SIXTY SECONDS WITH...
With the release of his new, mostly instrument album Wall Of Sound, one of metal’s virtuoso guitarists got together with Jason Sidwell to discuss tone, technique and songwriting.
...Marty Friedman, who talks track by track to music editor Jason Sidwell about his brand new album, Wall Of Sound.
Anew Marty Friedman album is always something of an event here at Guitar Techniques. So when Wall Of Sound hit the GT doormat, a chat with Mr Friedman was high on our wish list.
Marty is one of those guitarists who embodies real rock attitude alongside phenomenal technique and a deep melodic understanding. He doesn’t hold back on what he considers constitutes good music and great musicianship, either, so a conversation with Mr Friedman is bound to keep you on your toes.
Using mostly his signature Jackson MF-1 guitar and its prototypes, as well as various Engl amps - the Inferno production model and prototypes, along with the Artist and Special Edition Marty has indeed created a wall of sound on...Wall Of Sound.
Before we got into our track-by-track examination of the new release, we quizzed Marty on various aspects of his technique, and began with a question about his string bending - notably the very vocal sounding ‘quick bend, drop, slower bend up’ approach.
“This is only one of maybe a hundred or so different ways that I may bend a string,” he says. “I tend to bend strings in an effort to control the notes with more depth than just a cool-sounding vibrato. Even a wicked vibrato would get stale fast if you applied it on every note you play. I often play like a vocalist, who may control his or her separate interpretation of each note, depending on the feeling to be portrayed at that particular moment. It is important to be able to play each note exactly the way your heart wants to ‘sing’ it. To do that, I suppose I am very in tune with each little subtlety of bending a note. I’m not sure what influenced this, but I think since I play an abnormal amount of melodies, at times I express myself like a singer more than a guitarist.”
Anyone that’s watched Marty play will have noticed his rather unusual method of picking, where the picking hand is positioned away from the strings. We wondered how did he develop that and how does he reduce unwanted string noise? “I’ve never thought about it,” he tells us. “Until that is I became professional and was asked constantly about it. And then I realised that I could not give a real answer. It just happens. I hate the way it looks. The only logical answer is that I hate the typical ‘muted guitar solo’ sound which was big in the 80s. You will notice that keeping my palm away from the strings allows the strings to ring loud without being muted. About the unwanted noise: a lot of it has to do with where you are standing in relation to the amp, and finding the sweet spots where the unwanted noise is least. Playing accurately helps but I am way, way more interested in having an emotional performance than an accurate one. Both together is ideal, though.”
Marty is known for unique note combinations, sometimes slightly unusual Pentatonic choices such as Am6 (A-B-C-E-F#). Does he find Pentatonic vocabulary a strong foundation, we wondered?
“There are no home bases for me,” he retorts. “Each melody or phrase is unique unto itself and solely exists for the purpose of where it is in a given song.”
Track by Track
Marty was happy to divulge what went into each track on Wall Of Sound, from musical approach to technical issues and even scale choices. We go through each track in order, finishing with the final tune and starting with the first...
Self Pollution GT: This opener certainly lives up to the album title. How many guitar tracks were on this?
MF: Lots and lots, like all the songs!
Do you have any tips about mixing clarity with so many guitars?
MF: Limit unpleasant distortion, play as clean as possible, and plan out your tracks well. Mute anything that covers anything important up. Be honest about whether you need the part or not, no matter how cool it is or how hard you worked on it. Be prepared to get rid of anything.
GT: There’s a lovely moment when you go from intense Harmonic Minor distortion soloing to an ambient, cathedral-like section involving slow bends and a clean tone. Nice tritone chord shift too (A-Eb).
Other guitarists can struggle with such an abrupt shift but your fans almost expect it. How do you compose and then arrange this?
MF: I love abrupt shifts when they are effective. Making a strong contrast like this takes a lot of trial and error, as well as listening closely to find the best way to make the contrasting parts really work for each other.
Sorrow and Madness GT: The intro on this violin and guitar piece is very arresting; how do you travel into the world of classical sounding music with intense guitar tones while still sounding fresh?
MF: Fresh is the key word. I don’t want to ever repeat myself, much less repeat something someone else has done a lot. So I try many, many things until I come up with something that sounds fresh to me. Jinxx
came up with this violin melody, and that was all I needed to be inspired to create a Frankenstein from it.
Streetlight GT: Although much of your music is heavy, you’re not averse to using Major key harmony and embracing chords like maj7s.
MF: This is because I am all about the melody and arrangement. The fact that I do this with heavy guitars is the only thing metal about it. In the rhythms of this song there are some very basic jazz chords like G Major over A spread out over several tracks. If you played them at once on one guitar they would sound awful with distortion, but separating them allows me to use these ‘forbidden’ chords in the world of metal, when they fit in with my arrangement.
Whiteworm GT: A great climbing arpeggio riff begins this track; can you tell us how it come about?
MF: A guitar intro has to make listeners want to pick up a guitar and play it. These days, they are a bit more skilled than those who hopped onto the guitar via Smoke On The Water and Stairway To Heaven. This intro, and Self Pollution’s, also had that in mind. But the intro can’t just be an intro, it has to be a solid theme that you can flesh out a good song with.
GT: How many detuned guitars were tracked for the syncopated thrash riff? What were they tuned?
MF: It was a seven-string in drop A. Nothing fancy.
GT: The Latin rhythms in the track, how did they come about?
MF: I had planned them in the first drafts of the song, but the piano was an afterthought which brought out the drastic shift that you hear there. I laughed the first time I tried it.
GT: The melancholic melody on this track is a trademark of yours. You’re obviously comfortable with shifting from intense thrash guitar to touching melodies...
MF: The melodies here sound even more melancholy and touching after having your head kicked in with a steel-toed boot by the previous part. By itself, the melody might have only been so-so. i had been playing these songs For over a year so was able to track all the guitars in nine days
For a Friend GT: This is primarily one theme that is developed and explored rather than being a piece structured with different ideass. Do you favour one approach over the other?
MF: No, the strength of the melody dictates the overall approach.
GT: When you vary your distortion, as in this piece, do you favour picking lighter or reducing your guitar’s volume control?
MF: I will play in whatever way gets the notes to sound the way I hear them in my head. I’ll try everything until it all comes together. But it takes a while sometimes.
Pussy Ghost The main sections are cinematic with soaring melodies and doom-laden dropped tuning guitars. Do you visualise anything when writing instrumentals?
MF: For this one, literally an emaciated cat or a scary ‘pussy’.
GT: How do you keep drop-tuned guitars in tune and so rhythmically precise when riffing?
MF: By simplifying parts to match the ability I may have (or not have) to play the part. There is no room for error when you are stacking busy things. It’s no time to be a hero. I simplify it and be sure I can play it tight.
The blackest rose GT: Your lead tone has just enough drive for bends to sing. How do you decide how much amp gain to use?
MF: I let the engineers and techs decide that kind of thing. I am too busy concentrating on performing.
The Soldier GT: This is an interesting track that is enhanced by cello and shows you leaning towards beautiful Far Eastern sounding melodies. Is there a link between the chord progressions between classical and, say, Japanese music?
MF: On this I actually envisioned a more Chinese theme. I must have missed the mark! This is quite a simple chord progression under the main melody. Others would have possibly done much more intricate things under it, but I prefer chords that are easy to digest.
Miracle GT: Your fans don’t often associate you with the acoustic guitar but there is some evident on this album. With this upbeat, melodydriven piece did you always envisage the acoustic strumming as the driving factor?
MF: That was the best way to not get in the way of the important melody in this song.
The Last Lament GT: This is a very creative final piece with a little of everything that is on the album; intense riffing, shredding solos, upbeat melodies, intense guitar stacking, melancholic leads. It would seem to be quite a lengthy process to structure and record this. How long did it take in total?
MF: I can’t really single out any song and say how long it took to record as the whole album was done as one big project over about 18 months. Because of the exhaustive demo process, recording countless new demos in different keys, tempos and styles, by the time I hit the real studio to track guitars, I had been playing these songs in one form or another for over a year. Because of that, I was able to track all the guitars on the whole album in nine days. Even I find that unbelievable, but actually it felt like a young band who had been playing their best songs for a long time before they got signed, and then banged out their debut album in a week. I really can’t say enough about good preparation! Wall Of Sound is out now on the Prosthetic label. Buy it from good music stores or direct from www. martyfriedman.com where you will also find information on other releases, buy merchandise and learn about live events.
Marty Friedman with one of his Jackson MF guitars
Marty Friedman: loves mixing melody with violent tones!