Marty Friedman: Lucky Number 13
The guitar virtuoso on his latest solo record ‘Wall of Sound’, being a cultural ambassador for Japan and his “X-rated” biography
You know that lead guitarist attitude when they hear a solo and are immediately judging it and sneaking in a humblebrag about how they can do it better? Turns out it’s not entirely a bad thing. That’s a close description to how 54-year-old guitarist Marty Friedman worked on songs for his 13th solo album Wall of Sound, due August 4th.
Still known for his work on some of the most seminal albums by thrash veterans Megadeth in the Nineties, Friedman turns to instrumental prog, shredding and string-bending his way through a fairly balanced mix of incendiary and epic in 11 tracks. Over the phone from Tokyo, Friedman says he spent over 16 to 18 months working on “hundreds of demos,” a process that he followed with his previous album Inferno as well.
He describes the process as being “very mean to myself, as though I was criticizing someone else’s playing all the time.” He adds, “Like, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t do it that way’. Typical guitar players, you know? Every time they hear another guitar player, they subliminally criticize it. I listen to myself that way and I subliminally criticized everything to the point where I was just throwing away 90 percent of what I was writing. It worked out good for me.”
Ahead of the release of Wall of Sound and his month-long U.S. tour, Friedman talks about anxieties as a musician, collaborations and what still amazes him about Japan. Excerpts:
When you released your first single “Whiteworm,” you mentioned in interviews how you were aiming for that memorable, epic rock intro. What kind of direction are you going in with Wall of Sound?
I like doing things that don’t immediately sound like me or what people expect me to sound like. By the time the song is finished, it’s going to wind up sounding like me anyway, so… As many times as I can do things that surprise me is all the better. If I can get an intro to the song that doesn’t sound like me very much, then, I’m really excited. That’s what “Whiteworm” does – kinda builds into something that is completely “Marty,” for lack of a better explanation. It’s kind of a deep exploration of music, I think, direction-wise.
For this album, you recorded guitars in nine days, so I’m guessing there are very few insecurities you have as a musician right now?
Definitely no anxieties, because I’d worked on the songs for like 16 or 18 months before I went to record them for real. Anything that was likely to have turned into an anxiety was already thrown away months before. I had literally hundreds of demo versions of the songs and just throwing out everything I wasn’t in love with and just re-editing, replaying and reworking the demos – it’s almost like a band that was about to do their debut record. I think that’s why I got the guitar tracks done so quickly, because I’d already played everything so much in the demo stage that it was more like performing the songs live rather than trying to record them in a sterile studio environment.
You’ve got a wide variety of guests, from Black Veil Brides to Deafheaven to Shining. It clearly shows that you’ve got a very wide taste within metal itself.
Definitely never really thought about it that way, but if you describe it that way that sounds good to me (laughs). I’m just trying to play out the best material that gets me excited. If it turns out to be a bit diverse, that’s fine. The guest collaborations really started with inferno. I’ve always had cool guests in the past. But when I did Inferno, I took the guest things to the next level, by really collaborating with them. I didn’t have them just come in and play a solo or sing a vocal – I had them write the song with me. On Inferno, I had Keshav [Dhar, guitarist] from [prog band] Skyharbor. The way we worked together was fantastic. It doesn’t sound like me and it doesn’t sound like him. It sounds like me and him. You really feel the collaboration and to me, that’s much more interesting as a listener.
Because you get the impression of ‘What would it be like if Keshav was in my band?’ and ‘What would it be like if I was in Skyharbor?’ So the same thing went with Children of Bodom and Shining. The only difference on the new album is what I played with Jinxx from Black Veil Brides – doesn’t really sound like Black Veil Brides at all. It sounds like the type of music that’s in Jinxx’s head but none of Black Veil Brides have heard that yet. So it was a really good opportunity to get a brand new mixture into a song. I was very excited with that.
Are you still in touch with Keshav and checking out music from India?
Absolutely, still good friends with Keshav! The drummer who played on Wall of Sound is Anup Sastry and he did a bunch of Skyharbor stuff as well. He’s doing some of my American tour dates as well. He’s extremely bright and an influential drummer. I think a lot of people are going to hear more from him just like they will of Keshav too. I mean, these guys are writing history right now and I want them to be a part of my music.
Who have you got in the band with you for the upcoming shows in the U.S.?
I have a touring band, and we did the entire Inferno tour – it’s myself, a bassist named Kiyoshi Manii, a drummer named Chargee and I have two different guitarists – Jordan Ziff, who does my American stuff and Takayoshi Ohmura, who does my Japan and European stuff and he’s also the guitarist in (Japanese metal idol band) Babymetal.
What are some things you always do when you’re back in the States?
I try to see as many of my friends as I possibly can, because they don’t always get to come to Tokyo and I try to eat some of the junk food that they don’t have here in Japan – breakfast cereal is great in America and it sucks in Japan. So I try to do that, but usually we’re just so busy playing and going from one city to the next, it’s not really a whole lot of time other than that. I love playing anywhere, though, so it’s all about playing.
You’ve always been chosen as an ambassador to represent Japan ahead of their Olympics (in 2020). How did that come about?
Well, it’s not directly for the Olympics, but I’ll be promoting things about Japan from now up until the Olympics. The Japanese ministry of Cultural Affairs of the government contacted my management and they told him what they wanted me to do and then my manager called me and explained it to me. I said, ‘I’m not really sure what this all is, but it sounds like a big deal’. He goes, ‘Trust me, it’s a big deal’. He never says anything is a big deal, so I got kind of nervous and I had to go speak in front of the government, in front of the whole country at a big press conference and I was nervous as shit (laughs). I can’t go cracking jokes and being my own normal self when you’re talking in that kind of capacity, but it’s been fantastic.
It sounds like it’ll be a great additions to your autobiography and documentary – how are those coming along?
Yeah, it’s a long work in process. Sometimes those things can take a couple of years. The biography is done, it’s just being edited right now and the documentary is still in progress. They’ve done footage outside of Japan but they haven’t come to do anything in Japan yet, so they’re gonna find the right time to come here and finish a bunch of what’s going on. I would say there’s probably another year and a half for both those things to come out.
In an interview, you mentioned that the book would have plenty of “sordid escapades”.
What kind of escapades?
Pretty sordid escapades.
Ah, sordid escapades. Yeah well, that’s in the book for sure. If there’s nothing that’s a little bit nasty, I don’t even want to read a book about… you know (laughs), guitar techniques, you know? I want to read some… true life stories, you know? I made sure that the book is full of that.
Actually, when the editor got my first manuscript of the book, he said, ‘This book is too X-rated. We can’t print most of this stuff’. So we toned it down a little bit, but it’s going to be a lot of things that a lot of people don’t know about me, because I’m a relatively private person and I’ve never really talked about my home life or family life ever in the press. There’s a whole lot of stuff to fill in the book and hopefully, people are interested in it.
You’ve been living in Japan for so many years now. What’s the one thing that still amazes you about the country?
It always amazes me how safe it is in Japan. Absolutely never, for one second, it feels like I’m in danger or I shouldn’t go in this strange place or something is odd here. I always feel completely… not relaxed, but I feel safe. I left my wallet in a store a while ago and then I came back the next day and they were holding it for me (laughs). And it’s not because they know who I am from TV or anything. That’s just what people do here. The safety is always something I’m very happy about. I think the beauty of the culture – because the culture is so old – it’s evolved for so many years and there’s just not enough time in your lifetime to see all of the beautiful things and the culture–very much like Indian culture as well, because there are things rooted in so many years in the past that are still influencing today’s life. I think that’s a pretty similar thing to India, if I’m not mistaken.
What’s coming up for you after the American tour?
I’ll come back and do some TV things and then possibly do a second US leg and we’re going to try and play in other countries – Europe… I’ve never been to India. If this is a chance to shout out to some Indian promoters, I’m all ears. I’ve never been there and it’s a fascinating country, so I would love to put that on the list.
This interview appears in the August 2017 issue of Rolling Stone India. Marty Friedman’s Wall of Sound is out today. Listen below.