Former MEGADETH guitarist Marty Friedman has answered a few questions for his official web site, MartyFriedman.com, regarding his recently completed tour with Japanese pop/rock singer Aikawa Nanase. The Q-and-A session follows:
Q: The Aikawa Nanase tour just ended in Sapporo, can you tell me about it? Most people outside of Japan have no idea who Aikawa Nanase is.
Marty Friedman: "Yeah, that's the way it goes. Most people only listen to music that is sung in their own language. I understand that, that's why most non U.S./U.K. rock bands sing in English, so more people can get into it. The Japanese music scene is pretty much insular, meaning that it's pretty much intended for the Japanese audience only. It's kind of a shame because there are so many absolutely great bands and artists here, especially in the aggressive rock vein, that will likely never be heard outside of Japan. As non-Japanese bands who have toured in Japan know, the production of concerts and touring in Japan is absolutely amazing. This comes from a long, long history of theater and Kabuki production. Venues from the smallest club to the biggest dome are acoustically tuned for the best possible sound. Things are run very efficiently. After enjoying Japan several times with MEGADETH as an international artist, being a huge fan of J-pop and J-rock, I decided to join the domestic music world here. There is a massive market for music entertainment here in Japan, but at the same time there are so many bands and artists that the competition is fierce and record companies are brutal with the turnover of new artists. To make it past 2 or 3 albums is a very big deal for a new band or artist. By the way, domestic music (Japanese) makes for 90% of the music business here. Which means that international music (U2, MARIAH CAREY, METALLICA, etc.) only makes up 10% of the music scene here, music sales and live concerts. Artists like GACKT play for sold out 40,000 seat domes when they tour. Bands like BZ sell 80 million records on this small island. It is a huge world that very few foreigners get to experience with any depth, so I feel extremely fortunate to be in it, and with one of my all-time fave singers, Aikawa Nanase."
Q: A lot of your fans coming to the site want to know how to find Japanese music.
Marty Friedman: "I get asked about it a lot too. Unless you have a Japanese friend to guide you towards what you might like, it's kind of trial and error at towerrecords.co.jp or any other internet outlet of Japanese music. I can tell you that guitar fans and people who want to hear something completely fresh in the world of hard rock/metal and pop will not be disappointed if they do a little exploring."
Q: Any recommendations?
Marty Friedman: "Definitely. MERRY. Amazing new band, totally fresh! Get this — they are a cross between 1930s music, brutal thrash metal and Japanese pop. All played aggressively in a very visual style."
Q: Anything stand out on your tour?
Marty Friedman: "It kicked ass. The band is tight and Nanase is a God! We shot a live DVD in Kobe and she was the only one who didn't feel the need to run back into the studio and recut any of their vocal parts!"
Q: Are you saying that you did?
Marty Friedman: "I might have fixed some backing vocals if there was time but there wasn't. The thing was mixed by the time we got off the road. What you hear is all live, for better or worse. For some odd reason I'm doing quite a bit of backing vocals and I'm just getting the hang of it. It helps that the other guys sing pretty well so I can sort of pick whatever harmony that's in my range and go for it. That said, given the chance, I would not be against tweaking a live album in the studio to make it perfect. If it sounds like a mixboard tape, honestly how many times are you gonna want to listen to it? All truly good sounding live albums and videos have been enhanced in some way. Why do you think 'Kiss Alive', 'Unleashed in the East' and the other classic live albums still sound good after all these years, but the bootlegs from the same tours sound crappy?"
Q: So no one overdubbed anything?
Marty Friedman: "Correct. Everything is exactly as it went down in Kobe. The lead vocals are awesome, and overall I'm pretty happy with everything else too."
Q: Will the DVD be available anytime soon?
Marty Friedman: "About half of it was broadcast in Japan a little while ago, but the entire show will be released in Mid-September in Japan. I suppose you could get it internationally at amazon.co.jp."
Q: Where was the best show, for you?
Marty Friedman: "My faves were in Ichikawa, Yonago, Osaka and Tokyo. Yumi from PUFFY, one of my all time favorite J-pop groups, joined us for 2 songs in Tokyo. You gotta understand that two of the main reasons I ever got into J-pop were Aikawa Nanase and PUFFY, so jamming between the two of them on stage was so surreal and so cool, I was losing my mind! Also on a day off from the tour I went to see the concert of ex-Aikawa drummer Nishida Ryu who had joined GACKT's band. Flawless playing and cool music was a given, but GACKT impressed me so much with his production, staging and energy, that I couldn't take my eyes off the stage for the entire 3-hour concert. That really lit a fire under my ass, and I think that enthusiasm carried over into the Aikawa tour big time.
Q: You were nice enough to send me some MP3s from your live show, and I was surprised just how much guitar there is in Aikawa's music. The fans really get to hear a lot of soloing and a wide variety of music. I was kind of worried that since it wasn't pure heavy metal that you would be kind of in the background, but that's obviously not the case.
Marty Friedman: "Well, Aikawa's looks, personality, vocals and lyrics are probably what attracts most of her fans to her, but if you dig deeper, genius producers Tetsuro Oda, Tomoyasu Hotei and Hajime Okano's cutting-edge guitar arrangements are a constant fixture in Aikawa's music. The arrangements give me tons of room to play guitar my own way. I've had the pleasure of chatting several times with Tetsuro Oda who is an idol of mine as a producer, and got nothing but encouragement from him. I remember at the first rehearsal last year, I had prepared all the guitar solos exactly like the CD versions, and at the end of the rehearsal they told me to ad lib everything, and play everything however I like. Talk about a green light! I changed all the solos right away, but I kept most of the guitar arrangements intact, as they really attracted me to the music in the first place. Actually I improvise a lot of the solos every night, and that seems to keep me out of auto-pilot mode."
Q: There is a second guitarist in the band, can you tell me about him?
Marty Friedman: "He's a really good player named Naoki Tamura. Our styles work perfectly since he is an effects maniac and I am more of a licks and melody guy. He does all of the wild effects parts of the songs and I do all the solos. When I was first approached about joining the band, I was actually a little worried because there are tons of guitar sound effects that I could probably do if I had a crash course in dialing that kind of stuff up. I was relieved when Naoki revealed that he was planning to do all of that stuff live. It really works out best when two players do what they like most and what comes naturally. It's best for the overall performance and very lucky when it happens."
Q: Any favorite songs to play live?
Marty Friedman: "'Tsuki ni Sasagu' really lets me stretch out guitar wise and play lots of typical Marty stuff. 'Break Out' is one of the songs that made me an Aikawa fan in the first place. 'Kanojo to Watashi no Jijo' sounds like THE SWEET, so I like that too."
Q: Now that the tour is over, what are your plans?
Marty Friedman: "Well the main tour is done, but we have some one-offs and festivals throughout the rest of the year, about 2 or 3 shows a month. Aikawa's next tour will celebrate 10 years since her debut so there are things in the works for that. I'm going to do 8 cities of guitar clinics in Japan. I also have 4 solo shows coming up. The instructional DVD I have been working on is done, with just distribution details left to be worked out. It's by far the most useful one I've done yet, I'll keep you posted on it. We are shooting for a release by the end of this year, and we may do a pre-sale on the site. Aside from that I am in the studio concentrating on new material which could possibly wind up as a new solo record or material for a new band. It's pretty deep in the heavy vein, I'll keep you posted on that as well. I'm also lucky enough to be asked to contribute a song to a project with major Japanese musicians that will likely be the most well known thing I've done over here. It may even become an international release, but the details are top secret now. The second I can reveal more info, that info will be up on the site. My song is done and will be mixed by August."
Q: Before we finish up, anything to say about the World Guitar Congress show you did in Baltimore and how did Masa Ito's event go?
Marty Friedman: "They were both awesome! I must have been out of my mind to do a show in Baltimore in the middle of a tour of Japan, but somehow it all worked out. It was fun to play stuff from 'Music For Speeding' for a somewhat (dare I say it) snobby guitar afficionado audience. I mean, I was sandwiched between Allan Holdsworth and Richie Havens, so my music must have come off pretty heavy! But the crowd seemed to enjoy it despite the fact that our volume was at least 5 times as loud as the other two acts! It was a thrill to meet Holdsworth. Jarzombek and I bugged him constantly to explain his theories and techniques to us! He was very accomodating, but I didn't understand a thing he said! Ron said that he could make out about half of it. Anyway, he was a good sport and openly explained a lot of stuff to us when he could have easily told us to take a hike. It was a very good event and I was glad to have done it. Masa Ito's contest was amazing!! Imagine 1500 metal maniacs from all over Japan coming to Tokyo by invitation and taking an all-day quiz on the most minute details of heavy metal, past and present! Let me tell you the questions are hard! It is really a spectacle. This was the 3rd year in a row that I have had the pleasure of hosting the annual event along with Masa Ito. Masa Ito is a national treasure in my opinion, as he is very much responsible for the enthusiasm for heavy music in Japan."