(Eric Martin Band, Mr. Big, Scrap Metal)
We’re back at Mohegan Sun Casino in CT for the return of Scrap Metal and this time we also have a chance to catch up with one of the all-star band’s many singers, Eric Martin. Best known for his work with Mr. Big and hits like ‘To Be With You’, ‘Alive and Kickin’, and more that we’ll be rockin’ to later tonight, Eric’s been keeping busy lately visiting virtually every corner of the globe with the Eric Martin Band (s) (yes, plural…there’s a different band backing him on every continent…more on that later.)
He’s also, of course, an integral part of Scrap Metal, working alongside talents Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, Mark Slaughter, and Kelly Keagy, as well as an ongoing, star-studded list of special Scrap guests. When he’s not onstage or in the studio, Eric’s just as busy dad to three year old twin boys and husband to his manager and sometimes-drummer, Denise Martin.
We’ve got quite a bit of ground to cover here, from updates on the EMB to the latest in the world of Scrap Metal and, yeah, your questions, asked and answered…including, of course, the ‘Big’ one! No one tells this stuff quite like Eric does, and he’s here with us now, so I’ll let him take over…
(Grabbing the recorder…)
“This is Eric Martin and we’re at Mohegan Sun…ok, let’s do it!!”
Blast: How’s it going, Eric?
Eric: I’m great!! Everything’s good!!
Blast: We’re here tonight for another Scrap Metal show, so let’s start with that. How’d you first find out about the band and what was your reaction?
Eric Martin: Well, my wife and I and our kids went to this fair around the corner from my house, the Marin County Fair. We went to see Eddie Money, but in the afternoon, Nelson played. I’d never seen them before, and I’d never seen them without their hair!! They look better now, I think. I know a lot of chicks are like “No, I like them like that”, but it was almost too perfect, like wigs!! They look better now. Anyway, they just blew me away with their harmonies, and I recognized all those songs I knew. So I went backstage to say hello to Eddie Money, and I ran into those guys, and it was ironic because I asked what they were doing and they kind of said to each other, (‘cause they’re twins, they almost said it at the same time), “Eric would be perfect for this new project; we started this new band called ‘Scrap Metal’ that’s still at the ground floor; we’ve played one gig already in Nashville”, where most of them are from. Matthew lives in LA, I live in San Francisco, and Kelly and Mark live in Nashville. They were like ‘We just need somebody to round out the act.’ So there was this whole meeting of these rockstars that I grew up with listening to on the radio and working with; I had played an acoustic show with Mark Slaughter a long time ago, and I played tons of shows with Night Ranger in my day. We played at Hammerjack’s in Baltimore one time with Mr. Big, and it was like ‘Who’s playing tomorrow night?’ and Nelson was in town and we hooked up, so I knew all these guys from back then, and now it’s really fun to be in a band with them.
Blast: Scrap Metal’s also been working on some original material, how’s that going?
EM: That’s what I hear, but I don’t really know that much about it. I just signed on to sing our hits and album tracks. We just do, like, five songs apiece, and that’s really enough, you know? I mean, that’s really what it is; it’s a celebrity all-star jam; scraps of metal! I learned all the material on acoustic guitar because there was no room for another electric; there were just too many people and I wanted to be up there at all times but, so far, with the three or four gigs that I’ve played, I’m sort of like a feature member. I’ll come out after 10 songs and sing my little thing and stay up there.
Blast: Original material from Scrap Metal would have a really cool turnout when you think about it, though, with all those influences playing in.
EM: Yeah, it would be cool to do some stuff, but I haven’t been really involved in that yet.
Blast: They’ve also been talking about a US tour in the near future. Would you be on board for the whole thing when they do?
EM: Oh yeah! Also, in Europe, and Southeast Asia, and India where I just got back from. They really want this package with Shaw/Blades and Scrap Metal together. Jack and I have done so much in the past, and Jack’s also in a band with Kelly, We could play all kinds of songs, from Night Ranger and Damn Yankees, and it would be cool. I’m trying to get a tour going with my connections in Asia, and India and, of course, a US tour, but we also want to go play for the troops, too. I’m not sure how that’s going to work out yet; we’ve got so many plans; everybody’s throwing their two cents in. I just met our new manager, we’ve had about two or three, but I haven’t met anyone yet from William Morris Agency who we just signed with. It’s cool, but it’s like ‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’ because I have no idea who the wizard is right now.
Blast: That has to be quite a challenge with everyone’s schedules and solo projects.
EM: Yeah, but it would be great if around this area, like November, December, January would be good. Most people don’t do too much touring around the holidays and it would be great to get some Scrap Metal shows in around that time.
Blast: There was some talk of shows on cruises, too. Anything in the works for that?
EM: Yeah, Gunnar and Matt are really big into cruises, and they’ve got it down with Princess or Carnival, of one of those lines, so yeah, why not have Scrap Metal do that? It’s better than a ribbon cutting at some Laundromat somewhere!
Blast: Yeah, I can see where the prospect of a cruise would be somewhat more attractive! So, you just got back from India, and Australia not too long ago. You’re everywhere lately!
EM: Yes I did Australia, South America, and India one after the other. You know, I remember when I was in Mr. Big, a couple of the guys would say, ‘Eric doesn’t want to tour, that’s why we’re not touring’ and that’s such bullshit!!
Blast: Yeah, we’re I’m getting that impression looking at the last couple of months.
EM: Right? Well if you know me, you know I love that whole thing, the fans, the vibe…hell, I like my ego stroked!! I mean, if I can still run around at my age, I love it! Try to stay healthy and do my thing.
Blast: Sparing those ribs while crowd surfing, though! (Eric’s sporting a couple of injured ribs tonight following a Y&T crowd’s attempt to help him join the band on stage….ouch!)
EM: I know, well I did have a beer, and Norwegian beer is pretty harsh.
Blast: Yeah, we got that whole thing from the boys in Martie Peters Group when they were over here for Melodic Rock Fest; they were drinking our stuff, and they were just like ‘Man, this is water!’
EM: Yeah, beer in Europe is ridiculous! Two or three pints and I’m just like ‘Jesus!! What the hell’s happening? I feel like I’m at frat party!’ Like a hazing!!
Blast: So what are the crowds like in Australia and India as compared to here?
EM: Well, my first time in India, I was being paid for seven to ten thousand seater show, but fifteen or sixteen thousand paid, then they let the rest of them in, and it ended up being like 20,800 or something.
Blast: Was that consistently the size of the crowds you played to over there?
EM: No, absolutely not! In Australia it was like six or seven hundred people. In South America, the same thing, except when I was on tour with Richie Kotzen, and we played like fifteen hundred seaters together. India surprised the hell out of me. It was amazing! Just the whole vibe; I was invited by a king and they treat you like it’s 1992, I was a state guest, and everywhere I went there was a billboard. There was a gigantic billboard on a skyscraper of me and it said “Eric Martin, the voice of Mr. Big, except the ironic part was that behind the picture of me was this blurry picture of a band onstage, and it was Scrap Metal! (lol)…It was funny, because it said “The voice of Mr. Big, and between the ‘Mr.’ and the ‘Big’ was Gunnar!!
Blast: I hope you got a picture of that!
EM: I did! It was great!
Blast: Sounds like a pretty cool experience. What’s security like over there?
EM: In India they had the army! They had guns and commandos guarding me and my band, who were in from Argentina. They kept us pretty secluded in this dressing room/bunker type thing. Fifteen guys leading us up onstage, I’m going ‘Come on guys, this is a little much.’ It was crazy! But they were right there with everything. I’m like ‘Yeah, I need some water’ and fifteen waters come. It got crazy just for a minute, with the people that didn’t pay that came in. They broke through these barricades that they have up, sort of pens for safety so people aren’t getting crushed. They have them in Japan too, and it works, but the people in the back kind of just pushed through the barricades and the army came out. I don’t think there were any heads busted, but they had to stop the show for a second and this guy came out and talked and said ‘calm down, or we’re gonna stop the show’ and we’re like ‘don’t be saying that, you might as well say there’s a riot about to happen’, but everything kind of worked out. I’m still in shock over the whole thing. So the king invited me, and put up all the finances. We stayed in this gorgeous resort that looked like Indonesian cottages with these huge ceilings overlooking this lake. It was the most beautiful sight, like something straight out of National Geographic. I flew in from California, the Argentinians flew in from Buenos Aires, then we all flew to London, then to New Delhi, stayed the night there, then a couple more hours of flying. Then we had to drive with commandos and their black ops, and it’s incredible because there it’s like there’s no law with these guys. They’re really intense, like they could have pulled someone over and shot’em ‘cause their car was white. It was unbelievable, the forces they had guarding us, like red flags and sirens. It was a three hour drive through these winding hills, with water buffalos and stuff. No decadence for like three hours, just seeing how people live, it was tough. There was a lot of poverty there, too. It just made me so thankful for what I have. You know, you don’t need much more than just a house and running water. These people just had these clapboard rustic structures. I saw this girl, she had a catholic school uniform on and she was with her parents…the women wear their saris and men kind of look disheveled in these long white robes…anyway, her parents were just dusting her off because the room had no floor, just dirt. I didn’t see any actual homeless people, they just barely had homes. In America is everybody’s got tons of their ‘space’, everyone’s like, “I need my space, I need my privacy”, where in India, there are just so many people and they’re used to being in each others space. And they’re really good people. I didn’t see any racism either, and I was definitely the minority; I didn’t see a face like mine for miles. I felt really comfortable there, though.
Blast: Were you approached frequently by fans when you weren’t playing?
EM: Yeah, one time I was walking down the middle of the street with the Argentinian guys, Charlie, Pablo, and Christian, the guys in my band, and Christian wanted to get something for his girlfriend, so we were walking down the middle of the street, and we were all trying to be incognito, and we were right in front of a billboard, it was like ‘duh’, and people just started coming up to us. Women would run up to me and say ‘hold my baby, take a picture, sign my t-shirt’! It was an unreal experience. Then we got press conferences, and it would be a hundred people snapping photos and asking questions. It was amazing. We rehearsed at the resort, and you know how they have American Idol here, then they have Swedish Idol, Australian Idol, and it’s all over the world? They have an Indian Idol too, and this guy Amit Paul, he was from Shalom. He didn’t make it; he was the runner up on Idol, but he was such a big star in his town that he came out with me and sang a little piece of ‘To Be With You’ and it was so cool. When he came out the crowd response was incredible. We have our Hollywood stars; in India they call them BaliWood stars. I was meeting everyone, and they were fans of mine, and I was lovin’ it…actors and the king, it was crazy! Felt like I was in a fairytale.
Blast: Sounds pretty intense, that’s so cool. Were you treated as well in Australia?
EM: I was treated very well everywhere, but definitely a lot more attention in India. In Australia, it was like being on the road with Mr. Big. Tour bus, fans, the rock bar circuit.
Blast: Is the music still as popular over there as it was back in the day?
EM: Yeah, it really is. Adelaide, which was our first gig over there, was a little slow, it was like a little country town. As far as the music, they were totally into it, but there were only about a hundred people and it was a four hundred seater. People were aplogoizing on my forum, saying ‘usually this is a great rock community, but there wasn’t enough publicity’ and stuff like that. You just do what you gotta do. The promoter, John MacNamara, was also the guitar player in my band over there, ‘cause when I’m in Australia, I have an Australian band.
Blast: Different bands everywhere you go?
EM: Yeah, everywhere it’s a different band.
Blast: Does that make it tougher for you?
EM: No, not at all, it keeps it fresh. They’re all so respectful. The American band that I had was great and in the beginning they loved it, but after a while they kind of lose the whole ‘eye of the tiger’ the whole hunger for it, and they’ve got jobs and families, and so do these guys, but for them it’s fresh and they’re totally blown away by it. They’re fans and they’ll learn eighteen or twenty songs, and we rehearse over two or three days. It could be a clusterfuck, but so far, so good. The band also backed up Jeff Scott Soto. Sydney was off the charts. Bigger crowd, they knew all the songs, and granted, most of the material I play when I first play a country is Mr. Big, because they know me from there, but then when I go back, I don’t play as many Mr. Big songs, I try to bring in most of my solo stuff.
Blast: Nice to be able to touch so many people and cultures with your work.
EM: Oh, it’s so cool! And Mr. Big never made it to Australia or India and we only played one show in South America back then, big show, like a hundred thousand people, but just one, and then so many shows in Japan between ’88 and ’92. And there’s still a call for it over there too, and it’s not like this huge resurgence, either. They never let go of their black t-shirts. It’s like rock n’ roll evolution! I’m so burned out from the music they’re playing in the US. I mean, I like it, and I’m glad that we still have melodic rock, like with Nickelback, but it’s only them! They’re the poster boys for rock and there’s nobody behind them. It sucks! I wish they’d get up on a soapbox and be like, ‘hey man, where’s the rest of my bands?’ ‘Cause there’s just one of them. Then you have the package tours with Poison, and Slaughter, and Ratt, or Rocklahoma, and that was cool, but it’d be nice to have a whole summer of that.
Blast: Melodic RockFest was pretty cool too, what a great show! You had plenty of help singing your stuff there between the crowd and the other performers. If fact, you’ve got Joe Lynn Turner with you for tonight’s performance, too. That’s got to be pretty cool for you.
EM: (Singing Street of Dreams). Oh my God, yeah! It’s come full circle for me. I’ve always listened to his music and tried to emulate him when I was younger. He’s exactly like I thought he’d be; so cool! He’s like ‘hey Eric Martin, look at the karate kid here!’ ‘cause that’s what he calls me. It’s kind of like a big brother vibe. I had a few idols growing up. Jagger too; he’s great, not just his voice, I love his voice, but he’s got this presence, he’s so cool. And you know, the thing is, I was asked to join a bunch of bands in my day, and some things just didn’t work out, and some thing I just chickened out of. I was actually offered the chance to sing for Rainbow, and I wanted to do it, but I’d heard that Ritchie Blackmore was kind of a tough guy, and singers were kind of coming and going, and this was after Joe, then they had had Ronnie James Dio, and I was like, I’ll never fill those shoes.
Blast: You would’ve had our vote, Eric. And, just for the record, you had everyone running back out with you for ‘Alive and Kickin’ in South Bend, yourself!
EM: I know, they were all running out during ‘To Be With You’, too, going’ ‘I know that tune, I wanna sing too!’ it was amazing! I had this huge smile on my face, and with all the other guys too. I grew up with Kelly when he was in Night Ranger. One of my first small tours was opening for ZZ Top and Night Ranger with the Eric Martin band, and I remember drinking Bud sitting on a beach after the show at like 2am, it was at the Mississippi Gulfport Colluseum, and we were out on the ocean and Kelly and I were just talking about life and stuff, and it was like a Wayne’s World vibe; we’re drinking beer and looking up at the sky and going ‘Man, I wonder if this shit will ever last, how long can we go?’ Just one of those conversations. I also grew up with Jeff Watson, who’s no longer in the band, Reb Beach is playing now. Then Jack Blades, who I’ve known for years. We wrote the last single for Mr. Big, it’s called ‘Arrow’ on an album called ‘Actual Size’, We were in the Tak Matsumoto group too, and that was huge.
Blast: Yeah, that was something I wanted to touch on with you. There was some major feedback on all, what was it, 20 gigs, right?
EM: Yeah, 20 gigs, almost a year of planning, writing, doing videos, promoting it. It went platinum, the shows were sold out. We played Budakon, but it was only in Japan.
Blast: Why wasn’t it pushed more in other areas, even here? Looking at the success of bands like Scrap Metal, it probably would have been very well received in a lot of places.
EM: Tak didn’t want to go anywhere else. He just wanted to bring an American rock feel over to Japan. We were bummed and we still are because it was picked, like, number one or two on melodicrock.com, best band and everything, and we call him all the time and we’re like ‘we need to do this again’, but he also has another band called B’z, that’s sold 80 million records, so he doesn’t really need us. He just wanted to do it.
Blast: Ok, your band, the Eric Martin Band got a great start and really saw quite a bit of success early on, back when it was 415, as an opener for a lot of top acts. When did the name change?
EM: Well, it was 415, the area code for San Francisco, and we were kind of a local favorite, then our manager changed it to the Eric Martin Band, and we got a everybody; any national act that would come into town, Foreigner, Loverboy, Heart, Pat Travers, ZZ Top, Night Ranger, Billy Squire, everybody you can imagine we opened for, so I definitely learned a lot and cut my teeth on that kind of stuff.
Blast: Any place you haven’t played that you want to?
EM: Hmmm…I haven’t been to Ireland, I haven’t been to Saudi Arabia, either.
Blast: Do you want to do the Middle East?
EM: Actually, yeah, I do. I don’t wanna do any war-touring stuff. I don’t wanna, like, have a helmet on!
Blast: Probably more commandos, though!
EM: Yeah, we’ll probably need like fifteen more of them. I don’t want to get hurt, but I do want to go. We do a lot of talking in Scrap Metal about playing over there for the troops. I’d love to have somebody just throw down the gauntlet and say, ‘Yeah, we’re doin’ it!’. It’d be nice to have somebody commit. Everybody’s the leader of their own band. Like I am in the Eric Martin Band, and Mark, Kelly, the Nelsons, and with Scrap Metal everybody talks at the same time, and then Gunnar has this thing that he does, he goes ‘everybody raise your hands’, so you’re not touching your guitar or your drums, you’re at ease, then he goes ‘Ok, this is what we’re doing’, and it works. Everybody’s happy and get along. One thing that’s different about this band, than any other band I’ve ever been in. There’s no band argument. There’s no baggage, no strings attached, you come and go when you want, and everyone’s cool.
Blast: Tonight’s show should be great; the feedback just from people in this area has is filled to capacity and probably about four deep around the venue. So we’ll hear some Rainbow and maybe some Deep Purple added, but has the rest of the set list changed from last time?
EM: Well, last time we were here, we played for over two hours, and the crowd loved it, it was really good, but this time it’s 90 minutes and we’re on the clock, so everybody gets to do three or four songs and that’s it. They all learned ‘Just Take My Heart’ note for note, but we may not have time to do it, so it came down to that or ‘To Be With You’ and I was like, ‘we gotta do ‘To Be With You’.
Blast: Equally beautiful songs. We’d love to hear both, and ‘Wild World’ sounded great last time, too.
EM: Thanks, we wanted to do ‘Wild World’, but that’s gone because of the time constraints. Then we were gonna do ‘Goodbye’ by Night Ranger, which I love, but we’re not even gonna do that one. So the set’s pretty much gonna be straight forward rock, bangin’em out one after the other. We’d love to play longer, though.
Blast: I don’t think the crowd will be complaining; anticipation for this one has been building for months. They’ve been talking and throwing out myspace comments about it since the last one!
EM: I know, I’ve got this one woman here, with about 20 friends who email me almost every day, and say I can’t wait, she’s got all the soccer moms coming! They’re makin’ me old! (lol) No, you’re as young as you feel, even though your car’s a little dented and your grill’s banged up. A lot of people are here already, though. My wife’s here with her father and a bunch of relatives and a bunch of firemen came up from New York.
Blast: Speaking of your wife, Denise, she’s your manager and she plays drums for your band sometimes, too, right?
EM: Yeah, she did, she played on a couple of my albums and did a little tour but, I’ve said this before; wives who are drummers do not like taking direction from their husband singers, and we’re really hard on drummers. I always say a little prayer before I go out there, “Let me do a great show, I love you God, and don’t let me yell at the drummer!” It was so hard, being on the road with my wife. We work out great now, she’s my manager, and our relationship will last a lot longer if she gets me out of the house, sends me on tour and then I come home. The hard part is the kids. Denise and I are used to being apart when I’m on tour, but the kids are like ‘Daddy, when you comin’ home?’ you know? I have a webcam so I can see them and say good morning and goodnight to them, but my son Jake won’t even come to the camera anymore, it’s like ‘Are you gonna come home, or what’? so that’s really tough.
Blast: When we first reqested this interview, I threw the suggestion box out to the fans for feedback on what they wanted to know, and the most popular question, by far, was with regard to the possibility of a Mr. Big reunion, and whether any of your current work involves anyone from the band. Can you shed light on those?
EM: Well, I opened for Richie Kotzen in South America and, in the course of interviews, we had that same question put upon us, but there is just no way Paul Gilbert would ever do that. Andrew McNiece, from melodicrock.com asked Paul and I if we would get back together and do something like that for another one of those anniversary shows, just for one gig, and I was like, ‘Sure, I’ll do it,’ but he asked Paul and his answer was something like ‘Absolutely not’. I don’t know if it’s ‘cause he’s bitter, because I talked to him a half-hour before Mr. Big did the last show. He was in Japan at the time and I just said ‘Listen dude, you should come; you don’t have to play, it’d be great if you did ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind’ and ‘Addicted To That Rush’, and then that’s it. He was just like ‘No, Richie’s there, I can’t, I just don’t feel comfortable.’ and I said, ‘Hey, no one gives a shit about one guy, they just want the whole Mr. Big package together, saying goodbye to the fans. You’re not going to hurt anybody’s feelings. You’re right here in Japan, just pop some champagne with us or something; take a picture.’ He still wouldn’t do it, so that was kind of a bummer. I’ve seen him at a couple of guitar clinics since then, and he’s cordial. And Pat, I’ve emailed him and we talk every couple of years. Right now he’s in Italy playing drums for Richie, ‘cause Richie’s drummer had a prior commitment. And Billy, I’m afraid to call Billy, I think he’d probably hang up on me. It’s been five years, and our chemistry worked well onstage, but offstage he wanted it to be his way or the highway. He was sort of a mentor in the beginning to all of us, and then I kind of grew up. With the first album, I was just kind of the singer dude, then ‘To Be With You’ came out, and it was like ‘wait a minute, here we go’, and I was at the same level that he was and it was all different.
Blast: What was different?
EM: Well it wasn’t like I didn’t listen to him anymore. I listened to him, but he was telling me what to wear, what to say to the crowd, making me feel really insecure at band meetings. And it was constantly, so I kind of put my foot down. I’d had it. I mean ‘To Be With You’ was big, but I also wrote a lot of songs, not just hits, but a lot of big, strong songs, and I wanted to be in the circle, and I never really felt like I was there. They just didn’t let me in that much. Part of it because I wasn’t a republican, and they were all really into politics, and I was sort of on the fence, and I don’t think they liked that.
Blast: What does that have to do with you as a musician and your role within the band?
EM: Well I know it’s crazy but also, in my insecurity, I joked around a little too much. I was kind of sarcastic back in the day, because I felt really uncomfortable a lot of times, so I’d say something derogatory trying to be funny, then later I’d be like ‘Can I retract that?’ I felt really alienated, so I used my silver tongue, or my ‘Mr. Big’ mouth, to get my point across and it would always backfire. Then when I was at home, I had all my friends, and people laughed at my jokes and cared about me, but in the band, I definitely never felt that sort of comraderie at all. AT ALL…
Blast: That’s got to be tough to deal with for that long; especially in a band so successful.
EM: Yeah, for thirteen years, it sucked, but when we recorded together and we were on stage together, the magic was just there. Then we got offstage and nobody would talk to me. Really tough, but then I look at it five years later as water under the bridge and I took advantage of the fact that I was in this great band and they were really good as musicians. I guess a lot of times it’s like, too many cooks in the kitchen. But anyway, to answer the question, a Mr. Big reunion’s probably not going to happen.
Blast: Ok, well thanks Eric, it’s great to talk to you! See you at the show!
Alright then, we would love to continue this convo, but it’s almost showtime and Eric has to be backstage in five, so there you have it!! On the record with Eric Martin, who did a hell of a job answering all our questions in an interview well worth waiting for!! A million thanks to him for bringing us up to date, and stay with us here at Blast for ongoing coverage of Eric’s work, tour dates, and everything in between. Til next time…