Marty Friedman – Jukebox Inferno

Sunday, 4th May 2014

Imagine the surprise of the mid-40s ‘banger wearing his Countdown to Extinction tour shirt upon seeing this short snippet compilation of Marty Friedman’s various works in his adopted home country of Japan. He’s an established public persona, with a vast assemblage of TV appearances, commercials, and guest spots with non-metal entities to his name, demonstrating just how vast Friedman’s curiosity, and musical vocabulary is. Furthermore, it has (at least in the Far East) gotten him out of the box of being the “ex” guitar player of a certain band…

Inferno is Friedman’s newest solo venture, and 12th overall. The album is receiving domestic release via indie stronghold Prosthetic Records later this month, serving as the re-introduction to the man’s superlative and unorthodox skills (i.e. he’s one of the few guitarists who prefers upstrokes, a difficult technique). And it couldn’t be a better album for North American crowds, peddling an extreme, technical, and bombastic display of shredding, along with various guest appearances ranging from Danko Jones, to Revocation’s Dave Davidson, to Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho. It’s the heaviest thing Friedman has done since…ever.

The exceptionally polite and soft-spoken Friedman was kind enough to give DR a ring to discuss his solo career, Inferno, and plenty more, with the immediate disclaimer that Megadeth talk was not happening. (Pity the American journalists who try otherwise.) No problem for us – we kept it to one short Q, and off we went…

Dead Rhetoric: When you left in Megadeth in 2000, did you stop paying attention to what was going on in metal?

Marty Friedman: I never paid much attention to what was going on even when I was in the band. [laughs] I never did. I always was and still am, completely a song guy. If I like a song, it doesn’t matter which genre it is. There are a lot of fantastic songs that might be considered metal, fantastic songs that can be considered something else…I tried to never limit myself to a particular genre or scene. An interpretation of a song can be done in the most extreme metal fashion, or, in a completely different fashion. If the content is something that turns me on, then I like it regardless of what genre it might go in.

Dead Rhetoric: Most shredders or metal guys seem to be pretty single-minded in that approach. Based on the scales you’ve played throughout your career and your influences, you don’t fit that mold.

Friedman: If I was referred to as a “shredder” or “metal guy,” that wouldn’t exactly turn me on very much. [laughs] Some people love shredders and they love metal guys and if they want to list me in there, that’s fine. Every person has a completely different musical taste. Even in metal, some of the guys that play in metal bands I know, if you were to invade their iPod or CD collection, you’d be surprised how diverse it is. Myself, I think I’ve gone 20 steps further than that by living in completely different worlds that occupy my CD collection. I wouldn’t want to sell metallers short, because I think a lot of those guys have an open mind when it comes to music.

Dead Rhetoric: With the bio that came with Inferno – and I’m paraphrasing – you said you wanted to do a “balls-out” metal album. Going from J-Pop over to what you have on Inferno, was that easy for you?

Friedman: Inferno is by far the most metal album I’ve done in my career with any band, my solo career included. J-Pop includes things that are extremely heavy. The sound of the word “J-Pop” sounds like it’s light, but J-Pop, what it really means is music that’s popular in Japan. For example, Maximum the Hormone might be considered J-Pop and they’re heavy as you can possibly get. A lot of people in America haven’t heard some of the stuff that I’ve done, and has just been reissued by Prosthetic, like Bad DNA, Tokyo Jukebox, Future Addicts…that could be considered J-Pop, but I consider [it] to be heavy as shit. [laughs] They don’t know it because I’ve been here in Japan doing my thing. I haven’t done any kind of promotion or cultivation of those albums over in America, so it’s rightfully so that people think I’m playing pop music because that’s the kind of information that’s out there.

Dead Rhetoric: Are you aware of Baby Metal?

Friedman: Absolutely! The guitarist who plays in my solo band is in Baby Metal. They’re totally awesome.

Dead Rhetoric: I think it’s a pretty cool concept. I thought it was like a Menudo-type concept where once they reach a certain age, they get booted out. You would know better than I. [laughs]

Friedman: It might be. In Japan, there’s a lot of units and Baby Metal is one of them. They all have to be different from one another because there’s such fierce completion. There are units that are quite metal, like a 15 year-old girl singing, or a couple of girls. Reason is, a lot of people in the music business in Japan – regardless of the music they’re making – are metalheads at heart. Metal is part of the past, really. It’s not something that sells records or puts butts in seats. So what do you do? You gotta reinvent metal in a unique way to keep that metal sound we all love together and bring it into the 2010’s and 2015’s. You can’t just play Dio and expect people to love it like they did when Dio was on top of the world.

Dead Rhetoric: The playing with Baby Metal seemed legitimate too. It’s not like they’re playing clunky riffs.

Friedman: It’s sick. A lot of that stuff they’re playing is stuff created on keyboards, so they’re not really guitar parts. The guitar players have to play that stuff. It’s nearly impossible, and that’s what makes it unique to me. My guitar player, he plays me some of the stuff that he plays and I’m like, “That’s so freaking cool.” There’s a lot of really inventive stuff going on and I love it when you take something we all know the sound of, and you do something different. You got to keep growing.

Dead Rhetoric: You had the always in-demand Jens Borgen (Amon Amarth, Kreator, Opeth, etc.) take care of the mixing duties for Inferno. How did you cross paths with him?

Friedman: Actually, I had another mixer in mind, and the rarest thing happened: I can count on one hand the number of people I haven’t gotten along with in my whole life. I don’t know any musician that I wouldn’t mind jamming with. This engineer I had slated for the mix, I loved his work, but something just happened right before we started to mix. I said, “We can’t work this way. This isn’t going to happen.” So I immediately fired the guy and I had just heard something that Jens did and I asked him about doing the record. He was about to do another record, but he was so nice that he put the other record to the side to do my record, and I was ever so thankful. When I heard his work, I was so glad it worked out that way.

We really needed it for my record. In Japan, there’s a lot of guys I like to work with, but they don’t have the serious specialty of metal sounds. You can’t make a career on the genre in Japan, but Jens has made a name for himself in the world of metal, which is not easy to do. He did such a great job mixing the record. It was very lucky for me that the first engineer didn’t work out.

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