Interviews & Features

Marty Friedman’s Lucky 13

Shred god talks about new album and more new works on the horizon

By Gary Graff
September 8, 2017

If any musician needs an extra page, or more, for his resume, it’s Marty Friedman. His reputation was staked, of course, during his decade with Megadeth, playing shred god on five studio albums and an EP. But the Maryland-raised axeman has plenty of credits before (Cacophony, Hawaii, Shout) and after, with Tourniquet and Enzo & the Glory Ensemble. Primarily, however, Friedman has been an adventurous solo artist, starting with 1988’s Dragon Kiss through to his latest effort this year, Wall Of Sound, always finding new ways to blend the extreme, the subtle, the beautiful and the ferocious on his instrument. A resident of Tokyo since 2003, where he’s appeared on more than 700 Japanese TV shows, Friedman is serving as an ambassador of heritage for the Japanese government as the country prepares to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. Clearly he’s no stranger to making noise — past, present or future…

FGPO: What was the creative mission for Wall Of Sound?

Friedman: This is my 13th album, so I really never want to repeat myself. I always want to do new and better things, which is why it kinda takes a long time to get it done. Wall Of Sound is the next step in a natural progression of doing things like that. I just wanted to do a deeper, better, more emotionally insane and more beautifully grotesque type of record and establish a new level — and then do even better on the next one.

FGPO: Is there a constant search for those moments of growth?

Friedman: Those moments are a big thing for me. That’s one of the benefits about spending so much time working on things; You throw away a lot of stuff, and you only keep things that feel right. I always try to find and create moments that maybe bring a tear to your eye or a chill down your spine or goose bumps, some kind of emotional, tangible response and develop on those. There’s a couple of moments that really come to the next level, I think.

FGPO: For instance?

Friedman: I think on the song “Miracle,” that whole back half of the song is really high class, so to speak. I really came a long way on that. “Self Pollution” has a really good kind of dramatic air of contrast to it that I probably wouldn’t have been hip enough to do on the last album. It’s really new and fresh for me. On the song “White Worm,” that has a really kind of perverted way of mixing kind of fake Latin feeling with fake progressive metal and making something that’s very real and very new out of it, and I really like that.

FGPO: Your style is your style, in a way. How do you find a way to incorporate the new without losing that?

Friedman: You just let it happen honestly, and organically. I play differently now than I did a month ago, and everything I’m doing right now is absolutely peak. I think that’s mainly because I consciously and subconsciously try to make sure I’m not repeating myself and always have a new slant on an approach to making a melody or building up an atmosphere under a melody or something like that. It’s always got to be new and fresh, which is a big challenge after 13 albums.

FGPO: Do you ever worry that pursuing that creative challenge can challenge your audience too much?

Friedman: Y’know, at least for myself, I can say my most recent thing is definitely my most adventurous or deepest as far as the playing of guitar goes. That doesn’t necessarily mean that as a fan or listener you’re going to think it’s your favorite or not. I really have no control over that at all. But as someone who’s making the music I can definitely say, for myself, this is by far the most satisfactory, the most evolved and deepest, best thing I’ve done musically technique-wise, guitar-wise, all those things are by far the best, in my personal opinion.

FGPO: At this point, is making instrumental music “easier” than if you were working with vocalists?

Friedman: I don’t know if instrumental and vocal have anything to do with it. What probably does have something to do with it is the fact I’m not really known for having these massive, mainstream hits. I just do my own thing, and I have my own audience; it’s a niche audience, not necessarily underground, but people are not expecting a certain kind of hit song every time, so if they don’t get it, they’re not let down. People who are fans of my music, I guess they like the feeling they get, and I think they expect something a little unexpected every time and I try to give them that. So I think it has more to do with the lack of mainstream expectations, and I’m lucky to have the freedom to do exactly what I want to do.

FGPO: On the other hand, you were part of a platinum-selling band…

Friedman: Well, yeah, the downside is there’s not any big mainstream hits. [laughs] That’s a big downside. One day, who knows; you get one big song in one big movie and things go from a niche to reaching a lot more people. That would be great. Up until then, and hopefully even after it happens, I’m still doing exactly what I want to do. That’s the most satisfying for me.

FGPO: Did you use any new or different gear on this album?

Friedman: Just my Marty Friedman signature guitar that’s new from Jackson, and my signature amp from ENGL. It’s cool to have signature gear coming out at the same time as an album. It’s always an honor. I’ve been very blessed with the fact that gear companies have courted me for a long time about having signature models. Even more important than the gear is the people; I can make any gear work, but you have to deal with people on a weekly or daily basis. If I really enjoy working with the people then putting together something I’m going to want to put my name on and have people associate with me becomes more of a reality.

FGPO: So what are your responsibilities as a cultural ambassador for Japan?

Friedman: A lot of it is to, when I’m outside of Japan, make people aware of things that are going on in Japan. I would be doing that anyway, but now I’m the go-to guy about what’s going on in Japan, what day-to-day life is like there now. It’s not really a tourism thing but just basic things people want to know about Japan. I’ve been there a long time and done everything there, so I can talk about certain shrines and certain parts of the country but also a particular process of making tea or creating Japanese art. There’s plenty to talk about, believe me.

FGPO: Is there any talk about you creating some music for the Olympics?

Friedman: That would be the ultimate goal. Of all the goals I’ve had in my life, the main thing left over is to have my music used in the Olympics in one way or another — preferably in the world of skating would be best. I’m a huge fan of the music that’s used in figure skating and the way skaters use music to create this piece of art at the highest level in the world. I played at the opening ceremony for the Tokyo Marathon and at a Paralympics event in Tokyo, so this is getting me closer to my main goal. If that happens at the 2020 Olympics it would be fantastic. If not, the journey will continue.

FGPO: You’ve got an autobiography and a documentary in the works. Where are those at right now?

Friedman: The book is actually being edited, but things change all the time. But the bulk of it’s written and being edited and will hopefully be out sometime next year. And [the movie] is going on right now; We’ll probably film throughout the year and then see what happens. It’ll be interesting because I rarely talk about private stuff in interviews — family things, girl things, life things. I usually keep that stuff relatively private and almost never talk too personally. So I think there will be a lot of things people don’t know about.

FGPO: Does it feel like your life is flashing before your eyes?

Friedman: No, no…Really, all I care about is making the music, and I’m just flattered people are interested in finding out about the person making the music. Personally I never thought I was that interesting. I guess doing the stuff between America and Japan more now has got a lot of people interested and in the story, what’s behind something so crazy. But for me, all I care about is making the best music I can, and if people are interested in how that’s made, I’m happy to provide some insight through these other projects.