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Interviews   

BILLY SHEEHAN (MR BIG): ADDICTED TO THAT BASS



Radio Metal : First, let’s go back in 2002. I’ve been told that one of the reasons that explains why MR. BIG had split up is that there were some tensions between you and the other band members. Can you confirm or deny this and give us some clues about what happened at that time?

Billy Sheehan : No, it was more between the management and the band. It was not between me and the other members, because I’m friends with everybody. I had a bit of a falling out with Eric, but we’re friends in spite of that. It was just the time to stop.

Paul Gilbert made a guest appearance on your latest solo album, Holy Cow. Was this somehow the starting point of MR. BIG’s reunion?

It certainly was. I worked with Paul, and we had a wonderful time. After that he invited me to one of the shows, and I got up and jammed. Pat Torpey was there as well. We played some MR. BIG songs in the House of Blues, in Los Angeles, and people went crazy. It was a good thing, so we thought: “the only thing we need now is Eric!” We started with a couple of e-mails, then a few conversations, then we sat down for dinner and decided to play together again.

I know Pat Torpey’s been playing with Richie Kotzen lately. Have you thought of getting Richie in this reunion too?

Why would we do that?

Why not? He’s part of the history.

What do you mean, why not? Did MR. BIG ever have two guitar players? If we did that, I guess you would want to have a horn section and a piano player too. Richie is a friend, we love him, he’s a wonderful guy, but we’re always baffled and stupefied when people suggest we have two guitarists in the band. It’s an amazing statement, I don’t understand why that would be in someone’s mind. It’s amazing.

In the Back To Budokan press release I got from Frontiers Records it is mentioned that one the reasons for MR. BIG’s come back is that the fans have been asking for it relentlessly. In general, do the fans have that much input in the decision a band or a musician take?

Well, not always, but sometimes! All of us have had fans writing to us, coming up to us at our gigs, contacting us for years about MR. BIG. Before we got back together, it seemed it was getting more and more and more. There was an undeniable volume of fans who wanted this reunion. We enjoy making people happy. It’s nice to see people smiling in a crowd and singing along. They come up to us after the show and tell us they had a wonderful time. It’s one of the best things about being in a band and being a performer: people enjoy what you do, and it makes them happy. We even have some fans that have had serious trouble in their lives, and they listen to MR. BIG songs and write to tell us it was a big help to go through though times. It’s just like me, when I have hard times, I put on a certain type of music, a certain record, and it helps me a lot, too. The fact that we can do that and make fans feel good is really wonderful. They began to communicate more and more, and it did have an effect on us. We want them to be happy and enjoy what we do, so it was certainly a factor.


« When I put MR. BIG together, the whole purpose was to have a band that could really sing and play. […] Nowadays, especially, you can make anybody sing in a studio. I mean, even KANYE WEST sings in a studio, while he couldn’t hold a note live! He’s talent-free! « 
When listening to Back To Budokan, we can really hear you guys having fun – jamming and soloing more than ever and including some cool cover songs in the set. How did it feel at first being back together the four of you? Was it like the good old times?

Yeah, it was like nothing ever happened! It was kinda weird. We got together, and every negative thing faded away, there was nothing negative at all: no arguments, no raised voices… Everybody has gone on and evolved as people. I’m kind of glad we broke up and then went back together. If we had stayed together, I don’t think it would have been this way. I’m glad we went apart for a long time and grew individually. Paul has been playing guitar amazingly, his style and music have just improved so much. Pat’s rock groove was awesome to start with, but now it’s untouchable! Eric’s voice and performance have evolved a lot. It’s a refreshing, wonderful thing to reexperience. It’s almost like starting from the beginning again, and that’s wonderful.

MR. BIG have released more live albums than studio albums. Does this mean that you see MR. BIG above all as a live act?

Yeah, it was like nothing ever happened! It was kinda weird. We got together, and every negative thing faded away, there was nothing negative at all: no arguments, no raised voices… Everybody has gone on and evolved as people. I’m kind of glad we broke up and then went back together. If we had stayed together, I don’t think it would have been this way. I’m glad we went apart for a long time and grew individually. Paul has been playing guitar amazingly, his style and music have just improved so much. Pat’s rock groove was awesome to start with, but now it’s untouchable! Eric’s voice and performance have evolved a lot. It’s a refreshing, wonderful thing to reexperience. It’s almost like starting from the beginning again, and that’s wonderful.

Two brand new songs are included at the end of Back To Budokan. Are they somehow announcing a possible new album?

I don’t know. We may do a new record, we’ll see. Our time is already booked up for a long, long time, but if the moment comes and we have the time, we could do a record fast, because we all write a lot. We all have become better writers since we’ve been apart. If we decided to do it, it would happen fast, and we would make it like we used to in the old days.

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I’ve heard you say in an instructional video that most of what you’ve learned as a musician you learned it on stage performing with a band. Well, on stage, with MR. BIG, you play bass, do some crazy solos, you also sing and really do the show, and still you’re telling us you have time to learn a few tricks… How’s that possible?

When you play, things come to you. There’s an improvisational moment in every song, and every song is played differently. When I began playing, I played every single night of the week, sometimes three or four sets a night. Twenty-one nights in a row is our record. Moving our on gear, setting our own stage, no roadies, playing twenty-one nights in a row, probably have one day off and then do it all over again… There was so much playing in the early days that there was no time to practice. Just by playing live on stage, I really developed ways of playing things differently. So many musicians now spend way too much time practising home alone, and they never play live. The ability to play together with other musicians is something special, it’s much different from singing in your home alone to a recorded track. I urge players to get out in a band and play live. You will discover those things you need to know, and those things that will give greater depth as a player.

Actually, I’m under the impression that these past 10 years or so you’ve been spending most of your time on stage. I mean you’ve massively toured with STEVE VAI, then you took the road with THE DEVIL’S SLINGSHOT and now you’re back with MR. BIG. In between you also had some gigs with NIACIN… Aren’t you missing home yet?

Not so much! The only downside to this is the actual travelling, going from one place to another. But we’re lucky, on this tour we have a fantastic tour bus. It’s brand new and perfect and just wonderful. It makes life so much easier, we have something nice, clean, quiet and comfortable. Once I’m on the groove, I could be on the road forever, I’m used to it. But I love being at home, and I miss my kitty-cat!

On your solo album, Holy Cow, you’ve got Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top as a very special guest on one song. I know you’re a big fan of his and that he influenced you in some of your trademark techniques, especially the use of artificial harmonics. Is this normal for a bass player to learn his techniques from a guitar player?

These techniques could apply to any instruments with frets and strings, like a cello or a stand-up bass. For example, JACO PASTORIUS was very much influenced by saxophone players. He would listen to and transcribe saxophone solos. I believe “Donna Lee”, on his first solo record, actually came from a saxophone solo. When a musician gets influenced by something other than his own instruments, it can always lead to some innovation. I listen to a lot of cello and violin solos, orchestra music, a lot of piano stuff, sax players… I don’t limit myself to listening to bass players. Drummers are also a huge influnce on me, probably more than anything. When I go see a band, the drummer is the guy I watch first. I think that helps to give more flavour to what you’re doing as a bass player.

We often say that people with beards are the kindest. Actually the longer the beard the kindest the man is. Since you’ve actually met BILLY GIBBONS, would you agree with that saying?

If a beard is a measure of kindness, then BILLY GIBBONS has exactly the right beard! It’s exactly the right size, because he’s one of the kindest, more generous, giving and wonderful people I’ve ever known. He’s been one of my heroes from the very beginning. He used to hang out with JIMI HENDRIX when he was young. It was so wonderful that he came to play on my little record. I still talk to people about a record ZZ TOP did a few years ago, Rhythmeen. It’s one of the greatest records ever made, a fantastic combination of styles. On top of being one of rock’s greatest living guitarists, BILLY GIBBONS is the most generous person I’ve ever known. Actually, if he’s beard was completely accurate to how kind he was, he probably couldn’t walk! It would be dragging on the ground.

That’s it! Do you have a last thing to say?

I think France is very much like Japan, in that they keep a lot of music alive that otherwise would not survive. Europeans in general, but France in particular, they’re really supporting great music and musicians. They have a history of that, with jazz musicians coming to France in the old days. Here they could get work and gigs and make a living, while in America, they were ignored. In Japan, a lot of guys that get ignored elsewhere can play. I know a lot of blues and jazz players go to Japan and play a week at the Blue Note, make enough money for a year, go home and don’t play in America. It’s an interesting thing, it’s a culture of artistic people here in France. It’s wonderful to be around, because I think it reflects all levels of society here. It’s really a wonderful thing.

Phone interview conducted in October 2009

Translation contucted by Saff’

Site Internet MR BIG : www.mrbigsite.com

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