Mr Big’s Paul Gilbert is cutting loose and flying solo on the back of brand new album Behold Electric Guitar. Rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth caught up with the six-string hero ahead of September’s UK shows.

Rushonrock: What was behind your move to Portland and how excited were you to become embedded in the city’s famous musical heritage?

Paul Gilbert: I grew up in Pennsylvania, which is in the eastern part of the United States. I realised that I like the west coast because it’s less likely that I will meet anyone who knew me in high school! I got a fresh start when I moved to Hollywood when I was 17. And it felt so good to be accepted into the music business. Now, I can probably live anywhere, but I like Portland because there are a lot of trees and more rain than in L.A.. Also, I live in a part of town where I can walk and ride my bike to a lot of things. Since I spend so much of my touring life inside vehicles, it’s nice to be outside more when I’m home. I was excited to meet musicians here because I like to meet musicians! 

Rushonrock: What has made Portland the cultural and creative hub that it is in 2019?

PG: I met some great people to record and perform with but I still don’t know much about the overall scene. I’m glad there is a big blues festival every summer. I hope I get to play there sometime!

Rushonrock: Did the move inspire the album – or had the seeds of Behold Electric Guitar been sown sometime before?

PG: My main inspiration for Behold Electric Guitar was to have my guitar take over the role of ‘lead singer’. I’ve dabbled in this before but it has started to work better than ever before. I’ve been playing with a slide a lot more and I think that helps. It gives me a new voice to use on the guitar.

Rushonrock: How important was it to tap into the local talent pool once the decision was made to make your record in Portland?

PG: I put most of my energy into writing the songs. Of course, I want to find great musicians to help support my melodies. I was fortunate to find fantastic people in Portland. They provided great grooves and support for my songs. But I’m the one who has to come up with the songs!

Paul Gilbert at Cobalt Studios in Portland, OR, Dec. 2018. Photo by Jason Quigley.

Rushonrock: Having missed out on the services of Kelly Lemieux what were the criteria for recruiting a bass player?

PG: Kelly has been doing great playing with Buckcherry. I certainly wish him the best! 

Rushonrock: When you made your move for Roland Guerin was it as much out of hope as expectation?

PG: I jammed with Roland at an Ibanez event and we got along really well, both musically and personally. Roland was the one ‘out of town’ guy but that also meant that he didn’t have any distractions from home life so we could spend a lot of time jamming and rehearsing the arrangements of the songs.

Rushonrock: Once you’d assembled your musical avengers how soon did it become apparent that you could record live with these guys?

PG: I wanted to record live from the beginning. In fact, I hope I record live for the rest of my life! I love being close to the drummer and feeling the drums. I love being close to my amp and feeling the sound of my guitar. I need to feel the music!

Paul Gilbert, April 2018. Photo by Jason Quigley.

Rushonrock: There’s a vibe underpinning Behold Electric Guitar that many established bands spend years searching for – how did you bond so quickly as a group?

PG: We listened to each other. Playing live allows the musicians to listen and adapt to each other. And those guys are good. Although I think we got even better on the road!

Rushonrock: Recruiting [producer] Jon Cuniberti was a real coup – again, how hopeful were you of bringing him on board and did it all happen fairly seamlessly?

PG: I had seen Jon’s ‘One Mic’ recordings on YouTube and I really liked those. I just knew him from that, and I had no idea that he had done most of Joe Satriani’s albums. That was a good surprise!

Rushonrock: Which of Jon’s methods/approaches really resonated with you and what did you gain from the whole process of making Behold Electric Guitar?

PG: Jon listens very closely to both the sounds and the performances. If something isn’t right, he’ll keep working until he is satisfied. I have a lot of hearing loss so I really need someone who can pay attention to the sonic details.

Rushonrock: You’ve talked about how recording live focused the mind – was everyone running on adrenaline by the time the record was wrapped up?

PG: Yeah, when you play live, every session demands the entire mind and body. Plus we had to switch drummer a couple times, so there was more last-minute rehearsing than we had planned for. But in the end everything came out great!

Paul Gilbert, April 2018. Photo by Jason Quigley.

Rushonrock: You share a label with many of the world’s premier guitar players – is the instrument’s future in safe hands and is there still plenty of life left in those six strings?

PG: I’m proud to be back on Mascot. I’m definitely a fan of Eric Gales so it’s nice to be on the same label as him. When it comes to predicting the future…who knows? Monster aliens could attack tomorrow and all music would be wiped out. But if humanity keeps trudging along, I think it will bring the guitar with it. My rock online school with Artistworks should help that as well. I’ve done over 7,500 guitar lesson videos there, so I’m certainly not keeping anything a secret!

Rushonrock: Mr Big continues to go from strength to strength but is there an argument for taking regular steps back from the ‘day job’ in order to grow and flourish as a musician?

PG: I did a lot of touring with Mr. Big in the past few years. Since I’ve made some great discoveries with my solo career lately, I want to explore that now.

Rushonrock: You’re a decade into the band’s ‘comeback’ – how do you reflect on that time and do you see the Mr Big continuing to thrive for another 10 years and more?

PG: I’m glad we could do some new albums and tours. I especially like the What If… album. It was great working with the producer, Kevin Shirley. Kevin had us record live, and that experience (and the great results) really inspired me to continue to record that way.

Paul Gilbert, April 2018. Photo by Jason Quigley.

Paul Gilbert plays live across the UK in September:

Mon 16 – The Fleece, Bristol

Tues 17 – Riverside, Newcastle

Weds 18 – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Thurs 19 – Academy 3, Manchester

Fri 20 – Sub 89, Reading

Sat 21 – Engine Rooms, Southampton

Sun 22 – O2 Islington Academy, London

Mon 23 – The Mill, Birmingham

Tues 24 – Crauford Arms, Milton Keynes

Images by Jason Quigley