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19th December 2014
Best known in the West for his work in pioneering, neo-classical outfit Cacophony alongside Jason Becker, as well as a decade-long stint as guitarist in Megadeth, Marty Friedman opted to continue his perennially progressive and varied creative journey in Japan, where he's resided since 2003. And he's not only thrived within the context of his musical exploits and accomplishments over there, but has also forged a successful second career as a presenter on Japanese TV, racking up hundreds of shows to date. However, with the release of his latest album, 'Inferno', which is constituted by a series of unique, intriguing, and enthralling collaborations with other innovative artists, it's been widely hailed as his return to a more global market. Over in the UK just prior to Christmas 2014 to perform at a few shows with Norway's Shining, as opening act on the Kreator/Arch Enemy tour, Marty spoke to Metal Discovery about this ephemeral musical alliance, as well as his new album and career in Japan. And, even though the man's indubitably a musical maestro, it's interesting to learn he's not too fond at all of what he perceives as descriptively redundant terms such as "virtuoso" and "shredder"...
METAL DISCOVERY: Jørgen [Munkeby] from Shining played on your new album, on ‘Meat Hook’, but how did the idea come about to do these shows together?
(Marty Friedman on eschewing the "virtuoso" label)
"...those type of words get tossed around too much... if you like my music, fantastic. I don’t have to be a genius or a virtuoso or any of those things; you either like it or you don’t."
Marty Friedman - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2013 Takaaki Henmi
Interview by Mark Holmes
MARTY: That’s a good question. Ever since we did the song, we always talked about: “How could we do this live? Would there be a chance? It’d be great to do it live.” You know, just kinda like half joking but half like, “if we could do it, it’d be really rad”. So… I don’t even remember, it was so long ago! The opportunity just came up and I was supposed to do this tour and they added Shining, or they were supposed to do this tour and they added me… either way, we both heard it and, “this is the chance, let’s do it now”.
MD: Jørgen said you had no rehearsal time at all…
MARTY: No, we haven’t even rehearsed yet.
MD: That’s amazing.
MARTY: And this is our fourth show!
MD: It’s going well though, he said...
MARTY: Yeah.
MARTY: Yesterday was the best. It’s the type of thing where they do a lot of ad-libs and I love that, so I ad-lib too. And you have either magic or you have complete garbage! I don’t know what it is but we’ve been lucky so far, so we’re hoping for some good luck tonight.
MD: So people seeing the final show on the tour will get an amazing show!
MARTY: You never know, you know. I think yesterday was really magic so I think every day is good.
MD: So take each show as it comes.
MARTY: That’s right.
MD: There are quite a few interesting collaborations on ‘Inferno’, so did you set out right from the start to have so many guest musicians on the album?
MARTY: I wanted to do a really unique album and not just having guests on it but guests that write songs. Not just guest solos because everybody does that; I wanted the guests to have real commitment. And I wanted the guests… it’s kinda selfish but I wanted guests that really have openly admitted that they like my music and been influenced by me and stuff. I remember Michael Schenker asked me to join him on a project once and I remember how I felt because I was his fan, of course… I wanted to give three thousand per cent. So I wanted to get that reaction out of other people who are really good, and that was the concept.
MD: Interesting.
MARTY: Yeah.
MD: You’ve always been a progressive player in the sense of pushing boundaries through both technique and songwriting, although does it help you to challenge yourself when collaborating with other innovative musicians?
MARTY: I like to see what I like best about other musicians and suck that thing out, and leave off the things that I don’t like because, I mean, usually, you don’t like everything about everybody. There’s something about that person that you really love and want to get that and extract that. So that’s kinda how I work with anybody, not just on this album.
MD: And you’re good at getting the best out of people, do you think?
MARTY: Oh, these guys are fantastic, and guys that don’t mind being fucked with. And, like myself, if somebody’s working with me, I can take any kind of criticism. I mean, I can adapt and these guys were the same.
MD: You’re widely regarded as a virtuoso but do you think it’s a fallacy to regard players as having peaked as soon as they’re labelled as such? Your playing is obviously virtuosic, although if you’re still pushing the parameters, then you’re still developing, I guess.
MARTY: Well, not only that but I don’t like that term anyway because who buys an album of a virtuoso? I mean, “he’s a virtuoso, let me go and buy that record”… I’ve never heard that. And those type of words get tossed around too much anyway. I’m just like, if you like my music, fantastic. I don’t have to be a genius or a virtuoso or any of those things; you either like it or you don’t.
MD: So it's all about the emotions of the music, in essence…
MARTY: Yeah, the sound of the music - if you like it and it makes you feel good then that makes me so much happier. But record companies have to put something on the sticker, you know.
MD: There’s the wonderful flamenco/metal fusion on ‘Inferno’ with ‘Wicked Panacea’, alongside Rodrigo y Gabriela – your playing’s been a big influence on them in the past, but did you take anything from the experience of working with them?
MARTY: Yeah, well, like I said before, people who’ve openly admitted… they’ve come out of the closet and said that they’ve really been influenced by my playing, and what really appeals to me most is when people say they’re influenced by my playing but they sound totally different, and I hear their music but I don’t hear myself in there. So that makes me more impressed because they’ve been influenced by me and they’ve done something fantastic.
MD: The biggest surprise on the album, and the biggest lovely surprise, was the track ‘Horrors’, co-written with Jason Becker… kind of Cacophony revisited, and your first collaboration since Cacophony. Was that a very emotional experience to work creatively with Jason again?
MARTY: Yes, because the piece of music I got from his movie, ‘Not Dead Yet’. He was working on it in the movie and I asked him, “dude, are you using that thing for anything?”; he says, “no, not yet”; I’m like, “how about if you let me have it, I’ll write some stuff around it and arrange a whole new song.” He’s like, “yeah man, go for it, it’ll be cool.” I’m excited but then I realise I just set the bar pretty high for what people are gonna expect! So then I got kinda paranoid and really, really worked my ass off on it actually, and it came out good.
MD: Oh, it sounds awesome; a wonderful collaboration.
MARTY: Thanks.
MD: You recruited Ewan Dobson to play Jason’s acoustic parts, so what was it about his playing you felt was right to capture the Jason Becker vibe?
MARTY: You know, I found him completely out of the blue. He sent me a message on my website, which I read, maybe, one in a thousand of. For some reason, I clicked on his and there was a link, and he had a YouTube video with twelve million views, and I was like, “oh, I should listen to this guy.” He looked weird; he had a… do you know who he is?
MD: I’ve not checked out his own stuff yet, actually.
MARTY: Look him up on YouTube, he’s amazing. He plays guitar with one of those Vietnamese hats on his head or something. I don’t know what it is; it’s a strange image but it got me to look at his video. And then I looked and his acoustic playing was absolutely immaculate. I wrote back and was like, “dude, I’m about to work on this project and I was facing the daunting task of playing Jason and my parts on acoustic, which I don’t like… how’d you like to do it?” And he said, “I’d be honoured.” And he played it maybe ten times better than I could’ve ever played it, and he was more honest to Jason’s spirit of it. Like, I can’t copy things; I can do my own thing but I can’t do other people’s things, and I definitely can’t do Jason’s thing, so it would be a bad copy. But he was so skilled that he made the acoustic sound like it was Jason.
MD: Was he aware of Jason’s playing already?
MARTY: Yeah, he’s a big fan of Jason, and Jason knows him. I didn’t know that; it was absolute luck. And he was so great to work with because I had a lot of minute details that I needed changed, and he quickly fixed everything. He played so fantastically that when I listen to it, I forget it’s him; I think it’s Jason.
MD: Fantastic. You mentioned the ‘Not Dead Yet’ film which is very inspirational and humbling. Did you see that as a good representation of his character and tenacity?
MARTY: Yeah, it was great. It was a great movie. It could’ve been a train wreck; you know, with the topic. The director did a great job. It could’ve been done so many wrong ways but it was just perfect.
MD: I saw the trailer first, which seemed to play the sentimental card and actually made me cry. But what I like best about the movie is that there was minimal sentimentality in the film itself in terms of saying “look, sympathise with this guy, look at his predicament”. It was more about his tenacity and strength of character. I thought it was amazingly well done.
MARTY: I’m glad you think so because it’s a fine line between exploiting his situation or turning it into a very positive movie. I mean, nobody wants to be depressed; certainly Jason doesn’t want people to pity him, and I think they dealt with that perfectly in the movie. Of course it’s sad and it’s very touching but, overall, it’s a positive movie. You walk away feeling good about it and being a big Jason fan, so I think it’s great.
MD: And getting better…