Guitarist Marty Friedman has been living in Japan for 15 years now. He relocated there in 2003, three years after playing his final show with thrash titans Megadeth. And while in Japan, Friedman has continued his evolution as a solo artist of note, while also forging a career as a TV personality. Meanwhile, he’s managed to remain oblivious to the existence of the Kardashians. Life is apparently blissful for the guy.
“It cracked people up when maybe eight years ago I went back to America and somebody was asking me about the Kardashians and I said, who is that?” Friedman says. “I honestly didn’t know anything about that. When you live in America, you’re completely sure that America’s the center of the entire world. Then you go somewhere else, and you realize that that country is the center of the world. Every place has its own issues, its own pluses and minuses. I think everybody should at least experience a homestay once in their life.”
Similarly, living in Japan has meant a certain degree of shelter from the political turmoil currently engulfing the United States.
“It’s not really a big issue over here,” Friedman says. “The last thing I did [on Japanese TV] that was related to American politics was something having to do with Trump’s kids or something, how they dress, I don’t really know. I guess if you really follow world politics in Japan, you could find out about those things, but it seems like every time I go back to America, there’s some new major breaking scandal going on that I’ve never heard of here in Japan.”
On Oct. 19, Friedman released One Bad M.F. Live, a live album and follow-up to last year’s Wall of Sound, his 14th studio album. In the years prior to that, Friedman had released two Tokyo Jukebox albums, featuring covers of Japanese songs, and he worked with Taiwanese politician and musician Freddy Lim on the Metal Clone X project.
“Every week, I’m doing something different,” Friedman says. “It really changes that quickly. Wall of Sound came out, and I was and still am completely enamored with that record. Very proud of it. Then you go on tour for it, play it live, and see what parts get people most excited and you bring those things out, and cut out things that don’t go over as well. Learn as you go, and you get better at figuring out what people like about what you do, and hopefully at least subliminally put that into whatever you do next. By the time the live record is done, we’ve been playing the stuff a while and got it honed down to a point that it’s about where I want it to always be, and the live record is a document of what you get, what the experience is like, when you’re in the concert.”
Listening to both Wall of Sound and One Bad M.F. Live, it’s clear that the influence of his surroundings have had a profound effect on Friedman’s music. He’s still first and foremost a rock & roll musician, but Japanese culture has organically made an impression.
“It just happens naturally,” he says. “Living in Japan and working with Japanese musicians doing my music and other people’s music, just being surrounded by Japan — by default, Japanese culture and music finds its way into my music. I’m kind of like a sponge. Whenever I’m in a different country, when the music appeals to me, I really tend to anayzeit and fall in love with certain parts of it, and steal it for lack of a better word.”
Perhaps it’s inevitable that Japanese music would have such a huge effect on an open-minded music lover like Friedman. The place is a paradise for people who enjoy music of all genres, and Tokyo in particular has something for everyone.
“It’s just an amazing overall city,” Friedman says. “Amazing for music, because there is so much music going on of every possible taste, genre and label. There’s a lot of interesting music, and going to see live music is an entertainment option in Japan more so than maybe in other countries. There’s a whole lot more of a market for live music. Most of it is domestic Japanese music, believe it or not. That’s really what got me over here — I fell in love with Japanese music and wanted to be a part of that scene. When you come over here for touring, you notice that the people in Japan aren’t listening to American and European music all of the time — they’re listening to Japanese music 80 percent of the time. What that Japanese music is, is a different monster altogether. I just happen to relate to it to such an extent that it made me want to move here.”
So that’s where Friedman is today. He’s not particularly interested in talking about his time in Megadeth, despite the fact that the Rust in Peace and Countdown to Extinction albums he recorded with that band are considered thrash-metal classics. But that mindset is admirable, because it points to how he’s always looking forward. He’s been on about 800 TV shows in Japan — news, game shows, talk shows, cooking shows and culture shows, as well as music shows. He’s a bona fide personality over there. Still, he’s looking forward to coming back to L.A. to perform at the Viper Room this week.
“I’ve got family there,” he says. “We’re celebrating something cool this time. I’m very happy with this live record. It’s my second live album, and I feel it’s a much better representation of what we are live than the first one was. It’s gonna be a massive celebration party. A really small place — the Viper Room — and we’re gonna announce the U.S., tour which is gonna be January and February of next year. But the Viper Room is going to be a massive party. Anybody who can squeeze into the Viper Room will be able to see a one-of-a-kind performance.”
Marty Friedman performs with Felix Martin at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 21, at the Viper Room.