Canadian Musician


Hal Rodriguez

Interview with Marty Friedman

I had the pleasure of interviewing heavy metal guitar hero, Marty Friedman, for the second time last night before his concert in Toronto. The concert was part of his highly anticipated North American tour promoting his latest album, Inferno on Prosthetic Records. Thanks to Marty, Hiroshi, Kelly Walsh, and Andrew King for making this interview possible! For more on Marty and his tour, visit and purchase Inferno on iTunes. (Photos by Hal Rodriguez)

Marty Friedman Live 2015 Toronto Photo2 by Hal Rodriguez
The last time you spoke with me for an interview, you mentioned how arrangement was your secret weapon and how you’d use certain production “tricks” like making the tempo of a certain section faster than the rest of the song. Could you talk more about your arranging and other “tricks” you used on Inferno?

That’s a good, important question. This is why I don’t like being lumped in with shredders. I rarely if ever listen to shred music and when I hear that music, it sounds like the guitarist couldn’t care less about what’s backing him up. The guitarist has amazing chops, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a second thought given to arrangement, melody, waves of emotion, and power. The music is just showing how rad they are on guitar. I despise that with every fibre of my being, although I admire a lot of these players’ abilities.

Arrangement is a secret weapon, and hopefully you’ll see it in my live shows too, that I utilize the arrangement of the songs to get excitement and feeling. If you come off saying, “I like the song” and “I had a great time at the show”, that’s great. If you come off saying, “he’s got great chops”, then I failed, because I had great chops when I was 16 years old. It’s all about listening to the music and going, “I want to hear that again”, and I rarely feel that way about instrumental guitar music. Of course I feel that way all the time about pop, rock, metal, and dance music, and what do those have? Great arrangements, great melodies, great songs! Sometimes the chorus is bumped up 2 or 3 bpm to give you that subliminal excitement. There’s a billion tricks and I’m doing everything in the world of non-instrumental music in instrumental music.

Marty Friedman Live 2015 Toronto Photo1 by Hal Rodriguez
I notice you employ a lot of contrast. Sometimes there’s a section of really fast, syncopated guitar riffing that suddenly drops to half time with a singing lead guitar melody and an intricate chord progression. What other things could someone do to create contrast and interest?

Do something that people don’t expect, but do it in a good way. For example, the song “Resin”, the second track on Inferno, ends in a crescendo of beautiful, horrible white noise. Then it drops down to one nicely played acoustic guitar. Doing that sounds way cooler than just presenting the listener with a nice acoustic guitar part by itself or white noise by itself. By putting them together, you get the best of both. That type of contrast is constantly happening in my music.

Marty Friedman Live 2015 Toronto Photo3 by Hal Rodriguez
What advice would you give to a guitarist that wants to improve as an arranger and producer?

Get into a band and just soak it up. If you’re really serious, start analyzing the things you really like. Ask yourself, “Why do I listen to this and get goosebumps?” Well, figure out all the guitar parts first, then all the bass parts. Now, ask yourself, “What’s the drummer doing? Why does it feel so good at this point?” Why does it feel so good right before the chorus in Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? It’s because the drummer is doing the smartest “money” fill before the chorus. It’s not rocket science, but people are so wrapped up in this Neal Peart thing at age 16 that they forget no one in the studio pays you to play like that.

Listen to the radio – that stuff’s exciting and the mainstream people are loving it. It’s not a mistake. Of course, when you’re a young musician, you’re impressed with chops and it’s fun to learn that stuff, but in the real world, that stuff rarely raises its head. If you want to make a career out of making music at any level, you’ve got to analyze things that make a lot of people happy and especially, what makes you happy.

Marty Friedman Live 2015 Toronto Photo4 by Hal Rodriguez
You’re also known for writing beautiful ballads with cool chord progressions. Could you give us a little lesson on how you keep the chord progressions for your exotic melodies interesting or how you break out of keys?

I don’t really have a method for that, unfortunately. I usually always have a melody, and I know when I hear it, how to make it sing. I’ll put the most basic, obvious chord progression behind it and do the first set of demos with it. Then, I’ll get a bit more adventurous, but it’s nothing that you can’t find in a Beach Boys song. It’s just basic chords with maybe, two substitutions up, but it’s not Allan Holdsworth. For example, in my ballad, “Undertow”, there could be a Whitney Houston chord progression in there. There are many separate chord progressions, but it’s Beach Boys-ish. If you learn every Beach Boys song, you’ve learned enough about chord progressions to do any kind of beautiful music. You really don’t need to know anymore. So you start with your basic chords, which are the first ones you try your melody with, and then you do a couple of substitutions. Then you do one more set of substitutions, and that’s about where I am. If you do anymore, it’s too jazzy.

What do you do when you get stuck in a rut while writing a solo or a song in the studio?

I rarely get stuck with a solo and if a song’s not kicking my ass, I just throw it away. I’ve thrown away 90% of everything I’ve ever written. It’s like making concentrated orange juice – you need to throw out a thousand oranges to get one decent drink. I mean, I’ve done a lot of crappy shit that I’ve thrown away (laughs). I guess the longer you play music, the more you know whether you’re on to something or not. A lot of young kids work really hard on a song and when it’s finally done, they don’t throw it away because they’ve worked so hard on it. They say, “The solo’s impossible and I finally nailed it. There’s no way I’m throwing this away”. But the song sucks. I’ve had millions of things that I’ve worked really hard on, but if the song still sucked, I got rid of it. However, once you’ve been playing for a long time and you start getting goosebumps at the demo stage of a song, you know you’re on to something. But young kids just go, “We’ve been working on this for months. This is gonna be it.” That’s the wrong judgement. And don’t listen to other musicians who say your song is cool. Musicians will blow sunshine up your ass forever, because they see the chops. It looks cool to see someone shredding, but don’t look at it. Listen to it, and then you decide.

Hal Rodriguez is a published writer, musician, and music transcriber who has done work for premier guitarists like Oz Noy and Derryl Gabel. For Skype lessons and transcription services, he can be contacted at You can also follow him on Twitter @halwit, on, and at

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