Mr. Big

Interview date

Septembre 2009


Blaster of Muppets


Interview Pat Torpey

15 years of absence since you were in Europe… Why so long ?

Well, you know, it’s not like you guys are right next door! And all this time, we and I have been active… A lot of things happened in 15 years. I have a family to take care of. It was a combination of things: music was changing in the 90’s with grunge and all that, and there’s also the fact that it has become very expensive to tour in Europe! It’s a very expensive prospect and we were not gonna tour and lose money! But now, it’s really nice to be able to come back.

So, what happened exactly with Paul Gilbert back in 1997 when he left the band?

We had been together for 7 or 8 years… It’s sort of what I would call a normal progression of relationship in any situation and in a band more precisely. We were becoming different people, we were under a lot of pressure to do different things… maybe we were growing apart a little bit, and we wanted to try different things in terms of music. It wasn’t really one specific thing that caused Paul to leave but a combination of all that. We were sorry that he left and we stopped for 3 years before we came back with Richie Kotzen… But now, we have gone full circle and we’ve come together again. We’re back!

Similar question, why did the band decide to quit 7 years ago?

Well, Richie had a solo career that he wanted to pursue; the label was on us and wanted us to do this and that… it started to strain everybody. So, we decided we had enough and we said stop! There’s no specific reason why, just a normal progression of any relationship. Now we don’t feel any pressure to do anything… which is great. We’ve planted the seeds, they’ve grown and now we’re just picking the fruit. It’s easy and fun! We play together because we want to, not because somebody dangles some money in front of us…

Is this tour just a one-off, or are you planning something on the long term, an album maybe?

The key-word here is “planning”, we don’t really make big plans. We’re gonna do what feels natural and let nature take its course. If it feels right to write some new material and record it, we will. Right now, we are concentrating on the European tour, and then in a month we’ll get back to South-East Asia… Right now, the most important thing for me is the show in Paris, you know.

Mr. Big is quite a peculiar band in the sense that they have released more live albums than studio albums… There’s a new one coming up next month (on October 22nd in Europe), this “Back to Budokan” will be your 8th live album, what does an 8th live album have to offer?

We did some new things on it… some new songs for example like “Next Time Around” or “Hold Your Head Up”… In every Mr. Big show, there’s always a lot of room to improvise and do whatever idea pops into your head… and every show is kind of unique in its own way, and we tried to make this one a little bit more unique. But it was not really our idea to do a live CD, it was the Japanese’s… they’re really into that.

Is it something you have to do (releasing so many live albums) or do you choose and enjoy doing it?

It’s a little bit of both. The Japanese ask us to do things, and if we feel we don’t want to do that, we just say so. Anyway, it’s a different culture, they have a different way of doing things and there are business aspects that have to be considered. They felt it was something they wanted to do and we kinda liked the idea of being able to document our 20th anniversary in Japan, so it’s great.

And this time (for the first time actually), it is double live album…

That’s right. All our live albums so far had 12 or 13 songs; this one has about 30 tracks. It’s the whole show!

So, 20 years of Mr. Big… looking back on those 20 years, what is the album you like the most today?

It’s difficult to say… I like some songs more than others but obviously we did all the songs so I kinda like all of them… The easy answer is probably “Lean into it” because it was the album that broke us out, it really has some cool songs, even those we don’t play live… “My kinda woman”, I really love that song for example, “Never say Never” is pretty cool. Every song has a good quality. So I’ll say that one… it might probably change a week from now but yes, “Lean into it” it is.

And the one you don’t like that much after all this time, if there’s one?

I don’t think that’s the case. It’s difficult to say… there are things I like more or less on every album we made, sometimes I listen to one of them and rediscover things I don’t remember we did that way… I don’t think I can pick one up.

“Hey Man” is not as popular an album as the three first releases here, probably because of its softer bluesy touch. I’ve just noticed that the new live album only had 2 songs from this record. Was it a conscious choice? Did you feel that maybe, some of the fans didn’t want to hear songs from “Hey Man”?

It’s not what happened. What they did in Japan is that they put online “What’s your favourite Mr. Big song?”… When we decided to think about our set we looked at what these songs were (there were 20 of them), and we decided to do a lot of those songs because we were going to Japan. We didn’t have any other shows at that time and our set-list was made from that… And there were things we wanted to play, new songs we wanted to add… But it wasn’t any conscious decision to play or not to play this or that song… At one point, we had “Trapped in Toyland” in our set, we even had “Out of the Underground” in a medley with “Blame it on my Youth”… but there are so many songs. We can’t play all of them.

Now, what about the “Richie Kotzen” years? Would you like to play some of the songs that were on the two albums you’ve recorded with him or is this chapter closed once and for all?

Well, I think this tour is about the Paul version of Mr. Big. There are great songs we did with Richie we talked about playing like “Shine” which is very popular in Japan, Paul even suggested it because he likes it and he’s got no problems with that but we decided to keep with the stuff that Paul has been involved in. It doesn’t mean we’ll never do it, there’s plenty of time for that later. For now, we concentrate on the years when Paul was in the band, then we’ll see…

Do you have any comments or thoughts about the evolution of music with Internet?

Well, I think it’s good and bad. In a way, it’s good for us because there’s a lot more people that know about us, younger people, because YouTube and the Internet. They’re surprised when they see Billy and Paul, you know they’re kind of unique at what they do, so people say “wow, who are these guys?”… And on the other side, it’s bad because the music is so easy to access and almost disposable, and some people don’t buy records anymore, they just download. I think it’s tougher for younger bands today… it’s completely different, it’s not what it used to be (getting a record deal etc.), it’s not necessarily good or bad, it’s just what it is, business is changing and everybody has to adapt.

The final word:

I would say I’m glad to be here. It’s great to be in Paris, everybody wants to come here and I can, because I play music, so I want to say thank you to all the fans who support us. I hope you’ll like the show, and if you’ve missed us then try to catch us the next time… hopefully we’ll be able to come back!