“I quit Metal (Megadeth) for J-Pop”

An Interview With Marty Friedman

By Ratna Masayu

Marty Friedman, best known for his work in Megadeth, is now busy blending Neoclassical, Thrash, and Progressive Rock in the Land of the Rising Sun. At the recent Music Matters 2012 Conference, Marty told Campus Magazine about the forces that drove him towards J-Pop…

Q: You once said in a past interview, “I quit Megadeth for J-Pop.” Do you still remember the first J-Pop song(s) you listened to that influenced the change?

In the mid 90`s J-pop started to have a new and stronger sound than it ever did before. I really liked Tomomi Kahala`s “I`m Proud” and Namie Amuro`s “Sweet 19 Blues” and those kinds of songs got me interested in J-pop.

Q: Japanese pop music had been around for very long before it went through a stagnant phase. Why do you think the “J-POP Phenomenon” has suddenly reignited?

The main reason is that J-Pop is currently more “Japanese” and less influenced by western music. It has moved away from sounding like a really bad rip-off of Billy Joel or Chicago. Once producers like Tsunku, Komuro, Nakata Yasutaka and Hyadain added their originality to J-pop, it was no longer “cool” to try to sound like western music. That freed up a lot of new Japanese artists to “do their own thing”. It created a much more exciting musical atmosphere.

Q: In your eyes, what is the difference between Japanese pop music and Korean pop music?

In my personal opinion, Japanese pop music is more based on Japanese traditional melodies and traditional Japanese melodic sense; melodies that appeal to Japanese people. Korean pop music, in my opinion, is largely based on elaborate dance routines, very danceable tunes and very exciting big rhythmic choruses- melodies are not as top priority as Japanese pop music.  When you listen to Japanese pop music like Mr. Children or Ikimono Gakari, those melodies can be traced back to traditional Japanese music- the scales, note choice and chord choice. In Korean pop music, it doesn’t really sound as Asian to me and to my ears it doesn’t sound like it’s influenced by Korean traditional music; it sounds like American R&B dance music but with a happier, more group oriented feel.

Q: You have been both an international artiste touring Japan and an artiste producing Japanese music in Japan.  How has your metal root helped in producing music for J-Pop?

I love songs that can be interpreted in a lot different ways;happy/dance/sad/jazz/classical/etc. I’ve always been a melody guy. Melody sense is what gets me working with any kind of music. It’s not like I’m a metal guy infusing metal into Japanese pop music. All I want to bring is an open mind. In the J-pop “genre” there are truly no limits.

Q: How have you developed as a musician since you left Megadeth?

In Megadeth we did the same thing every night, and so I didn’t really develop that much. When you’re doing one thing only, you get really really good at that one thing but it comes at the expense of growth. If you cook a hamburger everyday, you get really good at it, but you can’t really expand your expertise and get any good at cooking Char Kuay Teow (my favourite Singaporean dish). When I came to Japan, the challenges were different and I had to adapt to a lot of different styles. For the first time since I left the band, I grew ten times more than in the ten years I was in the band. I loved being in the band but doing the same thing every day was just too easy.

 Q: Would you say your songwriting process has differed from your Megadeth days?

It’s a lot better now; not necessarily meaning that what I’m doing is better, but my ability to do it is a lot better. In Megadeth, we all wrote little parts and threw it in together, like piecing a puzzle. But I’ve had to do all kinds of crazy things since then, especially for covers, which require a lot more thought.

Q: How do you think Music Matters has helped the Asian music industry?

Everyone here today will find some unique knowledge that can’t be gotten off the internet- knowledge from experienced people with unique outlooks. I’ve often noticed that people who do big things usually pull them off after soaking up information from veterans.

Q: Random question, but how do you actually maintain your hair and those curls?

Hair?! I really don’t do anything. I just cut the ends off every once in a while. It’s nice to be asked by a girl; it’s kind of embarrassing when a guy asks. It’s very strange for guys to be talking about hair, but I guess it’s normal in rock.

While the J-Pop wave is still riding across the pacific, let us know what you think of these bands recommended by Marty Friedman:

Perfume – Polyrhythm
AKB48 – Heavy Rotation
Mr. Children – Shirushi
Nishino Kana – Tatoe Donani
Ikimono Gakari – Arigatou