Canadian Musician

THE SIX STRING SHED

Hal Rodriguez


Interview with Marty Friedman

MART3367 (1)I had the pleasure of interviewing shred royalty Marty Friedman recently regarding his new album Inferno, composing, creating his incredible guitar harmonies, and practicing. Thanks to Marty, Kelly Walsh, and Andrew King for making this possible. For more on Marty and his upcoming tour, visit MartyFriedman.com and purchase Inferno on iTunes.

Since moving to and living in Japan for the last 10 years, you’ve released many albums demonstrating your versatility like Tokyo Jukebox, where you covered Japanese pop songs. What side of your musical interests did you hope to capture on your new album Inferno on Prosthetic Records?

Marty Friedman: Pretty much the metal side, so to speak – the more unrelenting aggressive side. Like you said on the Tokyo Jukebox stuff, I listen to that, and I think it’s pretty metal, but I guess there’s a lot of variety on there and it’s not straight metal from top to bottom. I may have a concept song on there where the concept has nothing to do with metal or being super aggressive. So with that, there might be some bumps in the road if you’re expecting a full-on assault from top to bottom. But on Inferno, I wanted to stay away from anything too avant garde and too far away from the aggression and keep really focused from beginning to end.

Your new songs like “Meathook” and the title track, “Inferno,” don’t stick to predictable song structures. Could you describe your process for composing and arranging a guitar instrumental?

MF: Yeah, the structure’s a real important weapon that you have to make something interesting. Believe me, I think guitar instrumental music has got the potential to be the most boring medium of music ever made, so arrangement is one of your top weapons to make stuff exciting – little surprises, little contrasts, little roller coaster rides in there. I mean secret little tricks even, like on “Inferno,” once the band comes in, it’s playing at one tempo, and then when the next phrase happens, its playing at a tempo just 10 beats faster. You can’t really hear that but you can feel it. Coupled with the changing of octaves (on guitar) at that point, it gives you kind of an emotional lift. And those are the types of things I do all of the time. Just little hidden things to kind of give you little waves of emotion – little things that make you feel good when you hear the music. The arrangement aspect of all this stuff to me, that’s the bread and butter of it. That’s what makes it exciting.
MART3386“Inferno” and every song went through literally hundreds of versions. I have a whole laptop that is devoted just to the Inferno demos; it doesn’t have anything else on it. I mean I’ve got billions of demos of everything else, but this time, listening to the songs and judging them took more time than actually playing them. Arrangement time and demo listening and stuff. I just started off with maybe a couple of phrases. For example, “Inferno,” just like any other song, I put together a demo and see how much I liked listening to that demo. Then if I liked it, it would usually lead me to the next part and to the next part. And with a song as long as “Inferno,” like 6 minutes long, you can only imagine that there are versions with certain parts cut out, there are versions with other parts longer, certain parts ad libbed, certain parts worked out. It’s basically a listening party all the way through, just listening to stuff and deciding that this is boring and this is the right direction to go. The longer you’ve lived with something, the more you’re honest with whether you like it or not. If you just write something and demo it up, it’s fresh and it’s cool, and you think, “Wow, this is great.” But then if you’ve lived with it for 3 or 4 months, then you can really listen to it and go, “You know what, it was cool back then, but it kinda sucks now, so let’s get rid of it.” A lot of the best things came out with being honest with lots of demo listening.

How long did it take you to complete the album?

MF: Just about 15 or 16 months. The majority of the demo work was done in the first 7 to 8 months. The rest of it was recording and then editing. Once everything got recorded, then it was a whole other set of time where I’m just listening to the stuff to make sure I really liked it and getting rid of anything that wasn’t up to snuff, so to speak.

Where do your instincts for composing and adding these secret arrangement tricks come from? What composers influenced your writing?

MF: Those things I picked up along the way are probably from a lot of current Japanese pop music that I’m listening to and that I’m working on. There’s a great producer named Hyadain in Japan. I worked with him on a song from Momoiro Clover. He’s just really a genius and he’s the king of that contrast, and just throwing in crazy things and coming out of left field and being exciting. I would definitely say I was influenced by him although what he does is about as far away from heavy metal as you can get. There’s an excitement factor that I would hope you find in Inferno that you find in his music. Anything you pick up on the internet from him will give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

You’ve achieved extremely heavy rhythm guitar tones on the new album. What was your method for recording guitars in the studio?
MART3130 (1)MF: There are a lot of different methods. Some of the songs I had guests play rhythm guitar. I really love to play lead guitar over someone else’s rhythm guitar given the choice. When it’s done over my own rhythm guitar it’s fine, but when someone else’s touch is in there, someone else’s human touch of the strings, it just adds a thing that you can’t do when it’s just the same person playing rhythm and lead. So on songs like “Steroidhead” and “Lycanthrope” and “Sociopaths,” those feature other guys playing rhythm guitar. Of course I’m adding my own rhythm guitars to their tracks as well, but as far as the way you hear it in the mix, it’s probably the majority of their rhythm guitar tracks. So when I play lead guitar over that, you really get a deeper human experience than the same guy playing lead over rhythm. I think that really translates in a big way. That’s why I prefer a band sound rather than one guy playing everything all the time as a listener. So that’s something that I tried to get out of this album as much as possible. So it really raised the bar on the kind of people that I wanted to play rhythm for me on this record and it raised the bar on the kind of rhythms that wound up getting played.

One of the things that stands out in your songs are your guitar harmonies. Could you explain how you usually harmonize your guitar lines?

MF: There’s a billion ways and I used to be a lot more adventurous with how many ways there are to do it. I’ve done the craziest things with harmonies. You may have a line and you harmonize each note with a different interval. The phrase may have a hundred notes in it, so that can be quite time consuming. But I used to do that and I used to do all of every possible interval and harmonize that way. But now I’m very blessed to hear what harmony that I want to do as I’m composing the part, so I don’t have to do so many experiments. I’ve done everything before, so when I know that I want to harmonize a line, I can know right off the bat which part of the phrase I want, which interval to use, and it comes really naturally.

For the most part, there’s a whole lot of octave harmonies going on. That’s kind of a given. I do octaves on so many different things. And then aside from that, it’ll be pick and choose for which part of the phrase gets done in 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, major 7ths, minor 7s… There’s every possible thing. Luckily, now that stuff comes really, really easy to me and I kind of hear it as I’m composing rather than back, like, for example, in the Cacophony days, where I would do all these sick harmonies just because they were sick – not necessarily because they were right, or because they were what I heard in my head, just because I was just discovering them at the time. And now, I would do equally sick harmonies if I felt they were doing something good for the song, but back then, I was just discovering it and going, “Wow, this is crazy shit.”

You mentioned in a recent interview that you haven’t practiced since you were a teenager. How do you push yourself to keep evolving and playing better?

Marty Friedman InfernoMF: Cuz I’m constantly playing. For example, you’re on tour, you’re playing the show, you’re doing soundcheck, you’re working on new songs that you’re adding to the set, you’re showing other band members what to do. Or I’m recording, which is tons of playing and tons of trying to play perfectly. So there’s really no better way to improve than that. I’m not only recording for myself, I’m recording tons of other things. I’m constantly doing music, whether I’m writing music, writing my own music, writing other people’s music, playing on a radio program, or television program. Constantly music. So the last thing in the world I would want to do is play without a purpose, which I believe practice is. If you practice, you get good at practicing. If you play music, you get good at playing music. The mechanics of making music come from actually making music. Practicing will really only get you good at practicing, which has very little merit in the real world. So when I’m asked if I’m practicing, I’m never practicing, but I’m doing the things that make you improve constantly to the point of where I’m playing too much all the time.

So it’s like that, so I would recommend to look at the actual kind of playing you’re doing if you’re a guitarist, and say, “Does this really mean anything?” If you’re practicing in your room, why do that? Go down to the subway station and practice in front of everybody. Play in front of everybody. Make yourself a little setlist and play. This has a billion times more merit than doing it in your room with a metronome or anything like that. Or even better than that, play with somebody else out in public in front of people together, and then you have to play on top of music and this has got a real merit in what you’ll eventually wind up doing in music. You want to get good at practicing or you want to get good at playing? It’s really that simple. It’s kind of like sex actually. Do you get good at doing it by yourself or get good at doing it with other people?

Hal Rodriguez is a Toronto based musician, transcriber, teacher, and published writer. For Skype lessons and transcription services, he can be contacted at halromusic@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @halwit, on youtube.com/halromusic, and at guitartreats.blogspot.ca

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