Guitar Hero Marty Friedman Brings his Wall of Sound Tour to the Grog Shop

On his forthcoming album, Wall Of Sound, guitar hero Marty Friedman explores a wide range of music, offering a bit of Latin rock on “Whiteworm” and switching between electric and acoustic harmonies in "Miracle."

A former member of the speed metal group Megadeth, Friedman, who starts a headlining tour in support of the album this week and comes to the Grog Shop on Tuesday, Aug. 8, recently spoke to us via phone about his approach on the album.

I think you decided to teach yourself to play guitar after attending a KISS concert. What’s the story there?
I was 14, and I wanted to play sports but I didn’t have the right body type. I was more of the body type for a musician or a drug addict. I decided to go with the musician because it’s a lot healthier. When I saw KISS, that made me take a left turn and I decided right then and there that rock music is the way to go. The concert was on their Rock and Roll Over Tour. It was in Washington, D.C. at the Capital Centre.

Have you had the chance to meet them in the wake of that?
A million times. I worked with Gene Simmons and met Paul Stanley a few times. Being a kid who was a fan and eventually meeting them was an honor. I didn’t meet them so much as a fan but as someone working with them. I did a movie with Gene Simmons in Japan, and I did a thing with Gene in L.A., and Paul and Gene hosted an event that I played at once. It’s a cool way to meet your idols.

There’s an entire Wikipedia entry devoted to describing your style of playing. How did you develop such a unique style?
It just kind of happened. A very important part of my playing is to never repeat myself. That becomes more and more challenge after you release 13 albums. I’m constantly challenging myself and that forces you to come up with stranger and more exotic things. I’m lucky I have that motivation. By nature, I’m kind of a lazy bastard. That motivation makes me want to explore the music I want to make. That’s why there are different facets to my playing that thankfully people pick up on and enjoy.

Were you interested in Eastern harmonies before you moved to Japan?
When I was a teenager, I already exhausted the typical rock guitarist lexicon of rock guitar phrases and things like that. I wanted to learn more adventurous types of music and found myself listening to Indian music and Middle Eastern music and Chinese and Japanese music. I got the idea that there’s a big world out there, and we can never learn too much.

At what point did you move to Japan?
I decided to move there about 15 years ago. I had played there and visited there for promotional purposes maybe 15 or 20 times. I just moved there because I was so inspired by the Japanese music. I thought I could contribute to the music scene there and move forward with my own music by living in Japan. It was for that reason that I moved there. I had been speaking the language for several years as a semi-serious hobby. I was equipped to do what I wanted to do. It wasn’t too big of a culture shock. I get bigger culture shocks every time I come back to tour. America changes a lot more than Japan does.

What kind of changes have you noticed in the States?
A lot of the way people think changes rapidly. When I grew up here, nobody was PC or conscious about offending people with the way they talk. People are just normal. They didn’t care about politics. They weren’t so polarized on issues, especially people I come across, the rock musicians and fans. Those people were the last people to care. Now, those people want to talk about politics, and I have no idea what they’re talking about. Even the PC thing has gotten out of control over here. I did an email interview and my publicist said I had to take something out because people would be offended. There was nothing racist or anything like that. They were nitpicking all these little things. I had to go with it because I don’t know the climate here. I was surprised by the things people might be offended. If you like the music that somebody makes, you shouldn’t wrap yourself up with what kind of person that is. It really doesn’t matter, and it robs you of the enjoyment. If Charles Manson made an album and I liked it, I wouldn’t care about the person who made it. People listen to the music and love it and have great times and then find out the singer is a Republican or something and don’t like the music. Who’s the loser here? It’s the person listening to the music.

You’ve had a prolific solo career that dates back to the late '80s. What did you try to differently with your new album, Wall of Sound?
Just to grow as I do on every record. On my previous tour, I was fortunate to do 70 shows world wide. I got to see fans’ reactions in real time. I got good feedback from fans and that went into making a record. My sole purpose is to see fans are enjoying my music. I used that as a springboard. I wanted to make a deeper and heavier and more melancholy album that I would be happy to talk about to everybody for the next year or so.

The opening track “Self Pollution” starts out as a hard rock tune but eventually incorporates some Eastern melodies. What inspired the song?
The title was an unusual pair of words right there. I envisioned the music video as I was writing the song. I was thinking of all of the different vices that people have that pollute them but you can’t stop doing it because it’s so much fun. It could be sex, drugs, and rock ’n' roll. It could be food, attention, fame. I thought of it as being this wild ride that people take themselves on for better or worse. It guided me through this long series of musical roller coaster type of  things that happen on that song.

“Whiteworm” is just as eclectic. Talk about the instrumentation on that song.
I have a lot of great experiences in Latin America over the course of the Inferno tour. I played with Rodrigo y Gabriela at the Hollywood Bowl. That influenced me to put a Latin taste into the song. It’s a fusion heavy modern metal song. I put a Latin piano phrase right in the middle of it where you least expect it. I started laughing when I first heard it because it was so deliciously out of place. I couldn’t get enough of it.

“Miracle” has a really beautiful acoustic element to it. What made you want to shift from electric to acoustic?
The feeling behind that song is an uplifting but melancholy kind of feeling. It’s that feeling after you work super hard on something like training for a marathon and you finally cross the finish line. That’s what I was going for. It brings a tear to your eye or a chill to your spine. The majority of the music is electric but the background is very acoustic. It’s a golden-tinged melodies song. It might be out of place on a heavy metal record, but it hopefully brings a couple of goosebumps.

What will the live show be like?
Cleveland has a reputation of being a rock city and my band from Japan had, of course, heard the name. They had never been there and never played there. The reaction on the last tour when we played Cleveland was fantastic. I wanted to do a stop on the Wall of Sound Tour. My band outshines me at every turn. My band is superstars. It’s an A Team. This time is like the [previous] Inferno Tour on steroids.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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