Legendary bassist Billy Sheehan talks with Antihero Magazine about his latest band The Fell, as well as the need to educate yourself, his own musical legacy, the current tour with Mr. Big, and other projects he’s been working on.
ANTIHERO: You seem to be very busy. No sooner do you have a new Mr. Big album out, we hear that you’re involved with a new band.
Billy Sheehan: Yeah, it’s a busy time, that’s for sure. We’ve got a lot of things going on. We’re in the middle of a Mr. Big tour right now, Defying Gravity. It’s been going fantastic, I’m really excited about it. We go off to South America, Mexico next, then South East Asia, then Japan, and then we do Europe and the UK. But in the meantime, there’s always a lot of time in between, and Mike Krompass got in touch with me last summer and said, “hey I’m recording, do you want to come down and play bass on a few things?” I said, “sure, I will”. The stuff sounded great so I said, “what are you doing with this?” And he goes, “I’m not sure, we’re just putting some songs together”. So, he called me and said, “we’re going to do some more, okay?” Next thing you know, we had a whole bunch. I really enjoyed working with him very much and it’s a different thing than what I’m doing with some other bands. When we finally had a whole bunch of things, you know, we could probably put this out and make a cool record, and here we are today, so I’m very excited about The Fell.
ANTIHERO: So, you’ve already got an album recorded?
Billy Sheehan: Pretty much. I think we might do a few more but we have at least ten things that are completely done.
ANTIHERO: Of course, you have a new singer since the band started out. I just wondered if he’s brought any new ideas, any song ideas to the band?
Billy Sheehan: Well, it’s so new that we haven’t even seen it yet, but I know that Mike has worked with this gentleman Anthony quite a bit in the past, and so I know they work together. So, he was really excited about having him work with us because they work together on a lot of songwriting and it’s really good to be around these guys that are these amazing songwriters, you know. Mr. Big and Winery Dogs, we’ve had some songwriting I’m very pleased with and that really is the foundation of those bands. You know, they’re good players and all but the songs are what matters, so with The Fell we got just a great team of people and Mike Krompass is just a grand master at that stuff, so I’m really pleased with the material. Anthony has worked quite closely with some amazing songwriters, so I think it’s going to be… I’d love to do a couple of brand new things with him; that would be very exciting.
Billy Sheehan: Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah, we already booked some we’re going to do just to kind of begin. I’ve got a break coming up in September and we’re going to do maybe about five or six shows, so it will just be great to really get the band up on a stage working, and it’s going to really make some big changes at how we approach everything, because for me that’s the real thing; being on stage is where it’s at. I know that Anthony is quite a great performer and his voice is great live and Mike also. Randy, his drumming is just… what a great pocket, I love playing with him. So, we’re looking forward to some shows in September.
ANTIHERO: You mentioned Mr. Big; I just wondered specifically with the UK dates, will you be taking both Pat and Matt out with you? (Pat has an ongoing medical condition).
Billy Sheehan: That’s how it works. So, Pat can’t do a whole night of drumming unfortunately, but in Mr. Big we’ve adopted the model with the Navy SEALs and we leave no men left behind. Pat is with us, he’s on stage singing, playing percussion, he gets up for a song or two, but Matt does the heavy lifting, the double bass drum stuff; it’s just too much for Pat to do. But being out on the road for Pat is great, great therapy for him and it’s really brought him back to life and it’s always an inspiration to other people that have the same situation. I get a lot of letters from other people that have contracted Parkinson’s Disease and they looked at Pat as a great inspiration for them to really get up and start to push back against it, and so I think we’re doing some good for some other people besides Pat as well. But, it’s great therapy for Pat and he’s really come around. When this went down it was not good at all, I didn’t think he would ever perform again, but now he’s back up. Other than the full-on drumming, he’s almost back to normal, it’s quite miraculous.
ANTIHERO: That indeed is great news, I know that a lot of fans have been very concerned. Regarding your own musical talent, you are widely regarded as a bit of a virtuoso on the bass, I just wondered if there’s any current guys, any current bassists that actually impress you?
Billy Sheehan: Well yeah, I can’t recall who, but it’s a great time for bass. The innovations in gear and basses, and I do a lot of the bass day in London and bass day here in Los Angeles, and so there’s a lot of great up and coming players. I wish I could remember their names, but I’ve seen a lot of great talent out there and it’s a good time for all musicians I think because you have great access to everything; you go on YouTube and you can see Hendrix up close. The only chance you had when I was younger was you had to go to a show and you were back 40 rows; that’s as close as you could ever see it.So, it’s a very inspirational time for all players.
ANTIHERO: Looking back at your musical career, as a fan for me a personal highlight growing up it was when you were playing in the David Lee Roth Band. I just wondered if you’d had any thoughts about maybe revisiting some of those band products with Steve Vai and David Lee Roth that you did in the past.
Billy Sheehan: Well, we almost did a reunion about a year and a half ago. Me and Greg, the drummer, were going to get up and jam at a local jam that happens on Tuesday night and then we found out Steve was in town, so he was in and then somebody went, “we should call Dave and see if he’s around”, and I went, “no, he’s probably busy”, you know. So, sure enough, he called back and we were going to do a special kind of a jam where there’s no rehearsal, no warm up, no pedal boards, you just jump up on stage, play and then you get off. And so, after almost 30 years we were going to go up and play “Yankee Rose” and “Shy Boy” with no rehearsal, no sound check, just go up and do it, but unfortunately word leaked out and the place was way overcrowded and the fire department came in and shut it down. We had everything set up, sound, and were ready to go too. We got to hang out afterwards and talk and have a blast and have a few drinks together, so who knows, maybe it might happen someday, it’s up to Dave. I’m ready to do it anytime, it’s up to Steve. If we can do it, I’d love to because Dave is still my hero and it’s still one of the greatest adventures of my life to do an album and a tour with David Lee Roth, it was incredible.
ANTIHERO: Do you have any current artists maybe that you would like to collaborate with or work with in the future?
Billy Sheehan: Well, I just produced a record by a young lady who goes by the name of Madame Mayhem.
ANTIHERO: Oh yeah, I’m familiar with her.
Billy Sheehan: Yeah, she did great. As a matter of fact, she opened up for a Mr. Big Show in New York City; it was awesome. I almost had tears in my eyes just seeing her just spread her wings and fly; she really has come a long way. She was good to start with, the moment I saw her, the moment I heard her, I knew she had a great voice and then working with her, writing the songs and recording the record with her was a great experience and to see her really pull it altogether and do it live was really touching; she did great. Hopefully I will work with her again and maybe do some more productions or more writing would be cool. It was the first record that I produced top to bottom all by myself so it was a great experience.
ANTIHERO: Many artists who have reached a particular high standard in one type of the arts often explore other forms, I just wondered if you have any sort of other artistic interests or hobbies?
Billy Sheehan: Well, people keep pushing me to write a book. I’m an avid reader and I read a lot and many different genres; non-fiction, fiction, history, science books, a lot of things like that, and I’m also an aficionado of a lot of comedy. A lot of my stories are pretty funny and so I’m thinking of a way that I can relate them in written word to make them have the kind of impact they have when I can tell them live. So, who knows, in the future I may finally sit down and start to write down some of the adventures.
ANTIHERO: You generally seem pretty balanced. I just wonder what actually annoys or aggravates you?
Billy Sheehan: (Laughing) Bad spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure I’ve seen on the internet. I’m always correcting people and I try to hold back but sometimes it’s impossible to not jump in, but yes, just general ignorance and stupidity. I’m self-educated, I’m constantly at work, I’m constantly reading and working and learning, and I’ve got a house full of dictionaries and encyclopedias and I’m always pursuing the English language further to understand more of what’s being said and what I’m saying and word definitions and word origins, and really just trying to get smarter and sharper and better and know more. I do it with a great passion and I wish more people did, you know, instead of sitting around watching TV. How many times a conversation is, “yeah, I saw this show and then this guy…” and “wait wait wait, it’s made up, somebody sat around a room and wrote that bro, it didn’t actually happen!”It’s not anything you should really be… you know, it’s maybe entertaining but to really pursue self-education you’re not going to do it by watching TV.
ANTIHERO: Do you feel then that the internet and modern technology has kind of killed the art of conversation?
Billy Sheehan: Sadly, and it’s funny when television first came out in the 50s everybody thought this is going to be amazing, it’ll be like having a college professor in every living room, people are going to be so educated and they’re going to learn and there’s going to be these amazing shows about nature and geography and geology and all the ‘ologies’ and all these great things; the whole population is going to be so educated. Then what we ended up getting was cartoons and soap operas, so in a way the internet was very much like that and it’s true. You can go on Google and load up anything anywhere and find out information about anything you could possibly want to do. If you want to refinish the piano, well there’s a YouTube video on how to do it, you want to do anything there’s instructions for it everywhere, but unfortunately, we’ve kind of drifted down into people fighting back and forth on the comments section about the Kardashians until they get to the point where they’re calling each other Nazis and that’s where we’ve devolved to. So, hopefully people will get smart and just the love of learning and the love of knowledge and wisdom; man, that’s a great, great thing and I just wish people would embrace it more wholeheartedly.
ANTIHERO: Of course, there’s been many changes in the music industry, the music business, since you first started off. Do you feel it’s become a better or worse place these days for a musician to earn a living?
Billy Sheehan: Well, a lot of musicians complain about what’s going on now and with the internet and record companies and stuff, but actually I think it’s a fantastic time. I’m speaking to you on Skype now on my little laptop, on my little MacBook Air. I can do a whole record on this thing and I can do things with this that you couldn’t do in the most expensive studio in the world in the 70s or 80s; you couldn’t even come close to doing the things you can do now. Then I can open up another window and I have a browser and I’m a couple of clicks away from billions of people that are online. So, it’s a great, great time for music and musicians. And also, it’s got down to the point where because we don’t have much of a record company anymore handing out cash and running the show, musicians are running it themselves now, so they’re autonomous, it’s really wonderful. The one thing that we have that I believe will remain in force forever is the live performance; there’s nothing like it. Now we’re back to the point where that’s more important than anything for musicians because you can sit around and make a record and digitally fix anything and get anybody to sound good as a singer, and anybody to sound good as a guitar, bass, or drums, even though they can’t play, but live you can’t fake it. I mean some people do but you know what I mean, in a live show in a small club when people are 5ft away from you it’s pretty hard to fake it, which I love. So, it’s a good time and I think most people’s money will be made from live performance, and in order to do that you’ve got to be good, so it’s an inspiration. You’ve got to get better, you’ve got be able to get up on deck in front of real people and really perform, and really sing, and really play, and I love that, and so I think it’s actually a good time for music.
ANTIHERO: Have you yourself actually had to learn business skills?
Billy Sheehan: To some degree, but I usually delegate that to people who are experts at it because I do realize that it is a real art in itself. I’m busy playing bass, writing songs, singing and playing, so I want to find somebody else who is an expert at that and let them do it. But one thing I do quite a bit of is I interact a lot with fans at the shows, afterwards, all the time; I’m always out signing, saying hello, taking photos, listening to people, putting my thumb on the pulse of what’s going on up there, what they think and what they like and what they don’t. Then online I answer every email and every comment, I click on every post and respond all over the place and a lot of people respond to me and they’re really pleased to see me actually here responding and listening to what they say. I have two-way communications back and forth with hundreds of hundreds of people, it’s like my second job, social media and responding to people, but I love it because they’re awesome. Everything I own, my house, my car, everything I have, my little savings account, that all comes from a fan buying a tee-shirt, a ticket or a CD or a download and I don’t forget that and so I’m really pleased to be online with them responding, answering what I can, helping out my fellow musicians online with any advice I can do, so I’m really pleased that I have the opportunity to do that.