WHETHER IT’S HIS GROUNDBREAKING WORK WITH Cacophony, his Shrapnel solo albums, or on platinum-selling Megadeth
records, Marty Friedman has always played dazzling, intricate
guitar work that is teeming with complex rhythms and intriguing note
choices. But, if you only focus on the technical side of things, you’re
missing the boat according to Friedman.
“I like the term ‘high energy’ better than ‘technically demanding,’”
he says, “because my music is all about energy, aggression, and waves
of good-feeling emotion coming over you. I’m constantly going after
that rush. I want an orgy of guitar mania. I want the guitar to be a
tool of complete excitement.”
Friedman’s maniacal guitar orgy is in full swing on his latest, Inferno
[Prosthetic], which finds him dishing out his trademark brand of exotic
shred and also collaborating with Alexi Laiho, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and
others. Inferno also marks the first time Friedman has written a tune
with his Cacophony bro and BFF Jason Becker. The two joined forces
on the track “Horrors,” one of the strongest cuts on the album and
one that is sure to delight fans of the duo worldwide.
The release of Inferno comes at a good time for Friedman. With a
PRS signature model guitar in stores and tours of Europe and Japan
in the offing (with American dates to follow), 2014 is shaping up as
the year that puts Marty Friedman squarely back into the guitar universe’s
How would you characterize the difference between Inferno and
your prior work?
I wanted the songs on Inferno to fit two criteria. First, I thought
about what people around the whole world really want to hear from
me musically. They want to hear me play my ass off and play aggressive,
heavy music. The other criteria was it had to be something that
turned me on—something new and fresh that in no way repeated
anything from the past. As long as a tune or idea fit those criteria, it
would be a candidate to make it on the record. I had to top everything I had ever done before and do something that
would simultaneously appeal to the entire
world and to me.
Talk about the collaborations. Was the
way that you worked with the other artists
on this record a new thing for you?
I’d never done any collaborations like this
before. The concept of it was this: A lot of
times you’ll have a collaboration where a
guest will play a solo on one of your songs
or you’ll record a lead guitar track for somebody.
That’s all fine and good, but I wanted
something way, way deeper. I decided to have
them write songs with me and really make
each particular guest song a band experience.
I’d be the producer, lead guitarist, and
arranger, but it’s our song together. The fans
get to hear what it would be like if I was in
the same band with Rodrigo y Gabriela or
Alexi Laiho. There’s a deeper connection
to the song and it’s way more satisfying to
me than just having somebody blast a solo.
How did you choose the artists you collaborated
When the subject of making the album
came up, the record company in America
had put together this list of musicians and
guitar players who were praising me in interviews.
Some of them I wasn’t even familiar
with. I haven’t followed anything outside
of the current Japanese music scene for so
long that I really had no idea what people
were saying or what people were doing outside
of Japan. I saw this list of these great
things that fantastic musicians were saying
about me and I was completely blown away,
moved, and touched. I thought back to this
experience that I had quite a while ago
when Michael Schenker asked me to work
on a project with him. Being a fan of his, I
remember this enthusiasm that came over
me to do it. Oh my God! I’m playing with
this guy whose posters were on my bedroom
wall and whose music I learned. I wanted to
evoke that feeling in these guys who might
have looked at me the same way that I looked
at Michael Schenker.
How cool was it to work with Jason
It was the ultimate. I asked him if he had
any material that he wanted to send me to
make a song out of, and he did. There was
one piece of music from his movie, Not Dead
Yet, where he’s working on a little piece of
music. It was just a little melody at that
point. I said, “Dude, I’ve got to have that. I
could go crazy with that. I could really flesh
that out into something.” He said, “Oh man,
I’d love to have you work on it.” And so he
sent me that and a couple other things like
what became the intro to “Horrors,” that
classical part in the middle of the song, and
a couple other little snippets. Then I took my
own song that I was working on and put it
together with that and arranged a whole big,
epic, Cacophony-of-the-future type of thing.
The acoustic, classical-sounding parts
in “Horrors” were played by Ewan Dobson.
Yes. I didn’t know him at all. One day I
got a random email and I might click on one
out of a thousand of those things. Well, for
some reason I clicked on his, and it’s him
playing acoustic guitar on YouTube. I thought,
“This guy smokes me on acoustic guitar.” So
on “Horrors,” I had some acoustic parts written
by Jason and some counterpoint parts
that I had written and I would rather have
somebody who is actually fantastic at doing
that sort of thing play it than have me do the
same thing in twice the time. So I mentioned
it to Ewan and he was a dream to work with.
It was literally like having the spirit of Jason
Becker in the studio. I was producing him the
whole way, making him play things exactly
to my specifications. So it really sounds like
a Jason and Marty collaboration because he
played the parts exactly the way I would produce
Jason playing them.
The way those acoustic lines are harmonized
in “Horrors” really did take me back
to your Cacophony days. You guys always
had a knack for harmonizing lines in surprising
ways, and the acoustic lines in this
song are definitely not harmonized in a conventional
I know exactly what you’re talking about.
That section is so Cacophony right there. One
side is the part that Jason wrote, which is a
very proper, classical-sounding part. It kind
of sounds like something Bach or Beethoven would come up with—a nicely played, theoretically
sound piece of classical music. And
the other part, which I came up with, is kind
of a dissonant counterpoint to that. Those
two sounds together are a very identifiable
part of what happened in Cacophony, both
electrically and acoustically. It’s really a nice
little window of space in that song.
You’ve always been into using exotic
scales and tonalities. Can you talk a little bit
about what scales you’re using in “Wicked
Panacea” or “Sociopaths”?
I’ve said this about a billion times, but
since it’s been a long time since I’ve been
in Guitar Player, maybe I should repeat it. I
don’t think in terms of scales. I have no idea
what the names of scales are that I play. You
said exotic tonalities, and that describes my
thought process better than scales, because
a scale is like a sequence of notes that go
in a certain order. I rarely go up and back
down in the same order if I do any kind of
sequence. I definitely do think in terms of
tonalities and they could certainly be called
exotic, because I think a lot of my musical
feeling comes from the sound of folk music
of foreign cultures like say, Persian, Indian,
Israeli, or Russian music—not that I’m an
expert in any of those. But I find that when
I hear tonalities in those kinds of music, it
naturally comes out while I’m playing. So if
you were to analyze one of my ad-lib solos,
you might hear a little piece of an Okinawan
folk song or something. But it’s about the
tonality; not because it’s in a particular scale.
Does the chord structure underneath you
influence what notes you’ll choose? As an
example, if you’re in the key of E and the progression
also has an F, will you reflect that
flat 9 in the scale you’re soloing with, or are
the two completely separate in your mind?
The chord absolutely influences what
I play on top of it in every possible situation.
That’s not to say that if I’m in E I have
to play a predetermined sequence of notes.
I can go anywhere. I’ll break every rule. If
it’s Em, I’ll play a G# over it just to put it in
your face. If it’s in E, I’ll sit on F for half of
the measure. But believe me, I know what
those chords are and what voices are in those
chords and what voices I’m playing on top of
them. It really depends on what I’m trying to
do on that particular passage of music and
I’m open to every possible thing, which may
include something that sounds very much
like a common scale. But for the most part
it doesn’t, just because of the way I normally
interpret things. But the chord and
the chord progression are über important.
Often I’ll do this process where I’ll have a
chord progression and I’ll solo over it. Then
I’ll change the chords under it, even though
I’ll leave the solo the same, essentially saying,
“F*ck those chords.” As long as it sounds
pleasant to me then it’s all good. You might
have to be a serious music theory scholar
to explain it properly, but I just basically go
by my ear and a lot of trial and error until I
find something that that I dig.
Did you have a go-to rig for the guitar
tones on this record?
I have go-to brands, really. My go-to guitar
is PRS and my go-to amp is Engl. During the
course of recording, I found that I was using
one guitar more than others, and that PRS is
the one that wound up being the template
for my signature model that’s coming out
right now. I told them, “This is the guitar I’m
using the most in the studio. I love the way
it sounds and the way it feels. Make my signature
guitar exactly like this to every detail
and we’ll be cool.” I used a whole bunch of
Engl amps, and I kind of let the engineers
and the techs set them to make them sound
best for whatever part it was I was playing.
What advice do you have for players
who want to get their chops up to the level
where they’re able to play high-energy
music like yours?
The best piece of advice is this: Once you
find something in your playing that sounds
good to you, go head over heels in that direction.
Developing enough chops to play like
me or Jeff Beck or anybody is not the goal.
The goal is to acquire the chops to develop
yourself to a point where you’re going in a
direction that you like. Once you can do
that, you’re halfway home because if you
have your own unique direction, no one can
touch you. Ever since I started playing, I’ve
gone completely in my own direction. The
flip side is, I could never be in a Led Zeppelin
cover band or something because I would
suck at copying Jimmy Page or anyone else.
So the point is, if you want to really grow
as a guitarist, find something that you dig
about yourself, exploit the living hell out of
it, and continue developing that forever.