When Marty Friedman first moved to Japan in 2004, it was with the main intention to work with some of his favorite Japanese recording artists. Little did he know that he would soon become just as famous in the Land of the Rising Sun as a TV personality as he is for his music and shred soloing. But through it all, the former Megadeth and Cacophony guitarist has continued to regularly work with others on music and issue his own solo albums — with his latest LP, Tokyo Jukebox 3, arriving in 2020.
The last track on Tokyo Jukebox 3 is the “Japan Heritage Official Theme Song,” a track Friedman wrote at the request of the Japanese government. He recently released a music video for the song that showcases cultural landmarks in Japan.
Due to the state of the world over the past couple years, Friedman was not able to properly tour outside of Japan … until now. Friedman and his band (comprised of guitarist Naoki Morioka, bassist Wakazaemon, and drummer Chargeeeeee) recently kicked off a run of US dates opening for metal veterans Queensrÿche. The tour began almost immediately after the guitarist’s onstage reunion with Megadeth at Tokyo’s Budokan Arena. He’s also playing a few headlining shows between the Queensrÿche dates.
Friedman was up for speaking to Heavy Consequence the day after the Budokan appearance with Megadeth, which he discussed in the first part of our interview. In this part of the conversation, he talks about Tokyo Jukebox 3, the current US tour, his popularity in Japan, and his ongoing friendship with his Cacophony bandmate Jason Becker (who has been battling ALS since 1990).
Read the conversation below, and pick up tickets to Friedman’s US dates with Queensrÿche and headlining shows here or here.
Is it exciting to be returning to the States to tour with Queensrÿche?
Marty Friedman: The focus of myself and my band at this time and putting that Megadeth/Budokan thing in the middle of it just kind of added to the excitement. So, I’m just very high off seeing the people’s faces at Budokan and the tears and screaming. Fans put a lot into a certain moment like that, and us and the band, we know that’s there, but we’re just trying to put on a good performance. But the fans have their own individual experiences that go with listening to Megadeth for so many years. So, they get that, and to watch that unfold, it really is a big adrenaline rush for me. Adding that to my solo tour that starts [March 3rd] in America, it’s just fantastic.
And my band, they’re all Megadeth fans, so they’re just totally pumped and we’re excited about that. We’re really excited about bringing what we’ve been doing in Japan to America for the first time since the pandemic. And this time, my band is all Japanese, and we’re doing a lot of the stuff we did on our Japanese tour. We just did the biggest tour that I’ve ever done in Japan – 17 shows, which is unheard of in Japan, really. And the band is just so on fire to play in America together. To get out of the country … I’ve toured three times in Japan since the pandemic started, and haven’t left the country since then. Nobody has really toured outside of Japan much. On one album doing three tours, that’s kind of stretching it.
So finally, we get to tour America for Tokyo Jukebox 3. People in America are finally going to hear those songs live — as well as a lot of my catalog stuff that I haven’t done. We’re just completely pumped. And Queensrÿche is a super band — I look forward to being on the same stage with them. Their music is so different from ours. Fans of our music and fans of their music are going to discover something new. It’s going to be a great time for all.
What is it about Japan that drew you there in the first place?
MF: It was definitely the music. I wanted to make Japanese music, and the only way to do that is to be here and be completely immersed in it. When I came here, I got very lucky and I joined the band of one of my favorite Japanese singers, Aikawa Nanase. So, I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, pretty much as soon as I got here – six or eight months or something. And that just put my foot right where I wanted to be in J-pop music. I started to work with all of my favorite artists and all of my favorite producers playing live and recording and writing music. And then once I branched into doing television, the whole world really opened.
You’ve become a popular television personality in Japan. What has that experience been like?
MF: I didn’t start off wanting to do that at all, actually. Like I said, I joined the band of one of my favorite J-pop singers when I first got here, and when you do that, people start seeing you. That kind of started a lot of new eyes coming on me, and one of the new eyes was a television production company that put me on a new show. I was initially not really into doing it, because I wanted to just focus on playing music — J-pop music. J-pop, when I say the word “pop,” it’s really very heavy metal. There’s a lot of heavy metal influence. People get scared when they hear the word pop, but there’s guitar going crazy in it. I was loving it.
I wanted to concentrate on that, but they said, “Just try this TV thing. Your Japanese is very good, and you have a very interesting viewpoint. Just give it a try.” And the first thing out of the box was a really big hit. It was a show called Heavymeta-san, which turned into Rock Fujiyama — it lasted for six seasons. For a new show, it’s unheard of. So, other offers came up, and my management over here started filling things up, and the next thing you know, more people know me from television than music. And it’s still the case.
Actually, doing this Budokan show yesterday, when a lot of it was published on Yahoo News and things like that, “He’s the guy from TV, but this is what he really does” was like the headline for that thing. Doing television has facilitated the fact that I can leave for two months and tour America with my own music — and not have any problems with that. It’s allowed me to live the exact life that I want to do. It’s given me a lot of freedom. Of course, you never know when people come up to you, what they know me from. But my real gig is making music, and I love making music more than anything else.
Tell me about your latest album, Tokyo Jukebox 3.
MF: The first two albums were such a joy to do that I wanted to do a third one. It’s basically a lot of my favorite J-pop songs that I completely deconstructed and did them my own way. The album is very heavy — this is one of the heaviest albums that I’ve released, and definitely the most adventurous guitar-wise. The same people who heard my Inferno or Wall of Sound albums and loved that, then you’re going to like my Tokyo Jukebox 3, as well, because it’s in the same exact vein as that stuff.
Which album are you most proud of from throughout your career?
MF: I will always say the most recent album. Because if I didn’t feel that way when I put it out, I wouldn’t put it out – I would do it again. Sometimes when I’m recording an album, I will re-record it. I remember my fifth album, Music for Speeding, I did it and re-did it. And when I re-did it, I was happy with it. Tokyo Jukebox 3 is absolutely the best I can do at this moment.
Are you still in contact with Jason Becker?
MF: Oh yeah. Jason is my total inspiration for everything I do. Growing up together and making our musical mark, so to speak, together, that has a very big personal influence. And seeing how he’s dealt with the situations that he’s had to deal with, it just kind of grounds me as a person — how to deal with situations and how to be a person and how to approach every single thing. It’s just made me better. Just thinking about how he thinks about things really helps me.
Of course, we’re still as good friends as we ever were and email each other all the time. Constantly bombarding each other with what we’re doing, and if there’s something that he’s doing that he wants me to check out, I’ll be the first to hear about it. And likewise for me. Over here, I played a bunch of Dvořák music with the Kyoto Symphony, and I was just really proud of that — because I know that Jason is really into classical music. For me, I have to work double hard to play that stuff. I knew the first thing I was going to do when I did it was send Jason the video from that or my recordings it. I wanted him to hear it first. He’s got that kind of presence in my mind.