nineties but it was a far better turn out than I thought it was going to be. A lot of family members and my friends were like ‘What are you going there for? The traffic’s crazy, there’s so many people’ but they don’t get it. People are people no matter where you are; if their hands are up with rock and roll, that’s all that matters.
Your social media shows you’re constantly on the move. How do you keep that energy going?
I feel like I’m lucky I’m able to do it. When Mr. Big broke up in 2002… We didn’t get back together till 2009 and there was kind of a lull in my career. I didn’t do anything. I mean I had children, so I had the luxury to stay home for a couple of years to raise my kids, but, for the most part, it was pretty boring. I would make some records and do some sessions but I didn’t get out of California very much. So I think I made a little prayer to myself that if I get a chance to do it, I want to work constantly. You’ve got to be careful what you wish for, though! There’s a lot of times where I kind of go ‘Oh man I don’t think I can do it’ because there’s been a lot of adversity in my travels. But I think to myself ‘Hey man, just play that gig and it’s going to be great.’
You’re married with two kids; how do you manage to keep a balance between life on the road and spending enough time at home?
When they [his kids] were younger, it was hard because there were a lot of tears and Skyping and telephone calls and emails and texts and all that stuff. But now they’re eleven-year old twin boys; they’re so macho and cool, they don’t need daddy. What’s hard for me is… I constantly reach out, but my kids are so independent because I’ve been gone so much. I know they love me but they learned to not have me around so the hard part is trying to get my children on the phone, that’s all. Their armor is built up and they become so independent. It’s kind of a good thing, but it’s sad too because that’s the worst part of being a traveling musician.
Can you tell us a little about your experience with Avantasia?
Tobias Sammet, the creator of Avantasia, was a big fan of Mr. Big and he wanted me to sing a ballad on [the 2014 Avantasia record] Mystery of Time. I had never even heard of Avantasia, I didn’t realize how big it was and it blew my mind. It wasn’t the opera that I was thinking it was. There was no narration or people swinging on strings and ropes; it wasn’t the classic opera or theatre. It was more of a concept about heaven and hell and basically, at its core, a German metal band. They have seven singers from the Eighties and Nineties –like myself-from different countries. I had some fear about singing metal but it’s not that hard; you just have to push a little harder.
Speaking of super groups, do you think you would ever do a project like the Tak Matsumoto Group again?
Oh TMG! Every year I ask Tak Matsumoto if we’re going to have a reunion and he always goes ‘Hmm, Eric-san, let me think about it.’ It was one album, 20 shows, some live DVDs and some videos and it was one of my best experiences ever. I would compare it to the Avantasia situation because of how super professional and cool everybody is. No egos, no baggage, no problem. I’ll tell you what, as soon I as I get off the phone with you, I’ll call Tak Matsumoto and he’ll give me the same answer! [laughs]
After reuniting, Mr. Big is still together. How did you get past the friction that caused your break up in the first place?
Well, first of all, we had to sweep all the bullshit under the carpet. I think we lost respect for each other and that was one of the reasons we split up in the first place. I’m being a little ambiguous because sometimes when you talk about it in magazines or that kind of stuff it gets misconstrued. Being in a band is like being in a marriage, but even a husband and a wife get a break from each other. In a band, there are no breaks; you’re constantly together. If you’re not gigging, you’re sitting on a tour bus and the only thing to do is to pick apart and verbally kill each other. So yeah, I think we lost a little respect for each other. I got it back from missing the guys and the band. I missed the match of Mr. Big; everybody was on the same page. That’s the cool thing about the band; we all share the same brain. We all had the thought about getting back together and ever since 2009, we haven’t had any problems. We look at each other as musicians, as men and there’s just a little bit more—dare I say it—maturity. Now I don’t know what we’re in it for… maybe the camaraderie, the spirit of the music… We’re having fun.
What’s next for Mr. Big? If you do plan on touring, will Pat Torpey [who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2014] be able to accompany you?
We’re going to be playing for four or five months in 2017 to do a bunch of touring all over the world. Maybe get back to India! Pat’s going to go with us. He’s always been a strong man mentally and physically. The Parkinson’s kind of fucked him up a little bit, but he’s strong. He works with other artists that have similar problems. Like Rick Allen from Def Leppard [who lost an arm] and he’s working with the guy who built Rick Allen’s drum kit. So he’s going to be on the road with us, but we’re also taking [drummer Matt Starr] with us to play on some of the songs. If Pat had said he didn’t want to go on the road, I think we would have broken up. We’re talking about doing another album, so we’re probably going to head into the studio this year.
Are we going to get a new Eric Martin album soon?
I’m still writing. I’ve been procrastinating for years, putting off doing a solo album because everything I write, I go ‘Shit it’s a Mr. Big song!’ I can’t write anything for myself anymore. I always wanted to reach out to other song writers in the world and write with other people. Like wouldn’t it be cool to write with musicians or writers who are fans? It might turn into a gigantic clusterfuck, but I think it could be cool. If I’m going to do the solo album that I haven’t done in twelve years, it’s got to have everything and the kitchen sink in it.
Dates for Eric Martin’s 2016 solo tour through India: