When: April 1, 1992
What: If you've already read the Dave Mustaine interview, then you know I was working on a guitar encyclopedia that was ultimately aborted. The Mustaine interview here was intended to be included in that reference book. And so was this one. In 1992, the period during which I interviewed Dave, Friedman was also in the band and that is the time era for this conversation as well.
Balancing Dave's edginess is Marty's breeziness. Friedman is a lighthearted individual, though he approaches his music and his guitar playing with an almost religious fervor. Dave does as well but the two styles could not be more different. Friedman describes the tandem guitar work as "Oil and water." Indeed it is and that's precisely why the combination works so well.
In his own fashion, the guitarist now living and recording in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, is every bit as honest and effusive in his musical observations. He is quick to point out his own shortcomings and those of his contemporaries.
The album Friedman discusses here would become the Countdown To Extinction album, Megadeth's fifth. Released on July 14, 1992, it would become the most successful album in the catalog when it attained double platinum status. And the status of the double plectrum (English word for guitar pick) styles of Marty and Mustaine would be elevated following this release. The double-play between the two raised the bar in terms of how musical 12 strings could really be.
Could we start with a little bit of your specific background info? Where and when you were born and that type of information?
You got it, the real basics. I was born December 8, (1964) in Washington, D.C. I lived in Washington, D.C., I lived in Germany, and I lived in Hawaii during my childhood and started my first band when I was 14 or 15 and picked up a guitar and started playing. And I immediately started teaching; I'd only playing guitar for about six months and I began teaching guys who had maybe been playing five months. So I was one week or one month ahead of these guys. Never letting on that I was only that small amount better than they were. But I figured that was the way to do it so I did that for years; the only job I really ever had was teaching guitar. I never had a formal job.
Then you must have been involved in school bands and groups with buddies and that type of thing?
My first main band was a band named Deuce and I think at the time we were definitely the heaviest and most high-energy cool band in the Washington/Maryland area. Sometimes I look back and I think those were really like almost the best times of my life compared to now.
Why do you say that?
Because there's just some kind of magic about the band and we were really like brothers. We felt kinda like closer you know where you're in a band, you get this closeness playing live that you don't have in any other kind of relationship. There was just some kind of really good chemistry within that band. Maybe it was just the circumstances; we had a lot of fans and we were really young and there was immediate gratification. There was really a lot of positive response to us. We were like 15, the singer was like 14, but we looked the part. We were totally into looking like rock stars and trying to play like rock stars and we were pretty good at what we did. Maybe we weren't very technical or talented, but we were definitely seriously into what we were doing. And I think it showed; we had this attitude of a band and we were just so young and I think that was really, really cool.
What kind of music were you playing?
It was kind of a cross between Kiss, Black Sabbath, the Ramones, and the Scorpions, and a little Mahogany Rush. All originals. It was really kinda cool. I look back to some of the old demos that we made, the first couple tapes, the first time I was ever in a professional recording studio. I think, Wow, some of that energy is so cool.' It's hard for me to even reproduce some of that feeling right now. I mean a lot of the stuff between then and now was technical guitar work which is more on the difficult side, but I think some of the original energy on the first couple tapes that I did, I try to recapture that. Because I think maybe that's even maybe more meaningful than the technical stuff. I kind of look back on those days in a good way.
And what happened after Deuce?
After Deuce, my family moved to Hawaii and I wanted to stay in the Maryland area but I was too young and I couldn't afford to live on my own. For me, practicing guitar always came before anything so getting a job and living there was totally out of the question. So I moved to Hawaii with my family and I started this band called Hawaii down there; actually it was called Vixen first and we released an EP (Made In Hawaii) as Vixen and we kind of turned into a group called Hawaii. At the time, which was the early 80s, was a pretty radical kind of band; we were really fast and heavy and very guitar-oriented. Lots of wild, manic guitar playing and I think we were the total opposite of what the state Hawaii implied. Which was kind of intentional; we were just radical kids down there, we were not the beach type at all. I lived there 2 , 3 years, and I never went to the beach until the last couple of weeks I lived there. I was anti-everything: hated beaches, hated the pool, hated the whole vibe. I was just kind of a recluse, locked up in a room practicing all the time. Then when we played in the band Hawaii, we were just totally over the top and crazy and it was really hard to get a following down there in Hawaii playing like. First of all, there's not very many people down there and there's not many places to play. But when we were down there, we kept pushing at it and we started to get an underground following in Europe and stuff.
We made a couple albums and they got your underground airplay and underground record sales and underground tape traders and stuff. A lot of people picked up on it, everywhere except where we actually lived.
We had one record called One Nation Underground which was a heavy one and we released another one called The Natives Are Restless which was kinda like an attempt to commercialize. I'm not really that happy about that album; I think it was just kind of a phase. That's when I was phasing out of the group Hawaii. We had an EP in-between called Loud, Wild & Heavy which was pretty cool at the time I thought. It's a very rushed recording.
Did all of these various albums and EPs contain vocal tracks?
Yeah; there was a lot of instrumental stuff on there but anybody who's remotely familiar with any of my work on my own original stuff is that the vocals probably take a real backseat to the guitar. Which is kind of great now because I'm finally in a band where vocals are cared about, the lyrics are cared about, just as much as the rest of the music. Left to my own devices, I would spend years and years working on these intense guitar parts and then when the vocal part comes, I would like write it out on a piece of paper in the studio when we were doing the vocal track.
Dude, sing this!'
Rhyme pie and sky stuff, huh?
Yeah, right? Now that I'm just worrying about guitar well, I can write lyrics or work on that, too, but now that that's taken care of by the rest of the band, it's kind of cool that I don't have to be responsible for writing all the vocals because it's not my trip. Anyway, Hawaii, we had a lot of instrumental songs.
Was Cacophony the project that followed Hawaii?
We did an album in San Francisco which was gonna be my first solo album but then I met Jason Becker and he just impressed me so much on the guitar and he had a lot of cool material on his own. And I said, Man, let's take my material and add some of your material and we'll record it together.' So, the first Cacophony album, there was a lot of my material but a lot of the really cool stuff was his. So we put it together and made that and then we both did solo albums right after that separately and mine was called Dragon's Kiss and I just did a lot of my own personal music on that. Then we did another Cacophony album called Go Off! (1988) (first album was titled The Speed Metal Symphony ). And after the second one we kind of formed a band around our record, we formed an actual Cacophony and we toured America and we toured Japan, a small tour, which met with a great response and that was a great period of time for us; we really enjoyed playing for people who really listened to our music. We noticed in Japan that a lot of people actually listened to the music; in America, people are just like screaming and shouting. Having fun, too, but I mean in Japan when you're listening to the audience, they're cheering at the exact right time.
You know on a live record, right after a solo they cheer? I mean, that's how it is. It's so weird, it sounds like you're making a live album over there. They're listening to the cool parts because they expect parts to come up and they check it out, then when it's over and you nail your part or whatever they accept it.
For a band like Cacophony that's really important because we were so technical so it was really nice to see that people cared what the hell we were doing.
By the time of Cacophony, was your style pretty well established? If someone heard this guitar player, would they recognize him as Marty Friedman?
Maybe. A lot of people say that; it's really hard to say that about myself.
Where did your style come from? Were there guitar players you admired and emulated to some extent?
For the first couple of years in my guitar playing, during the Deuce days and stuff, I was really into the hotshot guitar vibe like Ace Frehley and Frank Marino and Black Sabbath and Uli Roth; trying to get the coolest guitar licks together. And then I started to really get a handle on that and became comfortable playing at all speeds and went through my ultra-fast phase and all that stuff. Before the Cacophony days I really started to expand my influences; maybe even in the Hawaii days. I started to listen to ethnic music and that's really where I got a lot of the phrasing that I do out of a lot of Chinese music and Japanese music and Indian music and classical music from all cultures. I really dialed into it and analyzed it and nitpicked and tried to see, If I play as much of it as I possibly can on guitar and try and match the phrasing as close as I can, it's gonna be something weird that no one else can have the exact same influence.' You know what I mean? There are guys out there who learn every Van Halen lick and every Eric Clapton lick and there are gonna be other guys who learn the exact same thing. So if I pick all this random, really weird music, there's nobody that can have the exact same influence.
I kind of did that whether consciously or sub-consciously I'm not sure, but I took the stuff I really liked and went, Wow, if I try to do that kind of phrase on guitar, it'll sound neat.' And a lot of vocal things, too; trying to copy voice on guitar was a real challenge. Doing that really made my guitar speak kind of weird so that kind of added to my influence.
Were you also experimenting with different guitars when you were searching for your own style?
Well, right now my main guitar is a Jackson/Kelly model; it's kind of like an Explorer and I've had a Kelly ever since the early Hawaii days. I've used that through Hawaii and Megadeth, Cacophony, my solo album; I think I used only one guitar for my solo album and that was the Jackson/Kelly. Right now I have a whole fleet of the same model but they're all different and have different character to the sound. So I use that one quite a bit on the last Megadeth album we recorded but I used a lot of other guitars as well.
As far as a main guitar, that would probably be it but I'm not one of those guys whose totally sentimental about guitars. I've sold that guitar and bought it back; I'm not one of those guys who if I lost my guitar it would be the end of the world. I don't want to get too attached to a guitar like that cause I could drop it or something. I'm not one of those guys who sits around polishing guitars and takes really good care of it. Now fortunately, I can let other guys do that as their job. But at the time before, I never pussied with my guitar very much.
How did you come to be part of the Megadeth machine?
After Cacophony broke up I how did this happen? Basically it didn't take long after it happened luckily cause when you think about it, there's not too many other bands where I could really be that happy (being) in. I just never even thought of it and it turned into something that turned out to be really good. And grows to be better and better all the time. After Cacophony, I moved to LA and I'm not really the type of person who goes out very much and hangs out and rubs elbows with a lot of people. So it's really kind of lucky that I did it because a way that you join bands is you just meet people and you go out and drink beers; I'm kind of more of a homebody kind of guy.
Luckily, one of my good friends named Bob Nalbandian, he hooked me up with Megadeth's management and I sent them a CD of my solo album and pictures and whatever and they said why don't you come down and do a formal audition. So I did and it went great and I got the gig right away. Which I was kind of surprised because I didn't think I played very well. I wasn't familiar with Megadeth's material very much, I knew a couple songs, and they tell me to learn four and I learned them and they called me up and said, Well, learn these other ones too.' So I had eight songs down and then the day before the audition they said, Well, why don't you learn these two as well.' Shit! I didn't even have these songs so I'm scrounging this stuff up at the last minute and learning way too much material to be confident about. I didn't know which guitar parts were mine, which were Dave's; I didn't really have a clue.
So I just learned all this stuff and I go in there and, first of all, I'm playing all the wrong parts; I'm playing Dave's lead parts when I should have been playing like the other guy's parts. I couldn't tell who was who. And when I got there I was playing stuff pretty close to what I thought it was. I have a pretty good ear, I've been teaching guitar for a million years and I thought I was pretty close. And Dave's like, No, man, you gotta play it like this,' I'm like, No way.' He's showing me these positions; I'm playing the right chord but I'm playing it in a different position from what it actually is.
I'm like, Man, you really care about this stuff, you care about the small details.' Because in Cacophony and even in Hawaii and stuff, I would play the same chord progression or same pattern and I'd play it in different positions every day. I'd play an open A chord one day, I'd play it on the 5th fret the next day; just as long as it was an A. I never really cared about that.
(Referring to Mustaine and his attention to detail) I'm like, Wow, I can't believe you really really nitpick and make sure everything is exactly right.' I was really impressed because from the sound of the records actually, I thought the records were pretty muddy, the old Megadeth. And I couldn't make out much of anything and I just thought, Well, these guys don't really care.' And then when I got there, (it was), Man, I can't believe how like you really care about that stuff.' So I was impressed and I thought, well, if they really are that nitpicky, I must have completely fucked up this audition. Because I played everything in weird positions but apparently they thought it was cool. And I quickly learned the way everything really goes and it worked out really good luckily.
"The only job I really ever had was teaching guitar. I never had a formal job."
What has it been like working with Dave Mustaine?
I think we've grown a lot together. I mean on the Rust In Peace album (1990), I was only in the band for about a month at the time and my head was completely full of music. Because I had to learn all the back catalog which was three albums worth (So Far, So Good So What!; Peace Sells But Who's Buying?; and Killing Is My Business And Business Is Good) and I learned almost all those songs. And I had to learn all the new songs for Rust In Peace and write my own guitar solos for it. This was in a month's time, not to mention getting my whole life together. I mean the transition was completely different; I lived in Hollywood in a hellish part of town and I had to get my life together and move to a different neighborhood and get my car together and it was just completely a change of life. And work on guitar at the same time.
But I did; I don't know what happened but it came out the way it did. I was happy with it at the time so that was kinda good. But it wasn't the ultimate best of circumstances to do a record.
Now on this other record, the one that we just finished tracking for, was completely different. We wrote the songs all together as a band, all four of us have songwriting on the record, and we all wrote the songs together. And we lived together on the road for a year and we've been to 18 countries together 24 hours a day and wrote the stuff and lived these songs together. We just sweated over them and changed them a million times and recorded demos of these songs together and I had plenty of time to work out guitar solos after we did the demos. We took some time off before recording started so it was under the best circumstances.
Dave and I were both aware of what we really played like. We play so different anyway, they're kind of oil and water, and we tried to make the blend as tasty as possible for the record. It really worked out great, I think, because we're really aware of what we both do best.
And how would you define these differences in style?
I'm definitely the lead player and Dave's definitely the rhythm player when it comes to doing (what each of us does) best. He's a better rhythm player than I am and I'm a better lead player than he is. I don't want to say better about either of us but I think he's way more comfortable playing rhythm and I'm way more comfortable playing lead. Let's put it that way. Lead is my thing and rhythm is his thing and we can both play lead and rhythm but that's where it lies.
Basically there's a lot of soloing that I've done on the record and Dave lent an ear when I was doing that and he helped me a lot during my solos and I helped him during his solos. We just kind of listened to each other and made suggestions knowing each other's capabilities. I think it really helped because we knew that there's no way that we could play alike no matter what we did. So I think both of our input to each other was really integral in the outcome of the way the guitar came out on this record.
I think it's really cool because a lot of two-guitar bands, I could tell that the circumstances could be one of competition or jealousy or strange attitudes; un-constructive ways of recording. There are just so many possibilities when guys play sort of similar but one guy's a little bit better than the other. You know what I mean? Matching two guitar players is such a delicate balance. It's just worked out really good with me and Dave.
How did you approach the solos for the album? Were you all prepared with everything written out or did you go in and take wild shots at the sections?
I like to work stuff out only for the reason of, I think thinking you can improvise your best playing right on go is really an immodest thing to do. Knowing factually that if you work something out, you can damn well come up with something better. Guys go in there, Oh, I can improvise and it'll be great.' It might be good, it might turn out really awesome, but if you put a little more work in it, you're gonna get the best you can possibly do. Since I'm gonna have to live with these songs the rest of my life and play them live for millions of people, since I play the exact same thing live as I'm gonna do on record, I want it to be the best I can. I don't want to take any chances.
So I approach a solo like this is gonna be etched in stone forever and with a real finality to it. I really want it to be a good representation of what I could do in this particular song. I don't really want to prove anything like goin' faster than this guy or I'm more tasteful than this guy, I just think, What would I do in this situation? What would Marty do in this situation?' And try to just copy my own thoughts and say, What would I do over this chord progression in this particular song and this subject matter?'
So I work out a lot of that at home on a Portastudio (Tascam) or in my own head; I'm constantly hearing solo ideas over chord progressions. This time it worked out really ideal because after the rhythm tracks were done, I just took the rhythm track tape home and just looped the solo sections. Did many ideas over it and then came up with some final ideas. Like maybe one final idea and then maybe a couple alternate versions of it and with Dave and Max (Norman) producing together, they both really have good ears, and a really good idea of what's gonna be cool for the song and what's not.
Sometimes I lose touch with the song because I'm concentrating so hard on the 30 seconds or the 40 seconds that the solo is, that little window there. And then it's, Hey, you forgot the song is about something else.' Sometimes they can put that back into perspective for me and that really helps out.
So that's what I did; I came up with some alternates and I got into the studio and usually most of it was pretty right on the money. But sometimes I'd draw a blank in a particular space and then Max and Dave would give me some input and I'd say, Well, OK, let me try something else.' And then they'd come back and say, Yeah, that's cool.'
I'm guessing you used the Jacksons for all these solos?
I have three main Jacksons: I've got Number One, Two, and Three, and I tried to use them equally. I wound up using Two and Three more than Number One and Number One is my main live guitar. So I think maybe live that guitar sounds the best but in the studio under the microscope, Two and Three sounded the best. I used Number One for maybe two or three solos.
What kind of a tone are you looking for when you're laying down a solo? When you've dialed in that sound, do you automatically recognize it?
Yeah, it's easy; I like a real basic, clean straight ahead tone like you just plugged your guitar straight into the amp. Nothing on it. This whole album that we just did was recorded completely dry; no effects on anything
You'll go in afterwards and put in the effects?
There probably won't be much effects. Because the fact is, if you nail everything, there isn't really a hell of a lot of reason for any effect. I mean, Rust In Peace was relatively dry; they added some juice later but we painstakingly and meticulously recorded this new album so much more than that so I don't think we're gonna have much effects at all.
It's kinda scary doing this one because every track that we did was soloed up at all times; it was practically recorded soloed up. It's like there's no background. It was all digital and all done to click tracks and all that stuff so there's really no hiding anything. Sometimes you hear it, Wow, that's a great solo' and then you solo it up by itself and there's all sorts of clams and mistakes and moth-eaten sections in it. It sounds great in the track cause it's rockin' by but on this record everything is completely nailed.
And that's thanks mainly to Max because Max won't let anything get by unless it's completely perfect. There were a lot of times where I'd say, This solo is fine' and he'd solo it up and like, No, there's a couple of sections that are a little bit rushed.' And I'm talkin' about miniscule things that I can't even hear so I'd finally have to keep playin' it and keep playin' it until I nail it.
And so it's pretty dry and I think it's great because if you can get away with something being dry, then there's no doubt that something is nailed. It just sounds so good when it's dry and it's what the part is meant to be; there's no trick photography so to speak.
You've described your ideal tone what kind of amps do you use to create that sound?
In my rack, I have a Bogner preamp and VHT power amp; a Tubeworks preamp; and I use a Bradshaw switching system. I used that on some stuff and I used a Marshall 50-watt completely hot rodded. There was like so many extra knobs on this thing, it didn't even look like a Marshall anymore. But it just had the Marshall sound and I just love and basically that's what I use in my rack. All that rack stuff, whether or not anyone wants to admit it, is just trying to get a Marshall sound that is dependable. I mean Marshalls are so temperamental; you'll find one that is great, one that sucks, one that's great on Wednesday you know what I mean?
That's what the whole world is trying to do on racks and rack-mounted gear, is to get something that sounds great like a Marshall all the time. And I've found that's what a Bogner and VHT together do and I get that sound live. For the studio stuff, it worked there too but I also used a Marshall for some. I don't know how my endorsers are gonna feel about that but, it's true.
"Now on this other record, the one that we just finished tracking for, we wrote the songs all together as a band."
Looking back at the Megadeth, is it an accurate representation of where you are as a guitar player? Now that it is etched in stone, can you say, Yeah, we did a good job and this is a good steppingstone for me as a player?'
That's a great question. I hope so. For my solos? I think a lot em are nailed, played better than I would have even accepted before. I would have accepted the solos the way they were even before Max said, Dude, you got to play it a little better.' I think it is a good representation of a lot of the work that I've done over these last years. So, writin' this stuff and trying to advance as a guitar player, it's definitely way more intense than Rust In Peace (the 1992 album would reach double platinum status, the biggest-selling record in the Megadeth catalog to date) for me as a guitarist. So I think that it's definitely the next step.
As a working musician here in 1992, when you look around you are you surrounded by other creative players? Or has guitar playing stagnated from the 60s and 70s?
That's a good question; I'd like to answer it like this: I think there's a lot more better players now but I think there's a lot less original players now. I hear stuff on the radio, on the rock stations, and these solos are blazing, they're just tearing your head right off. And they're really good and they're played great, nailed, good phrasing, good intonation and tone and feeling; it's really, really cool. A lot of guys, and I don't really know who they are, but I'm not really hearin' a whole lot of originality. I'm hearing a lot of really advanced, cool guitar parts but I'm not really hearing a lot of stylized guys.
What is the reason for that?
It's a lot easier to be technical than it is stylized; it really is. And that's why in the studio sometimes, Max and Dave, if I played something that was super technical, they're like, Dude, big fuckin' deal; who cares if you can play that?' Sometimes it's hard for a guitar player to realize that because they think it's so bitchin'.
I think it's bitchin' if I come up with something really hard and I nail it after a month of practicing. I want to put it on tape.'
But that doesn't make cool music and that doesn't make a cool guitar player. It's a cool exercise maybe and I think a lot of guitar players lose sight of that now. I'm really thankful that I had Max and Dave there to keep me in sight of that because I can tend to do that sometimes, too. But I think stylized playing is definitely a lot more attractive than technical.
It's really easy to be technical; I mean, it's a lot of hard work but it's easy to do because all it is is just meticulous practice. But I think it's a lot more rare to have someone who's really got their own sound because that's something you can't practice. You can't practice your own sound, you just wind up doing it.
And I think another piece that is missing from a guitarist's vocabulary is how to connect the guitar to the song. They don't understand that the guitar is there to define the song and not the other way around.
You got it.
That's why a lot of that Shrapnel music bothered me. I mean, I know you were a part of that and I'm not putting it down, but a lot of those players were superb technicians and yet they really weren't very good songwriters.
I'm not disagreeing with you. I think what it is, kids want to hear the latest trick and whether they have to weave through 35 minutes to find two cool eight-handed (meant, fingered) tricks, that's what they're winding up doing. On the Cacophony stuff, the solo stuff, granted, maybe the songwriting lacked especially in the vocal song territory. But you know what it is? In our particular circumstance, we wanted the stuff to be all instrumental and it would have been cool instrumental. But (Mike) Varney (head of Shrapnel Records) insisted, There's got to be vocals, it's got to be a band vibe.' And I'm like, Fuck, man, that sucks.' But we wanted to get a record out, you know? So we did that, we wrote some vocals at the last minute, and did it, and we got criticized for bad songwriting. And actually it really didn't matter; if they would have said bad guitar playing, it would have hurt a lot more. I wasn't priding myself on, I'm such a great songwriter, listen to this chorus.'
It's so much harder and more professional to try and fit a part of yourself in a solo in a real song. When you have 40 minutes, you can do whatever you want, that's cool. It's harder to come up with a solo that kids in their bedrooms can play. Before, you were trying to make people care (about the playing); and now there's people who might care already. So you're trying to do something cool for those guys.
Interview by Steven Rosen
"I'm definitely the lead player and Dave's definitely the rhythm player when it comes to doing (what each of us does) best."