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21 Apr 2015

Eric Martin

Really, what can you say about meeting Eric Martin in person? The thing we'll never forget is how direct and simple this guy is making you think that he was an old buddy you haven't seen for a while. Despite the traveling, the soundcheck and the interviews he is quite chatty, humorous and honest. He talks about everything and everyone, Mr.Big, Avantasia, Tak Matsumoto, as well as his acoustic shows, while he kicks ass on the video interview! Interview: Sakis Nikas, Camera: Yiannis Dolas, Editing/Post Production: Open Field

Rockpages.gr: Eric, welcome to Greece! It’s your first time here?EricMartin07

Eric Martin: I don’t think so! I think I’ve been here with Mr.Big back in the ‘90s, but maybe it’s just all in my head! This is my first time anywhere as a solo artist…

Rockpages.gr: How does it feel to perform acoustically and on your own?

Eric Martin: No strings attached… I started doing this sort of format in 2011. After Mr.Big did the tour all over the world. Towards the end of that year I started playing some acoustic shows at home and then I started branching out all over Europe and South America, but it was really scary! Because I was so used to have Paul, Billy and Pat, or solo guys playing with me… I was so used to… you know, nobody is coming to see me for this (imitates guitar playing with his hands). There’s no guitar players, heroes coming to see me for that. I am more of a singer/songwriter so when I have the bands around me I strum, and then play a verse and a chorus and then take a little breather and they play some solos and entertain the crowd that way. So, when it’s just a solo artist guy it’s kind of hard! I was definitely scared, more on the nervous side, but then I got over it with humor! People who are coming to see me, are not coming to hear the solos. They come to hear my singing and hopefully hear my jokes.

Rockpages.gr: We often hear that even famous artists suffer from stagefright before coming out and play a concert. How is it possible, even for yourself to have stage fright after so many years of playing and touring?

Eric Martin: It’s a different perspective on stage fright. It’s like anxiety… I wanna be good, I don’t wanna choke… I don’t want my hands to shake when I’m showing people my shitty guitar playing… I don’t know! I think everybody goes through that little butterfly moment. I do all the time. It doesn’t matter if it’s an intimate audience like this, or a gigantic stadium. I just get a little bit of like… pheeeewwwww (blows air) man! I think it’s excitement, anxiety, and a little bit nervousness. But, it’s good! It’s good because after a couple of verses, after a couple of choruses into the first song, if I just get… Oooohhhh (screams and claps) Allright! Oh man! It just makes me like “I’m home”!

Rockpages.gr: When you were about to embark on that solo acoustic tour did you get on the phone and talked with the other guys from the band? Did you ask Paul Gilbert for any advice? Like “hey Paul, do you have any tips for the guitar?”

Eric Martin: It’s ironic that you said “Paul Gilbert”… I wouldn’t call those guys… I’ve e-mailed these guys and told them that I was going on the road, but it’s ironic ‘cause I’ve gone on YouTube and checked Paul Gilbert’s clinics, even Billy Sheehan’s clinics, how these guys talk to the audience. I am no stranger to this! This is not my first picnic! I am a professional, don’t try this at home! I love being on stage. I was the class clown in high school it just progressed here… but, I watched Paul Gilbert on YouTube and I watched him do his own clinics and… he looks a lot more comfortable than I am. But, if I did ask Paul I’d say: should I wear this, or this?

Rockpages.gr: Some say that a good song shows in the acoustic form, do you agree with that?

Eric Martin: I do! I mean a really good song. There are pyrotechnics kind of songs, but it is yeah! It’s stripped down so you pay attention to the whole spectrum, the lyrics, the message, the melody of the song, if someone is genuine or not. You look for that inflection, that emotion… I think so, that’s why I am doing it! I am not out here to make money trust me! For me, the reason I am actually out here is to keep my chops up. Because, I am the father of twin boys who are in sports and a lot of school functions and when I am home I am like the chauffer! I am the driver, or I carry my son’s football bag! There’s no rock star kind of thing. To keep my chops up until Mr.Big come back I’d be singing good and I love the stage and I love performing, but moneywise I am not going to make enough money to put my sons through college or anything!

EricMartin02Rockpages.gr: Mr.Big was one of the first bands that went to do this acoustic thing with “Wild World”. Wasn’t there any thought of doing more like that, or even an unplugged album, when it was more popular?

Eric Martin: We did some MTV one off performances and we played in Japan on an MTV kind of thing… because, “To Be With You” came out before “Wild World”, so we did those one off performances. And then like in our show we rock out and then we have the one little moment to play “To Be With You” and everything was stripped down. And then when “Wild World” came out then we had two acoustic things to do. I don’t think we had in mind to actually play any more acoustic songs. Truthfully, “Wild World” we were sort of made to do something. When our third album “Bump Ahead” came out, ‘cause the first album was “Mr.Big”, the second was “Lean Into It”, it had “Wild World” and we completed the whole record and as it always happens with band after they had a gigantic hit the record company is like… “hey kid, give me that next “To Be With You! I wanna hear it… “Don’t Stop Believing”… if you got another one… and we were like “no, this is what we got”. I remember Paul Gilbert getting a little upset about that. He actually wrote a song called “Seven Impossible Days” that was a rarity, a bonus track on that album. “Twenty five years, seven impossible days”, they only gave us a week to come up with a new song, or a hit-song. And on the back of my head I go “oh God! It took me forever to come up with “To Be With You”, I am not going to come up with a hit like a pie maker”. So, Paul who was a young man goes what’s this (sings the guitar melody of “Wild World”)? And me, and Billy and Pat, the “older” guys said: “it’s Wild World”! “Let’s do that! It was a hit wasn’t it?” And I thought it was perfect because I loved Cat Stevens when I was growing up… “Peace Train”, “Morning Has Broken” a great song called “Father And Son”… “Tea For The Tillerman” album, which had that song. “Wild World” was something like we pulled a rabbit out of a hat, and the record company went… I met some people at the record company who went: “that was awesome guys, how did you write that so fast?” That song sold the album, so that was kind of the follow up to the radio friendly pop thing, but we never really thought of doing an unplugged performance until years, years later. Actually, a couple of years later…

Rockpages.gr: How did it feel for you as a rock’n’roller back in the day to have your two biggest hits being ballads?

Eric Martin: Ooooh, like it’s the first time I’ve heard that before! Well, for me when I first got into Mr.Big, I was more of a soul singer, I liked rock’n’roll, R’n’B… so, I didn’t care what format we did, I actually wanted to promote more acoustic kind of sound, even in Mr.Big’s first album, but everybody was like “no, no, no we wanna be like this, kind of Free, straight ahead like Montrose, and I was the one who wanted to have that Beatles-esque sound. I wanted to have the best of both worlds. I’ve said it before, I didn’t want to just eat a big pile of meat on the plate. I wanted to have other things to do too. I always believed on “To Be With You”. I didn’t think… I didn’t ever think that I would ever get a No.1! Ever! I just thought that people were going to love that song, just love it! I thought that when people were going to hear this, after they’ve heard all the cool, the melodic heavy rock from us they got to take a little breather and hear that “Beatles” song and go “oh, that’s cool! A bit different” like a kind of music… to play a lot of fast music, and then that little sing for “rest”. And then play fast music… that’s what I thought of, or wanted and when it became a gigantic No.1 song nobody in the band questioned like “oh, that’s not us! We’re a hard rock band!” Nobody did that, at that time for “Lean Into It”. We had “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind”, which was like a weir psychedelic Beatles-esque song, we has like heavy rock, some ballads and “To Be With You”. So, we had kind of a whole meal and I personally didn’t care. I personally thought it was perfect.

Rockpages.gr: So, having soul and R’n’B influences who were the singers that you looked up to growing up?

Eric Martin: I looked up to singers like Ottis Reding, Wilson Picket, Sam Cooke, definitely Steve Perry… God! I love Steve Perry! When I was growing up I used to live in Vicenzo, Italy. My dad was stationed in the army there. The station right before he went to Vietnam and we were there for two years and I think there was a majority of black GI’s, African American, army soldiers on the post camp Ederle and I think the radio, “Stars and Stripes” newspaper talked about it, but the Armed Forces Radio would maybe cater more to bubble gum pop, R’n’B and soul, not a lot of rock. I didn’t hear Led Zeppelin until we moved back to the United States, which was “Led Zeppelin IV”. I heard it in record stores and I was like “what the heck is this?” But, I was born listening to r’n’b music…

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Rockpages.gr: You haven’t released a solo album for years, are there any plans for that?

Eric Martin: I’ve been threatening to do that for years, and I was going to do it like a few years ago but I have children, and a wife… they are 8 years old… I mean 8 years old! When they came a huge writer’s block hit me right in the head. Every time that I wanted it, and I have hundreds of ideas… but every time I wanted to do a solo record, or do something I had to be quiet, or “no, you have to watch the kids”, or I wanted to anyway. My two priorities in life was to get married and have children, and I wanted to be successful in the music business. And I was No.1 and I wanted to have kids… for some reason I got lazy, I got fat… well, not too fat! I got lazy and I just kept putting it off and then 10 years go by and Mr.Big gets back together. I did some solo albums, and movie soundtracks, and TV things, and I toured but… yeah! I wanted to do a solo album. You know I toured mainly this year and I did Mr.Big songs and I think next year when I come back, hopefully we’ll get a new Mr.Big album, that will be my first priority right there, but when I do my solo tour I’ve gotta have some new material, I’ve gotta have some solo material ‘cause I can’t keep playing “Wild World” only! I am gonna still do it, and “To Be With You” of course, but I can’t keep playing a bunch of Mr.Big songs because I am almost feeling like a tribute to my own self. “it’s the golden oldies show!” and I still have a lot of music left in me, but I did go through a period where I was like… God! Before that I used to be about me. I was out there and I was all about me, then I got married, I got kids… Shit! “Mama needs a new pair of shoes!” I’ve gotta go out on the road, and I gotta make money and the kids need me and I can’t go on the road, I’ve gotta be with the kids… just being honest here kids…

Rockpages.gr: One of your best works by far is your collaboration with Jack Blades, and Tak Matsumoto in the TMG Group. Is there a chance for a second album?

Eric Martin: Well, I’ll cut to the end of it. I call that guy on his birthday every year and I say… and you know he speaks English but it’s kind of broken Japanese, and I am not trying to take the piss or anything I am just saying… “Tak, I’ve really wanna do another TMG album. Please!” and he is like “hm, Eric-son, let me think about it!” Every year! And it was so successful! Only in Japan, but it sold a million records and we did only 20 sold out shows. That’s all we did, and we did a bunch of promo, and some videos for it. But, musically it was so much fun to create… it was me, Jack Blades, Brian Tichy, and Chris Frazier who went to Whitesnake, and now I think he plays with Foreigner… so, me, Chris, Jack and Tak… we called it the Jack, Tak and Eric attack with Chris Frazier (he sings)! We played Budokan! We sold out Budokan and there was this fire, and it was awesome! So great! One of my favorite records, not just about the music, but sonically state of the art great rock’n’roll record. Tak is an amazing writer. My jaw hurt everyday, we had so much fun. Me and Jack Blades were pinching each other… Godamn it! We are so lucky!

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Rockpages.gr: I saw you are wearing this Avantasia long-sleeved shirt…

Eric Martin: I wear this with pride by the way!

Rockpages.gr: How did you hook up with Tobias Sammet?

Eric Martin: Tobbias (correcting the pronounciation) actually, I got it wrong as well, I thought it was like in Spanish. Tobbias Sammet. I was on tour with Mr.Big and I think it was in Budapest, where it’s ironic I was sick. And I was on the tour bus, we discussed it – I didn’t like it in the beginning- the band actually played the gig without me. The only played like ten songs, they said “hey you guys want your money back?”, well we were here… so, Eric is sick, he is not feeling good. I lost my voice. I actually went to the doctor who gave me a cortisone shot in my neck. I was doing anything and everything to play this gig so the band played it and Tobbias was in town. He was at the Budapest show and he went out to a record store and bought his own CD, which was the box set from Avantasia (the 4-disc box “The Flying Opera - Around The World In 20 Days – Live”), the live DVD from Wacken and he gave it to Billy. He was really upset because he wanted to see me, and he asked Billy to give it to me. So, after the show Billy came up to me and tell me “hey, this guy came and gave me this for you”. And there is always some guy who gives me a CD, and I listen to it, and I go… “Naahh”, “uuuhh”, “cool song!”, write the song down, e-mail him “hey, I like this song”… I am a fan and also I am friendly enough to give somebody a critique if they ask for it. So, box set uh? What the hell? OK! So, I play the DVD and it was like “holy shit”! They’re doing a song called “Twisted Mind” in Wacken (sings the riff) ghan-gha-gha-gha-ghan, aaoooo, aooo! I couldn’t believe it! And Tobbias Sammet had all these guests Michale Kiske, Amanda Somerville… anyway, I contacted him immediately and he asked me to sing on his new album! So, he got Joe Lynn Turner, Ronnie Atkins from the Pretty Maids, Michael Kiske, Biff Byford… great company of singers to hang with. So, I recorded a song in my own studio sent it to him and then he reached out and told me: “I love your voice, I love what you did, I am sorry that I can only give you one song in the album, but I like you to do six songs on tour and then we’ll sing the encore, “Sign Of The Cross”. And that’s what I did. All the singers sung six, or seven songs and the least capacity venue for these shows were at least 10,000 people. I mean most of it was 25 – 50,000 and we’re playing Wacken next year (ed.2014) and that’s 80,000 shhhh I think it’s more, but don’t tell the fire marshal! It was only 30 shows but it lasted for 5 months because we did tons and tons of interviews, and there was lots of travel. We went everywhere.

EricMartin06Rockpages.gr: Was it hard for you personally and Mr.Big during the ‘90s when melodic hard rock faded away because  record companies turned their attention towards alternative and grunge?

Eric Martin: It didn’t change us, because we were lucky we weren’t one of those bands that there were a lot of them. And I am trying to brag or anything like that, that there was nobody like Mr.Big. There was a lot of great bands like Poison and Danger Danger… sorry Ted Poley! I don’t mean anything for you and Poison… I think there were a lot of bands that sounded like each other. There was a thousand Danger Dangers and there was thousands Poisons and stuff like that, but that’s for the record companies’ perspective. They kind of kept us on because we did have Japan. Japan kept us going. I remember Atlantic wanted to drop us, because alternative came in. They were like “OK you had a hit single, big deal!” But, we were selling big numbers in Japan, selling out five Budokans in a row and then parts of Europe still dug us in Germany and Italy and England, but America was like it closed its door to our genre of music. The musical climate of radio changed. Everybody pulled the carpet right from underneath us and most of us became house painters. So, it didn’t happen for us. Granted we didn’t have the success like we had, but we were able to get opening spots for some big tours, but we felt the crunch. Right when Pearl Jam came out, and Soundgarden and bands like Collective Soul which weren’t alternative at all! They were a great rock’n’roll band but because maybe they had a black shirt and ripped up jeans and boots and stuff like that everybody was getting into the alternative bandwagon. I always loved Collective Soul, but why did they always called them alternative? I wondered, I was talking to somebody else recently… I wanted to hate, because they were taking food out of my mouth, taking food out of my children’s plate, but I enjoyed it, I loved it. To me, I felt like there was room for everybody and I wanted everybody to get their shot. I like to experience new music, but sometimes radio and magazines dictate what you should wear, what you should listen to. It’s almost like a communist situation. I’ve seen people that loved us in those magazines going “aahh, fuck Mr.Big man, here’s the new band”. And that bothered me over the years, but what can you do the world revolves and evolves. We had our great run and we got back together in 2009 and obviously the world has completely changed but we have a pretty good core audience and we were able to tour and sell some records. But, it’s not really that, we missed being on stage and calling our own shots.

Rockpages.gr: Did you find the fountain of youth? You like the same for the last 20 years. What’s your secret?

Eric Martin: Hahaha! Get a spear, true love, sex… once in a couple of weeks… please! 

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