Marty Friedman talks jamming with Megadeth’s Kiko Loureiro, his love of Fleetwood Mac and why he wishes his playing was more accessible

Marty Friedman is doing a New Year's livestream
(Image credit: Susumu Miyawaki)

Like all of us, Marty Friedman is looking forward to a better year in 2021. And he’s doing his best to kick it off in style, with a New Year’s Day livestream featuring a “multi-dimensional visual atmosphere” designed by Japanese motion graphics creator Nobuyuki Hanabusa.

“Playing live is what I want to doing in real life, but it can't be done in real life right now,” the electric guitar whiz explains, calling Guitar World from his Tokyo home. “So I figured, at least we can make the best out of this situation and use some new technology to do something really cool.”

Indeed, the livestream, which will present Friedman and his band performing songs from his forthcoming album, Tokyo Jukebox 3, onstage for the first time, looks to be something “really cool” (for just how cool, read on). But beyond that, Friedman has been busy this past year otherwise.

In addition to the aforementioned Tokyo Jukebox 3, he also recently teamed up, to the surprise and delight of fans, with current Megadeth guitarist Kiko Loureiro on a shredding new song, Imminent Threat, jammed virtually with members of Mastodon and Baroness on an awesome cover of Fleetwood Mac’s You Making Loving Fun and declared, to much interest from GW’s readers, that he was done with effects like reverb and delay.

Friedman spoke with Guitar World about his busy 2020, as well as what’s on tap for the upcoming year. Beyond the livestream, he said he hopes to be able to get out on the road and play the Tokyo Jukebox 3 material live in person. But, he added, “much more important than my silly record is that I hope for a lot of health and happiness and safety for people.”

He continued, “Music is obviously such an important thing for me and for people who read Guitar World. But for most people, music is kind of a nice diversion and then they have to get on with their lives. And those are the people that make life good for the rest of us. So, you know, we get crazy because we can't do a tour or anything like that, but there are people who are having real serious problems out there, and hopefully 2021 will be a better year for them. Hopefully, it will be for all of us.”

What can you tell us about the New Year’s Day livestream concert?

“It's a very new interpretation of what people might have seen me do in the past. Basically when I've played live it's been in a very traditional format – normal staging, normal venues, a pretty stripped-down rock band approach. But having the opportunity to do a streaming concert has given us a chance to work with people who are taking the medium to the new levels.

“Since live concerts aren't happening there's just been an amazingly huge leap in not only the technology around a performance, but the imagination in terms of how to present a musical concert. It’s been happening in Japan, and probably in America, too.

“To get into more details about my particular concert, we'll be doing a normal show for us, but as far as the venue and the technology involved, we'll be in a completely LED environment. It’ll be 360 degrees, meaning the ceilings and the floors and all sides, we're completely surrounded by LEDs.

“The designer who’s doing this is a really avant-garde guy who has done so many of the bigger concerts here in Japan. He’s created content for different worlds for us to be performing in, and each song is interpreted with a different motif. It's really something I've never seen before. When I saw a video explanation of what was going to happen in a run-through my jaw just hit the floor.”

And this will be the first time we get to hear you playing a lot of the material from the new Tokyo Jukebox 3.

A lot of people have discovered Japanese music through my playing the songs and touring with them

“Absolutely, yeah. A lot of this stuff is not released anywhere but Japan and it hasn't been played live anywhere. I've done a couple of songs on TV here in Japan, which you can probably find on the internet. And there's a video for a song called The Perfect World. But the songs for the most are going to be completely new to people.”

What can you tell us about the new record?

“It's the third in a series of albums of Japanese songs that I've covered and destroyed. [laughs] It's been nine years since the last Tokyo Jukebox, and in those nine years I've released a lot of other albums and I've toured everywhere. 

“But the reason I wanted to do this third one now is because I've played so many of these Japanese songs around the world, and a lot of people have discovered Japanese music through my playing the songs and touring with them.

“It's just an amazing feeling to go to a foreign country, or even America, and play these songs as if they were mine and then have the fans discover that they’re really covers, and through that they discover Japanese music and hopefully get the same kind of fever that I got for it when I first decided to move here. It's wonderful to watch that cycle happen and to be kind of a conduit for folks discovering something really, really fresh.”

A few months back you talked about ditching effects like reverb and delay on the new record. What was that about?

Accuracy has never been my top priority – I'm not going to go down in history for being Mr. Accurate!

“I don't want to say there’s none on the new record, but I noticed when I was tracking that, usually when guitar players track stuff, there's some kind of wetness on melodies and solos. I'm exactly the same. And then I noticed that when the engineer took off the wetness there was this kind of 'slap' to my tone. Like a spank that kind of took away some of the softness and led to a more in-your-face-ness. Does that make sense?”

It does.

“So we took a lot of delay off when we were monitoring things back and I said, 'Let's leave it like that.' Then when the final mix started to happen I wound up taking more and more of that stuff off and you could hear more of the nuances in my playing.”

So you actually recorded with effects, and then removed them after the fact.

“Yeah. You monitor with effects a lot. And often when I'm playing live and I have in-ear monitors, I have the monitor person make it super-wet because it's just comfortable to play with wetness. But since this record got mixed, I kind of like the dryness.

“So I’ve started rehearsing with my band with a little bit drier of a tone. And it's not as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. It was really quite an easy transition. And it helps a little bit with accuracy, which has never been my top priority. I'm not going to go down in history for being Mr. Accurate. [laughs] So anything that can help me play a little bit more accurate is okay.”

Beyond your own record, you recently guested on a track, Imminent Threat, from Kiko Loureiro’s new solo album.

“Oh, Kiko and I are bros! He's a good, good friend of mine. Whenever he comes to Japan we hang out. I don't think we've ever sat in a room together playing guitars, but I would certainly love to. He’s a super, super, super guitar player, and a super guy. So when he asked me to play on his thing I jumped to it. I had no idea what he was going to come up with, but the song was really cool. So I did my thing with it and a good time was had by all.”

As would be expected, the idea of the two of you playing together excited the Megadeth fanbase.

“Oh, yeah.”

When you’ve spent time with Kiko do you guys ever trade Megadeth war stories?

Kiko is a real intelligent fellow. So I have to keep up with him!

“I don't remember talking too much Megadeth with him. But he's a real intelligent fellow. So I have to keep up with him! I remember one thing he said that was really interesting – we were talking about Allan Holdsworth for some reason, and he said something about how when you hear any guitarist or any artist, you're kind of hearing their life in their music. And he used Allan as an example, and he used me as an example.

“I'd never really heard it put in those words before. Normally that kind of New Age-y talk makes me want to vomit. But it actually made sense the way he was saying it. I just thought it was a brilliant thing to say.”

So what you’re saying is your conversation is more elevated than, “Dude, how do you play that lick in Tornado of Souls?”

“[laughs] I don't really talk like that with anybody. Although occasionally with the guys in my band, if they play something I think is cool – which is often – I’ll say, 'Dude, show me that!' I've always done that. It doesn't matter who it is, whether I know the person or not. If they're there and they're doing something cool, I'll just stop them and try to try to figure out what it is and how I can make it my own somehow.”

Speaking of cool guitar licks, you recently covered Fleetwood Mac’s You Make Loving Fun with Two Minutes to Late Night. Are you a fan of the Mac?

“Big time. Lindsey Buckingham is one of my favorite guitarists in history. I've ripped off so many motifs from that guy. He plays very basic melody lines, but the way he hangs on single notes, no-one else does it. And it's just so gut-wrenching.

“That was a huge influence on me when I first started playing lead guitars – how do you get that emotion? He's playing the same scales as everybody else is, and he's not doing these, like, 20-finger tapping things, but the second you hear the guy you know it's him. And what he does always elevates the song.

“You know, most pop songs don't have lead guitars in them, and they don't need lead guitars in them. But Fleetwood Mac have the ultimate pop songs, and they all have great lead solos in them. So what does that tell you? That tells you that the guitar player is just amazing.”

He’s definitely an underrated player.

With Eddie Van Halen, everybody tries to do the fret tapping. I don't really have something that people can pick up on like that. It's all just gut stuff

“A lot of people notice how fantastic he is with his fingerpicking and his acoustic playing, and that's something that people can work really, really hard at and kind of master. But there's only one Lindsey who can emote the way he does on leads. And I don't think anybody can really copy that.

“I think this is really important, because a lot of guitarists don’t have that. Even me, I don't really have that one thing. Whereas with, like, Eddie Van Halen, everybody tries to do the fret tapping. I don't really have something that people can pick up on like that. It's all just gut stuff. I kind of wish that I had more of a thing where you could go, 'Oh, do this and you'll sound like Marty,' because it might open some more doors for me. But I think my playing is a bit too eclectic.

“If anything, the thing that people often pick up from my playing is bending from a half-step below a note. But that’s so on-the-surface, and such an absolutely throwaway meaningless thing, that when brought to the forefront it just sounds really weird.”

Well I would make the argument that people tend to characterize your playing as having a certain exoticism, as far as note and scale choices.

“That's true. That's a good point. But it’s not something that’s so tangible.”

It’s more like, you know it when you hear it.

“Right. You know it when you hear it. But I kind of always wished it was more doable by other people. But it is what it is. Some people are easier to impersonate on a surface level. I've heard guys who sound really, really, really good at the surface level doing Eddie Van Halen’s playing. But even so, you can never get the soul of a Van Halen. You can never get it.

“But I think it’s a wonderful thing to be able to do. Although I really have yet to hear people do a surface of my playing that really sounds that much like me. I kind of wish that more people could. I wish I could be a little bit more accessible like that!”

  • Marty Friedman's Tokyo Jukebox Live Worldwide 2021 streaming event takes place on Jan 1 2021. To buy tickets, head over to Zaiko.

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.