Marty Friedman: “It got so good that it was really hard to kind of escape Japan and come out to do tours in other countries.”
After moving overseas and becoming what some media have called “Japan’s version of Ryan Seacrest”, longtime Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman is back in the U.S.A. via the Prosthetic Records release of his latest solo album, Inferno this past month. “Inferno” is one of the best guitar-based records I’ve heard in many moons and features impressive collaborations with artists like Danko Jones and Jason Becker among others. Marty has been supporting the album on a European tour (along with Ozzy/Firewind guitarist Gus G) and I recently had the chance to Skype him in Denmark to talk about the album and much more, read on….
LRI: Hi Marty, I haven’t talked to you since the beginning of the Clash of The Titans tour in 1991, are you doing well?
Marty Friedman: Oh my god, Wow (laughs). Yes, I am doing great actually, the European tour has gone fantastic and the audiences have made it a great trip. We’ve done enough shows that it feels like we are on fire at this point.
LRI: You definitely had notoriety in the guitar community prior to joining Megadeth but looking back on that Clash of the Titans tour with Slayer and Anthrax and all the real or manufactured drama, was that a bit of a pressure cooker situation for you?
Marty: No, not at all. I just played same as I did before and same as I did after that time. Nothing really changed for me, I just did what I do and still do to this day which is just play music. I enjoyed it back then and I enjoy it now so really there’s nothing different all these years later. Those external pressures are the same no matter what you’re doing but for me, when it comes to making music, all that other stuff kind of goes away and you just do what you’re there to do. I never really got too affected by any of that stuff and a lot of that is kind of put on you by the media looking for a story because at the end of the day we are all just a bunch of guys playing rock music (laughs). The record company and the media will try to make stories out of nothing just to make things interesting but at the end of the day I am really not doing anything different now than what I did when I was 16 years old and playing music, it’s really true, you just get up there and play your ass off and that’s that.
LRI: Your new album “Inferno” has been kicking my ass on my morning commute and the one thing I like about it aside from the songs is that it’s not strictly a normal instrumental guitar album. It has a lot of variety on it, was that important for you this time around since it has been some time since you’ve put out music domestically?
Marty: Not necessarily variety, I just wanted to make sure it kept you interested the whole time. There are a lot of instrumentals on the record and I find that it’s very, very challenging to make instrumental music that holds your interest; that’s something that I have to say I am pretty good at but even still I wanted to have some slamming vocal songs and vocalists with real personalities on there just to like give you a lot of different colors. For me it was less about variety and more about trying to create an album to hold your interest. I just look at the album as one big, aggressive, grotesque piece of work.
LRI: It’s definitely a click play and let it flow kind of album, a long player…
Marty: Right, it’s not really a focus track, one song kind of album, of course each song has its own separate thing but I really wanted to approach it as one big journey from start to finish, basically an orgy of guitars.
LRI: One of the songs featuring Danko Jones on vocals, “I Can’t Relax” is good fun and perfect for Danko. How did that track come together?
Marty: We’ve been friends for quite a while and both admirers of each other’s work and we’ve always talked about doing something so when this album came up it was like a no-brainer to ask him to come up with something. He came up with something in like 30 minutes after I asked him (laughs). I said “I’m doing this thing and I wanna do some collaborations, why don’t you write a song?” and Danko said, “I’ll be right back.” Then he comes back in about 30 minutes with this song idea and I came back in another 30 minutes with a demo of that song idea so it really started off very quickly but then we took months and months of editing it to make it really cool.
LRI: I’m also a huge fan of Jason Becker as a talent and as a person. The song you and Jason Becker worked on “Horrors” is probably the most interesting track on the record to me and it has a lot of the heart and soul or magic that you and Jason always had together. How did you work with guitarist Ewan Dobson to have him basically become Jason’s hands?
Marty: Thanks. Ewan is a guy who is an acoustic guitar player and he’s really, really good and I thought of him because there is some acoustic stuff that Jason and I wrote for the song but the majority of the song is the electric stuff that I play. I probably could have played the acoustic stuff but I am not nearly as good as Ewan at that sort of thing. It would have taken me five times as long to get the same result and even then the problem would have been that whenever I play guitar it always ends up sounding like me, even when I make an effort and try not to. It’s just a habit, whereas Ewan knew exactly how I wanted it to be Jason’s spirit, Jason’s touch on the record so he was much more versed in the acoustic guitar than I am and he did such a good job that it just sounds like Jason and I playing. I actually had him play my acoustic parts as well, not just Jason’s. When there’s that little acoustic duet in that part of the song it really sounds like the two of us playing those parts we wrote.
LRI: Jason just inspires people.
Marty: Oh yeah. He totally inspires me every single day. Whenever I work on something that I think is cool, I always plan on sending it to him and I never wanna let him down I always want him to be impressed. He’s the judge, I’m always thinking “Is Jason gonna think this is good?”. So when it came time to work on our song together it was all on my lap, I had to arrange it, co-write it, produce it in addition to play the guitars and all that stuff but what I really wanted was for Jason to hear it and go “Wow, I’m really glad I did this”. That was a really high criteria but I sent it to him the day it was mixed and he just loved it so I felt very, very relieved.
LRI: Do some of these guest appearances change things or make it more difficult in terms of presenting “Inferno” live?
Marty: What I do plan to do is to involve those guests whenever we happen to be playing where they’re at so that will be a fun thing to look forward to in certain cities but there is again, a lot of instrumental stuff in the show too. I am actually playing four songs now on tour from the “Inferno” album for these shows we’ve done in Europe and thanks to the internet a lot of people know these songs already. So that’s a good thing and also just the aggressive sound of this album is really fun to play live in front of people. When you’re recording a record you don’t know how it’s really gonna feel like to play it live and we’ve been doing it for a while now and getting in a groove and it’s just a blast.
LRI: You always hear stories of bands going to Japan and being “big in Japan” like Cheap Trick or many others but you never hear of someone going to Japan and having so much success they just stay there! Other than the business or musical end of things was there something about the culture in Japan that just made you at home?
Marty: It was not so much about the business and 100% about the music. I came to a point where I was listening to Japanese music ALL the time and I completely stopped listening to and following Western music, American music. I just got so deeply into the current Japanese music scene and found there was just so much to enjoy and so much that I wanted to contribute to that it felt like being in Japan was really the ONLY thing for me to do. The only thing I wanted to do was make music in Japan. Things took off from there and went far beyond my wildest expectations, it got so good that it was really hard to kind of escape Japan and come out to do tours in other countries. So, I really had to kind of force my way back into it and do little short tours like what we’ve done in Europe, this was my fourth European tour since moving to Japan but they are all like four or five week tours because I can’t really stay away too long from Japan. To be honest though, it wasn’t the culture or the business but 100% the music that got me there.
LRI: I’ve seen interviews with you in the past where it sort of came off that you grew tired of heavy metal or tired of shred but the new album, “Inferno” is absolutely a blast of metal and guitar shred fans will absolutely dig it. Were some of those quotes or comments you made in the past sort of misunderstood or out of context?
Marty: Probably, yeah. I mean, I’m not one of those guys who is like “Metal or Die!” and I’m not one of those true, Metal-devoted, raise the flag of metal guys. I am not that guy, AT ALL. That being said, when metal gets really cool and interesting or unique and groundbreaking then I am absolutely in LOVE with it. Also, I love the sound of metal so I guess that’s really what I should say. I am in love with the sound of metal but a lot of the trappings of metal really turn me off for example the lyrics from the bands that are just about Satan, skulls, war and religion and burning churches and shit like that, all of those cliche metal-associated things are really cool but just so boring to me (laughs). There’s not a whole lot of lyrical stuff in the metal genre that I really like or relate to, there’s not a lot there that gets me interested so I tend to find myself really liking death metal and stuff like that but only the parts when they’re not singing.
LRI: Ha, I feel the same way, some of the music is incredible until Cookie Monster starts singing!
Marty: I really love the metal sound and rhythm and drums and all that but those lyrics and the Satan stuff is just not scary anymore. It’s 2014, I’m not scared, I’m just bored. The music is amazing though and the sound of metal is something I’ve brought into everything I’ve done. I’ve done a lot of stuff in Japan that would definitely be considered “POP” but if you listen to the guitar, there is no question that it is full-on metal. What I’m trying to say is that I think metal can be mind-blowing if it’s done in an interesting interpretation like some of the artists I’ve collaborated with on “Inferno”. There is a band called Shining who appear on the track “Meathook” and Shining are just completely modern and unique and it’s cool. I get excited about metal when it is fresh and different and “Inferno” is definitely a metal album, there’s really no other way to look at it.
LRI: Thanks for doing this Marty, are you looking to book U.S. dates soon?
Marty: We are actively working on that and should have some more information out there soon about U.S. tour dates. We are looking at a whole lot of different options, different tours or even events or special promotional things around “Inferno”. There should be an official announcement soon and you will know much more.
For ALL things Marty Friedman please visit www.martyfriedman.com