‘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.
Read the rest of my
Interview with Paul Gilbert By Clicking Here
It’s a question every artist has to grapple with: If you’re not pushing yourself creatively, how can you grow?
That’s exactly what Paul Gilbert tackles—with fervor—on his new solo album, I Can Destroy, which will be released May 27.
On the album, which was produced by Kevin Shirley (whose credits include Mr. Big’s 2011 album, “What If”), Gilbert cuts a wide swath of styles and textures. There’s the full-frontal assault of “Everybody Use Your Goddamn Turn Signal,” the jazz-blues lament of “One Woman Too Many” (which also features Gilbert’s patented Makita drill-bit riffery) and the gut/heart punch of “I Am Not the One (Who Wants to Be with You).” Its playful title references the ubiquitous Number 1 hit Gilbert enjoyed as lead guitarist for Mr. Big.
I recently spoke with Gilbert about I Can Destroy, this year’s Great Guitar Escape, his current setup and more.
How would describe I Can Destroy in terms of its sound—and maybe even how it relates to some of your previous solo albums?
The album sounds like an electric brontosaurus, dropped from a 40-story building, landing on a giant sheet of aluminum foil, plugged into a 200-watt Marshall, in the key of F#! [laughs]. Seriously, there are three guitar players on the album—Tony Spinner, Freddie Nelson and myself. So we could do lots of three-part guitar harmonies. It was great to have a big band so I didn’t need to do overdubs. Tony and Freddie are also great singers, so we included lots of vocal harmonies, and whenever the bridge was too high for me, Tony would save the day.
How did you approach writing for this album?
I turn complaining into music! I’m thinking I might have invented a new style. I call it “cantankerous rock.” If you look at songs from my last few albums, you can see how I’ve been building up to this. “Get Out of My Yard” is certainly a cantankerous title. “Atmosphere on the Moon” [from Vibrato] was about being so misanthropic that I ask today’s young scientists to fabricate an atmosphere on the moon so I can escape their dreadful auto-tuned music here on Earth. “Everybody Use Your Goddamn Turn Signal” from the new album certainly sends a cantankerous message. But these are all lyrics, and guitar players usually care more about the guitar. Actually, I do too, but it’s a lot easier for me to write a meaningful guitar riff if I have a lyric to give the song some structure.
What was it like working with Kevin Shirley on this project?
It was very similar to when I worked with Kevin with Mr. Big. Only with this record, we recorded about twice as fast. We recorded my songs so quickly that I started to run out of them. That gave me the chance to do one cover—Ted Nugent’s “Great White Buffalo.” Overall, when I work with Kevin I know he’s going to steer me in the best direction to make the album sound great and rock.
I’d like to ask you about a few songs from I Can Destroy. Maybe you can tell me what inspired them, how they were written—or whatever comes to mind. Let’s start with “Everybody Use Your Goddam Turn Signal.”
I lived in Los Angeles for around 20 years. I love the place, but the driving can wear thin. I recently moved to Portland, Oregon, where I can walk and ride my bicycle everywhere. I’m hoping my misanthropic tendencies will relax a bit from being a pedestrian. Musically, I like that the riff swings. I love that the word “goddamn” is sung with big, beautiful harmonies. And I like making the turn signal sound with my guitar by picking muted high strings. The solo is a trade-off with me first, then Freddie and then Tony. The original performance had a much longer solo, but I cut it shorter for the album. Live, I’ll probably make it long again.
You can read the rest of my
Interview with Paul Gilbert by Clicking Here.