Often described as hard rock’s original supergroup, Mr. Big, are headed to Australia for the very first time, as part of a massive national tour along with another celebrated American rock band Extreme. Mr. Big formed in 1988 and immediately began to solidify their place in music history. By combining trademark “shredding” musicianship with awesome vocal harmonies, Mr. Big produced numerous hit songs that ranged across a wide array of rock genres – be it ballads, heavy metal, or blues rock. Mr.Big has a huge following among the global musician community as it features bass god Billy Sheehan and guitar maestro Paul Gilbert. Sadly the band’s original drummer Pat Torpey died in February this year from complications of Parkinson’s disease at the age of 64. Consequently for long time Mr Big fans, the Australian tour will be as poignant as it will be thrilling. Ahead of the tour, which begins this Friday June 1st in Brisbane, our own guitar shredmeister James Ryan was delighted to chat with guitar hero Paul Gilbert about Mr Big, the Australian tour and his other projects such as Racer X (Psst, anyone who was at the 2015 Melbourne Guitar Show would know that James Ryan has a Racer X cover band called Racer Axe! Needless to say he was chuffed to speak with Paul)
James: We are so pumped to be able to see Mr Big for the very first time in Australia
Paul: Yeah, at long last.
This will be the first time you’ll be here with a band. You have been here before with clinics though.
I kinda cheated in that I play with some local musicians in my clinics, so it feels like a band but this will be the first band with some rehearsal!
The idea of both Mr Big and Extreme touring together is insane. You must have known Nuno Bettencourt for some time?
Yeah, we go back to the old days. I remember some festivals back in the early 90s that we played. Nuno and I did a concert in Japan called Guitar Wars, along with John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin and Steve Hackett from Genesis. We are both Pat Travers fans, so we have played with him but this is the first time we’ll play for 4 or 5 shows, whatever it is. We are all so busy these days. In the 90s I had time off. Now … I mean I love it and I am really happy that I am doing music all of the time but it is at quite a breakneck pace. A lot of times you just open an email from management and it’s like whoa, we’re doing a tour with Extreme … cool! So it wasn’ a thing where Nuno and I sat around and planned it, I just heard about it from management and I thought it was great. I am excited to see him and everybody and of course. I did some work with Gary Cherone. Billy Sheehan did a tribute to The Who with Mike Portnoy and Gary sang on that. He’s an amazing Roger Daltrey when he wants to be.
How does Billy even do it, he plays on so many projects. He has incredible energy.
He does have incredible energy and I can’t explain it but it is inspiring to be around him.
As you said things have changed and while in the 90s you may have had bigger concerts with this band, you weren’t doing so many other things as well …
These days, as musicians you are a little bit more in charge of your own destiny, which is nice in a way. As an artist you have a lot more control but at the same time, everybody’s gotta sleep! You get to the end of the day and it’s like, man I wish I had 4 more hours to do stuff. I’ve finally started drinking coffee, so that’s my gateway drug.
Congratulations for holding that off for so long … it’s a wonderful thing to find later in life isn’t it?
It’s wonderful until you discover caffeine withdrawals. My god, I have never been so grouchy in my life! I know better now … keep my dose consistent.
Let’s talk gear for a minute. Obviously you’ve been using Marshalls for a long time … what kind of rig will you be bringing down here for the tour?
I actually just finished my pedalboard. Every tour starts with a pedal board and it evolves as it goes. I really like the vintage style of Marshall with 4 inputs because I usually use the second input, it is not quite as trebly. If I need treble, I can get it. You just crank something up on a pedal and it’s there. It is much easier to add it than it is to take it away. Some of the more modern heavy metal Marshalls … at least yo my ears … they are not as warm as the older ones. With those, I have treble if I want it and also I can keep it a little warmer if I want it. I just run them clean and get all the distortion from my pedalboard and that way, wherever we fly I get a pretty consistent tone.
You have been with Ibanez guitars for so long. You must be the longest serving Ibanez endorsee ever and obviously your guitars have changed radically over the years.
It is funny to have been with the company longer than most of the people that are working there. I love Ibanez, it has been such a good relationship with people and of of course with the instruments. My models right now are the Fireman model the FRM which is an Iceman upside down then I also have the PGM model and I have been using the micro model.
I have seen you using that little guy, it must be a bit of fun?
It’s a lot of fun. I have big hands anyway but if you play a guitar with a short neck … if you want to know what it feels like to play guitar with big hands … use these. Also the tension, you can bend anything and it really is a fun thing to fool around on. I have had so many signature models over the years and I have a new one coming out, it’s top secret but it will be coming out next year.
How many guitars will you bring out here with you?
I will figure that out when I fly out on Tuesday. At least two. I could probably squeeze as many as six depending on how many cases but you get charged for the excess bags. I can make it happen with two. The one on the stand I like to use for solos sometimes and it’s got three strings and I do this weird octave thing with it.
How are the ears holding up?
Oh I am very deaf but If anything it has almost improved my musical abilities, at least I think so. I really have to know what I am doing now. It’s almost like a blind person who has to know their surroundings really well. They have to know where all the furniture is. It’s the same thing when you’re deaf, you have to know where the notes are because you can’t find them by ear, you have to know them internally. My internal sense of music has improved a lot and it’s kind of a joy to have it like that. If anything it’s harder to talk to people, so I have headphones and hearing aids and all of that. Thankfully you have a frequency in your voice which is easy for me to comprehend.
You were with Mr Big for what seems like a short time and then you had a very long vacation from it …
It was 8 years so not that short but look at the Beatles, their entire recording period spanned 7 years. I guess I had this fantasy that I could go off and be this singing pop star in Japan. It’s arguable whether that happened or not but I’m glad I could try. It would have been something that gnawed at me if I hadn’t tried, it’s nice to have a swing sometimes. Even if you missed, you know that you went out to bat and swung.
Self imposed rules within the band are so different now to what they were then. Then, we were busy establishing the band. Mr Big didn’t exist and we wanted it to exist and we wanted it to be great. We really tried to limit ourselves as far as other projects and we accomplished our mission. We became an established band but at the same time we felt a bit constricted. Look at Billy … back in the day he was like, we should only be doing Mr Big, other projects are just going to take away from it. Now look at him, he’s involved in an enormous amount of projects. So I am glad that rule is no longer a rule. We do Mr Big when we can, we enjoy it but we can do other stuff and it is all cool.
How was it when you got back into it with the band?
The thing that got the band back together was that Billy asked me to play a solo on one of his solo albums and we had fun in the studio doing that and it got the ball rolling in a good way. Then I was doing a solo show and I invited the guys down, we jammed a bit and it just happened naturally. When we finally got together and decided, yes let’s do this, it was so much better and more fun than it had been. We were more accepting of each other, it was fun to play the music again and it was really nice.
The last couple of albums have been a little bit different. I really dig the last album which to me sounded the most raw, organic and little bit different sounding to the others …
Well that is all subjective. I hear the songs mostly on stage. I hear the songs live more than I listen to the studio versions so i don’t really have an objective sense of what the records sound like. When I think of a song, I think of the live version because that is what I experience the most.
I think you guys must have the record for the most live albums compared to studio albums of any band I know …
I think that’s began because in Japan … cos originally we were always in Japan … back then it was late 80s early 90s and the recording process back then took a long time. It wasn’t like in the 60s where the Beatles would do an album in day and I think it is getting back to that again now but in the late 80s early 90s at the peak of indulgence, it would take so long to do a studio album. The record company in Japan would be like .. your fans … they need something! We’d have some live tracks and say to them, well we have this and they’d be like, great, let’s do that. We’re proud of them though, they were good selling records.
What’s next for you in terms of projects?
I have just announced a Pledge Music record that I am doing. It is going to be out in September and will be called Behold Electric Guitar. If you go to Pledge Music and type in my name. it’s not only that but I found a very old Racer X-era rehearsal tape of just me. I showed up earlier (to the studio) than the other guys and it’s just me playing the most frightening, face melting shred guitar for an hour. I have a cassette of this and I didn’t even know if it would play but it transferred great to digital and that is available as a download too. It’s title is Vernon Solos because it was recorded in Vernon, California where the rehearsal studio was. It’s probably 30 years old and really at the height of my athletic powers. I’ll be doing some solo touring of the states at the end of the year too.
Thanks for your time Paul and we can’t wait to see you guys here
No problem, we’re looking forward to it.
EXTREME AND MR BIG
AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
Friday 1st June 2018 Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane Tickets available from: www.oztix.com.au
Sunday 3rd June 2018 Enmore Theatre, Sydney Tickets available from: www.ticketek.com.au
Wednesday 6th June 2018 F orum Theatre, Melbourne Tickets available from: www.ticketmaster.com.au
Thursday 7th June 2018 Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide Tickets available from: www.ticketmaster.com.au
Friday 8th June 2018 Metro City, Perth Tickets available from: www.ticketek.com.au