‘Defying Gravity’: Paul Gilbert Discusses Mr. Big’s New Album and His Improving Improvisational Skills
The call went out: It was time for a new Mr. Big album.
And with that, original members Eric Martin (vocals), Paul Gilbert (guitars), Billy Sheehan (bass) and Pat Torpey (drums)—along with Matt Starr (drums)—convened in a Los Angeles recording studio. In a matter of six days, the band’s ninth original studio album, Defying Gravity. was born.
Produced by Kevin Elson, who’s worked with Mr. Big on their classic albums from the Eighties and Nineties, Defying Gravityfeatures inspired songwriting, virtuostic musicianship and most importantly, tasty fretwork. In fact, most of Gilbert’s solos were tracked live with the band, showcasing the development of his improvisational skills in both melodic and face-melting ferocity.
I recently spoke with Gilbert about Defying Gravity (which will be released July 7), gear and the upcoming G4 Experience.
Where did the idea for Defying Gravitybegin?
We really wanted to do a new album and tour, and it was just a matter of coordinating our schedules. Back in the early days, Mr. Big was the only thing any of us did. Now that we all have different solo projects and bands that we play in, it’s a bit trickier to coordinate. We wound up having six golden days where everyone was free.
On the last album [The Stories We Could Tell], we did a lot overdubs and later realized the best way for us to work is live in the studio. There was a good energy and it was quick enough where we didn’t overthink things. It put us in a good state of mind and we had such an enjoyable time.
Did your approach to guitar change much for this album?
I’ve been working on my improvisational skills, and I think that’s something that’s starting to show on this record. When you record an album in six days, you don’t have time to work out a lot of stuff. So a lot of the solos were improvised. But it’s not necessarily about flashy licks. It’s also about harmonically locking in and playing the right note at the right time. I think I was able to do that more than ever before.
What was it like working with Kevin Elson again?
It was fantastic. We had so many good memories of working with him on those four classic albums. Kevin has a great ear and is very mellow, but he’s also very supportive. Because we worked so quickly, a lot of times we didn’t even have time for demos. So when you brought a song to the band you had to do a buskers version for the first time in front of everyone. It can be scary because you’re thinking, “What are they going to think?” But at the end, everyone said let’s work on it. So it went from that raw, one-man band version to a complete track within a few hours.
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