Guitar legend Marty Friedman talks U.S. tour, mega-stardom overseas, shedding the past

In the 15 years since guitarist Marty Friedman left heavy-metal band Megadeth and moved, two years later, to Japan, he has amassed millions of fans on the other side of the world.
September 8, 2015

In the 15 years since guitarist Marty Friedman left heavy-metal band Megadeth and moved, two years later, to Japan, he has amassed millions of fans on the other side of the world. In that decade and a half, he has not only continued building his legacy as a guitar hero but also has become a television personality and published writer and has accrued substantial acting credits in Japan. A 2014 article in Billboard referred to Friedman as “the Ryan Seacrest of Japan,” yet he had done even more product endorsements and commercials than Seacrest.

Although many musicians would be content with their dominance in one country, Friedman is in the midst of reinventing himself in the United States. Prosthetic Records, a Los Angeles-based record label specializing in heavy metal, has released five of Friedman’s Japan albums, including 2014’s “Inferno.” In support of the release, Friedman is hitting the road for his first North American tour in 12 years, which will include stops in Los Angeles (Sept. 30 at the ” target=”_blank”>House of Blues).

The Journal spoke with Friedman about growing up Jewish in Maryland, his celebrity in Japan, his music and his upcoming tour. 

Jewish Journal: What do you wish more people knew about Marty Friedman? Do you feel there are any common misconceptions about you?

Marty Friedman: The main one, in the U.S. anyway, is that I’m in the band Megadeth. I left the band 15 years ago, and while I`m thrilled to have left a long-lasting impression, I have no interest whatsoever in talking nostalgia or revisiting the past. I’ve managed to [overcome] that image in Japan and to some extent [in] Europe, but in the U.S., I have not done enough to cultivate that territory to the point where people are as aware of my music as I’d like. That’s why I`m doing a full U.S. solo tour in September. Megadeth has an absolutely amazing band now, and they are about to write a great new chapter in their illustrious history. I’ll be cheering them on all the way!

JJ: There is a synagogue called Oseh Shalom in the town in which you were born, Laurel, Md. Did you belong to a temple growing up?

Friedman: Yes, and that was the one, the only one in town! A very small, suburban neighborhood shul.

JJ: Did you have a bar mitzvah?

Friedman: Yes, at that shul. It’s funny, my bar mitzvah experience was not unlike many, many music and television experiences to come. You learn a ton of difficult stuff, memorize it, practice it, trim the edges, and make it so it can be performed smoothly and confidently, then you go up in front of a whole bunch of people and spit all that information out. Then everybody hands you checks. 

JJ: When was the first time you recognized that a fellow hard-rock or heavy-metal musician was Jewish?

Friedman: Rock stars were the first Jewish guys that seemed cool to me. Most of my Jewish friends and I were nerds, so until I saw KISS, David Lee Roth and all the other Jews in rock, I thought I was going to be doomed to eternal nerd-dom.

JJ: Having experienced fame in both the U.S. and Japan, how do the two compare?

Friedman: It’s easier to escape fame in the U.S. than Japan for me because I’m much more high profile in Japan than the U.S., because I do much more TV in Japan. TV seems to have way more mainstream visibility than being a rock musician. Either way, I don’t take fame too seriously because I`m usually too busy working on whatever I’m doing next to get caught up in how popular or unpopular I may be at any given moment.

JJ: When you first toured Japan in the 1980s, with Cacophony, did you have any indication that it was a place you would one day move to?

Friedman: None whatsoever. I knew I liked Japan a lot and wanted to come back, but at that time, I was convinced that it would be the last time I would be lucky enough to tour there.

JJ: How did you become fluent in Japanese? Do you have any recommendations or tricks for becoming proficient in the language?

Friedman: There are no tricks to doing anything of any importance well, but what I did was, as often as possible, I put myself in situations where English doesn’t work. That way you must speak Japanese and you must listen super-closely. It’s like supercharged study.

JJ: For your upcoming shows in the L.A. area, what’s to be expected? Any chance of a special guest appearing?

Friedman: Lots of adrenaline! My band is on fire and they outshine me. There is always the possibility of a special guest, as well as other surprises. I’ve been known to drag someone out of the crowd to come and play guitar with me on occasion.

JJ: How would you describe your most recent solo album, “Inferno,” to someone who hasn’t yet heard it?

Friedman: By far the most intensely “Marty” album of my career. If you dislike my music at all, you will hate it. Otherwise, I would recommend it.

JJ: What do you have planned after this tour? Any production or composing gigs outside of your solo career?

Friedman: I have some more shows in Japan and some TV things to round out this year, and then I’m back to the U.S. for some more touring in February.

JJ: Having played music extensively for decades, written for prominent publications, and acted and appeared on more than 700 broadcasts in Japan, is there an area of entertainment you still aspire to be a part of?

Friedman: I really only want to make better music. The other things are just fun and interesting distractions that I’m lucky to have the opportunity to do.

JJ: Might we ever see an English-language memoir about your life? Or even an English-language collection of your published writings from Japan?

Friedman: Yes. [A memoir is] in the works, and the primary work is done for it. It will take another six months or so to edit it. I think it will be of great interest to anyone who is thinking of taking a huge risk to try to realize their dreams. Oh, and there will also be plenty of sordid escapades in it.

JJ: Finally, any last words for the kids?

Friedman: See you in L.A.! 

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