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 28Â years since AmericanÂ rock band Mr. Big madeÂ their debut, lead vocalistÂ Eric Martin’s smiling faceÂ and brimming enthusiasmÂ have remained unchanged. “My mouth isÂ working but my brain hasn’t caught up.Â That’s why they call me Mr. Big Mouth,”Â jokes Martin over Skype from his home inÂ California. He has just returned from theÂ German leg of a European tour with symphonyÂ metallers Avantasia the previousÂ night and with a quick fix of three cups ofÂ coffee, he is ready to take on India as partÂ of his upcoming 12-city tour. “I was on theÂ airplane last night coming up with a setÂ list,” he shares, adding that while he willÂ indeed play Mr. Big crowd-pleasers likeÂ “Just Take My Heart” and “Wild World,” heÂ has also added a few solo compositions toÂ his repertoire. “There’s a song called “BiggerÂ Man” that I’ve been playing with lately,Â and I’ve also got a couple of new ones thatÂ 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 megaÂ success (20,000+ attendees.) How did it feel to see that kind ofÂ response from fans in India?
It was amazing because I couldn’t believeÂ that many people showed up. I knew thereÂ was going to be a lot of people becauseÂ we had never played India before and itÂ was a long time coming. I don’t know whyÂ we didn’t play in India back in the NinetiesÂ but it was a far better turn out than IÂ thought it was going to be. A lot of familyÂ members and my friends were like ”˜WhatÂ are you going there for? The traffic’s crazy,Â there’s so many people’ but they don’t getÂ it. People are people no matter where youÂ are; if their hands are up with rock and roll,Â that’s all that matters.
Your social media shows you’re constantlyÂ on the move. How do you keep that energyÂ going?
I feel like I’m lucky I’m able to do it. WhenÂ Mr. Big broke up in 2002”¦ We didn’t getÂ back together till 2009 and there was kindÂ of a lull in my career. I didn’t do anything.Â I mean I had children, so I had the luxuryÂ to stay home for a couple of years to raiseÂ my kids, but, for the most part, it was prettyÂ boring. I would make some records andÂ do some sessions but I didn’t get out of CaliforniaÂ very much. So I think I made a littleÂ prayer to myself that if I get a chance toÂ do it, I want to work constantly. You’ve gotÂ to be careful what you wish for, though!Â There’s a lot of times where I kind of goÂ ”˜Oh man I don’t think I can do it’ becauseÂ there’s been a lot of adversity in my travels.Â But I think to myself ”˜Hey man, just playÂ that gig and it’s going to be great.’
You’re married with two kids; how do youÂ manage to keep a balance between life onÂ the road and spending enough time atÂ home?
When they [his kids] were younger, it wasÂ hard because there were a lot of tears andÂ Skyping and telephone calls and emailsÂ and texts and all that stuff. But now they’reÂ eleven-year old twin boys; they’re so machoÂ and cool, they don’t need daddy. What’sÂ hard for me is”¦ I constantly reach out, butÂ my kids are so independent because I’veÂ been gone so much. I know they love meÂ but they learned to not have me aroundÂ so the hard part is trying to get my childrenÂ on the phone, that’s all. Their armor isÂ built up and they become so independent.Â It’s kind of a good thing, but it’s sad tooÂ because that’s the worst part of being aÂ traveling musician.
Can you tell us a little about your experienceÂ with Avantasia?
Tobias Sammet, the creator of Avantasia,Â was a big fan of Mr. Big and he wanted meÂ to sing a ballad on [the 2014 Avantasia record]Â Mystery of Time. I had never evenÂ heard of Avantasia, I didn’t realize how bigÂ it was and it blew my mind. It wasn’t theÂ opera that I was thinking it was. There wasÂ no narration or people swinging on stringsÂ and ropes; it wasn’t the classic opera or theatre.Â It was more of a concept about heavenÂ and hell and basically, at its core, a GermanÂ metal band. They have seven singersÂ from the Eighties and Nineties ”“like myself-from different countries. I had someÂ fear about singing metal but it’s not thatÂ hard; you just have to push a little harder.
Speaking of super groups, do you thinkÂ you would ever do a project like the TakÂ Matsumoto Group again?
Oh TMG! Every year I ask Tak MatsumotoÂ if we’re going to have a reunion and heÂ always goes ”˜Hmm, Eric-san, let me thinkÂ about it.’ It was one album, 20 shows, someÂ live DVDs and some videos and it was oneÂ of my best experiences ever. I would compareÂ it to the Avantasia situation becauseÂ of how super professional and cool everybodyÂ is. No egos, no baggage, no problem.Â I’ll tell you what, as soon I as I getÂ off the phone with you, I’ll call Tak MatsumotoÂ and he’ll give me the same answer!Â [laughs]
After reuniting, Mr. Big is still together.Â How did you get past the friction thatÂ caused your break up in the first place?
Well, first of all, we had to sweep all theÂ bullshit under the carpet. I think we lostÂ respect for each other and that was one ofÂ the reasons we split up in the first place.Â I’m being a little ambiguous because sometimesÂ when you talk about it in magazinesÂ or that kind of stuff it gets misconstrued.Â Being in a band is like being in a marriage,Â but even a husband and a wife get a breakÂ from each other. In a band, there are noÂ breaks; you’re constantly together. If you’reÂ not gigging, you’re sitting on a tour bus andÂ the only thing to do is to pick apart andÂ verbally kill each other. So yeah, I thinkÂ we lost a little respect for each other. IÂ got it back from missing the guys and theÂ band. I missed the match of Mr. Big; everybodyÂ was on the same page. That’s theÂ cool thing about the band; we all share theÂ same brain. We all had the thought aboutÂ getting back together and ever since 2009,Â we haven’t had any problems. We look atÂ each other as musicians, as men and there’sÂ just a little bit more””dare I say it””maturity.Â Now I don’t know what we’re in it for”¦Â maybe the camaraderie, the spirit of theÂ music”¦ We’re having fun.
What’s next for Mr. Big? If you do planÂ on touring, will Pat Torpey [who wasÂ diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease inÂ 2014] be able to accompany you?
We’re going to be playing for four orÂ five months in 2017 to do a bunch ofÂ touring all over the world. Maybe getÂ back to India! Pat’s going to go with us.Â He’s always been a strong man mentallyÂ and physically. The Parkinson’sÂ kind of fucked him up a little bit, but he’sÂ strong. He works with other artists thatÂ have similar problems. Like Rick AllenÂ from Def Leppard [who lost an arm] andÂ he’s working with the guy who built RickÂ Allen’s drum kit. So he’s going to be on theÂ road with us, but we’re also taking [drummerÂ Matt Starr] with us to play on some ofÂ the songs. If Pat had said he didn’t want toÂ go on the road, I think we would have brokenÂ up. We’re talking about doing anotherÂ album, so we’re probably going to head intoÂ the studio this year.
Are we going to get a new Eric MartinÂ album soon?
I’m still writing. I’ve been procrastinatingÂ for years, putting off doing a solo albumÂ because everything I write, I go ”˜Shit it’sÂ a Mr. Big song!’ I can’t write anything forÂ myself anymore. I always wanted to reachÂ out to other song writers in the world andÂ write with other people. Like wouldn’t itÂ be cool to write with musicians or writersÂ who are fans? It might turn into a giganticÂ clusterfuck, but I think it could beÂ cool. If I’m going to do the solo album thatÂ I haven’t done in twelve years, it’s got toÂ have everything and the kitchen sink in it.
Dates for Eric Martin’s 2016 solo tour through India: