by Ryan Meehan
At the end of the 20th Century, few guitar virtuosi were as respected and revered as Marty Friedman. After first rising to prominence alongside fellow six-string whiz Jason Becker in the influential band Cacophony and via his well-received solo debut “Dragon’s Kiss,” Friedman joined Megadeth, with whom he soon wrote and recorded the thrash landmark “Rust In Peace.” His 10-year tenure with the iconic group — during which they sold more than 10 million albums worldwide and earned multiple Grammy nominations — saw the band’s dream lineup reach its greatest heights, and Friedman’s unique sonic contributions became heavy metal DNA that to this day continues to inspire new generations of metal fans. On paper, it seemed as if Friedman was living the dream as a well-respected player in a multi-platinum act, but after a decade of cryptic, risky countdowns, the Washington, D.C.-native found himself anxious to explore new challenges. Soon after the release of 1999’s “Risk,” Friedman announced his departure from Megadeth and — at least to many American fans — vanished. A fanatical devotee of current Japanese music and pop culture, he rather suddenly moved to Tokyo, where continued to record and release albums that further solidified his guitar hero reputation overseas. Meanwhile, his absence from America seemed to aid the legend and influence of his previous catalog, which grew greater with each passing year. In Japan, Friedman became an enigma of sorts: Armed with a fluency in the Japanese language, he left a platinum-selling American band to start from nearly zero to pursue his longtime dream of making his mark on the Japanese domestic music world. That mission was accomplished far beyond his wildest expectations, as Friedman has performed at the largest venues in Asia, including three shows at the Tokyo Dome and five at Budokan. In addition, he played on and wrote several Japanese Top 10 hits, including a #1 single in 2011 and a #3 single in 2012. At the same time, Friedman also became a popular Japanese television personality who not only hosted several programs, but was even featured in several long-running national television ad campaigns. He estimates he has made well over 600 network TV appearances in Japan, including three televised sold-out solo performances with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2012, Prosthetic Records — a U.S.-based independent label that introduced the world to Lamb of God, Animals As Leaders and All That Remains, among others — approached Friedman about giving proper American releases to four of his Japanese studio albums and reissuing another that had become unavailable Stateside. Those conversations led to discussions about making a new record that would see Friedman remind the world outside of Japan of his phenomenal talents and why he’s considered the greatest lead guitarist in thrash metal history. That wasn’t enough for Friedman, though. “I wanted to create a new landmark to which my future music will be compared,” he says. “That idea of just going completely balls-out — knowing what the full potential of my music and my playing could possibly be, and actually making it a reality — was what drove me through the whole process.” The result is “Inferno,” Friedman’s first album of original material in four years and his first in more than a decade to be released worldwide simultaneously. Recorded in Los Angeles with engineer Chris Rakestraw (Children of Bodom, Danzig) and mixed and mastered by Jens Bogren (Opeth, Amon Amarth), the album features what Friedman recently told Guitar World is “the most intense writing and playing I can do,” with the goal of “go(ing) completely ape-shit, in the most ‘Marty’ way possible.” “I’m extremely proud of the work I’ve done with Cacophony and Megadeth, but I was never interested in looking back or stopping there,” Friedman says. “‘Inferno’ is the album that fans of my work with those two bands have always wanted me to make. I’ve finally made it, and completely on my own maniacal terms.” Notably, “Inferno” includes several collaborations with players influenced by Friedman, including Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom), Revocation guitar whiz David Davidson, the flamenco/metal acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela and acclaimed rocker Danko Jones. In addition, the album features Friedman’s first songwriting collaboration with Jason Becker since the pair played together in Cacophony. Ultimately, though, it’s arguably the most compelling chapter yet in Friedman’s improbable international journey — one for which he’s excited to have fans in all countries along for the ride. We are honored to have guitar legend Marty Friedman as our guest today in 10 questions.
RM: When you were growing up, who was the first guitar player whose technical chops really inspired you to take your playing in the musical direction that you eventually pursued?
MF: I never noticed “technical chops” so to speak. I was only interested in trying to figure out exactly why I liked what I liked, and how I could learn from that to be able to express myself in a way that would represent my “musical personality” faithfully. At the beginning it was Kiss and the Ramones.
RM: Most people came to be aware of your work in as the guitarist in Megadeth where you did some incredible guitar playing…Do you ever grow tired of people asking you about your time in that band; and when was the last time you saw Mustaine? I know that many different musicians seem to be on at odds with him because of many different incidents over the years…Would you consider yourself to be on good terms with Dave?
MF: Yes. To be honest I quite dislike being asked about past history so much, but at the same time, I`m proud that I did something that people still care a lot about so many years later. Weird, huh? I`m on good terms with Dave, actually there is no musician in my past that I would ever have a problem with working with again sometime. Considering all the people I`ve worked with, I`m very lucky in that regard.
RM: What’s the most enjoyable part of doing the “Full Shred” segment over at GuitarWorld.com? Is there anything you learned about yourself as a player while showing others a different way to look at the guitar as an instrument?
MF: I do the GW thing because I like the people there very much. My concept of making music is so “incorrect” that it goes against every common theory that most musicians are brought up with, so I don`t feel really confortable acting as a teacher and that my word is the gospel. One day however, I will create a video or book that will be the absolute bible of Marty-isms and things (for better or worse) that I`m the only one who can create and explain, if only to leave a record of how unorthodox my sense is and that it may seriously help people develop their own separate identities. You don`t need a Marty Friedman to explain things that you can already learn a million places elsewhere.
RM: How comfortable are you with the term “virtuoso” seeing as how that’s used to describe what you do quite a bit? Do you ever feel as if that term can be limiting in the sense that there are some people who use that classification to describe only guitar players that are shredders first and songwriters second?
MF: I hate the term. When was the last time you bought an album because someone was a virtuoso? I buy music because the music makes me feel good. Period.
RM: The list of collaborations on this record is one that is impressive to anyone who appreciates good music, and includes Revocation guitarist David Davidson as well as flamenco/metal acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. Did you start with a wish list as far as who you wanted to work with; and was there anybody that you really wanted to collaborate with but for whatever reason didn’t get the opportunity to do so?
MF: Actually I wound up with more guests than I could have hoped for. Their enthusiasm and abilities blew my mind completely and it was such a joy to create music with them. I loved every minute, and when it was finished, it was like, “I wanna keep going!!”.
RM: Back in the day, I remember you playing the old Jackson Kelly models a lot. Now it seems like every time I see you, you’re playing that single cutaway PRS…Which guitars that you own tend to get the most overall playing time; and how many different axes do you usually play during each performance?
MF: I have a PRS signature model now, so that gets the most play. Honestly I just play whichever guitar stays in tune the best. Wish I had a more interesting answer!
RM: What’s the most unfortunate place that you’ve ever broken a string? What gauge are you using these days?
MF: I can count on one hand how many strings I`ve broken in my life. And I hit really, really hard. Which is probably why they never break, ironically. I play 10-46. RM: You’ll be hitting the road with Kreator and Arch Enemy in December…What are you looking forward to most about doing those gigs; and what can fans expect to see from a Marty Friedman live show?
MF: I love both those bands, but what will be extra special on this tour is that I will be jamming with Shining, who I collaborated with on “Inferno”. They are one of my favorite new bands and we are going to do some really unorthodox stuff.
RM: Is there anything within the music industry that you haven’t gotten the chance to experience, but have it on your “bucket list” as something that you know you will eventually do? Compared to other musicians, is it harder for you to work on projects like that because you have so many things going on at the moment?
MF: I don`t really think like that, I just do what is in front of me, and goals and dreams seem to take care of themselves. If only I wasn`t too busy to enjoy them!
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
MF: More touring worldwide for Inferno. Being based in Japan it takes longer to reach all the corners of the world for me than a normal guy, but we will get everywhere eventually. Thanks very much for your interview.
Official Website: http://www.martyfriedman.com/
Marty on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/martyfriedman.official
Marty on Twitter: http://twitter.com/marty_friedman
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