January 19, 2020

Guitarist Marty Friedman Talks New Album, Life in Japan and Israeli Embassy

Photo by Maria Debiassi

Marty Friedman is an anomaly within the musical world. He started off in the 1980s as a guitar-centric recording artist for Shrapnel Records, which had also signed his metal band Cacophony. The start of the 1990s brought him into the Megadeth fold, in which Friedman would go on to sell millions of albums. Yet nowadays, he is arguably more famous than ever before, internationally renowned as not only a guitarist but also as a writer, author, television personality and all-around music authority.

Friedman moved to Japan in 2003 and quickly found work as a sideman for several Japanese prominent recording artists. While he still plays with other artists – Friedman’s credits include Momoiro Clover Z and Ayumi Hamasaki — Friedman himself is a prominent solo artist with more than a dozen albums to speak of. In addition, as an in-demand host and actor, he reportedly has over 700 television credits. However, the guitar hero chooses not to rest of the laurels of his stardom within Asia, instead opting to tour the U.S. and elsewhere every year or so for the past few years.

The latest full-length release from Friedman is “ONE BAD M.F. Live!!,” which is set for an October 19 release via Prosthetic Records. “ONE BAD M.F. Live!! is a recording of a show Friedman performed in Mexico in April 2018 with backing from Kiyoshi (bass), Jordan Ziff (guitar), and Chargeeee (drums). Also new and related to Friedman – who performed the Opening Ceremony at the Tokyo Marathon in both 2017 and 2018, in addition to a recent collaboration with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra on the government-sponsored “Japan Heritage Theme Song” – and is a Japan/Israel collaboration sponsored by the Israel Embassy from this month.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Marty Friedman on behalf of the Jewish Journal.

Jewish Journal: I believe you have now been living in Japan for 15 years now. Do you see yourself spending the rest of your life there? 

Marty Friedman: I started out thinking that I was going to live in Japan and in the U.S. half and half, but it didn’t work out that way. I like living in Japan, but I also get to tour the world a lot and do things in the U.S., so it’s not like a complete transplant. My home base is in Tokyo, though.

JJ: Family and friends aside, is there anything you miss about living in the States?

 MF:  By far, it’s family and friends. Those are really the only things I truly miss. That part is hard. Everything else is like, I can enjoy it when I’m in the U.S., but I don’t really pine for it. It’s not like I’m in Japan thinking, “You know, I’d really like to go to a Bed Bath & Beyond today.” I do wish Japan had the selection of breakfast cereal that Americans take for granted though. There are only a few choices and they all suck. Cap’n Crunch is not a staple over here, unfortunately.

JJ: You recently did a project with the Israeli Embassy. How did that come about?

MF: I’m an ambassador to Japan Heritage, so I often do Embassy-related events, anything that promotes good feeling between Japan and other countries. This time I was invited by Yossi Sassi, a wonderful Israeli musician, to play the song “Mayim Mayim” for an Israel-Japan week that a radio station in Japan did do celebrate all things Israeli.

“Mayim Mayim” is an Israeli song that for some odd reason, EVERY person in Japan knows, and most even know its accompanying dance. I grew up in a normal Jewish way in the U.S., and I never heard of that song or the dance. I really have to give Japan credit, they take an interest in many cultures and try to experience little parts of other people’s traditions, out of curiosity and respect.

JJ: Does the Israeli Embassy have much of a presence in Japan?

MF: I suppose if you are in the area where the embassies are, it might, but unless you have visa issues, most embassies are pretty low profile here.

JJ: Your new live album was recorded during a recent South American tour. How many shows from the tour did you record and ultimately listen to for the album?

MF: Marty Friedman: Only one show, in Mexico City. That takes balls, as there is no backup if something goes wrong, but my band and crew are on fire every night, and we had a top class engineer — Chris Rakestraw, who also did my Inferno album — come out to record us so all went well. It’s a very solid representation of what happens at one of our shows.

JJ: Geography aside, is playing live in the States any different for you than it is in Japan?

MF: Japanese people listen while you are playing and make noise after the song is over. That is the biggest difference. It’s sonically quiet while you play, so if you make a mistake, it’s gonna stand out. In other countries, people are going wild all the time so no one will notice if you “take liberties.”

That said, if you are used to playing in the U.S. or Europe, and then you go to Japan to play, it can be a bit unnerving for that reason. There is no “buffer of crowd noise” to hide behind, it’s just you and your music. Luckily, we are used to playing at Japan standards, so when we play in other countries, it’s a breeze and we take more risks.

JJ: Aside from the new live album and the collaboration with the Israeli Embassy, are there other projects of yours that you are allowed to talk about?

MF: I will be touring a lot from November through May, in Japan, the U.S. and Europe. The USA tour will cover the whole country and be from January 14 through February 25.

JJ: Is there anything you haven’t yet accomplished in your career that you are still hoping will happen? 

MF: I’ve never wanted to do anything more than make better music and make more people happy in the small way that I can.

JJ: What do you wish more people knew about Marty Friedman?

MF: I would like more people to discover my music.

JJ: Finally, Marty, any last words for the kids?

Marty Friedman: There are a lot of nice correlations between Israel and Japan, or the Japanese and Jews, I should say. A lot of human traits are similar, and even musical motifs are eerily similar. The taste for the melancholy melodies and sad folk themes in music are very similar, in my opinion. Everyone should visit Japan at least once in his or her lifetime, as it is a wonderful experience that will stay with you always.

More on all things related to the guitar legend can be found online at www.martyfriedman.com.

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