Latest Release: One Bad M.F. Live!! (Prostethic)
Marty Friedman is quite simply the guitarist’s guitarist. Initially rising to fame in the late eighties with what many consider to be a landmark instrumental guitar album titled Speed Metal Symphony, alongside the remarkable talents of fellow guitarist, Jason Becker, Friedman soon ventured into a solo career and then joined the ranks of thrash metal titans, Megadeth. The Rust in Peace album from 1990 remains a pinnacle release of thrash metal with astonishing musicianship and is heralded widely as a defining moment for the genre. Several albums later, Friedman left Megadeth at the end of the nineties to expand his musical horizons and relocated to Japan where an ever growing musical career has blossomed whilst still retaining his international fan-base. Finally returning to Australia on an official solo artist tour backed by his full band, we’ll be treated to a prime selection from his vast discography during what promises to be an interactive show. If his most recent live album is anything to go by, it is a show not to be missed.
The last time I saw you here live it was a guitar clinic tour. This time it is with a full band.
Yes, I am bringing my full band [guitarist Jordan Ziff, drummer Chargeeee and bassist Kiyoshi] and we’re doing full shows and everything involved so it is going to be my first official [solo artist] tour of Australia. I am also going to do masterclasses [guitar clinics] as well as the shows.
I remember one clinic that you did with a Les Paul guitar. It was a pretty laid back approach to teaching. Is that still the way that you do these things?
Yeah, I mean, whenever I do those type of things, I like to let the fans run it. I am more interested in what they are curious about than me having any kind of agenda that I want to get across. So, I basically just sit there, play a little bit and then let everybody else ask their questions to let them know exactly what they want to know rather than just random things. It is also a lot more fun for me get to know the people. I am not much of a musical teacher, so to speak. I don’t really like to teach because I don’t think that there is a right way or a wrong way. When people ask me their particular questions then I can give them my answers. Yeah, it is very laidback and it is a lot of fun and completely different from the shows. The shows are a complete energy, adrenaline, explosion type of a thing and it is really like two different people. One does the really studious masterclass kind of thing and the other one is just a balls out, jamming. I hope that people come to enjoy both of them.
Is jamming something that you prefer to do? It brings out your personality and you’re not doing endless sweep-picking and scales.
Oh yeah, but my music is very pre-arranged. However, there are a lot of spaces to do ad-libbing, improvising and things that only happen on that particular night. The Canberra show is going to be different to the Sydney show and that will be different to the Melbourne show. They are all going to have different things because there are a lot of spots where we do unusual things. Sometimes I will even bring people up from the audience to come and play with us on stage. We have a whole rig for them with one of my guitars and amplifiers. Sometimes I just get the feeling to bring somebody up onstage and play with them because you never know what is going to come out then. There are also a lot of spots for the members of my band to stretch out and do things that are different. The songs themselves are all structured very tightly but there is a lot of space for, you know, interpreting the way you feel that day and the way that audience is making you feel at the show. So, that method means that we don’t ever get bored with it. There is always some kind of excitement thinking, ‘What is it going to be like tonight?’ and we like that.
You’ve done a lot guitar magazine columns which are very informative. Does improvising also require some form of discipline, in a sense?
Well, everything requires discipline but what exactly does discipline mean? I think it means having the motivation to do something properly. It takes a lot of effort to get anything done and what I mean by that is that when you write a song, it is just a song. But, completing the song, getting it on an album and getting that album released and then going on tour to promote that album and that song is a long, long process. Coming from that very humble idea of having the song in your house, in your studio or wherever you are then actually getting it into people’s ears and then having people enjoy that. So, it is a long process and that is what the discipline is – you’ve got to stick it out from beginning to the end despite any obstacles that might happen in between. But, you know, that is part of being an artist, a musician or anyone who does music for their career. It is all about finishing what you start and a lot of improvisation is the seed that starts these things off. Everything starts from some kind of improvisation but it ends up being something much more developed.
Did you find that re-working some of your older classic tracks on Future Addict gave you a bit more a creative impetus and also let you enjoy those songs again?
Oh wow, Future Addict was a really strange project because the record label wanted me to do a greatest hits album but I told them, ‘I don’t have any hits’ so they said, ‘Well, there are a lot of songs that people associate you with so why don’t you re-do them but in a more current way?’ They wanted me to do them in the way that I would do them now as opposed to in the way that they were originally done. I said, ‘That is very interesting because you can kind of rewrite the past, so to speak.’ I changed a lot of things around and I’ve always considered arranging as one of my stronger points and one of the things that I enjoy the most about making music. So, whether it be other people’s music or my own music, doing the arrangements has always been something that I love. Future Addict was a long time ago being done around 2007 or 2008 but that was an arrangement festival, man, it was just like, and ‘How am I going to arrange these things so that they are new and fresh?’ I really like the way that album came out. That album probably had the most mixed and polarising reviews and reactions of all my albums. For the most part, people who like my stuff really like it but with Future Addict, there were people who absolutely loved it and there were a lot of people who didn’t like it at all. That is kind of a risk that you take when you take something that people already like and then you change it. I totally get that because then you are messing with people’s memories and the experiences that they had with the original songs. There is no way that you can beat that no matter how interesting the new arrangements are or how much better your guitar sound is or even how much more interesting the playing is – there is nothing that tops the listener’s experiences or memories. So, you’ve just got to do what you like to do and I was very pleased with the record. I did the best I could so I am happy with it.
Did your audience have similarly polarised reactions to the Jukebox projects of Tokyo Jukebox and Tokyo Jukebox 2?
No, actually, not really at all because I think that on the Jukebox thing, I took songs that were all Japanese songs but these were songs that I completely re-arranged to such a point that they really didn’t resemble the original songs at all. Of course, they had the same melodies and the same overall motifs but I changed them so much that it actually kind of magnified the listener experience to people who enjoyed the originals because it didn’t compete with them at all. What I mean by that is that with Future Addict, I did a bunch of rock and metal songs and I still did them as rock and metal but I just arranged them differently. So, the genre didn’t really change and the overall sound didn’t change that much. But, on the Jukebox albums, I took a long set of pop ballads or traditional Japanese folk songs and really nothing that even resemble rock or metal. I then put them through a full-on, heavy and aggressive rock and metal interpretation with lots of wild guitars. It really wasn’t polarising at all. It probably did a lot of great things for my career, especially for here in Japan because it got my music into a lot of ears of people who didn’t normally listen to rock and metal music. I found that many more genres picked up on the album and so it was a lot more successful here than was the case with Future Addict.
Your tenure in Megadeth is clearly a large part of your profile and your great guitar work on Rust in Peace tracks like Lucretia, Holy Wars… The Punishment Due, Hangar 18 and Tornado of Souls is regularly mentioned in both guitar and metal circles. Did you feel any pressure at the time of recording those now classic tracks?
I never really felt any pressure dong anything, back then or even now. You just go in there and in the frame of mind that you want to do something that is going to represent you and that you’re not going to make an ass out of yourself. It is really important when you are recording something that you know is going to be released that when it is done, that it is something that represents exactly the way you want to represent yourself interpreting that piece of music. So, you’ve got to give everything that you do that same amount of care and that same amount of attention that is deserves. Really, anything from any period of my career was approached with the exact same mindset and that being, ‘Okay, there is going to be people listening to this and I want them to listen to it the way that I want them to here this for now and for many years afterwards,’ so I take a lot of care into the process and I do so especially for guitar solos. As a lead guitarist that is the thing that people will connect you to so I pretty much want to play something different every time and something that fits the song, is enjoyable and most of all, represents the way that I want to represent myself. That has really been the case even way before those recordings and even way before when I was a teenager, it was pretty much the same feeling, you know, it is like a baseball player coming up to bat. It is the same every time when you come up to the plate. You just try not to make an ass of yourself, basically.
Looking back at the Cacophony albums [Speed Metal Symphony and Go Off!] and your first solo album [Dragon’s Kiss], do you have fond memories of the time? I imagine it was a fairly innocent time and right when shred guitar was a huge scene.
I don’t know about shred and how big or small it was but the [first] Cacophony album [Speed Metal Symphony] was nothing but fantastic memories. Obviously that was because of a wonderful partnership with my friend and co-guitarist Jason Becker and we grew a lot together. He was a little bit younger than me so he learned a lot at the beginning of the process but about halfway through, he was just burning like a meteor with how fast he was advancing his own musicality. It was just like an unbelievable thing to watch and a great thing to be a part of so we made two records together and we did a couple of tours together in America and Japan but unfortunately we never got to Australia which would have been a wonderful thing for us. There’s nothing but fantastic memories. You know, when you’re struggling and all that stuff, at the time it was really hard but it really leaves a lot of good, fond memories later on when you’ve done a little bit better as far as your career goes. You can’t really take away anything from the good times that we had even though we were struggling.
Indeed. You’ve covered so many different styles and genres since those days. Has your compositional approach changed drastically since those early days?
Oh, now it is absolutely nothing like in those Cacophony days. Everything from even before that through to now has been a constant evolution. I try, more than anything, not to repeat myself and I think that is pretty much the secret to having a career that has lasted this long. I can confidently say that my last two studio albums [Inferno and Wall of Sound] are by far what I am the most proud of musically. But it just comes from trial and error, you know, I did a lot of things in Cacophony that I still like now and then there are a lot of things back then that if I listened to it now, I would probably do it very, very differently. A lot of it was kind of haphazardly put together with little regard to the best interpretation that I could possibly do. But, of course, when you are really young, you don’t know of all of the things that are available to you musically because you are yet to learn so much. There are a lot of weak points on those early records but the core musicality was there and it was a good piece of work to grow on and when I started to do solo records, it went into a new direction. In Megadeth, I got all kinds of great and new experiences to build on, new people that I worked with and after that, when I did more solo albums, I was also working with a lot of other great artists that I was learning from, backing up the experiences. It just kept growing and growing to now, where it is at the point where I think that I have finally figured out how to make music at least the way I like it, where I can look back on it years later and not regret a second of it. That takes a while, I think and some people are faster than others but it has taken me several years to get to the point where I can listen to a record three or four years later and still be happy with it.
The Wall of Sound album had different instrumentation such as cello, piano, bass and violin. Is that something you regularly enjoy exploring?
Absolutely, I want to use every possible sound that I can imagine a piece of music being done with so if I write a melody, usually I write on guitar and I might think a melody would be more suited for a piano, a violin, a Japanese koto or a cello or other instrument. So then I have to force myself to make another arrangement that is not your typical guitar, bass and drums arrangement. The more that you do that, the more you develop your own world of music. There is a lot that you can do with guitar, bass and drums but if you add other instruments to it, it just exponentially gets bigger and your [musical] palette becomes wider so you’re able to use your guitar solos in a much more expressive format when they mean more than just being all guitar, all the time. If you have other instruments that are in your musical world, your guitar solos will speak more, they will mean more when they come out and that is always a goal as a lead guitarist so I love working with other instruments.
Speaking of that, you’ve worked with a lot of guest musicians and you’ve also been a guest on other people’s albums, including Shout and Tourniquet. Is it more fun to be the guest on another album as opposed to being the album host for guest players?
Oh, it is more fun to work on someone else’s record. It is more work, for me, to work on my record. Yeah, I would not really put the word fun anywhere within the process of my making records. I am sure there are fun moments over the course of it but it is usually such a labour intensive project that I don’t consider it as much fun. But, when I am playing on other people’s projects, I have a blast because you get to be a part of someone else’s work for a while and you get to let them mould you into what they think you should be and I really, really like that. I don’t have to think nearly as much, I just have to do what they want and I absolutely love doing that.
Is that a similar mindset that you have when you are doing acting or going on television shows?
Yeah, and even more so because music is really what I do for life but with TV stuff, it is really like stepping out of my body or having an out of body experience because it just kind of happened all by mistake, really. I didn’t intend to do TV, I didn’t have any interest in it but I feel into it and had a couple of very lucky breaks in the TV world that kept me working in TV very strongly, even now and it started maybe fourteen years ago. It has just been the biggest thing for my career, ever and it still feels like it is not my real job when I am doing it. It feels like it is not me. It is but if I don’t have a guitar in my hand or if I am not working on music, it just seems like I am having fun just doing something completely different. That being said, TV is such an incredible amount of work and preparation, especially since it is in my second language, you know, I do all the television that I do is in Japanese. It is not my first language so I have to be really be prepared for whatever is going on the show that I am doing. I have to really do my homework and read the scripts, learn about the people that are on the show and learn the content of the show. I cannot really just wing it so much, sometimes I can but usually I have to do a really intense amount of preparation for anything. But even doing that is kind of fun because it is easier than making music, for me. I am very much a perfectionist so it takes me a long time to decide on certain parts and a lot of stress in getting things to sound the way that I want them to sound. But with TV, you just do some prep, do the show and then everybody is happy and it is fun so it is a great change of pace. That is kind of similar to playing on another person’s record.
Advances in equipment with Fractals and Kempers [digital amplifier profilers] are changing guitar rig touring in a good way. Is this something that you would have envisaged say ten years ago?
Yeah, I have always known that gear is going to evolve with technology and I think that it is really great that there is a lot of options for any situation. Things like Kempers are wonderful for something like television because they require no sound check, you know, when you are miking and amp and you’re in an unusual room that is not made for making music like on a television programme, you don’t have time to be placing mikes and getting balances and dealing with PA situations, often there is very little time to get sounds together on television programmes when you are playing music. But, with something like a Kemper, it sounds the same directly, no matter what room you are in so just plug it in and go. That has been a godsend for TV. I don’t record with those very much, I usually use real amps but I have recorded with them on occasion and they are very, very useful. All of the new technology has helped a lot of people in a lot unique situations in music and I think that is great.
You mentioned you’re most happy with your last two albums which are Inferno and Wall of Sound. Of those two, is there a favourite track?
Oh wow, that would be impossible to answer but I am just going to have to say, I think that I couldn’t even answer that. It is because I think that everything that winds up getting released by me is competing for that and I couldn’t even listen to my own music in that way. It is probably that I enjoy other people’s music more than I could choose something of mine that stands out. I know that is a crappy answer but I couldn’t give you an honest one.
I am guessing that applies similarly to your Megadeth era?
Yep, it is all good. Ha-ha. It is all good from every year in that everything that has wound up being completed and putting out has had my stamp of approval on it. Once you put it out, it is out and you’ve got to be happy with it. I’m critical of everything I’ve put out of course because everything that I have put out could probably have somehow been better but I do not have any regrets and I am really proud of the whole body of work so far. None of it is going to be nearly as good as what I do next and that has probably been my same answer since I was teenager so hopefully the next album will be even better than that.