As Mr. Big approach their 30th anniversary, the band is taking the opportunity to look back. But they're also pushing ahead with their ninth album, Defying Gravity, which will be released on July 21.

You can listen to “1992” from the upcoming album above. The song recalls the high times and emotional roller-coaster ride the group enjoyed that year as “To Be With You” became a monster hit, soaring to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

For bassist Billy Sheehan, it wasn’t his first taste of success, but it was a moment that had special meaning. “I was fortunate enough to achieve some success with David Lee Roth," he tells Ultimate Classic Rock. "It was an amazing time and an amazing transition from driving my ‘77 Pinto in Buffalo with the fake tire on it -- the one that comes with the car and you’re only supposed to drive it until you get to the next gas station. I had it on the car for three years. Getting to L.A., the night that I [arrived], there was actually paparazzi around Dave, so it was a pretty chaotic transition.”

He eventually settled in as a member of Roth’s band and enjoyed working with the Van Halen singer on the Eat ‘Em & Smile and Skyscraper, which spawned a pair of hit singles in “Yankee Rose” and “Just Like Paradise.” But as he explains, Mr. Big were built from the ground up with a specific purpose.

“I put it together for all four of us to be equal in there, not to have anyone be the leader," Sheehan says. "I loved having Dave as the leader, because he’s the best you could get. But this was more of a band situation, rather than [me being] an individual in his band. There was a great deal of satisfaction from that. We were at No. 1 on Billboard for three weeks, No. 1 in 14 countries and we were on The Tonight Show and I got to sit in chair number one, so that was pretty cool.”

Defying Gravity found Mr. Big -- Sheehan, singer Eric Martin, guitarist Paul Gilbert and drummer Pat Torpey -- working against time. They had a week to pull the bulk of the album together -- that was all the time their collective schedules would allow for them to be in the same room. They added some finishing touches individually later, but according to Sheehan, “the body of the main songs, from beginning to end, the arrangement, guitar, bass, drums and pretty much every musical part had to be done in six days.”

The tight window ended up being beneficial. “It’s a good pressure, because it really forces you to get creative and make it happen. In the old days, that’s really how it was,” he says. “I’ve done records in two days, where you’ve got just so much time and you’ve got to get in there and get it done. If you don’t get it done in time, we’re out of money and you’re out of luck. There’s nothing you can do about it, so you’ve got to finish it. So it was that kind of pressure. It brings out the best in us with Mr. Big.”

Producer Kevin Elson, who was behind the boards for the band’s first three albums, returned for the first time since 1993’s Bump Ahead to help shepherd the sessions.

“He’s casual, but he’s got good ears," Sheehan says. "He can’t always explain it in musical terms, but he’ll tell us if something is working or if it isn’t, just from a Joe Average point of view. And it’s hard sometimes to get a Joe Average point of view, especially if you’re in the biz. You start thinking you know it all. Kevin really looks at it sometimes like a first-time listener or like a person that’s not necessarily involved in music. So he can really hear it like the people on the street are hearing it, which are the people we’re making it for. That common sense approach is really valuable.”

Matt Starr, who's toured with the group in recent years since Torpey was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, stepped in to handle most of the drumming on the new album, working with Torpey. “It’s a great back and forth that they have, and I thought Matt just did a stellar job on the drumming on the record in general,” Sheehan says. “But the fact that he really took the Pat Torpey stylings and advice and did it selflessly and without ego and was just there to help a brother drummer, was really touching and really a great experience.”

Fans can expect a small preview of the new album when the band launches a U.S. tour at the end of the month. “We don’t want to do too much [from the new album before it comes out], because people won’t know what it is," Sheehan notes. "We’re going to do a couple of songs, probably right up front. Plus, we’ve got another eight records to pull from, so it’s kind of hard.

“There’s a lot of songs that a lot of people want to hear from all of those records. We’re going to do our best to please as many people as possible. We can’t please everybody, but we’re going to do our best. We’ll also do, not the typical older songs that we always do, but maybe throw in a few surprises and things like that. We’ll do our best to get as much in there as possible.”

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