In Music

Mr. Big will start their new tour at the Northern Lights Theater on Wednesday, May 31.

Mr. Big defies gravity with new album, tour

If you only know Mr. Big because of their worldwide hit, the acoustic ballad "To Be With You," then you don't know Mr. Big.

Unlike many of their late '80s/early '90s rock contemporaries, the members of Mr. Big didn't just burst onto the scene with a catchy hit, riding a wave of MTV-fueled, pop-metal mania. Eric Martin (vocals), Billy Sheehan (bass), Paul Gilbert (guitar) and Pat Torpey (drums) were already veteran musicians with a track record of success in other projects when they came together for the first time in 1988 to form Mr. Big. Each was considered an exemplary musician, and together, they fused technical prowess, raw energy and an interesting sense of humor into a hard rock mix that was difficult to pigeon hole.

Melodic yet muscular, complicated while at the same time contagiously catchy, Mr. Big's brand of harmonic metal brought them enormous success in Japan and a strong following worldwide well before they broke through here in the U.S. with "To Be With You" off their second record, "Lean Into It."

But after four more albums and the requisite world tours, the pressure to score another hit and the inevitable interpersonal conflicts caused the band to replace members and ultimately led to a break up in 2002.

Vocalist Eric Martin said that the break was fueled by burnout due to those long tours and being away from their families for extended periods. But all of the members jumped into side projects that kept them working steadily. They crossed paths periodically, often playing the same, much smaller venues with their individual projects.

"We were all playing separately at the same places," said Martin. "It pushed us to understand that we needed to get back together to fully appreciate what we have together. It's good to have side projects – and it was great to keep working and keep our chops up – but over time, we realized that we missed and love the interaction we have in Mr. Big."

They decided to reform Mr. Big in 2009. Martin said the reunion was "painless and quick," and resulted in the first new Mr. Big music in nearly a decade, the excellent "What If." They released another well received new album in 2014, "…The Stories We Could Tell," and have toured regularly in support of those records playing before giant crowds in Japan, India and Europe – while at the same time keeping individual side projects alive.

While many bands today exist to tour and play music from decades ago, Mr. Big puts an emphasis on creating and touring in support of new music.

"New music is exciting and important to us as artists, and we believe it's exciting for the fans to hear some new stuff from their favorite bands," said Martin.

"As a fan, I don't want to see someone just go out and play the greatest hits year after year after year. I like to hear new music from my favorite bands – I like to see how they evolve. In fact, I saw Styx the other day and they played something from their new record, and I thought it was exciting."

That said, Mr. Big just finished recording their new album, "Defying Gravity," in a lightning-fast six days. It will be released by Frontiers Music on July 7.

"I'm still processing this record. It just happened. It came together way faster than we used to work," said Martin.

"Everybody was out doing their own thing – and I just got back from Europe and found out from our manager that that we were scheduled to go into the studio in two weeks with Kevin Elson (producer of the first four classic Mr. Big records).

"I was freaked out in the beginning, because we normally take a bit longer to prep for recording, but once I had a chance to hear what Billy and Paul had ready – seven or eight songs – I knew we'd be good. I didn't have time to record demos, so I strapped on my acoustic guitar and played what I had live for them – one of which, 'Defying Gravity,' became the first song we recorded and the title track of the album."

Meanwhile, a new Paul Gilbert composition "1992" is an irreverent, semi-autobiographical look at the unceremonious end of the hair metal era.

"An eccentric, quirky, tongue-in-cheek character – that's Paul," Martin said. "The song has a great hooky, barbershop chorus and is kind of a humorous jab at what happened to all those bands from that era. Once you had a hit, that's all the record companies wanted: a carbon copy of that song. When they didn't get it, it seems like everybody got thrown into the trash can."

Milwaukee hard rock fans get to hear new tracks from "Defying Gravity" before anyone else, since the show on Wednesday is the kick-off of the tour.

"We usually start our tours in Japan, but Milwaukee gets the first show this time – and we're happy to be playing in the U.S. first. I'm looking forward to getting back on the road and rocking out with the guys and playing some of the new material. The new songs have a raw energy that will be great live."


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