“When you haven’t seen anybody for 20 something years, you don’t just show up and say hello, they gotta slap you in the face first and say where you been?” Extreme’s guitar legend Nuno Bettencourt tells James Ryan ahead of the upcoming Extreme and Mr Big June Australian tour.
Australian fans of classic guitar rock are in for a real treat when two of the late 80s/early 90s most respected rock bands, Extreme and Mr Big tour here together in June. Extreme became one of the most prosperous bands of the early 90’s when the biggest hit of their career, “More Than Words”, rocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1991. Extreme have sold over 10 million albums worldwide since their formation in 1985. They’ve released six studio albums, a greatest hits set, and a recent live DVD. The band had initially described their music as ‘funky metal’, but it would evolve much more in the mid-90s by blending classic rock influences with post-grunge and alternative rock. The band’s popularity is fuelled by guitar mastermind, Nuno Bettencourt’s signature style, Gary Cherone’s resonant vocals and socially conscious lyrics, Pat Badger’s rock-solid bass, and the hard-hitting Kevin Figueiredo on drums. Formed back in 1988, Mr Big forged its place in rock history combining trademark “shredding” musicianship with awesome vocal harmonies. The band’s guitarist Paul Gilbert is recognized as one of the top players of his generation.
Australian guitar wizard James Ryan (Kate Ceberano, Vanessa Amorosi, Ronan Keating, Melbourne Guitar Show jam MD) is a huge fan of the music of both Extreme and Mr Big, so we didn’t have to twist his arm too hard to agree to catch up on the phone with Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt for a pre tour chat.
James: How did this tour come together with Mr Big?
Nuno: We’ve been trying to come back to Australia for so long. Things with promoters kept falling through and tours were booked and then cancelled and we didn’t know what the hell was happening. This time around we made an effort and said we have to make this happen. By chance the same booking agent said, you know Mr Big was looking to go as well, what about you guys do something together? I was like shit yeah, that sounds like a fun night so we said yes let’s do it together with all guns blazing and make it happen!
I’m guessing you’ve known Mr Big’s Paul Gilbert from way back in the day?
We’re friends and we’ve done some stuff together. Unfortunately for me I am going on after him, I have to follow him which is always a bit of a task but I will give it my best. He is such a great dude. Everybody that knows him, knows he’s such a great guy. The only thing that is annoying about him is that he plays everything too perfectly, so I’m going to have to sabotage him a bit I think.
It’s been so long since you have been here with Extreme but even with your solo Australian tour, that was way back in 2006 as well …
Yeah, doing something by yourself is great and the fans were great when I went over there and did something on my own but to know that Extreme hasn’t been there this long and we’re coming back … we are so pumped. It has been so long that it has to be a bit of a catch up. We want to play as many songs from each album so everybody can get a nice taste of all the stuff we hadn’t done there, so it will be a bit of a best of.
How the hell do you choose from 60 or 70 songs? You can’t please everyone and do a 3 hour set, so how do you go about choosing the songs?
Well you gotta do the same as you would do for a festival, where you haven’t seen somebody for so long or for fans that haven’t seen you ever or you know, people that will see you for the first time … you take them through a little bit of a journey through everything in the catalogue and give them 3 or 4 songs from each album if you can.
People are going to be really happy to hear that. Obviously there is that early stuff that we’d love to hear, right through to the newer stuff. The sound of everything you have been doing has changed so much. Where are you at now with new stuff? Have you been jamming any new material?
We are. I mean we should have released an album already over the last 6 years for Godsakes. We wrote a bunch of stuff … kind of started scrapping it … doing another one but now we are good. Now we are hoping to put something out by the fall and we definitely have a good 25 or 30 songs that we are going to choose from and we are pretty excited about it.
Is it following on from the tough, rootsy sound that you’ve got to?
Yeah, it’s going to be a little more heavier than we’ve ever done and on some occasions, a bit more aggressive than we’ve ever done for whatever reason. I don’t know why but we’ve got a lot of energy. It’ s going to be a high energy album. It will be a blend of the old school stuff .. kind of a Pornograffiti 2.0!
You did the Generation Axe tour … how was that?
Oh man, it’s Tosin and Zakk, Vai, Yngwie, all those cats … talkin’ about making sure you have your chops ready to go. You can’t slack on that one. It was fun, we pushed each other a lot. It wasn’t competitive, it was more like a mutual respect. The reason I did it was because we got to play a bunch of stuff together, 3 of us, 4 of us, 5 of us and those were the highlights. It’s great to do your own stuff but they’re all incredible. It was a very cool experience for me, I grew up with a lot of these guys … learning their stuff and working it up in my bedroom, so to actually play on stage with them was phenomenal.
Have you ever or have you been tempted to mess around with a seven string?
There are a couple of tunes on the new Extreme album that I threw a seven string on. It’s not so much what Tosin does. He does amazing things but for me it’s just for a bigger sound, I’m not doing anything crazy on it like he is.
His hands are like an alien creature, they stretch all over the fretboard!
Absolutely. You know it’s funny, you put all these players in a rehearsal space and everyone of us walks to each other’s rig in awe of what they are doing. Even a guy like Tosin, who does these crazy time changes, octopus thing, he walks over to your rig and loves the simplicity of it and getting that heavier, chunkier sound. Everyone has their own little special power that they have and we are so different from each other. We sit there and try to learn from each other, it was really nice, great fun.
Tell me about working with Rhianna for so many years. That must have been a totally insane and different experience for you?
It was definitely a great experience. I learned a lot. A lot of people have said, oh that must have been such an easy gig for you? It wasn’t. Doing your own stuff is easy. Going from an RnB song to a reggae song to a hip hop song to a pop song or club track, you had to learn so many different fields and pockets of playing and songs. The band was ridiculous. The drummer plays with Stevie Wonder, they are serious musicians and it was an amazing experience for me. I learned a lot actually.
Everybody is going to want to know about your gear. Obviously things change along the way, so what kind of rig are you running at the moment?
I was using Randall amps for as long as I could but I had to stop using them because with the manufacturing, I was having a lot of trouble with them going down on stage on a long tour, so I am just working a Marshall DSL2000 that I really like. I don’t use a lot of stuff in front of my rig except a little Rat pedal that I use. I’d been using that since I was 12 but not for distortion, just to tighten the sound up. Other than that, a little bit of delay for solos and a bit of chorus here and there but really, nothing super exotic. It’s kinda boring really, I try to leave it all up to the fingers.
I’m curious about when you stopped using the Floyd Rose bar. What was that vibe about?
I think I used the bar a lot more for vibrato and things like that. But actually I have been plopping it back on there and with the new Extreme stuff, trying to have a little fun with it again. There was no particular reason for stopping using it, you just burn out on things, you go through phases and go, you know what … I wanna stop playing with the bar and see if I can actually play guitar with my hands again and see what happens.
When you’re working up to a tour like this, do you go back and listen to your old stuff and think, shit I’m going to have to put in a bit of work to learn how to do that again? Do some songs require you to relearn the chops?
They all do when you don’t play this stuff for a while. I remember when we started doing the Pornografitti stuff again and it felt like I was in a cover band, felt like I had to learn these pieces from another guy. It was like, did I play that? When did I do that? I was trying to decipher how I did it … the sound … everything, it was really interesting but fun and a bit of a challenge.
What about your solo stuff? Have you been working on bits and pieces to release at some point?
I’m just trying to get this Extreme album done first but I do have some ideas to do something on my own. It’s a little bit different to anything I have done, maybe a little electronic driven but with guitars, so I have been messin’ with that a little bit.
In 2013 you guys almost came out here. There was an Extreme and Richie Kotzen tour that was going to happen. I think we might have even had tickets and then unfortunately the tour didn’t happen. It is interesting with Mr Big, it went from Paul to Richie and now it has flipped back around to Paul … it’s kind of a tight knit circle of players…
I have always been lucky enough to be surrounded by these guys. I just had a little barbie at my house yesterday and Richie was here. We played some volleyball in the pool, so if we’re not jamming we’re playing volleyball.
Where do you live now and what’s the scene like?
I live up near the Hollywood sign. There’s always live music and stuff going on. It’s where I need to be to wrote something if someone calls or asks you to play on something, you gotta be nearby.
What does a regular day consist of for you if such a thing exists as a regular day?
You know what … I constantly work. I started a company about a year ago called Atlantis Entertainment and we have a music division, a film and TV division and a festival division and I signed three young artists that I have been producing albums for the last couple of years and we’re about to launch them this year. We have a couple of scripts we are developing. We just shot our first pilot TV show, so that’s my every day when I am not doing Extreme. I went to a friend’s birthday in Cabo Bay, Sully, the singer for the band Godsmack. It was his 50th birthday and I realised on my way there that it was the first time I have ever taken a vacation… ever in my entire life. It was a holiday that I wasn’t working at or while I was travelling because we do get to go to some great places when travelling and spend time on some great beaches but to actually physically go somewhere to do nothing, that was the first time in my 51 year life.
Sounds like a holiday well deserved but as you say you do get to got to some great places anyway…
Yeah I was just in Alabama with Steven Tyler, we just recorded a song at Muscle Shoals that we were doing for his album so there’s always stuff going on.
Without giving too much away, can we expect you and Paul to be catching up on stage together at any point on this tour?
We haven’t spoken about that and you never know what we might put together but I doubt it only because Extreme hasn’t been there for 25 years and I think we are so focussed and we feel so irresponsible for not coming back sooner that we want to give our fans as much as possible from each album. I dunno, maybe by the end of the night Paul could jump up into our set and do a bit of a jam, that would be fun but we’ll see.
Did you ever learn up some Racer X or any of Paul’s whacky stuff?
Oh man, I could never play that stuff, are you crazy? He’s one of the most pristine players. I have never heard anyone so precise in all my life. We did something live with him and this duded does not make mistakes, it’s incredible how precise he is. I’m definitely a little more down and dirty than him.
Anything else you’d like to say to Australian audience before you get down here?
I think first and foremost it’s an apology. It’s like when you haven’t seen anybody for 20 something years you don’t just show up and say hello, they gotta slap you in the face first and say where you been? So apologies for it being so long but we look forward to catching up with everybody in Australia, it’s going to be fun.
EXTREME AND MR BIG
AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
Friday 1st June 2018
Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane
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Sunday 3rd June 2018
Enmore Theatre, Sydney
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Wednesday 6th June 2018
Forum Theatre, Melbourne
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Thursday 7th June 2018
Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
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Friday 8th June 2018
Metro City, Perth
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