Marty Friedman left Megadeth in 2000, after 10 years of headbanging to his heavy metal guitar beside Dave Mustaine. In those days, at times, Marty’s dark curly locks overlapped Dave Mustaine’s fiery red mane, as thrash metal ruled the day. Megadeth was, perhaps arguably, at its best in the 1990s when Friedman, Menza, and Ellefson were beside Dave Mustaine. Then just as suddenly as he left the band, Friedman boarded a plane for Japan in 2003 and never looked back.
Marty Friedman fell in love with Japan, even before he joined Megadeth when he toured there with Cacophony. He learned the language as a hobby, and was quite fluent, long before he relocated there. Marty loves the culture, the people, the technology and most of all the music of Japan.
Megadeth has continued on in the west, with Dave Mustaine its only original member, but Marty was always something more than Megadeth’s amazing lead guitar player, as major as that role was. Before that, he and Jason Becker were the driving force of Cacophony until 1989, and Friedman’s solo work is at least equally profound, though perhaps less well known.
Marty Friedman is, in fact, one of the world’s greatest guitar players, and as such, he is recognized by music enthusiasts all over the world, but he has never been more appreciated than he is right now in Japan. Marty explained to The Rolling Stone that when he came to Japan, he had to start all over from nothing to build a reputation.
“Even though I did tour in Japan, all my connections were in the international world, so I didn’t know anybody. I came to Japan and started from zero.”
Megadeth never had a huge following in Japan. As Marty explained to The Rolling Stone, about 80 percent of popular music in Japan is domestic, and the other 20 percent is comprised of huge international stars like Lady Gaga, U2, and Coldplay. Thankfully, even though Megadeth was not well known in Japan, Marty’s guitar has a way of speaking for itself.
“As soon as I got here, I got very lucky. I joined a band with a singer named Aikawa Nanase, kind of a household name, a rock and J-pop singer in Japan. That got me started and on my way to doing the things that I wanted to do.”
Marty Friedman, known for both his blistering speed metal and also for exotically gentle solos, is a truly versatile master of the guitar. He is capable of incredible speed. He is technically precise, while at the same time he plays with intense feeling. His talent is rare, even among the best. Though he is very modest, attributing his success to luck, his talent is obvious in any language or culture.
While as Megadeth’s lead guitarist, his talents were always appreciated in America and Europe as well, Friedman found his true calling in Japan, where his name is a household word, not just for music buffs but in popular culture there. In America, Marty is appreciated as a musician, but in Japan, he is loved for just being himself as well.
In the past 11 years, Marty has logged over 600 Japanese TV appearances. Friedman hosted his own shows, Mr. Heavy Metal and Rock Fujiyama for years, and he still makes frequent appearances on the NHK’s Asia Music Network. He currently hosts a Japanese radio show as well.
Marty Friedman’s popularity in Japan though goes beyond music. He frequently appears on news shows, political shows, and variety shows. He has even appeared on cooking shows. Hardly a day goes by that his face doesn’t appear on Japanese TV at least once.
Marty Friedman is still primarily about music, though, and he expresses his love for Japanese pop. Friedman explained excitedly to The Rolling Stone that while an average American pop song might feature six chords, a Japanese pop song might include 60 chords. It’s like writing pop on top of exotic metal rifts.
“It’s five 15-year-old girls dancing around, like Britney Spears, but the music is so much cooler than American Idol music. It’s really technical and progressive and unique. There’s a 100-piece chorus singing along, with me playing guitar – and I’m playing my a*s off – and the five girls are singing and dancing. There are time signature changes, there are tempo changes, there’s all kinds of crazy stuff and the song is six minutes long. It’s like the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ of idol music.”
Marty Friedman loves Japan and has become part of their culture. He says he would not know where to begin if he returned to the states. His home is in Japan now.
“This is my home, but I would love to be in L.A. My mom’s there, the weather’s good, the music’s good. I can barely get away long enough to tour for four or five weeks, so, living there… I wouldn’t even know what to do in America.”
Marty Friedman has built a life for himself in Japan since his Megadeth days with Dave Mustaine.
[Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images]