Ex-Megadeth Guitarist: The “Ryan Seacrest of Japan”

“Tornado of Souls” off Megadeth’s Rust in Peace is often considered one of the best–if not the best–solos by then guitarist Marty Friedman (solo starts at 3:09). Being a metal head in high school (and still a big one today), I listened to a lot of Megadeth. I’ve seen them live twice: once with Dream Theater and again with Slash. The majority of my Megadeth albums feature Friedman,1 who was with the band from 1990-2000. I hadn’t ever thought much about where Friedman went or what he was doing. Apparently, he ended up as the “Ryan Seacrest of Japan.” According to Billboard, Friedman has been there since 2003 and has since “logged more than 600 TV appearances;2 landed major endorsements with such companies as Coca-Cola (Fanta), Sumitomo Bank and Suntory; written a monthly J-pop column and two best-selling books; acted in a feature film; become a manga comic and performed with some of J-pop’s biggest stars. It’s an incredibly long way from rocking a million faces with Dave Mustaine and Megadeth in their 1990s heyday.” The article goes on to detail his stint with Japanese singer Aikawa Nanase’s band to hosting a TV show called Mr. Heavy Metal in which Friedman woud “create live metal skits on guitar in collaboration with the guests, in which he would play traditional Japanese songs and mix them with heavy metal riffs. While the show did well, it was a biproduct that inextricably change Friedman’s career.” The show was remade into Rock Fujiyama, in which he would go head-to-head with other rockers in various music games. Case in point, Rock A to Z with Mr. Big’s Paul Gilbert:

“When Friedman arrived in Japan he was already fluent in Japanese,” reports Rolling Stone,

which he’d taught himself as a hobby, but it was the pull of a musical culture he’d long admired from afar – and as a visitor with Megadeth and his earlier band Cacophony – that compelled him to move halfway across the world. “It all comes down to the music,” he emphasizes. “That’s why I’m here. As much as I love Japan, I would not be living 7,000 miles away from my family and friends in America if it weren’t for the great music. If you look at the Top 10 on the charts here, I can pick any day of the week and nine of those songs, I would definitely say, ‘I dig that a lot.’ In America, I would be very lucky if there was one song in that Top 10 that I could enjoy.” Not for the only time throughout our day together, Friedman moderates that statement — he wants to make clear that he’s not looking down his nose at American pop. “It has nothing to do with good or bad or valuable or not valuable,” he says. “It’s just my own personal taste tends to be what’s going on in Japan.”

…Friedman explains that Japanese pop music is typically much more complex than its American counterpart. He compares the structure of Japanese pop songs – which he says might contain as many as 60 chords, compared to six or so in a typical Western pop song3 – to that of a jazz format but with extremely strong, pop-sensible melodies. “And this is not considered progressive at all,” he says admiringly, “This can be in the poppiest music you’ve ever heard.” Put another way, “the amount of information within a song if you were to reduce it to data would be a lot more than you’d find in Western mainstream music.” 

Friedman has expressed his adoration for Japanese metal idol group Babymetal and even the more pop-oriented Momoira Clover Z (whose “Infinite Love” he calls the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ of idol music”). But “[w]ould Friedman conside[r] moving back to the States after more than a decade in Japan?” asks Rolling Stone.

Maybe. “This is my home,” he says, “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.” He pauses. “I wouldn’t even know what to do in America.”

And now, enjoy him rocking out with Queen M. from Animetal the Second as they perform a metal version of the opening song to the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica (performance starts at 2:01).