Marty Friedman Interview
Hey Marty, good morning.
Good morning, nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you, you doing well?
Im well. Is your Japanese alright?
Only a little bit.
Ah that’s good, right? Where are you calling from?
I’m calling from Indonesia.
Oh cool, I was just there.
Yeah, I saw some of your videos on Instagram. How was the traffic?
Oh, that was fun, man.
Yeah, I bet. So where are you right now, Tokyo?
Yeah Im in Tokyo.
What part of Tokyo?
Im in Nishi-Shinjuku.
Oh nice. That’s the place with the Godzilla on top of the cinema?
Yeah, that’s right!
So I guess starting off, I know you were inspired but KISS. Obviously they’re a great band but what was it about KISS that did it for you?
It was athletic. At that time, in my early teens, I was really into sports. American Football, Baseball, Hockey, Basketball, everything. But I was no good at any of it. Too skinny to think of doing it. And then I saw KISS and I thought ‘Wow, this looks athletic’ but it’s like something I can do. So that was really a big factor in it.
So you actually saw them Live in concert?
Yeah I saw them live a bunch of times when I was a kid.
What year was that?
First time was Rock n Roll Over Tour. So that must have been around 1976/77. And then I saw them pretty much on every tour until they started changing members, then I stopped.
They were the soul reason you bought a guitar?
At first yeah, they were the biggest stimulation to do that.
Do you remember the first riff you ever played?
Nah, it was probably something from KISS or The Ramones.
So you were one of the first guys to be signed by Shrapnel Records. How did that happen? Because that’s like a legendary label now.
I was teaching guitar and one of my students told me there was a label that was looking for unknown guitarists. So I sent them this demo tape and they really liked it and asked me to join their label.
And I think at the time Yngwie Malmsteen and Shawn Lane were signed to, did you ever get a chance to meet Shawn or Yngwie?
Actually I was way before those guys.
Yeah, I think you might have been the first one they signed.
I think the first album I did with them was like the 6th album they had done. It was really early. But I’ve never met either of those guys. A lot of the Shrapnel guys I didn’t really know. I was always in a different part of the country.
So when was the first time you met Jason Becker?
Jason was suggested to me by Mike Varney who runs Shrapnel records. He said “you gotta check out this kid, he’s really good”. But I wasn’t interested at first. I was just concentrating on my own record. But once I did me him I just totally fell in love with him. And I said “I wanna make a band with this guy”.
So how long after then did you form the band?
Yeah, I had pretty much done my own solo album and then met Jason so I tried to find a way to make him a part of the record and then make a band out of it. So I had him contribute as much as he could. With the second album, we had more a team going because the first time was mostly stuff I had already prepared.
And how did you come up with the name ‘Cacophony’?
That was the record label. We were so into the music that we didn’t wanna be bothered with things like band names or lyrics or anything like that. It was kind of childish though.
Do you still keep in touch with Jason?
Absolutely. We recently collaborated. I played songs on his new album and I co-wrote a song with him for my album ‘Inferno’. So yeah, we’re still in touch.
It’s so inspiring, like to see him and how he composes with his eyes. It amazes me.
Have you seen the movie?
I have, it’s sad but at the same time uplifting. Just how he can carry on that way. It’s so uplifting.
Yeah it’s definitely inspiring.
So I think with Cacophony it was the first time you went to Japan, right? What were your first impressions of Japan?
It was great! That’s why I’m here now. First time I went there I wanted to show the staff I appreciated how hard they worked so I decided to learn a little bit of the language. Just to make a gesture. And they keep…uh…whats the word? I keep forgetting my English.
That’s actually one of the problems I had when I was in Japan trying to learn the language. I found that my English was getting worse slightly.
It does happen! Do you speak Indonesian?
I tried but, I couldn’t even master Japanese so I wouldn’t attempt to learn Indonesian.
Yeah when you get immersed in another language you definitely forget some of the original language because you don’t use it as much.
So how young were you when you started to learn the language?
I never really officially decided to start learning. As a hobby I picked up a few words here and there but next thing you know I was speaking it. I never had proper training. If I had that training I might have learnt a whole lot faster. But I was doing it as a hobby and then once it got serious and I was doing more activities in Japan I just got a whole lot better. But guys who guy to college to learn pick it up straight away.
So what advice would you give to new beginners who are trying to learn the language? Because, as I said, I failed miserably.
The best advice is to be in a situation where only Japanese can be used. There’s only so much you can do from your own country. As soon as you stop studying you’re back to using your home language. But if you’re in a situation where you need to use Japanese to eat or sleep or anything, then it’s gonna stick a lot better. Home stays are good. Exchange student programs are good. But you’ve gotta be creative because you don’t always have the luxury of going to the country. But by far the best way is to be in the country.
Yeah and try and force yourself to use it in those situations.
You have to. Because nobody speaks English here. It will surprise you. If you got to Europe everyone speaks English. If you go to Scandinavia they speak better English than we do. And people expect it to be the same way in Japan. And then they get here and it’s like ‘oh my god, nobody speaks any English’. The sign aren’t in English and there’s no English street signs. So it forces you to learn Japanese.
Because I lived there for about 2.5 years and the problem I had was that I made a lot of English friends and when we were together we would use English. Which was the mistake, I think.
Yep, that’s it! And another thing that guys do is that they get a girlfriend who speaks English. And then you’re pretty much done with Japanese.
Yep, that’s exactly what I did.
Well, there you go. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Some guys are totally fine with that. But when it comes to learning the language, those are the 2 major things that will stunt your growth. But its fine either way. You also have to think in the other language.
Have you ever taken the JLPT test?
I didn’t take that one. But when I was on tour in America I would take these courses from the University of Oklahoma. And they would send me tests and I would have to go to a college campus somewhere and be watched by a teacher to prove I wasn’t cheating whilst I did these tests. So I did that for a couple of years but never really had any proper training. And now I’m fluent, but my Japanese is like my guitar playing, it’s very unorthodox. But it works and It gets the point across. But if you analyze it you’d say “this guy is fucked up. This guy isn’t doing it right”. But it works and that’s all that matters.
And even the no tipping thing. To me it’s pretty cool but it’s obviously a Japanese thing.
That’s brilliant. It’s the best thing. There’s no reason why a customer should have to do a mathematical equation deciding how much they should tip. They shouldn’t have to judge the service. The price should include the service. The employer should pay the employee more and take the burden off the customer. Let the customer pay more but why make the customer do mathematical equations. A guys on a date, why should he have to think about that stuff.
Very true. And it’s almost like an insult to leave a tip in Japan.
Yeah, it is! It really is. I think it’s a system that’s wonderful and I hope it takes off in other countries. Do they have tipping in the UK?
They don’t. Although I haven’t lived there for so long I’m not sure now.
Yeah, It’s a great thing.
So for me, it was really Japanese pro wrestling that got me into Japanese culture and I saw you done the Wrestle Kingdom event. How did that come about?
Oh with Tanahashi. How did that come about?
I think it was 2014 or 2013.
I remember the event well. It was at the Tokyo Dome. It was a championship match. And when you’re doing it you don’t know whether he’s gonna win or lose. But we did something before and after where it was he and I going through the Tokyo Dome. I was playing real guitar, he was playing air guitar. Oh, that’s what it was. Part of his thing is that he does this air guitar thing when he wrestles. So, he asked me to play the song that he air guitars to and then have me play a bunch of guitar and jam at the championship match. And if he wins do another thing after it’s over. But just watching him do that was mind blowing. Just how much stamina and power these guys have. I mean, regardless of whether any of its choreographed or not, the amount of stamina and absolute kick ass power they have was so incredibly cool to watch. I like to be active when I play, I like to get excited and jump around and be athletic. So when I see guys do that I’m like ‘Wow, I dig it’.
Yeah, you appreciate it.
Yes, the training and power that goes into it. It was an absolute fantastic gig and I’m still waiting for the call to get to go and do it again. I’d be there in a second.
I watched a few dozen shows when I was there and just seeing up close what they put their bodies through is crazy to me.
Yeah! He’s in super shape. We went out to eat afterwards and he eats really healthy. He’s like ideal shape, perfect shaped guy. So that’s real dedication.
And even the women too. I probably watched the women’s more than the men and they are just as rough and tough.
Yeah, it’s a real professional world out there.
And they seem to have more respect for their talent than ya know, WWE and that stuff.
I don’t know too much about wrestling in general but there’s a different mindset when it comes to sports. When it comes to winning at a sport. When I grew up in America, it was like if you win you were high fiving everyone and jumping around like a maniac. But in Japan, if you win something, the more subdued you are the cooler it is. And I think that’s so cool of a concept because if you’re subdued and cool after you won, it means you have so much confidence that you knew you were gonna win anyway. It’s so much cooler than acting like it’s so fantastic and ‘look at me, look at me’. These guys shrug it off. If you go to a sumo match, these guys win these huge matches and they’re like ‘yeah, ok’.
Yeah, like whatever.
Yeah, whatever. It’s very manly. It’s just a different mindset. Somebody turned me on to that because I was like ‘Why aren’t they celebrating’. They said it’s not cool to go crazy after you win something.
And even the fans at rock shows they’re subdued during the performances but once a song stops then they will erupt.
Because they paid good money, they wanna hear the music. They wanna hear every little detail and they wanna see exactly how it’s played. They wanna see which songs are in which order. They wanna hear things in detail that they don’t hear at home when they’re listening to their headphones. And then when the songs over they make a lot of noise and go wild. But they’re listening. When you’re playing its wonderful because you know they’re listening and they care. But it’s also nerve racking at first because they’re gonna hear every little detail. Like, if you..
Mess up a note.
Yeah! Mess up a note. I remember one time somebody in my band played something wrong or something. I forgot what it was. But the next day I was live on the radio and somebody who was there the night before called in and said ‘ya know on the third song one of you guys played something different in the chorus, it seemed wrong. Did you make a mistake?’.
And you’re like ‘oh shit!’
Yeah they’re listening, man. I grew to really like that but at first I was nervous about it.
And that’s kind of another dying thing abroad is that when you go to a rock show everybody is there holding up their phones. They aren’t not involved in the performance.
That’s another whole thing, it’s not done here. Actually depending on the venue, sometimes people sneak that stuff in there. But for the most part it’s prohibited. And it’s less for bootlegging reasons and more that it’s typical Japanese manners. In Japan It’s important not to bother other people. The main thing that sucks about phones is that if you’re watching a concert and someone has their phone up its very distracting. Thankfully at the majority of gigs when you play here there’s no phones. Occasionally there’s one somewhere but it’s not like the sea of phones you get in America.
That’s one of the reasons I stopped going to gigs. I was sick of people holding up phones, it drive me crazy.
I get it. I totally get it
So you’ve done a ton of work in Japan and there’s this legendary clip of you and Paul Gilbert together on a show. When was the first time you met Paul?
Oh wow, I’ve known Paul forever. Even back in the Shrapnel records days. On this show I did a long time ago, Paul came around a couple of times. And it was always great to have him on there. Super great guy and great player. It was easy to do crazy things on that show, there was a lot of joking around and taking the piss. And if you’re a serious musician’s type of person, it’s not gonna be the show for you to be on. We were basically making fun of everything but with the best intentions. But it was like British humor in a lot of ways, like it can get quite nasty sometimes. But it’s all with a good heart, it’s funny, you know what I mean?
Like friendly roasting?
Yeah! A lot of that. And a lot of taking the piss at yourself. So if you go on a show like that and you have an agenda of promoting your album or tour whatever, it won’t work. But Paul was really good about going with the flow. There’s a lot of silly game playing and stuff, typical Japanese stuff. It was a really good show and we had a lot of good guests on that show.
Did you and Paul ever talk about doing a tour or something together? Because seems like a natural fit.
We probably have. We actually just played at the same event in Norway this year in March at the Norway guitar festival. But we probably have. I don’t even remember.
So there’s never been like a G3 talk with you two guys and somebody else?
Not that I can think of but we’ve probably done an event or something together.
I was going to ask you about Buckethead. Whether you’re aware of Buckethead or not? Because we do a lot of Buckethead stuff on our channel about him.
Not really. I’ve heard his music but I don’t know him, I’ve never crossed paths with him. But super guitar player though, that’s for sure!
So you’ve never considered putting a bucket on? Or a mask? Or getting some nunchucks on stage?
No…um…I’m not really that crazy. But it works for him. And what I heard him play was really super, so, it’s all good.
And just quickly, obviously you were in Megadeth and Dave Mustaine currently has his illness. Are you still in contact with Dave?
I’m in contact with all those guys all the time. They’re all fantastic and love them all like brothers.
Awesome! Well, hopefully we get to chat a bit longer next time and go in depth on some things. It was great to talk to you and thank you very much.
Likewise, thank you very much, hope to talk to you soon. Take care.
And you, thank you.