“If you talked to me in the mid-‘90s, you know, I was a pretty successful guy. Touring in a big band, a successful solo career, signature guitars. But something was just missing. I’m just a more fulfilled person now.” Thirty years into his career, Marty Friedman has hit his stride more than ever. As part of his first major US tour in years, I caught his solo band the first night of the Axes & Anchors cruise. Simply one of the most energetic live spectacles I’ve ever witnessed, and only describable as instrumental music for people who hate instrumental music. It was wonderful to see fans line up for his new material, which is arguably much more refined and creative than his already excellent earlier work.

Later in the cruise, right after sitting in on Marty’s clinic (in front of Yngwie’s wall of Marshalls), I took the time to ask him some questions. I was able to capture a really unique perspective, having him break down his music, and then getting to have him expand on that one-on-one, just for you guys! Below he discusses the importance of masturbation in guitar technique, what any musician can take away from Japanese music, and his recent Jackson prototypes.

K: “I caught your band the other night! I have to say I was really blown away. Your rhythm section is insane! Your drummer is one of my new favorite people.”

Marty Friedman: “Yeah they’re a fun bunch. Super talented musicians, and they’re really invested in it. You can’t really picture any of them working at a bank. Those are the kind of people you want out there with you.”

K: “Especially live, your melodies are really expressive. What’s your process for writing and arranging?”

M: “I like to improvise a lot but obviously I write ahead of time before going into the studio so I have something to work with. I really don’t consider theory much. Theory is great, but theory is safe. You can play great every time, but will it be interesting? So the closer you listen to me, you’ll find that all I play is bullshit. It’s my own kind of bullshit. But it becomes a really love or hate thing, and that’s fine. You have to like what you like. As far as being expressive goes, well, I never really liked the straight alternate picking up and down that was really popular in the late ‘80s. I want to play something that sounds good. Girls don’t like alternate picking, man. They don’t care when you play a wrong note live either. They just want tasty, catchy riffs.”

K: “That seems to be something that you really developed further once you moved to Japan.”

M: “I really found myself playing things I like more towards the later days of Megadeth. We were just allowing ourselves to be way more creative. Cryptic Writings, we were playing lots of weird solos, and trying out dozens of guitars, hollowbodies, strats, lots of cool shit. Up until then, it had been all Jackson. If you want a thrash guitar, for that super aggressive sound, they build the best guitars on Earth for that, but it was good getting to branch out. Once that was over, I found myself moving to Japan simply because I liked the music. At any given time, if you pull the Top 10 pop songs in Japan, I probably like 9 of them. All of them are good songs, but I just identify with 8 or 9 of them. If you took the U.S. Charts now? I’m lucky to like one. It’s all about knowing what you like. I prefer radio static to Celine Dion. She’s a great performer and I have immense respect for that, but you have to understand that about yourself. I’m sure tons of people love Celine Dion and hate me. Once you get into the industry, all these forces are going to be pulling you in different directions: bandmates, labels, producers. That will happen, but hopefully at the end of the day you’re true to yourself and putting out music that you really love to play. Since moving to Japan, I’ve been lucky enough to do that.”

K: “So how’d you get started on guitar? What did you like to play that inspired you?”

M: “Well I was 14, I started late compared to other guys. Starting out, it was all about KISS and The Ramones. Which is good for a guitarist because you get to have fun. If you start out listening to and trying to play John McLaughlin and DiMeola you’re going to hate your life. People always ask about my pick hand and it honestly came from jerking off a lot. It’s great practice.”

K: “Yeah the glam and punk influences really show through in your solo music. The raw energy (a lot of which comes from J-Rock as well) and the bombast really cut through. It’s still really varied, though. How do you try to keep things fresh while still playing ‘what you want?’”

M: “Well my own music is too much Marty sometimes. It can become nauseating. I like to cut that with other people. So Inferno had guest musicians all over it. Dave Davidson who is a completely mind-blowing guitar player (Revocation is astounding), Rorigo y Gabriela, who I’m actually going to be performing live with soon. It’s just a lot of fun letting other people bring their personalities in.”

K: “Have you kept up with Jason lately?”

M: “Yes I talk with him as much as possible. He’s truly one of my best friends. And he just gets even more talented over time. He’s working on some new material and it’s going to be the greatest thing you’ve ever heard. Every time I’m working on something, I ask myself if Jason would like it. It’s super cool that people on a cruise out in the middle of the Caribbean are asking about him. I’m going to tell him people were asking about him.”

K: “Switching gears a bit, your new Jackson is really interesting! Cool to see you playing them again. How’d you go about starting your relationship with them back up?”

M: “I thought it was time to come home. They make fantastic guitars, I just like playing a lot of things so I wound up with PRS for a while, especially when I was playing mellower music. Nothing is official yet, we’re prototyping, but they were really receptive to the idea of me getting a new signature model, and it’s all going really well so far. As I get older, I’m really appreciating the Les Paul look. It’s like a tuxedo. It’s just so damn cool. I wanted to take that and make it a bit more aggressive with the headstock and the bevels. We’ve been going back and forth and tweaking things. I can’t tell you a lot about specs, but I can tell you what’s really important to me about a guitar is how it feels in my hands, and how it reacts to the knobs. I need something really expressive where the realm between 0 and 100 actually exists. I think we’re really nailing that.”

K: “So I’d like to wrap this up with two questions, that I think you’d really enjoy answering. Firstly, how did moving to Japan personally affect your music? And finally, what’s one tenet of Eastern music that you think American musicians could apply to improve their own music, or even their lives?”

M: “Japan changed everything for me. I picked up the language in my spare time on tour while I still lived in the States, and I integrated pretty quickly once I moved. It’s an entirely new life. I play with huge pop musicians, I’ve had over a thousand television appearances, I’ve testified before their government about things totally unrelated to music, I give lectures at universities. If there’s one thing I want everyone reading this to know, it’s that any big scary change you’ve ever wanted to make in your life, do it immediately. That will help your music; that will help your entire life. I’ve become a more interesting person, I have intellectual pursuits now- it takes a lot more to keep my attention. If you become a more interesting person, your music will become more interesting. Your entire life can only get better, I guarantee it. As far as the music goes, it’s really just a dedication to melody. Making sure everything serves the melody, but the only way to figure that out is to listen to it. For heavier stuff, I’d really recommend your readers check out Maximum the Hormone, and for lighter stuff: Perfume.”

This article was written by Kyle Karich, our editor located in Florida.

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