Marty Friedman Blazes on 'Inferno'

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.

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 face.

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 with?

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 Becker again?

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 fashion.

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.