This interview was originally published in 2010.
Marty Friedman made a mark as one of the foremost shredders of the ’80s when he first teamed up with guitarist Jason Becker in Cacophony. He went on to achieve even greater celebrity after joining Megadeth in late 1990, as the group’s third lead guitarist. During his ten years with Megadeth, Friedman recorded three discs with the group. Concurrently, he continued on with his solo work and also recorded three discs of his own. What characterizes Friedman’s solo work is the wide range of exotic, new-age influences and interesting textures that color his music – an extreme contrast from the full-on blistering assault he demonstrates when playing metal.
Guitar.com chatted with Friedman at his current home in Japan shortly after the release of his new disc, Music For Speeding [Favored Nations]. He filled us in on the details of the recording experience and told us about his new gig playing with popular Japanese artist Aikawa Nanase.
Friedman can currently be seen rocking on the Guitarevolution tour – a three-band guitar extravaganza a la G3, which also includes Chris Poland and his group Ohm, as well as the Alex Skolnick Trio. Tour dates are listed on Friedman’s website.
Guitar.com: Describe the songwriting process for the material on Music For Speeding.
Marty Friedman: The songs all started with a basic melody that I somehow just hear. As soon as I hear the melody, I either write it down on paper or try to record it so that I don’t forget it. Basically everything was based around a melody or a series of a few melodies that I wind up just embellishing and embellishing until they just become a whole song or a piece of music. If I don’t have a guitar handy and I hear a melody, then I just have to just make do with whatever I have. A lot of times I’d just hum into a tape recorder. The whole song “Lust For Life” was pretty much done without a guitar. I just kind of sang it into a little voice recorder. Then when I did have a chance to pick up a guitar, I learned it from that.
Guitar.com: Was there a particular guitar that you had used for writing?
Friedman: No, it was really just anything I could get my hands on. A lot of the times I was just humming into a tape recorder. If I don’t have a guitar handy and I hear a melody, then I just have to just make do with whatever I have. The whole song “Lust For Life” was pretty much done without a guitar. I just kind of sang it into one of those little voice recorders. Then when I did have a chance to pick up a guitar, I learned it from that.
Guitar.com: Did you have a variety of setups for the recording?
Friedman: Yes, a lot of different ones. I used a Roland GT-6 for a lot of the scratch tracks and then I wound up keeping some of the scratch tracks because the tones I tweaked from the GT-6 were sounding kind of fresh. The main amp I used was a Crate 300 watt model which is relatively new. I actually used the prototype and it was just the coolest thing that I ever recorded through. I had the thing on 1 and it was so loud that the sound was coming through the isolation booth and into the control room. I used it for most of the solos and clean parts. I didn’t expect it to have such a glassy clean sound out of a rocking amp, but it surprised me. I put it up against a bunch of other amps that I was comparing in the studio and I pretty much ended up using the Crate. It was great.
For effects, I used a lot of stompboxes by Electro-Harmonix like the Zipper. I have two Zippers and they’re great. I also used some Japanese prototype pedals and I used the Roland GT-6 a lot. I wished I’d had the Roland VG-88 at the time, but I didn’t. I’ve been using that now pretty solidly. Really, it was just anything I could get my hands on. I morphed and mutated a lot of the effects inside the computer as I recorded using plug-ins and some actual recording tricks to kind of make the sounds a little bit more interesting. I was shaping them by cutting them up, flipping them over backwards, and stretching them out. I was doing that kind of stuff rather than only using traditional stompboxes and effects. So I just played normally and then made it a little bit different inside the computer.
Guitar.com: Which guitars were used?
Friedman: I had a whole bunch of guitars in the studio like Gibsons, Jacksons, Ibanezes, and Fenders. At that time, I was basically just playing anything I could get my hands on to get the sound that I wanted on tape. On the record, there are lots of different flavors and lots of different guitars – maybe 30 or 40 different guitars.
Guitar.com: What is your main guitar these days?
Friedman: I figured that when the record was done and I started to do some activities other than recording detail, then I’d settle on one guitar and start endorsing that one guitar. I’d been with Jackson for a long time, but Jackson is great at one thing. Now I need something that’s a little more versatile. I had borrowed all these different guitars from Ibanez and they seemed to be pretty versatile for what I want to do from here on out. So I went that way. Right now I’m going through the guitars that they have and seeing which ones most fit me. Then we’ll probably tweak on that until I decide on something that is absolutely the perfect Marty guitar. I’ve just been borrowing a lot of different ones for different events and the hard part is choosing one that I really want to stick with. They all seem to be really good.
I’m not one of those guys who has a favorite guitar. A guitar is just a tool. I haven’t played one of my own guitars for six months or more. I’ve been borrowing guitars from Ibanez for sessions and all the live stuff I’ve been doing. I don’t really have any attachment to one guitar. I was never one of those guys who babied guitars or had a special guitar. I just want a good work tool that stays in tune and sounds good. It doesn’t really go beyond that at all, boringly enough! I wish I had a Lucille story.
Guitar.com: Do you prefer a tremolo or non-tremolo guitars?
Friedman: Non-tremolo. I never really use a tremolo for anything. Non-tremolo is pretty much what I’ve used forever and probably what I’ll continue to use.
Guitar.com: How was this recording experience different from those of your previous solo records?
Friedman: This time I engineered it myself, which was kind of insane, being that I’m not an engineer. I learned how to engineer, maybe demo quality, before I started making this record. As I started to get a little bit better at it, I got into making loops and sequences, sampling guitar, and doing cool stuff like that. So I thought that I would just record this record myself, engineer it, then get great people to mix it. I got some really great people to record a few days of lead guitar for me, where I could just concentrate on playing lead guitar parts, but I did all the other engineering myself. It took me four months to engineer it and it came out great, as far as I’m concerned. I’m really happy and I learned a ton about recording in the process. It was pretty much a learning experience, but it definitely was very satisfying.
Guitar.com: Describe your live rig. How is it different from the gear used on the recording?
Friedman: I’ve been using a Roland VG-88 for gigs. It’s a synth-based guitar rig. It’s wonderful because I don’t need any outboard effect. It’s all right there. It’s got the best presets of any modeler I’ve heard, by far. It’s got a nylon-string guitar that literally sounds like you’re playing a nylon-string. On an electric guitar, it sounds exactly right. If you tweak the presets, they get even better. It’s been a godsend for me, really, because I like having a lot of different sounds. So I use the VG-88 and the Crate 300-watt amp. It’s got great headroom for the way I play because I don’t really mute any notes. There’s no headroom in an amp if you have to turn it up to 6 or 7 to get any sustain out of it. With this amp, I get all the volume and sustain I need when I’m on 1 or 1-1/2 without pushing the limits of the amp at all. So I get very little unwanted feedback.
Guitar.com: Tell us about your current endeavors in Japan.
Friedman: I’ve been here since January and it’s totally awesome. I’m playing in a band with a singer called Aikawa Nanase. I just joined her band and she’s a massive artist here. The music is really hard-rock oriented, but the producer is really hip and modern, and does a lot of cool stuff that’s like what Garbage does, but maybe a little bit more dancey and with happier melodies. It’s definitely guitar rock – it’s very aggressive, fast hard rock and kind of modern pop with great melodies. I’m just so happy to be playing with an artist like that. I will also be recording three songs in Los Angeles with another Japanese artist called Sera Masanori.
I also just did a whole bunch of seminars for Musician’s Institute in Japan. That’s kind of what got me a visa to be in Japan. So they’re my official sponsor, allowing me to have a one-year visa in Japan.
Guitar.com: How does the music scene in Japan differ from the U.S.?
Friedman: As far as music goes, it just seems like there’s a bigger demand for more varied kinds of music here. There’s just more music – there’s more quantity of music and if there’s more quantity, then that kind of means that there’s more quality, because the standard is really high. People really buy a lot of music and listen to a lot of music here. What might surprise you is that domestic music in Japan outsells the international music by about 90 percent to 10 percent. When I’m talking about international, I mean U2, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Metallica, and those types of artists. All that takes up about 10 percent of what gets sold over here. The other 90 percent are all Japanese artists. It’s absolutely a massive scene here and it’s not unusual for a Japanese artist to sell a million copies. Like the Japanese artist I’ll be touring with, Aikawa Nanase, she’s sold 12 million records here in Japan.
There’s just a lot of music and the more you dig in, the more you learn. The music is completely different from American music. They borrow from American music to some extent, but the sense of creating a melody is, I think, very different from the way of creating melodies in America. Because people intend to sing these songs at home or in karaoke, the melodies have to be relatively easy to understand and really sink into your head after the first listen. They can’t be too ad libbed or improvised, or too wacky. I think it’s an art to create a melody that is really easy to pick up and understand right away. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.
Guitar.com: In what ways do your style and approach differ when you’re playing your own music and playing music with other artists as a hired musician?
Friedman: That’s a good question. I don’t think it differs that much. I’ve been lucky in that a lot of times when I’ve been asked to play something, I’m asked to play it my way rather than being told to do it exactly this way. I like so many different styles of music, but pretty much the only one that most people have heard is the heavy rock style. I really like ballads and pop, and stuff like that. If you heard my playing on that style of music, you may or may not recognize that it’s my playing at first. But if you listen closely, you just might.
Guitar.com: Some of your solo albums from the early to mid ’90s were quite different from the heavy rock you’re best recognized for.
Friedman: I released two really mellow records, and that’s kind of another side. There are probably a lot of surprises in my playing, but I think the melody sense is always consistent. It’s kind of exotic the way that I follow chords and it’s a little unorthodox in the way I construct melodies. It’s kind of my own way. No matter what genre of music I’m playing, I think that the melody sense is really what’s most important. Perhaps people will recognize my playing from the melodic style.
Guitar.com: Where do you see the greatest change in yourself as a musician?
Friedman: It’s probably easier to play now than maybe ever. If I have an idea in my mind, it just comes right out on guitar, whether it’s simple or difficult. I think there’s a lot less anxiety in playing and more just picking up the guitar and playing it without really even thinking. It seems to get easier the more I play.
Guitar.com: Which artists do you consider to be most influential to you now?
Friedman: Now I’m really into producers. There’s this great producer over here named Tsunku and there’s no other way to describe it other than to say that his music just sounds like an amusement park for the ears. It’s out of control. It’s just the sweetest candiest pop music you could ever imagine, but it’s so deep on a production level. There are just tons of intricate string arrangements and guitar arrangements, and unusual instrument couplings. It’s just really deep. If you look at everything that goes into the song, you would think that it would sound like a pile of s–t all stacked up together. But somehow he manages to make it not only audible and sounding good, but completely making sense in the way that it’s supporting the whole song. I can’t imagine how he envisions this whole thing. It’s almost like a Phil Spector approach, but way more modern. I just dig it in the biggest way.
Guitar.com: Has playing guitar just become second nature to you?
Friedman: Yes, it really has. I haven’t really been influenced by any kind of guitar playing since I started playing. When I started, I was way into rock guitar. Then I left that and kind of branched off and learned from other foreign instruments, and stuff like that. I developed a majority of my technique from listening to Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Persian instruments, and basically everything from around the world. So it’s kind of hard to trace where my style comes from. Once you become a professional musician, I think with any instrument, it’s really rare that another player is going to influence you all that much. I think I’m influenced more by melodies and phrases that I hear and little production things – little ear candies. But as far as a new style of playing, guitar is guitar, and it really hasn’t changed much.
Guitar.com: What was it that made you want to pick up the guitar in the first place?
Friedman: Seeing Kiss in concert. You’ve probably heard that a million times. I know a lot of guys like me are playing thanks to seeing Kiss at just the right age. You know, when you’re a teenager smoking your first joint and watching Kiss in concert, it’s truly a life-changing experience.