Marty Friedman: Big in Japan
GW How did you get involved in Japanese television?
FRIEDMAN When I started working with Aikawa, I was doing exactly what I wanted to do—playing, touring and making records with a J-pop band. Then I got an offer to do a brandnew TV show called Hebimetasan, which means “Mr. Heavy Metal.” The subject of the program didn’t interest me at all. They wanted to expose the secret heavy metal fantasies of people like actors, soap opera stars and celebrities who you wouldn’t think were into rock or metal. The idea was to get them on the show and see how much they knew or didn’t know about heavy metal. At that point heavy metal felt really old to me and I wasn’t that into it any more. But I did the show, and when we actually got down to doing it, it was such a cute idea. The show was only supposed to go one season, which is a quarter of a year, but it became a big hit and ended up going six seasons. Through that I got picked up by the biggest television production company in Japan, which is now my management. Thanks to them I’ve probably been on 300 TV shows since I’ve been here.
GW What was the biggest adjustment you had to make living in Japan?
FRIEDMAN The way of making music here is totally different than it is in America. Songwriting and the structure or architecture of making music is totally different. I adjusted to that right away, though. A lot of metal in America is based around the riff and the vibe of the song. After you’ve got that down you put a melody on top of it. Here [in Japan], it doesn’t matter how heavy or hard the rock is—the song is based around the melody. That is decided upon before you even start to make rough demos, which is a very interesting and good way to write music. If you don’t have a melody, it doesn’t matter how bitchin’ your riff is, because the tune won’t have the ups and downs and the excitement and memorable elements that you get from a great melody.
GW Your own music has become more melodic as a result of that.
FRIEDMAN Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to get deeper and improve my music even the slightest bit. I always want to get better as a musician, and that doesn’t always necessarily mean practice. It’s also about being able to open your mind and interpret what you’re feeling that much clearer than one day before. When I listen to stuff that I’ve done in the past I’m truly proud of it and know that it was the best that I could have done at that time. But there’s no way I would have done the same thing, even under the same circumstances, now. There’s a depth that wasn’t there before. A lot of it comes from life experience. I’m much more pleased with the way I’ve been playing over the last three or four years. I feel good about letting people listen to what I’ve done. I’m happy about that, and I’m happy that I haven’t gone backward.
GW Your playing, especially on the live album, seems more confident now.
FRIEDMAN There’s no question. A lot of that has to do with the television influence. You never know what you’re going to end up having to do on the spot, especially on live TV. All the people I work with on television are professionals—they don’t kiss anyone’s ass—and they expect me to get stuff done right away, even if it’s the strangest request. That gives me the confidence of knowing I’ll be fine, no matter what comes up.
One time I had this session where I had to play a guitar solo. I never heard the song before, and I told them to play the song and just let me play. I had no idea what key the song was in or what type of song it was. I ended playing just one take, and it was fine. The more you get put in situations where you have to adapt your ear, the sharper it becomes, until you reach a point where what you play will always fit the situation. That’s much better than having the same type of experiences all of the time. I might have been able to do that five or 10 years ago, but as a guitar player I’m so much happier with my ability to play than I was before. Hopefully that shows up on the live record. It’s probably the kind of thing that guitarists who analyze other players’ performances will notice.
GW Your playing sounds very comfortable, like it’s easy for you even though what you’re playing is not very easy at all.
FRIEDMAN It is easy for me, but if I were to play someone else’s music it would be extremely hard. My music might be extremely difficult for another musician to play, but if I were to play that musician’s music I’d probably have a hard time playing it their way and I’d wind up doing it my own way by default. I always like playing with a little bit of headroom. I like to have room to spare instead of being at the edge of my capabilities. I strive to perform like that instead of barely being able to eke by.
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