PAUL GILBERT Talks New MR. BIG Album, Guitar Improvisation And PAT TORPEY
August 15, 2017
Anthony Morgan of Metal Forces recently conducted an interview with MR. BIG guitarist Paul Gilbert. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
On making new album "Defying Gravity":
Paul: "Everybody's got their own projects going on, but we really wanted to do a MR. BIG record, and so we had to co-ordinate the schedules of everybody in the band, and also our producer. We wanted to use Kevin Elson this time, who was the producer we used for our classic albums from the '80s and '90s. We found about a six-day period where everybody was free, and we thought 'Is that enough time?' We thought, 'We don't know, but let's just try hard,' and so we all wrote songs and prepared as much as we could, and it was perfect. We got everything done, and got all of the basic tracks. Of course, after we were finished with that and we weren't all together, Eric [Martin] could keep working on his vocals, I did a couple of guitar solo overdubs on the road, and Kevin mixed the album. The majority of the stuff we did while we were together though, and it was nice to have that urgency. We knew that when we were in there, we had to work and we had to get it done. We had to make it great. It was a really enjoyable experience; I really had a great time of it."
On whether he is tired of playing signature track "To Be With You":
Paul: "Oh, I love it. Like I said, I love singing harmonies. Before I even became a guitar player, I wanted to be a Beatle. [Laughs] That was my first dream as a musician, was to be like a Beatle. They were much more of a band that emphasizes the songwriting and the singing. Occasionally there's a cool guitar riff, but if you listen to the way a BEATLES record is mixed, the vocals are much louder than the guitar. Getting to do that was my original dream, so I love that as well. That's the nice thing about being in MR. BIG, is I'm not only the guitar player. I'm the background singer, and so I get to do both of those things. Sometimes we even switch instruments and I get to be the drummer."
On getting more into improvisation:
Paul: "Lately, overall, I've been into being a better improviser, and in a way I see improvising as being a combination of two things. One of the things is what your fingers will do on the guitar. Of course, I'm a guitar player, so I'm thinking as a guitarist. I have to work within my physical limitations as to what my hands will do, and also the patterns I'm familiar with, and the places that my fingers are used to going. The other part of it is more pure improvisation though, and that's what I hear in my head, and that's a combination of just what I hear instinctively. I don't know where my instincts come from — probably a lot of listening — but that's a little more mysterious. It also comes from training my ear though, and I think listening to great improvisers and great melodies is a quick way to train that instinct.
"I tend to listen to a lot of singers, and actually one of my solo albums — 'Stone Pushing Uphill Man' [August 2014] – was sort of a project in proving my melodic instincts by learning vocal parts on guitar. I just picked all of my favourite singers — everybody from Steven Tyler [AEROSMITH] to James Brown, to Paul McCartney [THE BEATLES], to Eric Carmen… just all kinds of different styles — and tried to play those vocal parts. That's really to me… The part of improvising is the most interesting thing to me at the moment, because I've trained my fingers so much that they can jump around the fretboard and do a lot of things, but it tends to be the same. Like any faster player, we've got our best licks, and they tend to be the same.
"I've found that as I've learned to improvise melodically, it seems like I can come up with a bigger variety of stuff. I kind of selfishly enjoy it more, because I'm in the moment so much. When you play something that your fingers do, you're almost kind of living in the past. You play something you've spent a lot of time practising, but when you play something that you hear in your head, it might be inspired by something in the past, although the combination is something that can be brand new. As a player and as an improviser, that's really exciting. I think that's one of the reasons why I listen to a lot of singers, and I think that the singers who came from blues and from soul music are some of the best."
On how drummer Pat Torpey, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, contributed to "Defying Gravity":
Paul: "Pat was like the drum producer. Him and Matt [Starr] worked as a team to make the drum tracks happen, and that worked so much better than the last album. With the last album, we tried to programme everything. We. of course. wanted Pat to be involved, but with his physical challenges, he wasn't able to play as strongly as he needed to. We thought that maybe he could play on electronic drums and record them with midi, and then he could edit that. It just became complicated. In the end it worked, but it just slowed it down. We never could have done it in six days, that's for sure. For this, we had Matt, who's our touring drummer that comes out and tours, and, of course, Pat tours with us too. He's there every day playing percussion, and he gets up on a song or two. We relied on the both of them to work together to make the drums in the studio though, so Matt was playing the kit. Pat would be the producer and have suggestions; about how the groove should go, and about what kinds of sounds to use. The goal was to make it sound like Pat Torpey, and there were the two of them that could do that. That was fantastic."