When Mr Big announced earlier this year they were getting back together for a June tour of Japan, many people assumed it was a crass attempt to grab some big bucks - or yen, as it were.
"I would probably think the same thing myself," says guitarist Paul Gilbert, who split the mega-platinum band (which also included bassist Billy Sheehan, drummer Pat Torpey and singer Eric Martin) in the late '90s under less than harmonious circumstances
"But the great thing is, time really does heal all wounds. A lot of water has passed under the bridge, and this reunion is anything but a nostalgia cash-in."
MusicRadar already spoke with Billy Sheehan about the much-anticipated Mr Big reunion, so we decided to check in with Gilbert to get his thoughts on what it feels like to get the ol' gang back together.
What the the first step in reuniting the band?
"What happened was, I started to reconnect with the Mr. Big members. I took part in a Who tribute band called Amazing Journey with Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater, and Billy came on board for that. It reminded me in the nicest way possible how fantastic Billy is. He's such an amazing player, and he's gotten even better over the years. It was a blast to hear him play all those John Entwhistle licks. So we had a terrific time doing that - smashed up the gear at the end, the whole bit. It was awesome!"
So that was the seed, that gig?
"That was definitely the ice-breaker, yeah. After Billy and I reconnected, he came over to play on one of my solo records, and that was a blast.
"It's really weird: There's nothing like sitting down and playing music with somebody. It breaks down all the barriers in life. It makes you forget all the bullshit, all the negative things that went down. It makes you realize, 'Hey, this person brings out something in me, and I bring out something in him.' Maybe that's not such a bad thing, you know?"
Had there been bad blood between you and Billy? Fences that needed mending?
"I don't think so. Not really. When I look back at the span that Mr Big lasted, we had some unbelievable times. But there were grueling times, too. Being in a band is hard. Even if you like somebody, you start to argue over silly things. So, in getting back together, we told one another, 'Let's try to remember those great times, because they'll help us musically, as well as on a human level.'"
After you and Billy hooked up, then what happened?
"I was doing a show at the House of Blues in LA, and as it turned out, Richie Kotzen [who replaced Gilbert in Mr Big] was the support band. I always thought it'd be cool to bring Richie up and do a song. Then I found out that our old drummer, Pat Torpey, was playing in Richie's band. So I said, 'Let's bring both of them up.' And then I found out that Billy Sheehan was in the audience. So it became something of a bizarre sort-of Mr Big reunion without Eric Martin. That really helped bring everybody together."
Going back to the old days, what was the real problem in Mr Big? You've told me that it got to the point where you were the rock 'n' roll cliché - traveling in separate buses, not speaking till you got on stage, that kind of thing. Obviously, there were real issues.
"There were issues. I think part of the problem was, back then, we didn't know what buttons to push on one another. We were in it for our own glory and not the good of the band. Also, we were blown away by our success in really crazy ways - we were trying really hard to be rock stars. We acted like rock stars and not musicians.
"On top of that, we never gave ourselves a break. We kept touring, kept making records - we wanted to keep striking while the iron was hot. Consequently, it ruined our relationship as people. We became a machine.
"Now, our hearts are in the right place and we're intent on having a good time. Already, we've had great talks, sitting around going, 'Man, we got to play Budokan, how cool was that?!'" [laughs]
I'm sure you've been asked to do Mr Big reunions for years now. What made you finally decide the time was right?
"I simply ran out of reasons to say 'no.' Over the years, whenever I've toured in Australia or wherever, people have always asked me, 'When's Mr Big getting back together?' And I always had something of a lame answer. But recently I found myself saying, 'That's a good question. We should get together, shouldn't we?''
"Finally, it wasn't a question anymore, it was more like, 'That's it. We should get back together!' In my heart, it started to sound like fun. I got excited about the idea, and then everything fell into place."
In your heyday, you were massive in Japan. Was it a given that your reunion would begin there?
"Yeah, we thought Japan would be a great place to start. Japan was always amazing for us - which totally took us by surprise, I should add. Whenever we toured there, we felt like The Beatles or Cheap Trick. The wild shrieks of the girls, the hysteria - it was unbelievable! Totally surreal."
But you're not going to let that go to your heads this time, right? You're not going to act like 'rock stars'?
"Well, we'll enjoy it, of course! [laughs] But we'll enjoy it as professional musicians, not rock stars."
How have rehearsals been so far?
"We haven't started yet. But I must say, I can't wait. We're going to do all the hits, of course, but I'm hoping we can work up some weird surprises for people. I don't want to do just a greatest hits show.
"I want to change my playing around, too. I don't want to just do millions of notes. I want to focus on big notes, you know what I mean? I want to get to the core of each solo and focus on that one note that really stands out. Does that make any sense?"
Sure. Maybe you should do a cover of Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl.
"That's a great idea! I love that song. A one-note solo - how perfect would that be?"
All right, the big question: Are you planning more after Japan? Will Mr Big continue?
"We're talking about it. I think we'll have to see. We went to Japan to do a bunch of promo, and everything went so smoothly, so yeah, I think we're hoping to keep things going. It's baby steps."
So there might be a tour of the States? What about a record?
"You never know. In a perfect world, yes, we could get this thing back together in a major way and be a band again. We'd still keep doing our solo things, but the possibility of being Mr Big is there. Life's too short, you know? If you find something you love and that other people love, why not do it?
"And I have to say, Richie Kotzen's been great through this whole thing. He stepped in and replaced me in Mr Big when I left, and it never became an issue of whether it would be him or me in this reunion. People want the original band, and Richie realizes that. It's like when I went to see Van Halen recently - Wolfgang was great, but I missed Michael Anthony.
"So to all the people out there who have been waiting for a real Mr, Big reunion, this is it. The original members, no smoke and mirrors, this is as real as it gets."
"That's right. The only tricks will be done on the guitar!"