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Marty Friedman from Megadeth (Interviewed by David Lee, October '99)
05 June 2003
Marty Friedman from Megadeth (Interviewed by David Lee, October '99)

Having spent the last decade and a half grinding out heady metal in clubs and as special guests on one big name tour after another the success that MEGADETH encountered after the release of "CRYPTIC WRITINGS" was something just shy of astonishing. Though the band had always kept an eye to the overtly commercial they remained, at their core, solidly heavy metal. When big time radio came along and made hits of several cuts from "CRYPTIC WRITINGS" the term "sellout" began to escape the lips of some purists almost in direct proportion to the frequency of said songs airing on the radio. Success being the double edged sword that it is, the more popular MEGADETH became the more often whispers turned to shouts and that is where we are at with MEGADETH's latest record, "RISK."

"RISK" is a brilliant record, superior to the last several discs in many ways, and had the band not received so much airplay from those "CRYPTIC" singles the hardcore metal press would be championing this record as an artistic breakthrough. Each song is metal at it's center yet easily digested by a much wider audience, which, despite the revisionist ramblings of a few critics, is exactly the type of music that MEGADETH has been making all along. "RISK" would be an apt title for any follow up to a hit record by any band but here it takes on special meaning for both band and fan alike. Just as METALLICA found a new path mid-career and many old fans abandoned them only to be replaced by hordes of new converts this too is a distinct turning point for MEGADETH and their following. Fortunately for all involved, this record is easily the group's high water mark in terms of combining creativity with mass appeal and they do it all without dulling a bit of their fine metal edge. Marty Friedman has been a passenger on the MEGADETH rollercoaster for nearly ten years now and in that time he has learned to listen to the fans and not so much to the critics. If the press likes the record, cool. If radio picks up on it as it did "CRYPTIC WRITINGS," great. If the fans like the record the first two don't mean a thing and that is what really matters, isn't it? I spoke to Friedman by telephone from his home in Arizona where he was enjoying a few weeks of down time before starting the North America portion of the "RISK" tour.

DAVID LEE: I just today got around to viewing the enhanced CD portion of the new record and watched the interview segment where you were postulating just how much of a risk this record would be, has it turned out to be as much of a risk as you thought then?

MARTY FRIEDMAN: I don't think that it was that much more of a risk than any other record that we have made it was just that we thought that it was a good title at the time. Usually, when you are making a record, you feel like you are breaking all of this new ground and you are doing all of this kind of stuff that you have never done before but in actuality it is not really such a huge leap away from anything that we have done before.

DL: I agree, it is definitely signature MEGADETH.

MF: Yeah. It definitely sounds like us.

DL: Beside the fact that it sounds like MEGADETH, it also has that distinct Marty Friedman's MEGADETH sound to it.

MF: Yeah, I like to think so.

DL: How much thinking about this record did you do before you went in to write and record it? I mean, the last record was very successful and I would think that you wouldn't want to mess with a good thing.

MF: Radio wise, it seems, that with each new record a different faction of the music business latches onto it. For "COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION" it was MTV and for "YOUTHINASIA" it was national press and "CRYPTIC WRITINGS" was the first album that radio actually started playing a lot of. This record, you know, radio is the biggest thing in America so we followed the path of what our radio songs were sounding like on "CRYPTIC WRITINGS" and we made those songs the model to start off with and then sort of branched out from there.

DL: Was the way that radio took to "CRYPTIC WRITINGS" very surprising to you?

MF: Yeah. We have always been cursed by radio because radio programmers, until that time, were really afraid to even say the name "MEGADETH." They just didn't want to say it on the air for whatever reason. "CRYPTIC WRITINGS," even the big rock stations in America, they were trying to say that they were the first people to really start supporting MEGADETH! That aspect of it was just blowing our minds. The whole thing was just out of control.

DL: You must hate this comparison by now but it is the easiest way to express the idea, METALLICA didn't get the same kind of radio reaction to their last several records as you did with that one.

MF: I don't mind being compared to a great band, I mean, I think that they are awesome. We hear it all the time and we never get tired of it. I don't really know what their radio play was like but I do know that we were very happy with ours. They have way more MTV support than we do so I don't think that they are having problems getting their music out to the people.

DL: The difference between the group, at least in my mind because I have watched both groups evolve from the beginning, is that MEGADETH has always had a certain consistency to it whereas METALLICA has definitely grabbed for whatever styles were happening at the time. Do you guys have a plan to stay a certain course with your music?

MF: We kind of just go with the way that we feel at the time. When we make a record it is almost like a yearbook for High School or College or whatever, I mean, that is where we were at that period in time. If we had made that album one week later it would have come out sounding completely different. We never really say what we want to sound like two years from now or five years from now. We just get in there and write the music that we write and I think that we have taken some big steps, maybe not as big as METALLICA but I think that we cling to what we are normally about but I really respect a band that is not afraid to try shit. We try to be that way as well.

DL: In terms of trying new things, was there anything that you came up with that was just so far outside of the box that it just couldn't be considered for this band?

MF: Oh, lots of stuff. Most of it actually. Most of the stuff that I was coming up with. There is no reason for us to repeat anything that we have done already. I like to present the most off the wall stuff to the band and to our manager who is also our A+R person. I would just try anything because you just never know. The stuff that they all liked was the stuff that I least expected them to like. Most of the stuff that I present to the band is not typical MEGADETH; there is enough of that to go around.

DL: Looking at the credits on the last several albums, it is you and Dave who are writing the material.

MF: Yeah.

DL: How does that work? You both certainly had a good deal of experience with your own styles before you decided to become partners and it would be interesting to know how you managed to blend them both together to make a sound that is expressive of both of your talents.

MF: Being in MEGADETH gives me the opportunity to get so many people's opinions, meaning, fans and stuff like that. You meet so many people and you hear so many comments on how you play and when you are in a smaller band, like what I was in before MEGADETH, there is not a lot of opinions that get bounced off of you. We play big shows everyday and we meet hundreds of people everyday and every person has got to put their two cents in about what they like or don't like and that is very valuable information. Given all of that information, I like to use it to my advantage when I write. Dave is the same way, maybe, even more so. He really takes things that people say very seriously. Knowing the musical climate and knowing the kind of music that we like to play makes it easy for us to find a happy medium. We just write the way that we feel and try not to think about it too terribly much.

DL: Has it ever been a problem drawing a line between what keeps you fulfilled artistically and what you know is going to keep you employed?

MF: Well, you can't think too hard about that because then you are just going to get wigged out. Luckily enough, the music that I like to make is music that many people like. You get some musicians in some of these other bands and ask them what they really want to do and it is this really obscure off the wall Frank Zappa kind of stuff with an extremely limited audience and I like stuff that is way more pop than MEGADETH. I like stuff with very mass appeal, mainstream. You never really have to worry about the stuff that I write being too un-commercial, I mean, I would definitely be the one who is pushing the envelope and trying to get us into more of a mainstream market.

DL: I hope we don't have to worry about MEGADETH doing something like "Ma Vida Loca," do we?

MF: (Laughing) I don't think that we have a song like that on our record, it is not really our vibe. We do have a song, Dave did sing some of our stuff in Spanish on the last record and you would be surprised at the reaction in some of the Spanish speaking countries. They rally like that.

DL: Are you living in Arizona as well?

MF: Yep.

DL: There is a really great mix of music down there. One of the only places that truly has an unforced homogenization of musical styles.

MF: I never really thought about it because I am never really here long enough to even realize if there is a scene going on here.

DL: Kind of a place to store the clothes and the dog?

MF: Yeah!(laughs) There are a couple of really good bands here that I know of for sure. A couple of friends of mine are in a band called WARDOG and they do pretty good in this area and they have toured Europe and stuff like that. I guess that there is a pretty vibrant hard rock/heavy metal scene going on around here. It is actually a great place to come to when you get off of the road.

DL: It is beautiful?

MF: Yeah it is. We were all living in LA and we were just touring everywhere and we were like "Where is the coolest place of all the places that we have toured that we would want to get ourselves settled down in?" And it was, unanimously, Arizona.

DL: O.K. as far as the stuff that was too far out for this record, are you saving that for another project outside of MEGADETH?

MF: We keep everything. We go through it on pre-production for the next record and the next record. Some of the stuff that made it onto this record, for example, something that I had written to be used on "COUNTDOWN" was demo-ed many times and it finally made its way onto this record. All the things that don't get used, if they are good enough to even be considered, then they are good enough to be considered later. Sometimes you just feel different about things when you see them later or maybe it fits something else that you are working on later so, we don't throw anything away. There was one thing that I had written right after "RUST IN PIECE" and right before "COUNTDOWN" we used some of it on "Trust" from the last record and some of it on the song "The Doctor is Calling" on "RISK" and there are still a couple of parts left over so they may show up on another record, who knows?

DL: Nothing ends up on the floor?

MF: Nothing at all. We like to really inventory, so to speak.

DL: You have only had to weather one change in the band, how was it to go in and record with a slightly different band?

MF: This is the only change in the band that I have ever gone through and it was very interesting because when I joined the band it felt like that was going to be the perfect and final lineup of MEGADETH forever. There was definitely a feeling of, "This is it. This is the real lineup of MEGADETH." This time, it was just time for a change. None of us could believe it but it was just becoming a reality and we are actually better for it. I think that we actually made the best sounding record we have ever made because of the change.

DL: Was it a change that was a long time in coming?

MF: You get different answers from different members of the band. I don't think that any of us wanted it to happen. I think that Nick is an awesome drummer and a really great guy and all of us in the band really love him and miss him out on the road. It just comes to a point where certain people have less or more enthusiasm for something then others and you are all trying to do the same thing and you all really need to have the same kind of focus, the same desire to do it even though it is not always a whole lot of fun. It just comes to a point where there is someone else that wants the gig more than you and that person usually winds up getting it.

DL: Having done the tour with Jimmy (DeGrasso) the summer before the album, did that help with the bonding a little bit?

MF: Yeah. I mean, it is like a test, each thing that you do is like, "O.K. you passed the touring test, you did great on the tour but we don't know how you are going to be in the studio. You are really great live but maybe you are an asshole in the studio!" (laughs) You just don't know until the red light is on but he came through in the studio with flying colors and really impressed all of us. It was all good. I have been in the band for, coming on, ten years now and I am finally not the new guy anymore. (laughs)

DL: So you all make him get the beer and stuff like that now? (laughs)

MF: Naw, none of that.

DL: Since the advent of the Internet the access to all the latest rumors has been almost immediate and I heard one that Jimmy wasn't working out and it was going to be Dave Lombardo coming in to play with you.

MF: God, definitely not. I never even heard that one. He is the drummer in SLAYER, right?

DL: He was but he has been out of that situation for some time now.

MF: No, I never heard of that. Jimmy is doing great.

DL: Well, he (DeGrasso) has had a wide breadth of bands that he has played in before, right?

MF: Yeah, millions of them! We like to joke with him about that. It is like, the only reason that he is in our band is because it is the only band that he hasn't already been in. (laughs) He is a good spirited guy and I think he can take a little ribbing now and then.

DL: So, how long will the hazing last?

MF: I think that he is in for a long hazing but he is so good that it doesn't matter. If he couldn't play his ass off he probably wouldn't be able to stand up to it. He digs it and he enjoys the music. He did a great job.

DL: I caught you guys on a couple of the Ozz-Fest shows and you all seemed to play together like a solid unit, was it that way from the beginning?

MF: From the very first day. It was a strange thing because when Jimmy first came in we had no rehearsal; we were just playing live. We were headlining a festival in Fresno, California and he had never practiced with us. He had just got off of a plane from Europe where he had listened to CD's on a walkman for the whole flight and he just came in and we had a fifteen minute soundcheck and we played a few songs and he did the entire set without a single mistake! He definitely survived a trial by fire.

DL: So, he doesn't have to worry about getting cash at the end of the gig, he can wait to get a regular payroll check?

MF: He is a full on official member of the band.

DL: The record pretty much speaks for itself and with the few minutes that we have left I want to ask you about the stuff that you have going on outside of MEGADETH. Do you have much going on, another CACOPHONY
style record maybe?

MF: I get so many people who ask me to do that and I am sure that there are a lot of guitar players out there that would like to hear that and I would probably like to do that, just for the shear fun of hearing myself play that much. (laughs) But, just the time that it would take to do that kind of stuff is a luxury that I wished that I had. You never know, someday I might do another record like that. I have got a lot of material that I have been building up in my home studio to, eventually, record properly and do some projects with but for right now I am just so, MEGADETH takes up all of my time so I can't really plan on any immediate things.

DL: You say that people have called and asked you to do something with them and I am surprised that you haven't done one of those four days in the studio records like Magna Carta or Shrapnel are putting out.

MF: Oh, no, I would never do something like that. It is not my style. I am not really into that type of thing. If I wanted to do a project I want to really dig into it and not just have it be a jam. If it were going to be just a jam I would do it just for fun at a gig or something like that but as for something that is going to be recorded and sold, I would want to really dig deep into it and go 100%. I have had a lot of opportunities to record a week here or a week there and little projects now and again but I don't think that I would want to do that.

DL: With all that you have done is there anything that you would want to go back to and change?

MF: Oh yeah, yeah. The CACOPHONY stuff, I wished that I could go back and re-mix it a little bit. It was just at that time I was really into really distorted rhythm guitars even though I was all about playing lead guitar. What I wound up doing is covering up all of the coolest shit on the record and just making a big mush out of it. I should have just had a much cleaner rhythm sound and re-mixed it. That is the only thing that I would ever change. The material that is on there was fine for what it was, I guess.

DL: Would you say that, that record was the best example of Marty Friedman or would it be something else?

MF: That is a hard question. I never really ever thought about that. I guess that anything off of that album would be pretty close to being what I am all about.

DL: How long will you be pumping this record before it is time to do another one?

MF: We have been out for a couple of months already and we will be out until the end of this year and then after the break until March and whatever happens after March should be much longer than that. The tour threatens to go until 2001 so, you never know.