Interview with Mr. Big frontman Eric Martin

Date: September 1, 2021
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda
Photos: Joe Schaeffer Photography

“It would be just ludicrous to get upset to have to play your biggest hit! I mean the thing still gets plays on the radio to this day,” says Mr. Big frontman Eric Martin of the band’s hit single “To Be With You” from their 1991 ‘Lean Into It’ album. Sleaze Roxx caught up with Eric Martin on September 1st, 2021. Mr. Big’s ‘Lean Into It’ has received the deluxe treatment with a remastered album and a second disc of bonus content. The deluxe edition of ‘Lean Into It’ was issued on July 30th, 2021 via evoXs based out of Hong Kong. Enjoy the interview.

Sleaze Roxx: Take us through what was going on with the band going into album number two, having created a ‘buzz’ with the ‘self-titled’ album.

Eric Martin: Well, we did create a ‘buzz,’ but that was virtually non-existent on the radio. There were a few FM stations that picked up “Addicted To That Rush” and “Big Love.” We just toured constantly. From like ’89 to ’91, now that doesn’t seem like a long time, but we were on the road. We played every town, every laundromat opening! I’m making a joke, obviously, but we played every gig we could get. Paul [Gilbert], Billy [Sheehan] and Pat [Torpey] are from L.A. and I’m from the San Francisco/Bay Area. We went to North Hollywood, Griffith Park, where they filmed ‘Rebel Without A Cause.’ They have this little train museum with a traincar. We shot the “To Be With You” video in one of those traincars. We had already put out four to five singles for radio from ‘Lean Into It.’ We released that song, because of our manager. He really liked the song. His name was Herbie Herbert. He also managed Journey and managed me for over 20 years. I don’t know if at that point Atlantic [Records] thought that they were going to drop us, but they thought they had done all that they could at that point.

As I said, we had released four to five songs. The band wasn’t breaking, but we were selling out shows all across the country, but we weren’t selling a lot of records, I guess. So, we did the “To Be With You” video and we went back on the road. We didn’t read Billboard Magazine! That’s for ‘the suits’! I was excited that we were Top 10 on MTV! We were on the road and we pulled up to this place called Finky’s in Daytona Beach, Florida. I remember the sound company wasn’t even there, by the time we arrived. We were setting up our own gear. I go into the amusement center of this club, which was right on the beach. I remember I saw a TV and I remember hearing the guy on MTV saying, “And now the number one video on MTV…” It was “To Be With You.” I was so excited! Then he said, “And it also the number one song in the country.” I wasn’t ready for that! I remember I went to see the guys. Paul was playing away on the fretboard of his guitar and Billy was changing some strings on his bass and Pat was beating on a couch with his drumsticks. I come in and I’m like, “Guys! We’re number one on MTV!” They looked at me and were like, “Oh, that’s nice.” We had been on the road forever by that point. This place had a wet bar and as we looked around, there were people lining up around the block for the show! Things blew up! I’m going to sound cliche here, but it’s the gift that keeps on giving!

Mr. Big‘s “To Be With You” video:

Sleaze Roxx: Was “To Be With You” in jeopardy of making the record? I ask because it sounds like your manager was the one that really liked the song.

Eric Martin: I played it for Paul Gilbert in ’89, when Billy and I started the band. I would commute from the Bay Area to LA. We didn’t have the budget to put me up in a hotel, so I would stay at Paul’s house. While we were hanging out I would bring this gym bag with a bunch of cassettes. That song was on one of them. When I first met him [Paul], I was a little intimidated, because he was coming out of Racer-X… He’s a shredder! In getting to know him and talking with him, I found that he really likes The Beatles… a lot! That’s when I said to him, “I have a great song that I wrote several years ago.” He listened to it and said, “Man, that a great song!” We didn’t talk about putting that on a record. I just shared it with him. Kevin Elson was our producer and I shared it with him too. He loved it too. When it came time to do the second record, it was Kevin that kept saying, “You know, we have to put that song on the record.” None of us knew what direction we’d be going on the next record. We were a ‘meat and potatoes’ rock ‘n’ roll band, but with a lot of notes [laughs]! How could we not? We had Billy Sheehan and Paul Gilbert in the band [laughs]!

When Paul brought in a song called “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind”, that was completely out of left field from what we were doing. It had great harmonies and all of these twists and turns in the composition. When Paul got that one in, well, it opened the gates for anything and everything. My publishing company was setting me up with other writers for solo stuff. I wrote a song called “Never Say Never” with Jim Vallance, which made it on the record. We had in the area of like 15 songs for consideration for the record. There are some songs that made it onto this 30th anniversary edition. One was called “Wild Wild Women.” It’s a ‘bluesy’ rock song and I don’t even remember writing it [laughs]! The first time that I heard it was when the record company was putting this together. I was being sent audio files and when I heard that, I was like, “I wrote that?” [Laughs] The other song is a called “Stop Messing Around.” I remember begging Pat Torpey to get that on the record. I remember him looking at me saying, “It sounds too much like Aerosmith.” I was like, “So?” Then he went into how he didn’t like his drums and stuff. That kind of stuff would happen all of the time. When it came down to the wire, we’d all make our opinions known. I want to say that Paul Gilbert, Pat Torpey, Kevin Elson and our manager were the ones that were really pushing for “To Be With You” to make the final cut. How it wound up at the end of the record? It wasn’t because it wasn’t good or anything like that. ‘Lean Into It’ is basically what a setlist would be like. It’s how we would sequence that if we played it live.

Mr. Big‘s “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind” video:

Sleaze Roxx: I like the sequencing of the album, how you kick things off with “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy,” “Alive And Kickin’,” “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind,” CDFF-Luck This Time,” and on and on.

Eric Martin: Ruben, it’s a show. That’s the idea. That’s how we approached every record.

Sleaze Roxx: How involved were you in putting together this package? There’s a bunch of great stuff on here as you mentioned “Stop Messing Around” has that Aerosmith, Stones vibe to it…

Eric Martin: Yeah, it’s got that twangy, honky tonk vibe to it. A lot of bands do really great with that one thing that they do. I think AC/DC play three or four chords, four on the floor and bam! We were kind of going for that on the first album, but we just got better. I started branching out and writing with other people, rather than just writing with the band. I had a songwriting partner who I have been writing with for the better part of 30 years. His name is Andre Pessis. I brought him in to help us put a different spin on things. He was kind of like our fifth Beatle. “Just Take My Heart” was written on piano and Paul Gilbert does what he does and transposes it onto guitar. I might have written that for a solo record? I don’t remember now. I have to be honest with you, I can’t even write stuff for solo albums anymore. I can only write for Mr. Big. It’s just such a trip to hear the “To Be With You” reggae version!

Sleaze Roxx: That is and it works as a reggae song.

Eric Martin: We were just playing around in the recording studio during rehearsals. I remember looking at the guys and saying, “We’re not going to do it like this? We’re just having fun, right?” And next thing I know we’re doing it like UB40 [laughs]! We did it live like that one time and the crowd was like, “No. Don’t do that again!” [Laughs] I love the song, don’t get me wrong. If that is all people ever hear from me, with one foot in the grave, so be it. I love that song and I’m so proud of it. I was in Spain a few years ago. I was doing an acoustic show, to a sold-out audience and I decided to do “To Be With You” with a bluesy vibe to it. The crowd was like, “Nope! We don’t like it. Don’t do that!” [Laughs] People want to hear the song, how they remember the song. It was part of the soundtrack of their life. They got married to the song or they remember the first time they heard the song. You don’t mess with it. I can relate because I hate when I go see an artist and they do the song in a different arrangement. I’m like, “So, are they bored with it or what?”

Sleaze Roxx: Do you still get a charge from doing “To Be With You” in the set?

Eric Martin: Oh man, are you kidding me? People ask me all the time what it’s like to have a hit? As a singer and as a musician, it’s the greatest feeling in the world! Not everybody gets this. Personally, I never get tired of it. There’s people in their 40s and 50s in my audience. There’s some younger people too. The older people just lose their minds, when I play that on the solo shows. When I see how that song moves them, it makes me feel like a million bucks! It’s the best feeling in the world!

Sleaze Roxx: How involved were you personally with putting together the bonus material that makes up the second disc?

Eric Martin: Our manager contacted me and said there was this label that wanted to put out a 30th Anniversary of ‘Lean Into It.’ I hear this every now and then about labels wanting to put out a package or box set. This was different, because the label actually had a marketing campaign. Look we’re talking about it, I’m doing interviews and press for the release. I’m loving this! I’m a collector too! I love the red vinyl of this! It’s remastered and we even put together a singles box set that is coming or maybe it’s come out? It’s got like seven singles! Listen Ruben, I love the attention [laughs]!

Sleaze Roxx: I know Mr. Big is either on a hiatus or maybe you’ve disbanded officially? Given the circumstances, the fans understand. Pat was a huge part of Mr. Big. Would it interest you at all to perform this album top to bottom, because as you said earlier this album is sequenced as a live set.

Eric Martin: I haven’t thought about it, until about two weeks ago when someone asked me a similar question. I was on a plane coming back from some gigs, I was listening to the 25th Anniversary of ‘Frampton Comes Alive.’ Man, I was there! I was at the Oakland Stadium. We used to call it ‘The Day On The Green.’ What a show! Now, would I do that? Hell yeah [laughs]! My voice isn’t the same as it was 30 years ago. My balls dropped at 45 [laughs]! I’m now 60. Is my voice a little different? Yeah, I might have to do a portion of the songs a half step down, but I can still perform them. I do that currently on my solo acoustic shows and I play about five to six songs from the ‘Lean Into It’ album. If you’re asking me if I could make that happen? I’d love to do it. I’m the cheerleader, but there are another two guys that we’d need on board.

Sleaze Roxx: Last thing, what did Pat bring to the band as a drummer, as a bandmate and a friend and what’s a memory you have of Pat?

Eric Martin: [Long pause] Every time I talk about him, I feel like I’m eulogizing the guy. I love him. He was the anchor of the band. He was also the referee. He was a phenomenal drummer. There’s a lot of drummers out there that knew just how great he was and loved his tone. When I first met him I was like, “Oh yeah, he’s a great drummer!” Then I heard him sing and he hit a couple of notes and he sounded like Paul McCartney! He was the full package, man. He was an all-American boy! I remember every day while on the road, he’d have a little earpiece and a transistor radio and he’d be listening to his favorite team the L.A Dodgers. He did that all the time. He was a jock! He was shy, but everyone that got to know him really loved him!

He was super intelligent and he was a staunch Republican. It was funny that [even though] we had a couple of Republicans and a couple of Democrats on that tour bus, we got along great and we didn’t kill each other [laughs]! He’s an all around good guy and I miss him all the time. I feel terrible that he’s gone. We did some shows without him in Australia and in Europe. We brought along Matt Starr from Ace Frehley’s band. It sounded great, but it was so surreal to turn around and not see Pat Torpey behind us playing drums. When we came back, I would get asked if we’d continue Mr. Big? I would answer, “No. I’m not going to do it, because Pat’s not here.” I was scatterbrained because other times, I felt like we could do it with different drummers playing with us and we’d pay homage to Pat Torpey. In the end, we decided to take a big break. Pat was so great on the ‘Lean Into It’ album. He was so meticulous and a great songwriter and singer!

Mr. Big‘s “Alive And Kicking'” video: