Twenty-five years after the release of their most well-known hit, To Be With You, Mr. Big is releasing their ninth studio album, Defying Gravity, via Frontiers Records (July 21). And achieving what many bands with longevity have not been able to, all of the original members of the band are still involved. Mr. Big’s lineup includes Billy Sheehan (Talas, David Lee Roth) on bass, Paul Gilbert (Racer X) on guitar, Eric Martin (415, Eric Martin Band) on vocals and Pat Torpey (The Knack, Roger Daltrey) on drums. Just days after beginning to tour in support of the album, Pat Torpey took time out while waiting to play a show in Illinois and talked to Screamer about Defying Gravity and more.
The entire album was recorded in just six days, due to scheduling constraints between band members and producer Kevin Elson. Trying to squeeze in so much work into such a short time period can’t be easy but when you have the level of musicianship and experience that the members of Mr. Big have, it is most definitely possible. According to Torpey, “Well, of course it had an effect. We were kind of touch and go there for a bit, because what happened was, we had a deadline. And we wanted to use Kevin Elson as a producer, so we had a window to use him and for a bit, we were thinking maybe we should put it off because we don’t have enough time to complete. But then we all kind of thought, ‘You know what? We’ve been doing this for decades. It’s not our first rodeo, so let’s see how much material we have and just jump in and see how many tracks we can get.’ We were pretty optimistic that we would be able do it. It’s just doing it and putting the work in. We had about, I would say maybe six completed songs and then germs of ideas. It’s kind of spontaneous to have just a little germ of an idea and have it grow into something really quick. We all had enough experience, we felt confident that we could to it. So we’re really happy with the way it came out, because it’s kind of off the cuff and sounds like Mr. Big and that’s what we care most about.”
Producer Kevin Elson worked with the band on all of their earliest albums in the ’80s and ’90s, but it had been quite some time since they were able to get together again. So what was it like to work with him again after so long? “Well, it’s fantastic. I mean, Kevin’s an old friend. He’s like the fifth Beatle, you know? I’m not saying we’re the Beatles. Don’t get me wrong,” Torpey said with a laugh. “You get in trouble when you say that, you know? But yeah, Kevin, he’s not only a really talented guy, he’s also a really good friend that we’ve been working with over the years and started out with. He was the original guy. I remember like it was yesterday those first couple of days in the studio, when we started on the first Mr. Big album. I remember the first song we recorded was Wind Me Up. That was the first song we tracked and when we did Addicted To That Rush, it was just one take. Just those kind of things and Kevin was there, you know? And in the beginning of the album (Defying Gravity), on Open Your Eyes, you hear Kevin say, ‘OK, we’re rollin.’ That was what he said–that’s actually the recording of him right before we recorded Addicted To That Rush, so it was kind of a throwback to those days and we put it there so Kevin’s voice could bubble up from the depths of our history.”
One of the first singles released from Defying Gravity is a song called 1992, which deals with the period of time that Mr. Big first hit it big. Torpey described the song, saying, “Paul [Gilbert] wrote the lyrics, and it’s about our experience when To Be With You came out. You know, we had a hit song and it kind of bubbled up from underneath, pretty organic. The fans actually made it a hit because they started requesting it at radio stations and it kind of grew from there. And of course, after the next album we made, which was Bump Ahead, the label comes to us and says, ‘We want another To Be With You,’ and of course we’re thinking, ‘How do we do that? How do we approach that?’ Because that’s not the kind of band we are. We just do what we like and let the music kind of come on its own. It’s got its own way of being inspired and so on and so forth. So 1992 is about that experience we had and when you have a hit song, of course everybody is responsible and if it’s a flop, nobody’s responsible. So everybody wanted to get a piece of the action. And it’s kind of about that experience of the whirlwind that we were in in 1992, when To Be With You hit.”
From time to time, when a band that has had such a huge hit as To Be With You, you might hear a grumble or complaint that they get tired of having to play that song over and over, especially when they have so many other songs and albums that might not get as much attention. But Torpey says that is not the case for him at all. As he shared, “No, I don’t get tired of playing it because you have to play it. And there are certain artists and acts that get sick of a hit song and they don’t ever want to do it again. And I don’t feel that way. I was really excited when we had a number one single. It wasn’t something we planned on. It just happened, which, like I said, the fans made it happen. It wasn’t pushed on anybody, which is really great. And I enjoy playing it, because people sing along and it’s a big part of the show, and it’s nice to have a song that pretty much everybody knows. Because if I meet somebody on the tour that’s not even a music fan, and they’ll say, ‘Well, what are you guys doing? Who are you?’ and ‘Well, we’re Mr. Big.’ ‘Oh really, Mr. Big. I think I’ve heard of you guys.’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, have you ever heard of “I’m the one who wants…” ‘Oh yeah! I know that song! That’s you guys? Wow, that’s great!’ So it’s really kind of a calling card, you know? And it’s really good to have that and it was a passport for us to travel the world, so I’m grateful.”
On a more personal note, Torpey was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014 and not surprisingly, he thought that his time in the band may be coming to an end. He approached his band members saying that he would have to bow out but they wouldn’t let him give up that easily. Torpey is not letting his diagnosis get him down and continues to tour with the band, with Matt Starr taking on the majority of the drumming duties. According to Torpey, “Well, I’m doing fine. I mean, you know, I’m not the drummer that I once was because of my Parkinson’s and I just try and move forward. That’s the best thing to do. I mean, I went through kind of a down period when I was first diagnosed. It’s like, my whole life I’ve been known as Pat- ‘Oh, Pat’s the drummer. The drummer Pat.” And I had to kind of change the way I think of myself, to go really deep into what goes on because it is a mental adjustment. But I’m really happy that I was lucky enough to be involved with these guys in Mr. Big, because I kind of was ready to give up a little bit, and they said, ‘No, no, you’re coming out. We need your voice, we need your input, we want you there, we’re gonna figure out a way.’ I was just ecstatic that they did that because– and even then I thought, ‘Well, I don’t know how it’s gonna work’ and they just said, ‘Well, let’s just see what we can do.’ So I’ve been there, I’ve never missed a show and I’m still doing it. So it’s really great and I’ve got a lot to be thankful for and I feel blessed. It could have been a lot worse,and there’s a lot of people out there that are a lot worse off than me. So I’m comfortable in my own skin, let’s put it that way.”
Torpey works very closely with Matt Starr, and when asked about him, he gives only rave reviews. “Well, Matt is great,” he said. “He’s a great drummer, good singer. He’s just kind of a whole package. He did most of the actual physical drumming. I was kind of Matt’s personal drum producer. We worked together. There’s as much a stamp of him on there as there is me. He’s a great player and he’s got really good ideas. Really fast at recording. He gets in there and just does it. And not only that. He’s also become a really good friend. I mean, we hang out all the time together because he and I both have the drummer’s addiction. It’s like all we talk about is drums and John Bonham and Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. So he’s a great guy and really fits in well and you know, that’s part of it. Actually almost as much a part as the music part of it is the kind of person that someone is, because you’re together all the time. And if you can’t get along then it’s worthless. It doesn’t matter how good of a player you are- if you can’t hang, then it’s not gonna work. So Matt’s the full package.”
At the time of this interview, the band, including Starr, had recorded two videos from the album, for the songs Defying Gravity and Everybody Needs A Little Trouble. “So that’s coming out. That’s gonna be banging around on MTV….MTV? What am I saying? YouTube I should say,” Torpey added with a laugh. “I dated myself, ‘on MTV.’ So we’ve got that and just glad to be out here doing shows. You know, every show is an adventure and a lot of fun.”
The year 2018 will be the 30 year anniversary of the band’s formation, but Torpey says they don’t have anything planned specifically to celebrate. “We don’t have any plans,” he said. “We kind of don’t plan that far ahead, but I don’t know. We always seem to find some old recordings and outtakes, so hopefully we’ll have some sort of a release and a celebrations. You know, maybe we’ll bake a cake and have a party! I don’t know. We don’t have any plans for it yet, but I’m aware that it’s thirty years coming up when we got together. It was in the springtime of ‘88, so it’s on it’s way. It’s hard to believe. I’m amazed that we’ve actually been doing it this long. That makes me pretty old!” Well, no matter how “old” Mr. Big is, it doesn’t seem like they have any plans of slowing down anytime soon. Check them out when they come to a town near you!