Marty Friedman. This highly respected guitarist spent the 1980’s playing alongside fellow guitarist Jason Becker in Cacophony and also releasing the first of his many solo albums before becoming a member of Megadeth. Friedman was with the multi-platinum selling thrash icons during perhaps their most successful period, releasing Rust in Peace, Countdown to Extinction, Youthanasia, Cryptic Writings, and Risk during his ten year period with the band. While it might appear that he was on the top of the world, Friedman was itching to explore new things musically, and following the release of Risk, he announced that he was leaving the band and soon thereafter seemed to disappear.
Of course, he didn’t disappear and we now know that he has spent the last decade living in Japan, continuing to release albums that were difficult, if not impossible, to find in the United States- until recently that is.
Before a show in Essen, Germany, Friedman took some time so speak with Screamer about his life in Japan, his new album Inferno (release date May 27,2014), and more.
But of course, first things first, what kind of product does he use to maintain those perfect ringlet curls? With a laugh, Friedman responds, “Thats great. Actually, it’s a funny thing. I used to never really care about hair products. My person that does my hair in Japan suggested I try this stuff called Wen…. I would never have in a million years tried anything off an infomercial, but I tried it and it’s the best thing ever. It’s stupid, when I talk about it, it sounds like I’m on the infomercial. But it really works and it’s just so good for your hair! Your hair comes out so much better than it did without it, and it freaked me out how good this stuff is….. It’s changed my whole idea on infomercials because who knows what else we’re missing?”
Perhaps not everyone is interested in hair care products, so on to the music. In 2012, Friedman was approached by Prosthetic Records in regards to releasing some of his Japanese solo albums in America. But how did that lead to an all new original album, Friedman’s first to be released worldwide in over ten years? According to him, it was all in the record label’s master plan: “The idea was to do this album, Inferno, but before that there was a lot of room for albums that I’d done in the last 5, 6 years that were only released in Japan and reissued in Europe and hadn’t even come out in America. So we thought, let those reissues come out and make it all lead up to Inferno so by the time Inferno comes out, the people who were trying to find my stuff that was only released in other countries, they’d be able to find it in America. And just kind of get me back into the conscious of America and then hit them with an all original album. And that just really made me feel good that they were that enthusiastic about it to come up with such a big plan like that and really made me want to deliver the goods on it.”
Inferno features collaborations with many artists, such as Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom, David Davidson (Revocation), and Rodrigo y Gabriela, a flamenco/metal acoustic duo, among others. There is an interesting story regarding how these artists came to be a part of the album,according to Friedman. “Actually, before I started, the people at Prosthetic put together this list of all these musicians and artists who said nice things about me in the press. Because I’ve been in Japan for ten years and I’ve been completely in the dark about what people are saying in press outside of Japan,” he said. “They showed me this list and these people said such nice things, so I started to research them and they are just fantastic artists and I really wanted to collaborate with a lot of these people. Their enthusiasm with what they said about me in their interviews and stuff, it made me really want to get that enthusiasm on tape and really kind of sparked me to come up with some cool stuff, too, so it was a great idea on the record companies’ part.”
One of the most notable collaborations on the album is a songwriting collaboration with Jason Becker, Friedman’s former Cacophony bandmate. Says Friedman, “Well, there’s a scene in the movie where he’s working on a piece of music and it was a really cool little melody and I asked him, ‘Are you using that melody for anything?’ He said ‘no’, and I said ‘Well, how about if I use that and kind of write a song along with that, write around that?’ and he said ‘Yeah and how about some other ideas?” So I had him send me a bunch of ideas and I added my own ideas and basically arranged a whole new song out of both of our ideas. Very much like the way we used to record back in Cacophony. I was the arranger and producer back then as well, so it was very similar to what we used to do.”
Though, of course, it is not quite the same as it used to be. Becker has been living with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) for many years now and has lost the ability to play or speak, at least in the conventional way. He now communicates via an eye movement communication system devised by his father and continues to compose music via computer. His story is documented in the film that Friedman referenced, Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet. The resulting song on the album is Horrors. “You know, it’s got a lot of emotions from me because of everything that’s happened to Jason and despite all that, we’re still coming up with something together. And I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever come up with together,” shared Friedman. “Probably because we both really have grown so much since we used to play together. And you know, usually people in his situation don’t grow as a musician as all. He’s just one of the best composers ever, despite the hardest circumstances, so there’s a lot of extra emotion attached to that song.”
Since moving to Japan, Friedman says that he has had free rein from record companies to do what he wants, without restriction. And in that country, he is known as much more than a musician, having done hundreds of television shows, commercials, movies, and radio. Friedman says that he had no intention of becoming a Japanese TV star. He was approached to do a TV show, which, when translated means Mr. Heavy Metal: “The company asked me to do it because what they wanted me to do was something that only I could do. Because I’m fluent in Japanese and I’m very, very familiar with a lot of Japanese traditional music as well as current music and so there was so much stuff in the show that I would have to do that only I could do. So I gave it a try and the thing became a hit right away. That kind of got me started but I didn’t really intend to do that because I kind of thought it was goofy at first–and sometimes it really is actually pretty goofy–but I enjoy it so much that I kind of forgive myself for doing what I might have thought was lame before. It’s weird.”
Clearly, Friedman is a major influence on many musicians today, but who were his influences as he developed his own sound? “Basically when I started playing, I was all about The Ramones and KISS and things like that. I was really into punk rock and anything with a lot of energy so I would say the biggest influences were Ramones, KISS, and then Black Sabbath, things like that. And then once I started to become a musician myself, I started being influenced by really weird things like foreign folk music and Persian violin music and Chinese traditional opera music and just weird things like that, found its way into my energetic, punk, heavy metal sound so that’s kind of where I came from.”
As the interview began to wind down, Friedman offered some helpful advice to up and coming musicians: “Just play live as much as you can. You know, if people see you in person, it’s still very valuable. Of course, it’s very valuable to be seen on the internet as well. But rather than being a musician who’s really good at social media and things like that, I would say try to be a better musician and try to make some of your fans be the people who are good at social media. Let them spread the word for you, because being an almighty, do it all type of person, you’re going to spread yourself too thin. So get out there and play live as much as can, and your fans, you’ll be surprised at how much they can help you.”
Friedman is excited to continue touring in Europe and he will be bringing the show to the United States as well. He says, “ We’re just blowing up the place every night. I’m just enjoying it so much. It makes me want to tour a lot more.”
In his vast catalog of work, what is the one release that Friedman is the most proud of?
“With this new album, there’s really nothing that’s even close to how I feel about this record because it’s the record that I’ve had the most emotional investment in, the most time in, the most effort, the most energy and absolutely no compromises on this record. So I feel like this is a landmark in my career, for better or for worse. You know, I love it and I hope people like it.”
Don’t worry Marty, we’re sure they will.