Marty Friedman never expected to be a rock ‘n’ roll icon, an international television star, or an Ambassador of Japan Heritage. As a kid he was interested in sports, but it was music that proved to be an inescapable love. Now with “One Bad M.F. Live!!” due October 19 on Prosthetic Records, the guitar god has amassed an impressive 14 solo albums, and with the studio continuing to woo him after decades in the business, he’s showing no signs of slowing his songwriting roll.
We recently sat down with Friedman to discuss the biggest surprises of his career, how outside influences help him to create, and why his albums are like visiting yearbooks filled with old friends.
TrunkSpace: You’ve had such a vast career spanning all of these different avenues, many we would imagine were never expected. With that said, what has been the biggest surprise for you, that thing that 16-year-old Marty would be all wide-eyed about?
Friedman: Lots of things in Japan are like that. Of course playing music was what I was probably originally intended to do and that was a natural and even that kind of blew my mind to how much I would wind up playing music. But coming to Japan and first doing a lot of television, but then actually just last year being appointed to be an Ambassador of Japan Heritage is just absolutely beyond the realm of my comprehension. There’s a lot of surprises and I’m just very, very lucky with a lot of things along the way.
TrunkSpace: And that’s probably the kind of stuff that you couldn’t have even conceived as a teenager.
Friedman: Yeah, definitely. I mean, at the time I probably barely knew anything at all about Japan and then had much less interest in it. I was really more interested in sports than anything else. And things move along and you just become a new person every six months or so, and next thing you know, you’re doing things that were very unexpected things and it’s all good. It’s all worked out for me. Mainly whatever I do, as long as it benefits my music to some extent, then I’m happy with. I don’t see me doing anything that’s so weird that it takes energy away from making music. I probably wouldn’t wind up doing it.
TrunkSpace: Has your various ventures into television, as well as other aspects of your career, enabled you to have the freedom to make the music that you’ve wanted to make?
Friedman: Actually, that’s a good point. It’s weird. It’s kind of a very fine line sometimes. If I get too many responsibilities doing things other than music, like television and things like that, I start to naturally start to… not resent it, but get a little bit frustrated that I’m not making music. And at the time it doesn’t feel too good. But then when I return to making music, if it’s like, “Oh, this is what I’m supposed to do,” and it seems so easy and so fun at that point. I remember the first time I really felt that was when I was doing a record called “Loudspeaker.” That was when I really first started getting into television and it was all new and very overwhelming and very time consuming and energy consuming. And it was quite difficult actually, doing it in not my native language and just… there’s a lot of learning curves as you go, kind of thing. And I was like, “Why am I doing this?” Sometimes I knew everything was going great, but I was still like, “This isn’t music. This is like somebody else’s life here.” Then when I got into the studio to record “Loudspeaker,” it just flowed out so easily and fun and things started to come out really good. And then I was like, “These outside influences really tend to help the music.”
I think if I was constantly doing only music I might get a little bit bored of that, so it’s good to have something else that takes energy.
TrunkSpace: What’s the longest period of time you’ve ever spent away from creating new music?
Friedman: If I’m touring or if I’m doing anything after the record is done, I’m usually not writing and I’m completely not even thinking about it. But ever since I got an iPhone with a recorder in it, even if I’m not supposed to be writing, I’ll just keep ideas in it. So I’m still constantly writing, just knowing that it’s so easy to store ideas. I’ll just store everything in it, so I’ve got a whole bucket load of stuff that I normally wouldn’t have had if I had not been carrying around this recording with me all the time. So I guess that’s good. But if I’m on tour, I like to concentrate, enjoying the shows and making the shows better and not really think about the next album so much.
TrunkSpace: Technology must be playing a big hand in musicians not losing those little gems that come to them… a riff or lyric that would otherwise disappear if they weren’t able to record it in real time?
Friedman: Oh God, you’re so right! I mean, that whole getting it down… sometimes you just have an idea that you know you’re going to make something out of and if you can’t get it down, at least on paper or something better to have it down on tape or a recording… man, if you lose that moment, you just kick yourself because you knew you could make a song out of it. I love it the way it is now.
TrunkSpace: Your 14th solo album, “One Bad M.F. Live!!” is due out on October 19. Do you have a different connection with a live album than you do with a studio record because of the experience of playing that particular show, which in this case was Mexico City?
Friedman: Yeah, absolutely. I play so differently live than in the studio and usually I’m way, way more satisfied with what I do in the studio because I can sit there and nitpick and do layering of guitars and just all kinds of perfections, just making sure that there’s nothing that I would ever want to change and just kind of put it down for posterity on the record. But live, you’ve only got that one moment and it’s a completely different energy and sometimes it’s better than the studio environment and sometimes it’s worse because you didn’t play it as well as you’d like to or whatever. But it just feels so different. And it got to the point where I was just really enjoying working with my band and touring with my band and seeing the excitement that was happening. I just wanted to document it on a live record and get that completely different sound, get it down and get it out there just for posterity.
TrunkSpace: Do you experience excitement in sort of putting together an album beyond the music itself? The cover art, the roll out of it… does that still excite you?
Friedman: That’s always been the hardest part of it. The easiest part of everything is performing it and everything else is just so much harder. And I can’t remember a single project in my career that hasn’t been a royal pain in the ass and it’s always been everything but the playing. The playing has just been a joy and even if I’m getting anal about stuff and taking a long time to do things, which definitely does sometimes happen, it’s still a joy. With the other things, sometimes they come together quick and sometimes not. And the graphic art especially, when it’s my record… it’s not a band it’s mine, so I have to have the final say. Sometimes having the final say is a pain in the ass, so that’s always hard. But luckily I’ve had great people to work with and it’s just a matter of dealing with the fine details and trying to explain art and a few things. But at the end, when it’s tough, you forget about how much of a drag it was.
I never was ever excited about that. That’s always been a chore, but I’ve always been very excited when I finally approve everything and it’s all a package and it’s done. That’s very, very exciting and I love that. But the process of everything but the playing is just it’s like pulling teeth and I can’t wait to get it done.
TrunkSpace: With such a big body of work, do you view albums as chapters in your life?
Friedman: Absolutely. It’s really like a yearbook every single time I do it because it’s such an intense undertaking and for some reason it’s gotten more intense over the years. You’d think that you’d get lax and you just let it go, but it becomes more of this kind of… not an evil genius type of thing because I’m neither of those things, but that kind of intensity. I’m stricter on myself and it becomes more of an undertaking each time. And so when it’s done, it’s a big relief. And then when I look back on an album or two to three albums ago, I see the names of the people involved and it always brings back really great memories of people who’ve really worked so hard on making this what it was. And so it’s very much like a yearbook and chapter of my life and it brings back specific memories of what was going on in my life at that time, and then the tour that accompanied the record. Definite yearbook feeling.
TrunkSpace: Finally Marty, we started the conversation talking about the surprises of your career. There are kids out there in the world today who are being inspired to pick up a guitar because of you. Is it difficult to wrap your brain around that aspect of your career… the part that has your music touching others?
Friedman: It’s not necessarily hard to wrap my brain around it because I think I’m doing something of some value to someone. I don’t think I would have done it this long if nobody got anything out of it. If I was the only one enjoying it, then I don’t think I would continue. But I think it’s of some value. I’m very flattered. I can totally wrap my brain around people picking up things from it and hopefully getting inspired because I get inspired by so many things that I’ve listened to from my entire career, when I was a kid through now. I’ll hear something that I never heard and be influenced by it and be somehow affected by that tomorrow, so it’s an ongoing thing. It never ends that circle of influence. So I’m flattered more than anything else when people choose to take parts of my music and they want to make it their own and do their own variations of it. It’s flattering more than anything else.
“One Bad M.F. Live!!” is due October 19 on Prosthetic Records.
Featured image by: Maria Debiassi