Intervju med Marty Friedman.
Jag fick nyligen möjlighet att ringa Japan för första gången och det kunde man ju inte låta bli att göra. I andra änden svarade supergitarristen Marty Friedman som 1990-2000 spelade med Megadeth.
Sedan flera år tillbaka bor han i Tokyo och är enormt engagerad i den japanska musikscenen och syns ständigt på japansk tv. Det blev ett långt samtal om bl a Megadeth, att öppna för Deep Purple, Jason Becker och Aqua (?).
Hi, I´m calling for Marty Friedman.
Marty Friedman: That´s me. Where are you calling from?
MF: Very cool. Hang on just one second. Ok, great. Let´s rock, man! How you doing?
I´m good. How´s Tokyo?
MF: It´s awesome, man.
Tell me about these albums of yours? They came out last year in Japan as I get it and now they´re being released in Europe.
MF: Right. Well, the main idea behind it is that they´re two albums of mine that I had originally only for Japan and for no other reason than that I was concentrating on cultivating Japan in the first place and I never really thought about doing international stuff with the records, but just doing it in Japan. I know I have a lot of fans and people interesting in my music outside of Japan and I certainly don´t want to ignore them, but it really takes a certain commitment to release your stuff everywhere. There´s a lot of things you have to do. You have to make sure the company is gonna get your record to the people that wanna hear it and you have to tour there and you have to go places and actually play the stuff live, so it´s a big commitment and I was just way too busy in Japan to even consider that kinda stuff when I made the records and to be honest with you, I´m still exactly the same kinda busy now, but the reason why I decided to release these records in Europe is because last year I did a solo tour of Europe with my band and we just had such great times that I just said “I don´t care how burnt out I get, I just need to get to Europe and keep playing and keep doing this stuff.”. I really got a lot of wonderful, wonderful response for playing there last time, so I just wanted to take the effort and get out to Europe a little bit more than I had before.
When was the last time you played in Sweden?
MF: Well, I´ve never played there as a solo artist, but I´m sure I´ve done guitar clinics by myself over there, but with a band I´m sure it´s Megadeth. I don´t remember when that was, but we played there many times in many different cities and it´s always been an excellent place and it´s a question why I haven´t been able to play there with solo stuff. This time I´m planning to do a tour of Europe in the fall of this year so hopefully I´ll get to Sweden. At least Stockholm or maybe Gothenburg, but I really don´t know why I haven´t up till now.
Cool. When you write, how do you write your music? Do you just sit down and it all kinda flows? How does it all start off when you´re writing a song?
MF: It´s always a melody based thing. I´ll always hear a melody and it´s usually when I´m not near an instrument or anything like that. I´ll just hear a melody and I wanna remember that and then I´ll start by recording that melody and see how many different ways I could possibly interpret the same melody and where that melody leads. It usually starts from a very simple melody and the rest just kinda takes care of itself. One thing leads to another and once I have a basic shape of the whole song that I´m doing, then I start to think of things like tempo and what kind of musicians I want to play on it or do I want to use sequencing or who I want on the track and what keys I wanna play it in and stuff like that. It all starts very simple and then it gets really blown out of proportion by the time it gets done for real.
What was it that originally attracted you to Japan and what made you stay in Japan?
MF: When I was touring in the 90´s particularly, and I´ve been touring there for a long time and every time I´d come to Japan it was like “Wow, I don´t wanna leave.”. I just really liked it and I really liked the music in Japan. What a lot of people don´t know is that in Japan, 80 % of the music that is sold and that people listen to, is domestic music and the other 20 % is all of everything else, like U2, Mariah Carey, Coldplay and all those big artists. They fit into only 20 %, so there´s a huge Japanese domestic scene which is just the most unique sound. That´s kinda what drove me to do that “Tokyo jukebox” series. It was kinda an obvious thing to do. Take my favorite songs and interpret them my way and that brings you to the reason why I´m in Japan really. It´s the musical scene and the musical world that I could really do something well with what I wanted to do in and I really wanted to be a part of it and add my flavor to Japanese music and be part of the Japanese domestic scene here.
I remember a few years back, Jack Blades from Night Ranger worked with some Japanese guy Tak…
MF: Tak Matsumoto, yeah.
Exactly and I read that he had sold like 80 million records in Japan and I´d never heard of the guy and I realized that Japanese artists sell a lot of records in Japan and you never hear about them over here.
MF: Right. Yeah, Tak Matsumoto is in a band called B´z and I´m sure they did sell at least 80 million in Japan and it´s such a fantastic band and there´s just a lot of really big, big artists here that do that kinda thing. B´z have had a super long career so that will add to that, but you know, there´s a really big hunger for music here even though it´s a small country. There´s a lot of different genres that kinda fit into J-pop and I like the freedom of not being stuck to a genre, like it has to be heavy metal or it has to be pop or R&B or whatever. J-pop is very blurry and there´s no real set genre type of thing in there.
Moving there, how long did it take for you to start speaking fluent Japanese?
MF: I was actually fluent before I moved to Japan. I was really interested in the language long before I moved here and I kinda learned it as a hobby and then I just started getting better and better and towards the last few years in Megadeth, I was doing all of my Japanese interviews in Japanese without a translator. I had gotten pretty good by then, but once I moved here I was pretty much beyond fluent at that time.
Cool. When you started out, what was it that attracted you to playing guitar? What made you pick up the guitar?
MF: Well, like probably tons of people it was the first hearing of KISS and The Ramones actually. Those were the two big ones. When I heard KISS, and I wasn´t even into rock music because I didn´t like rock music because I thought it was for hippies and stuff. I didn´t think it was cool at all and then I saw KISS and thought it was something different about it and not a bunch of hippies rolling around in the mud like Woodstock. It was exciting and loud and hard and it was just like the coolest thing I ever saw and when you see something like that when you´re 13 or 14, it has a lot of impact. After I heard them I heard The Ramones and I was like “Wow, I can probably do this.”.
As I understand it you´re pretty much self taught?
Did you ever take classes?
MF: Yeah I took lessons for almost a year, maybe 8 or 10 months or so at the very beginning. My teacher was very good but he was kinda like a little bit closer to the hippie style of music, but he wasn´t teaching me wanted I wanted to learn. I wanted to learn everything off of KISS “ALIVE” and stuff like that and he was teaching me very important things that I eventually understood later, but he was maybe more towards the Jerry Garcia way of playing and that didn´t interest me, but he was an extremely good teacher and once I started being able to play guitar, I remembered things that he told me but I didn´t understand them before. It was like “That´s what the guy meant!”. I didn´t have time for that. “Fuck this, I´m gonna do it myself!”. (laughs)
As a guitar player and playing as much as you have, do you ever have to work out with your hands and fingers to stay in shape so to speak?
MF: No, I think once you´ve been playing even half as long as I have it´s not really about your fingers anymore. It´s all from the heart and your mind and it moves your fingers. You´re just receiving messages from elsewhere in your body to do what you do. That said, I don´t do unnecessary things that are gonna injure my fingers and I guess that´s just common sense for any kind of musician. I´ve never been one of those guys who makes athletics out of the whole thing. It´s not about your fingers, it´s kinda about your melodic sense and doing new things melodically that you have never done before. If anything, it´s an exercise for the brain that you have to continue to do and you have to always make sure that you´re not repeating yourself. That´s the biggest thing for me, to make sure I don´t repeat myself.
What kind of guitars are you playing these days? I was reading up on you and it was like you played with different ones like Jackson, Ibanez and Ovation. Do you stick with one brand or…?
MF: Right now I´m endorsing PRS guitars, but I play everything, man. On the two albums that you have, “Tokyo jukebox 2” and “Bad DNA”, and interesting thing about both of those records is that I didn´t use any of my own guitars on either of those records. I used guitars from the company, PRS sent me a few and the other guitars, which was about 25 guitars each time, were just borrowed guitars from my friends, from engineer´s friends, from people in LA that I knew and basically anybody that wanted to have their guitar in the studio and I wound up having a studio full of guitars that weren´t mine and I would just go through them and play them and if I liked them, they´d be on the record. I just found it so much more exciting, especially when people have their guitar and they might not be professional musicians like I am, but they play as a hobby and they buy one or two really nice guitars, those guys put a lot of love into those guitars. It´s like their dream and for me, a guitar is a tool, so whatever guitar I play, there´s no real emotion attached to it, but I notice when these people will bring their beloved guitars into the studio for me to play, it was like their girlfriend or something. (laughs) There´s a lot of love attached to it and I found it exciting to play on these guitars that I´´ve never played before and if the sound was something I liked I had no problem finding a place for it on the record. Now that I listen to those two records, the guitar sound is really fresh and it´s a wonderful way to do work because you´re playing with an instrument you´ve never touched before and I just found that extremely exciting. Both of these records are the first time I´ve ever done that.
Fascinating, because usually when you talk about guitar players they kinda stick with one guitar like Clapton playing Fenders and Frehley playing Gibsons and that´s all they play and so on.
MF: No I´m not like that at all. I think one reason is, whatever guitar I play, it wounds up sounding like me anyway, so there´s that and plus, I just never like getting tied down to a particular instrument even though I do endorse PRS and that´s because their fantastic guitars, I´m never one of those guys that´s gotta have my exact guitar or this exact piece of gear or else I can´t do it, you know. I never wanted to be like that, so whatever is in front of me, I can make something work. It was exhilarating to play all these different guitars and go through them. Of course I couldn´t use all of them, but maybe I used 20 different guitars on each record and learned a lot about other guitars. I´m not a big music store kinda guy or big guitar nut or anything like that. I knew the difference between a lot of guitars so when I get to actually test drive them and play them on the actual album it´s cool. I played Jeff Beck´s signature guitar on a lot of stuff and I really liked that guitar and Dave Grohl has a signature guitar and I used that a lot and a bunch of PRS´s and Gibsons and Fenders. The whole thing.
Do you know the Swedish guy Tommy Denander?
Tommy Denander. He´s really well known and he´s played with a lot of people and he´s working with some guitar manufacturer and they came up with this guitar that you don´t have to tune?
MF: Yeah, I´ve played some of those guitars. I think it´s wonderful but… Gibson has one called a robot guitar and I think it´s really good for a live situation and maybe he´s got one that is better, but I don´t think they´ll make one that is perfect to a studio recording standard. I think it´s probably best for not necessarily professional musicians but someone who is like playing local parties and stuff and doesn´t have one to tune their guitar or don´t have the time to do it. I really don´t know the purpose of that guitar actually. I enjoyed my Gibson one, but in the studio it was never perfect for recording.
Back in the day, how did you and Jason Becker hook up?
MF: When I was first starting to do some work with Shrapnel Records, I was gonna make a solo album of all my own original stuff and it was just gonna be the most intense guitar record ever. It was gonna be the dream record that I wanted to do and just before I was about to record it, I got a call from Mike Varney from Shrapnel Records and he said “Dude, you gotta listen to this 16 year old kid! He´s a monster on guitar.” And I´m like “Whatever dude!”. I couldn´t have cared less. “What do I care about some guitar player?” and he said “No dude, you gotta check this guy out! Just listen to him once.”. So I had Jason come to my house and I just fell in love with the guy. He was really good on guitar, but he was just a different kind of guitarist. Most guitarists are kind of a similar personality and he wasn´t that at all. He was just like a really nice kid that happened to play just like jaw dropping amazing guitar and it was fantastic, but what did it have to do with me? I didn´t care. I was making my own record and then I started to show him some of my music and he could pick it up really quickly and my stuff was really unique and difficult and not the type of stuff that people already know how to play. Really quite perverted, but he could pick it up just as soon as I showed it to him and I started to think that if we formed a band together, we could actually perform my music live. Even though my record was pretty much already written, I decided to rewrite some of the record and have it written so he could be featured on the record as well and that´s how Cacophony was born.
It´s pretty amazing that after all he´s gone through with the disease and everything, that he´s still around and he´s still making music. I´m really looking forward to the movie. I´ve just seen the trailer for it.
MF: Absolutely. You have to see it man! I can´t recommend it more to you. They did a great job.
I read that you had this band Hawaii and you supported Deep Purple in Hawaii. When was this, in the 80´s?
MF: Yeah, in the 80´s for sure. I don´t remember exactly what year. Probably ´84 or something like that.
Was it for the “Perfect strangers” tour?
MF: Yeah, that´s it.
What was that like and how did you get the gig?
MF: Well, Hawaii just started to get popular in Hawaii actually. We´d been playing in Hawaii for two years or something beforehand and we were so heavy and so noisy and so intense that people hated us really. Heavy metal wasn´t really popular around the whole world in 1981 or 82 and Hawaii is already like 15 years behind. All they wanted to hear was hula dance music and our music was really, really intense and we´d just released an album called “The natives are restless” and for Hawaii it was kinda pop. It was still metal but it sounded like your basic 80´s kinda pop metal, but not like what we were really like and that got us really popular in Hawaii. The radio stations played us a lot and we started to actually have people show up at our shows and we started to make a name for ourselves in that small place. We´d done a lot of gigs and we had a name around town and they asked us to do the big show with Deep Purple. It was a great show but I was never a Deep Purple fan at all. That whole classical music played by rock, it didn´t impress me at all. It wasn´t my type of thing but when I saw them play live I realized how professional they were and how unprofessional we were. I thought we were the greatest thing ever and I had a big old ego. I was a big old ego guy. I was like “They suck! They´re a bunch of old fat guys!” and I could not be bothered with it. Then after we finished playing, they started playing and they sounded about 5000 times better than us and it was just such a professional sound and I just couldn´t believe how much better they were than we were. After that point I really stopped being an egomaniac. (laughs) When a band that you didn´t really like, just blows you away so much, you kinda learn from the experience and I was maybe like 18 or so. No I was older than that. I was probably 20 or something and it really changes your mind about professionalism, but we did a really good job as far as Hawaii goes, but we were kinda like crazy young kids playing heavy metal and they were professional, so I learned a lot about that and tried to be a little bit more professional after that.
Cool. I also read that you played Budokan in Tokyo in 2003? What was that like? That is a classic arena. Did it feel like playing in a historic place?
MF: I was always a huge fan of Budokan just because it´s legendary. I think it´s the only venue in Japan that rock people know the name of. Megadeth never played there and so when I came here by myself I played Budokan three times, but the first time… of course I was nervous, but it´s just another gig so there´s actually no reason to be nervous and when you get in there it just looks like a nice venue, but I kinda like psyched myself into getting nervous because you gotta get a little bit nervous, man. It´s a nice venue and I´ve played millions of similar venues all around the world, but it´s not the biggest venue in the world. I think it´s maybe 6000 or 7000 people, but it is legendary and the first time I played there it was just the biggest thrill. I had billions of photos taken and sent them to every single person I knew and I just loved it. It´s just an awesome thing to do.
Have you stayed in touch with Dave Mustaine and the other guys through the years?
MF: Not all that much. Not really that much, but not zero. We´ve been in touch a few times and it´s very friendly and I have no problem in the world with them and wish them nothing but success and hopefully they feel the same.
Have you listened to any of the stuff they did after you left?
MF: Actually, I heard the one record they made right after I left and that´s the last most recent thing I heard of theirs. That´s about it really.
I read that one of the reasons that you left was that Megadeth wasn´t aggressive enough. Is that true?
MF: Oh yes, that´s totally true. Totally, totally true. At the time when I left it was the beginning of 2000, but I actually told the guys that I was gonna leave in the middle of ´99, but that´s another story. I left in 2000 an at that time every other band was just about a 1000 times more aggressive than we were. At the time you had I guess Korn and Marilyn Manson and even Limp Bizkit had stuff that was deeply heavy and our stuff just sounded thin and small and to my ear it just sounded really dated and very old fashioned and traditional. There´s absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things and in fact a lot of people who are into heavy metal, really like that traditional sound and don´t want it to change, so that´s a very valid point and I understand it especially since I´ve been an Ramones fan since I was a baby. When they changed just the slightest thing I got all crazy, so I understand that but with a name like Megadeth and all the other bands are just blowing you away with this big deep heavy sound that is way scarier and way harder and more aggressive than a band called Megadeth, it was not turning me on anymore. I was like “Let´s do one thing or the other! Let´s either get friggin´ heavier or let´s just be a little bit more marketable, because right now, we´re kind of an underground band and we shouldn´t be. We´ve got so much great potential within the four members of the band that we shouldn´t be an underground traditional metal band.”. That´s not where I wanted to go, but maybe that´s where they wanted to go. It was just a completely musical decision why I left the band and it had absolutely nothing to do with any personal problems. I was just seeing all these other bands and I love aggressive music, but it´s gotta be really fucking aggressive. I hear stuff now like Decapitated and stuff like that. I would´ve wanted to play stuff more in that vein than what we were doing. I thought, maybe our first couple of records when I joined the band were kind of aggressive for that time, but there was so much stuff after it that I would say was trumping us in that department. I know music´s not a competition and I wasn´t competing, but I just thought that other bands were doing what I thought we should do better. I don´t know why we were always in the mid tempo kind of 80´s thrash metal zone and we were all beyond that, but that´s really what I meant back then and I totally meant it.
About doing something different, did you listen to Metallica´s “Lulu” project?
MF: Ahhh, I think I heard one song where Lou Reed is like talking or something. I didn´t listen to it thinking that I was gonna be asked about it, I just remember “What´s this?”. Was he rapping or was it spoken word?
Yeah, I guess it´s more like spoken word throughout the album.
MF: Yeah, I don´t know. I have no idea.
But as a musician, could you see yourself doing something that´s totally different from what you´ve done before in a way to push things forward?
MF: I absolutely believe it and I absolutely get it and I understand it. The thing with Metallica is that they´re such a great band and they´ve got so much great stuff already in their history, that they could just like fart on a record and people would at least wanna see why they´re doing it, you know. They´ve got so much great stuff and they´re allowed to be experimental if they want. I have a lot of weird trippy stuff that I haven´t released that maybe if I was in a band like Metallica, I would have the opportunity to release it, but I kinda keep my stuff a little bit more to how I´d like to represent myself, but I think all musicians have a lot of experimental stuff and that´s how you grow. I give them total props and total credit for always being experimental and that´s why they´re always one step ahead of the curve in the world of heavy metal and that´s why they´re like the Rolling Stones of heavy metal. They´ve always continued to reinvent themselves while keeping that great sound, but I can´t really speak for that whole “Lulu” album. I don´t think they´re gonna lose fans with it, but they have fans of their old stuff who are not gonna like it as much most likely, but if they like it, that´s all that matters. It really is. Especially when you have a history of success behind you. It takes balls to do something that you know your hardcore fans are not gonna like. It´s easy to preach to the converted. It´s easy to do that and it´s fun to do it because everyone´s gonna love you and it´s great, but it takes balls to take a risk and even more balls to do it in public and release it so I give them credit.
Right. Finally, as I understand it, you´re turning 50 in December of this year?
MF: Ah well, some people might think that. (laughs)
How do you feel about your age. I turned 40 a year ago and you really get the feeling that things go faster and the years go by faster. Do you feel like there´s all this stuff that you gotta do before you turn 70 and you can´t hold a guitar anymore or do you juust go with the flow?
MF: Nah nah, I never ever think about that kinda thing. Age has not stopped me from doing anything and actually, I think I´m probably way healthier no than I was 20 years ago. I´m able to do so much more and so much better with so much more energy now than before. It´s almost like a strange phenomenon I guess in my case because I really feel that I am physically stronger and I´m better at what I do than ever and it keeps going that way for whatever reason. I think it´s the things I´ve surrounded myself with and projects that I´ve been involved with and just a constant flow of interesting work that I have been able to do. Maybe that´s my secret, enjoying what I do. I never think about that and I lie about my age constantly if I´m asked. (laughs) That helps, man. As long as you look the age that you´re lying about, who cares?
True. What other projects have you got going on right now?
MF: Too many to even speak about. A lot of the stuff is pretty much all for Japan as of right now, but I´m looking at American releases of my past five records. I´m looking to do the same thing in America as I did in Europe and that means touring there too, but in Japan I have tours planned and I have new releases planned and lots of television stuff, but for anybody reading in Sweden, the main thing I really wanna talk about is this album release and the tour which looks like it´s gonna be in October. I really hope to get to Sweden on this tour because this will be my third solo tour of Europe and on the first and second one I didn´t get to anywhere in Scandinavia. I don´t know if it´s a promoter thing or a money thing or what it is? It´s always been a great place when I came with Megadeth and it´s always been the type of place where I think they would appreciate what I do. Hopefully the promoters that are taking me this time, will get me to Sweden and if not, then hopefully people will be able to see me close by. I do plan to cultivate Europe and America more and hopefully Scandinavia even more. I´m a huge fan of Scandinavian music to be honest with you. I´m a big, big pop fan from way back, like going back to ABBA, but more recently stuff like Aqua and stuff like that. That´s probably gonna lose me friends in the metal world, but a good song is a good song so fuck everybody! (laughs) It really is but a lot of that stuff has correlations to metal, especially now days where everything goes… especially in Japan where everything goes mixing happy silly stuff with really heavy hard stuff. A lot of the best pop music in America is written in Scandinavia and there´s no secret about that so I have a really big interest in a country that puts out so much unique and great melodic music. It´s a big deal for me so hopefully I can play there and soak it up a little bit.
Cool. Well, excellent talking to you Marty. This was actually my first phone call to Japan ever. A totally new experience.
MF: Wow! Well, hopefully I can meet you when I get over there on this tour. We´ll definitely say hello.
Absolutely and good luck with all your projects!
MF: Thank you so much and I appreciate your support.