Marty Friedman: 'Nobody Is More Of A Perfectionist Than I Am'

artist: marty friedman date: 01/16/2009 category: interviews
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Marty Friedman: 'Nobody Is More Of A Perfectionist Than I Am'
When Marty Friedman first moved to Japanese shores many years ago, he was viewed as a gaijin, an outside person. Since that time, he has become a virtual hero in the Land of the Rising Sun, not only recognized as a virtuoso in the pursuit of his own solo projects, but also a best-selling author, columnist, TV host, and composer of theme music for film and television. Additionally, he is part of an indigenous Japanese rock band called Lovefixer that is receiving a huge response from fans and media. "It's really an amazing thing that's happened: the main reason I came to Japan was because I wanted to do J-Pop and Japanese music. Just from being so involved in it, I became knowledgeable and I got opportunities to write a best-selling book and be in the top magazine dealing with that and work with all the artists and record and produce and play live with my own music." Still, the ex-Megadeth player's main pursuit remains the writing, playing, and recording of his own music. To that end, he recently released Live In Europe, a CD made up of various dates captured in and around Europe. The material was culled from his various solo albums including Scenes, Music For Speeding, and Loudspeaker. The playing runs from serene to savage on tracks such as "Tibet" and "Ripped" respectively. There are few players existing on the same instrumental plain as Friedman. His technique is flawless and yet fascinating and when he closes the conversation with a comment like "I'm not really a big fan of astonishing guitar players," you think he's just blowing smoke. But if you read everything here that prefaced that statement, you'll understand exactly what he means - and that will astonish you. UG: Did the Megadeth experience transform you into the player you are today? Would you have been the Marty Friedman captured on the Live in Europe CD had you never been part of Megadeth? Would you have wanted to bypass the Megadeth period? Marty Friedman: I wouldn't have wanted to bypass any of the Megadeth stuff; it was wonderful. I think what I got mostly from Megadeth was before Megadeth, it's really all about just playing and keeping on top of your playing and make sure your playing was innovative and cool and all that. And to some extent Megadeth was like that as well but in Megadeth there was so much more people-quality type of thing. The music was important but it was also much more important to be able to, like they say in kindergarten, plays well with others. A lot of people qualities; a lot of learning about how to deal with people; deal with situations; deal with people from different cultures; and every possible situation completely unrelated to music happened in Megadeth. So it was such a great life rewarding experience that it can only help to grow as a musician from that. I strongly believe that people who practice their instrument a lot and study music may become good at it but they'll have a narrow, umm I'm thinking in Japanese; it's so long since I spoke any English like this. A narrow palette of phrases and things to emote to other people. They'll be able to play a symphony or whatever but when it comes to taking music from their soul and bringing it from themselves to people listening, it really is quite narrow. Having a lot of people experiences and a lot of rich experiences outside of music has influenced my actual guitar playing so much more. And I think I got that from meeting so many different people from so many different countries with Megadeth and within Megadeth there were so many personal dynamics. And that is really where you grow as a musician. Of course it helps to play every single night. As long as you continue playing then the outside experiences will help your chops; if you stop playing, it doesn't matter how many outside experiences you have, you're not really gonna improve very much. Dave Mustaine is a very talented guitar player but he's probably not the easiest person to play alongside. Yeah, well, you know, in some ways, I'm the same way when it comes to my music. That's what I kind of liked about him; there was no us when it comes to making music; there was no compromises and I'm the same way. So we got along just great. As far as music is concerned, nobody is more of a perfectionist than I am so I like being around people like that. When you were with Megadeth, you actually played in Tel Aviv with Megadeth and as part of the Live in Europe CD, you performed in Israel? And you are Jewish, right? Yeah, I am. Yeah, I played in Israel and I played Hatikvah, the national anthem; I played it with Megadeth and I played it this time. It's on You Tube; my family said they saw it. And I'm telling you, man, it was like goosebumps for days even just playing it. 'Cause it's weird, the audience looks like any other country; it's a bunch of metal dudes but if you meet them, their name is like Irving Goldstein and they've got these full-on Jewish names but they look like these full-on metalheads. And they are. And every single one of them is Jewish; it's just the weirdest and coolest thing. Hatikvah is not on the Live in Europe CD; were any of the tracks on the CD recorded in Israel? Actually we recorded all of the entire tour and we basically took the best parts of each gig; each gig might have had a better version of whatever song. I don't think anything was really used from the Israel show; it might have been. We had so many tracks and just weeding through 'em taking bits from here and there, so it was Live in Europe and not Live in Paris or whatever. The Israel show did have some of the best crowd responses of the entire tour that's for sure; it was wonderful.
"I'm completely confident that I can improvise decently over anything even without ever hearing it."
Paul McCartney played in Israel and the backlash from his performance there was unbelievably bad. A bunch of journalists knocked him for performing there; they look at Israel as this monster and the Palestinians and these other Arabs as victims. Oh, you're kidding? Anyway, let's move onto the CD. You probably have never listened to the entire CD top-to-bottom. I did when we were mastering. What did you think or how did you feel when you heard this? These are astonishingly complex songs all played flawlessly by a guitarist with an extremely diverse and developed technique. Is that what you heard? Is there any kind of visceral feeling that you've achieved this kind of level of playing as an instrumentalist? Well, your enthusiasm is definitely very, very flattering and I think I feel the same way whenever I'm talking to a musician that I respect. And the only answer really is, you can never really be 100 per cent satisfied with somethin' and that's pretty much what keeps you going and proving day after day and year after year. If it gets by the OK meter in my book, I can let it go; but if it gets by the OK meter, then that means it's pretty damn good. And I'm happy enough with the performances to let it out and that should mean a lot. But when I listen to it it really brings back the non-musical memories more than anything. It brings back traveling with the guys and the fans and we did a lot of meet-and-greets and meeting a lot of enthusiastic fans; I mean I don't do a whole lot of touring with my solo stuff especially outside of Japan. And getting to play that stuff live was a thrill for me, too, you know. On the other side of what I've presented, is there ever a feeling of, Oh, I messed up that note? Yeah, there's definitely that. Can you point out a specific mistake? I think everyone would love to hear from you what you think is an actual life-sized mistake. Let me think about it; I'm sure I can come up with it. Well, tell me a song that you think particularly sticks out. I can't hear a mistake. And as bad as this sounds, it's not that I'm listening for mistakes but I am following the playing pretty closely. And waiting for that moment where it's, Well, he didn't quite pull that off. I don't know why I do that. I think a lot of musicians do that by nature; I try not to do that because I naturally do that when I'm working on stuff. But after it gets by the OK meter, I pretty much let it go. The solo in Stigmata Addiction is remarkable; there's some whammy bar and some subtle wah and (Laughter) There's no whammy and there's no wah in any of that. I don't have a whammy bar and I don't have a wah pedal. Oh, man, what an idiot I am. That tells you how closely I listen. I'm sorry. That's just all your regular vibrato? Yeah; it's pretty much all in my fingers. But I will say, though, I was happy with the performances of that song particularly in many of the countries and it was hard to choose the one that I wanted to put out because I was really happy with it. And actually happy with the solo playing more even than the solo playing on the studio version which is extremely rare for me. At least I was able to pick that much out in the track! What about Ripped? That is a very cool track. The thing about Ripped was, if I could say anything that might be negative about it, that song has a lot of programming on the studio version. And live we didn't use any of the programming, we just played it out live and that's pretty cool. But I kinda did miss the programming and I kinda started to feel that we need more than two guitars to play what I wanted to get played on it. But other than that the performance is fine. I don't really have any problems with the playing on it. Tibet is a little bit on the other side of what you do. It's a funny thing because I went out there wanting to play a whole concert of all just jamming, fast, heavy rock songs. But then a lot of people who listen to my solo stuff really like the Scenes album more than anything else and that album is like all quiet stuff so I had to do something that represented that. And it turned out to be a good kind of breather in the middle of the set. That one, yeah, is a clean melody but I improvise it so it's a little bit different every day. The melody is what it is but I improvise it; you can hear a little improvising and that connects into Angel which is a lot of improvising. Actually, there's a ton of improvising on the whole record come to think of it. Tibet and Angel are pretty old; that came out around '92 or '3 and I didn't play it on the 2003 solo tour but I really haven't had a whole lot of experience playing all the songs anyway. So they're still kind of fresh; I haven't been playing that stuff forever. Where does that guitar tone come from? It's all from the fingers. Not to make it sound like I'm bragging or anything, I could really give a shit about dialing up tone. To be honest with you, on this European tour, we didn't really spend as much time as you would normally think about making a live record. We recorded everything as it was and I just started a relationship with Engl amps which were great. At the same time, with no real amount of time with a tech; I had a special tech for that whole tour and it wasn't my Japanese tech who I have here the whole time. So, he was new to me and it was new equipment so we were just like, Plug it in, it sounds good; let's go. Whatever I play through, it's pretty much gonna sound pretty similar because my playing is unorthodox. And if my tone is halfway decent, it will come out good; if my tone is great, I'm just excited. I thought the tone was good! The tone was unreal. Going back to our 1992 interview, you said, I'm not one of those guys, who, if I lost my guitar, it would be the end of the world. Hah hah hah, that's a riot' nothing changes. Is that song a little bit of a nod to Hendrix? Not at all; I'm really so unfamiliar with Hendrix. No, I'm just not one of those guys who gives a shit about the instrument. It's a terrible thing to say but I'm more into the music that I can make come out of it and it's pretty much like a brush for an artist, so to speak. Run out of bristles on it, you get a new brush.
"I'm just not one of those guys who gives a shit about the instrument."
In Street Demon there are a couple of sections that break down to just guitar. Oh, yeah, yeah, that was fun. Anything that was different from the original versions of the records, I liked because if it's exactly the same, there's really no reason to buy it. But then again, my solo stuff is so worked out and it's so planned and it has to be a certain way; so when I play it live, there's not really a whole lot of things that I would like to change. Because I think the album is kickass so I want them to be exactly like that. And Megadeth was like that too; we didn't change a lot of stuff and I like that. But then again if you're making a live album, there better be some, in Japanese we say plus alpha; there's got to be something extra bonus to make it worth buying. And plus like live, you want some extra stuff; so I put little separate parts where I can spread out and ad lib. I don't care what anybody says, ad libbing live and ad libbing in the studio is totally different. There's an adrenalin that's so different; you just have no idea what's gonna come up when there's people going crazy. You could have mistakes that could never possibly repeat that would be so cool; or you could just play really nicely because you're just so pumped to be in front of these people. Studio ad libbing there's just no pressure; you could do it again or punch it in or whatever. On of them, I think it's Paradise Express, there was a guitar solo by itself maybe towards the end. It's been so long since I've listened to this record unbelievably. But I think I was really happy with the breaks where it's not the same as the record. On Cheer Girl Rampage, there's a crescendo that happens a little past 3:40. When I interviewed John Paul Jones a long time ago, he was telling me about Black Dog and when he was first showing it to Page and Bonham. He said something like, Good luck and hang on and hopefully I'll meet you on the other side. So, this riff has this same feeling of is everyone going to play it perfectly and end up at the same place at the same time. It tends to sound like you might mess it up at any second. No; if I was that nervous about it, it wouldn't be ready to take out and ask people to pay to see it. You'd be surprised; some of the things that seem difficult to get under your fingers are not as bad as some of the things that seem simple. I know a lot of guys who could probably play that section; but I don't know a whole lot of guys who could play some of the more sedate sections especially in my stuff. I found that to be the case. I found that really flashy stuff is pretty easy to come up with and really good players can pull it off. But it's what people do in the other times; if that keeps you interested, then I have a lot of respect for guys who can do both particularly. You'd be surprised if you broke down a lot of that stuff which is challenging and which is not for the guy who is making the music. None of the stuff is really that challenging for me; if I were to play another guitarist's music, it would all be friggin' challenging; I'd be like cringing, I really would be. Talking about easier pieces, I'm guessing Hound Dog with your vocal probably gets handled pretty easily. You're a big Elvis fan - did you ever see him? Never did unfortunately. I never thought I could sing 'cause I can't really sing but I do a TV show in Japan and we put together an album to commemorate the show. The people from the record company were joking about me singing a song; I said, You keep joking about it, I'm gonna do it. So I did it and actually Hound Dog I could pull of because if you think about the melody, there's only three or four notes in the melody; and they're all pretty much in the same range and I can sing in that range. So I can pull it off and people think I can sing but I can't really sing anymore than that. I can do a pretty good Hound Dog. Do you have a desire to do more singing? I'd love to; I wish I could. What about bringing in a singer? Not on my solo stuff so but actually I am doing stuff in Japan with a vocalist. We have a band but on my solo stuff that everybody has listened to on the last six or seven albums of instrumental, there's not really a lot of room for vocals. They wouldn't fit; besides they're too busy as it is. Do you listen to players like James Burton and Scotty Moore? Not so much as guitarists but probably being the biggest Elvis fan in rock, I absorbed their playing completely unconsciously. It's like you can't really touch it. I made a very strong attempt to copy Scotty Moore's first guitar solo to the tee in Hound Dog especially when I did the studio version; I forgot how the live version came out, I'm sure it came out pretty good. When I did the studio version of Hound Dog for that record I was telling you about, I spent so much time getting that solo exactly the same as the original. It's gorgeous, such a great spirited solo, and I loved it. It's the Unreal Thing has that eastern vibe again that creeps into your music. Yeah, I'm improvising in that. I remember going through the (various live) versions of it and I'm improvising a lot. If you listen to the studio version, there's a lot of different stuff to change. That was off of a record called Music For Speeding and when it came out, I was doing a lot of guitar clinics and stuff around the world and that was one of the songs I was playing in my clinics. So I was playing that song in my sleep by the time we finally toured on it unlike the other songs. So that song, I probably felt bored with it so I wanted to improvise a lot more. You talk about knowing this song backwards and forwards, but are there other moments when an improvisational phrase doesn't work? Or you temporarily forget where you are? Every musician's got stronger points and weaker points and I think one of my stronger ones is improvising. I'm completely confident that I can improvise decently over anything even without ever hearing it. But that's my strong; I have weak things as well. Where would you want to improve your playing? I'd want to improve my improvising of course; always trying to improve on anything. It's an interesting thing that all musicians should at least think about is people say, I want to get better at this; I want to get better at that. And it's fine to have those goals like that but rather than that just overall just try to get a little bit better. Period. I want to be a great fingerpicker or whatever. That's fine but I think what worked for me, I can't really give advice to anyone else, is to do everything possible in front of you and those are the things you're gonna get better at just by not quitting. By not expecting to make great leaps and bounds but an inch here, an inch there, and learning along the way. I love it when I learn a phrase off some guy; I'll use it right away. It just opens up all kinds of new doors. It's the tiny little inroads; they always, no matter how good you think you might get, you always have to be wanting to improve. Rather than ever being satisfied (with), Well, I'm good enough at that. Your rhythm section of Jeremy Colson on drums and bassist Chris Catero are remarkable on the entire album. What happens is that these extraordinary guitar players tend to find rhythm sections that don't groove very well. The musicians they choose have great technique and no feel. I can tell you that I'm not a big fan of chops. Period. Usually chop guys, they don't know rock guys; all they know is chop guys and if you've got too many chop guys in the same band, there's definitely gonna be an accident. But as a matter of fact, the players that I had on that live album are really actually chop guys but in the arrangement of the music, it wasn't a time to show their chops. There's nothing I hate worse than drummers who do fills all the time or bass players who do anything other than 1/8th notes; I hate it, I friggin' can't stand it. That's why I'm kind of unpopular in that chop world and that's totally fine with me because it's not what I want to hear; I don't necessarily want to be there. I totally understand where you're coming from; guitar players, especially instrumental music, you get into a very narrow world if that's your entire career. First of all people who want to listen to it are very few and the people who want to play it are even fewer. So it limits your options; you're writing music that's difficult and the only people that are able to play it are these jazz guys but they can't play it with rock spirit. And they play it with their guitars up to their neck. It's a totally terrible situation so you have to train these guys. I've got a rock bass player who I kinda coached him through any kind of progressive elements which he did just fine with; he probably didn't even need my help. And then I had a guitar player, Ron Jarzombek, who is way more technically proficient than I am. I had to teach him how to dumb down to play my music.
"Having a lot of people experiences and a lot of rich experiences outside of music has influenced my actual guitar playing."
Seriously? Yeah, I'm serious; this guy is way, way deeper than I was. Well, deeper in a way of musical knowledge; I mean the stuff that I'm doing is probably really, really deep, I just wouldn't be able to explain any of it. And he could explain it and tell you why it's totally wrong. But he was more than happy to play things my way and that's why they came out the way it did. It's really a tricky combination. For example, I had Billy Sheehan play on a lot of the studio versions and he's a fabulous, fabulous bass player. But what I used him for is not necessarily what he's known for. But he's so accomplished, that he knew exactly what I was going for and didn't have any problems playing the 1/8th notes straight. Which is an art in itself; most good players, they never do that so when it comes time to do that, their time is off or they're sloppy or they do it without any power. It's really hard to judge guys who are chop guys. I think what happens if you become known like Jeff Beck or in a lesser case like me, you pretty much develop your own style to a point like, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say, I doubt that Jeff Beck could play my music; I'm pretty much sure he can't. But I know for a fact, I can't play his music either. I think this is the fact: When you get guys that are known, unless they're like these master-of-all kind of studio players and then they would have a problem, but I know for a 1000 per cent fact that Eric Johnson could not play my music. That is so revealing to hear that. He wouldn't have the touch for a second; but then again I couldn't play his music in a million years. You couldn't? I could not; there's no possible way. It's not gonna happen; it's a touch thing. None of those guys hit the guitar as hard as I do and it's not just a matter of hitting hard; it's a matter of that conviction to play something that forceful at this time and that gentle at this time and that sweet at this time and that dirty at this time. When you've developed your style to such a point like Jeff Beck or Eric Johnson or a Steve Vai, the only guys who might be able to do a good job of it, are like the fan guys who have spent years copying those guys. Those are the guys that you want in your band because they've mimicked you for that long. But Jeff Beck hasn't mimicked me at all. I'm sure he could learn some of my stuff and probably do a damn good job of it but where he's gonna come out sounding better is when he does his own thing over it. And for me, I've never spent any time analyzing Jeff Beck so how could I possibly even think that I could get on the turf with him? Everybody does their own thing and you'd really be surprised who can't do other guys' stuff; you would really be surprised. As a kid, I thought, Oh, that guy is good, he can play everything. It's so not the case and you would be shocked and disgusted to find out that guys you think are so incredible at what they do, they really will shock on certain other things. That's how it is. On a sort of a tangent was your love affair with Kiss. I know that Ace Frehley was a huge influence on a lot of players including Van Halen and yourself. It's hard to understand what it was about Ace and Kiss in general that so attracted you? The great thing about music is everybody has the right to their own opinion and that's what makes it interesting. I used to play with Jason Becker and he was the biggest Bob Dylan fan in the world. And to me, I'd rather chew glass than listen to Bob Dylan. But that was fine; you've got to have those differences in opinions. There are certainly no good and no bad in music; it's all what it means to you. It has nothing to do with tonality or pitch or talent or tone or any of those things; it has everything to do with the experiences in your life around this music. I have to say about Kiss and about stuff I can't stand; I'm not a huge fan of hardcore rap and stuff, but then at the same time, you have to respect any artist or anybody who can make hundreds and thousands and millions of people happy with what they do. And I respect the hell out of Kiss; I just don't think they're very good. (Laughter) There are so many guitar players that started from Kiss. But then again, here's one that will get ya. There are so many guitar players that started from Hendrix? I'd rather chew glass than listen to Hendrix. I sensed a little bit of hostility towards him when I mentioned his name as an influence on one of your songs. But I had no idea you really didn't like him. I never got Hendrix. When I think of Hendrix, an image comes in my mind about a lot of hippies rolling around in mud tripping on acid and it just doesn't turn me on at all. And all that noise and feedback and I'm like, Play in tune. I'm a big tuning guy and that's probably why I don't like Dylan; things go out of tune and it kills me. But then again, all of my favorite guitarists hail Hendrix: I'm a big Uli Jon Roth fan and he's the most beautiful guitarist. I'm actually going to play with him in Japan for his show. He probably loves Hendrix as much as Hendrix's own mother does. All the guys I respect love Hendrix so I know there's something there, it's just that I never got it because it never fit into my experiences. You spoke earlier about picking up new things along the way and incorporating them into what you do. Are there any modern guys who have turned you on? I do a TV program here in Japan and I just met the Trivium guys; they came in to do the show. We chatted and I actually introduced them to a Japanese band that I'm a huge fan of called Maximum the Hormone. They're probably the most intense band here in Japan and it's kinda metal and very theatrical and extremely brutal. I'm extremely versed in the modern music more now than older music but that only comes in the way of Japanese music. Not only am I versed on it but I've written books on the current state of Japanese pop music and I have probably the most popular column for an entertainment website that is devoted to what's gonna be in the next week's Top 10. The book is called Ii Jyan J-Pop and the magazine is called Nikkei Entertainment and I think the website is called NikkeiEntertainmentTrendy.com. If all of that isn't enough to keep you occupied, is there any other stuff going on in your life? I'm working on a brand new record to come out in March in Japan. And I have a band called Lovefixer and it's really just me and one other person (Shinichiro Sin Suzuki) and we hire backing musicians when we play live and record and stuff. We're going into the studio to record our second single. Our first single (Yakou) was a theme song for a movie and the theme song for a TV show so there's a lot of attention of what we're gonna do next because it's a new project. It's cool; it's aggressive rock and very melodic. The new single is a ballad and I'm really proud of the guitar solo. People like to attach a solo to a guy; Van Halen might be Eruption or something. A lot of guys come up to me and say, Oh, 'Tornado Souls,' this new single we're about to release, and at least in my own opinion, it's right up there for what I'm kind of known for. I hope Americans get to hear it sometime; it's a song in Japanese so I don't think it'll get there other than You Tube. Some last miscellaneous questions: You provided a voice for the Adult Swim show? Yeah (laughs); it's called Metalocalypse. It was a while ago; I don't even remember why I was asked to do it. They asked me to speak with a Japanese accent which I could do in a heartbeat. At first they just said speak in a weird accent and I started speaking like a Japanese person and they said, That's it. Japan has exported a few bands like Loudness but they've never broken into the American market. And yet bands from Sweden and Finland have done pretty well in the U.S. Why? Yeah, I can tell you; it's the language. And the reason why these Scandinavian bands, and they're mostly extreme metal bands, when they sing it's indiscernible what they're saying. And that's very important because when those bands sing where you can understand the words? It's stupid. We're American so when we hear people singing lyrics when English isn't their first language, it's dumb. So, that's why; Americans don't like to listen to any English other than American English. But I think with globalization and the internet, people are more interested in foreign music than ever before. Soon, there's gonna be some representation from Japan because there's so much incredibly great music over here. Hopefully I'll be a part of bringing it over in some form. There are some astonishing guitar players in Japan? I'm not really a big fan of astonishing guitar players to be honest with you; I'm really not. I'm more a fan of music in general. Often I'll say, Wow, that's a great phrase or That's great playing but I don't think I've ever gone out of my way to listen to astonishing players. I never really did. Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2009
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