Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Marty Friedman & Jørgen Munkeby Interview

With people quick to draw similarities in new music to existing bands and ideologies
these days, true originality and ingenuity, it seems, is difficult to come across. It is nigh
on impossible to define something new as entirely that. 

2014, generally speaking, saw many musicians diving head first into one of two routes
of possibility: Either plunging into the crystallised waters of modern, technologically
orientated music, where the production is crisp and precise and the overall sound is
very much that of the future envisaged by Robert Zemeckis, or they take a step back
to recreate the sounds of a bygone era, using vintage equipment and recording
analogue, warts n’ all. Journalists are as guilty, if not more so, than the fans when it
comes to pigeon holing music, giving it a suitable definition. Be your metal black,
death, groove, thrash, dark depressing doomcore or baby, there are a million sub-
genres that have been defined, a million invisible borders erected from which elitists
spit their mantra - many merely done so to try and establish a sense of uniqueness in
the whirling pool of competition, despite any differences being minor in many cases.

One true artist in the thrall of the global metal scene right now sits in front of me. His
eyes dart about; he twitches with an uneasy restlessness, his Gibson SG lying on the
cushioned stool beside him. This is a man who never sits still, an idea always churning
in his head. Jørgen Munkeby, a graduate of the Norwegian Academy of music and a
multi-instrumentalist, he first discovered metal in his teens, but was soon seduced by
the craziness of jazz.

            “I grew up with metal music but I wanted to explore music,” he says, a real
            emphasis hinging on his use of explore. “There are things in the jazz world like
            the scales and chords, the chaotic parts, which I think are interesting and I
            thought that was missing in metal,” he continued, his native accent flavouring
            his English. Thus, Shining was born: A combination of black metal filled out with
            the swinging chaos of jazz.

            “What Shining do is freaky man, there’s nobody else who does it. It’s an
            unusual thing but I really like it,” says the softly spoken, curly haired American
            that is Marty Friedman who had sat across from me, on that very same stool
            only moments earlier.  

Like Munkeby, Marty Friedman’s first love came in the form of heavy metal. He began
playing guitar at the age of fourteen, imitating and learning from his idols – Jeff Beck,
Eddie Van Halen and so on. But, again, like what Munkeby would do some years
later, he explored other forms of music. As such he would soon become enamoured
with Japanese music, drawing melodic influences from Enka singers.

            “If you wanna call yourself a musician or an artist, something that is built into
            the definition of that is to open up to and explore new things. You naturally do
            it. So when I was a kid I was reaching out for different things to make me play
            different things from the guy next to me.”

            These are sentiments echoed by Munkeby. “What I find is hard is if I make
            something a little too similar from what I’ve already done then I don’t find it
            inspiring. But still I kinda like the boundaries that exist around Black Jazz to
            make it is what it is. The problem is feeling where those boundaries are. If I do
            something will it still feel like Black Jazz? Do I want to expand the boundaries
            to incorporate more into it?”   

With work underway on a guest smattered solo album, ‘Inferno’, Marty Friedman
would soon cross paths with Jørgen Munkeby, a man he can, when it comes to
musical philosophy, draw many parallels with. Says Friedman:

            “I’m a big fan of Shining so I just kinda had a bromance going on. The record
            company suggested I ask them to collaborate on the record but I didn’t think
            they would have heard of me, they’re little jazzers. But Jørgen said ‘oh, I’m
            your biggest fan.’ 

            “For some reason we clicked. We have very little in common but I love the
            way he makes music. His saxophone is the kind of thing where you love it or
            you hate it and I love that about it – it’s very polarising, just like Baby Metal.
            Growing up I was a huge KISS fan and everybody hated KISS – it was the same
            with The Ramones and The Sex Pistols. If you liked them you really liked them,
            or you hated them, you couldn’t be half way.”

I’d fallen in love with their marriage of these two contrasting spectrums of music

months before I first saw them live, at Bloodstock 2014. I knew what was coming when
the baritone saxophone was first pulled out, its golden finish glinting in the Derbyshire
sunshine. Other people were left astounded.          

            “Some people react like children, when there’s something they don’t know
            they’re afraid,” Jørgen quips. “But that’s proof that we have something
            different. When people love what you’re doing then that’s fun as an artist but
            what’s also fun is that when you see people and they don’t like it but they
            know it’s good so they can’t argue against it. When you play well and you’re
            proud of what you’re doing you feel invincible. Even if there are people
            thinking ‘what the fuck is this?’” – polarising indeed.

As Friedman had asserted, while the pair were, on a personal level, hugely

contrasting, on a musical level they were very much on the same page during the
collaboration. Munkeby called it a “natural connection.”

            “Initially he wanted me to write stuff and send to him but I never really felt like
            I had the time so I told him that maybe it was better for him to start something
            and give me something to work on. So he sent me two songs and I started
            working on one I liked the most, re-recorded it and sent it back. He then re-
            arranged it, suggested another part and sent it back. So it went back and forth
            and eventually what I sent him was what we used. It feels like a natural
            connection but it could have been otherwise, if we do it again it might be
            different you know?” 

    Friedman: “I wanted the guests on the album to write the song for me. Not use them in
            that sense but I wanted to have them on the record and not my version of
            them. So I wanted their song to have their flavour plus me in it. I wanted them
            to write the song and I arrange it, produce it and put my stamp on it. This was
            more of a personal collaboration, writing songs rather than just guest solos.
            This way they have more responsibility, you can’t just come in, blast a solo
            and that’s it. You can’t write a piece of shit song.” 

A musical partnership emerged from that collaboration with UK promoters jumping at
the chance to give ‘Meat Hook’ the resulting song, a live airing.

The two artists, whilst parallel in their undertaking of new, exciting fusions, were poles
apart on a social level. As such, the tour has been a learning curve for Munkeby.

            “What’s been pushing us is having another guy in our band. We play two of his
            songs. But it’s more about having another guy with another way of playing
            with us. Are we supposed to think about it as us with another member, are we
            his backing band or just two different artists playing together? So that’s been
            new and interesting but I think it really works.

            “Anything that we can do that’s fun and might benefit getting our name out
            there we’ll do it. We have a pretty broad fan base – and that’s how I like it. I’d
            say this was more on the metal side of things for us. We could more
            mainstream stuff or more jazz stuff but this is fun. We haven’t ever really had a
            guest playing with us. I’ve had requests from people wanting to play on our
            albums but I’ve always said no. So this is the first time and it’s been interesting.
            “I think our style has become a very clear thing so by introducing someone
            else with their own clear musical output and suddenly you have two different
            colours,” he continues. “We’ve been organising it so they don’t clash too
            much but that also gives a variety of different things. It’s a special set. It’s
            kinda hard to present what we’re doing on a poster in a very efficient way. As
            long as it’s good it doesn’t matter what people expect if they come away

Of his band’s style, the 34 year old feels as though, by defining their music as Black

Jazz has helped the band achieve the notoriety they achieve today, those self-
prescribed boundaries a benefit rather than a hindrance.

            “We needed a title for the album [Black Jazz] and I didn’t know if I wanted the
            usual atmospherical sounding kind of idea. ‘Black Jazz’ is more like a label or
            a definition. Ornette Coleman had an album called ‘The Shape of Jazz to
            Come’, Venom had ‘Black Metal’ - they’re different types of titles. You’re not
            aiming at instilling a certain type of atmosphere or fantastical idea, it’s just ‘this
            is what it is, fuck you.’ So when we came up with the title of ‘Black Jazz’ I
            thought it was an important thing to do, it was a powerful statement. But it
            started out with what to call the album and that was while making it so we
            were able to incorporate that into the lyrics and bring it all together.

            “We’ve continued building on the idea of Black Jazz which I think brings more
            weight to the phenomenon, we feel more comfortable with what it is. Some of
            the more successful songs on ‘One One One’ [the more succinct, punchy
            follow up to ‘Black Jazz’] have helped us a lot in the live situation. One of those
            songs was played on Norwegian radio for 15 weeks so it’s helped
            commercially also. We’re working on a new album now which is going to
            have songs which are as focussed as ‘One One One’ and some songs that are
            more open and adventurous as ‘Black Jazz’. The vibe will be little bit darker t
            han ‘One One One’.

            “I’ll always be making the music the way I feel I need to be making music. I’m
            not able to make music based on a strict idea of what might be smart; I just
            make music that I think is the best thing I can make in that moment. I think I’d
            like to stick somewhere around the Black Jazz world for some time so I can be
            able to work on it more. The Black Jazz universe still has potential to be built
            upon right now.” 

With no immediate plans drawn together following the conclusion of this tour, does
Munkeby see a future in Shining & Marty Friedman?

            “I haven’t thought about that,” he answers, his eyes still shifting towards the
stage in the distance and about the room, as restless as ever. “I just know that
            I’m in the middle of writing a new album so I’m always sat on the bus or in a
            hotel going through songs that I’ve worked on and changing things so that’s
            really my focus. I have to have everything delivered before the Devin
            Townsend tour in March.”

And Friedman? “The record company wants me to do another record and work with
            the musicians who I couldn’t use this time around, but I don’t want to repeat
            myself,” is his answer, one typical of his innate sense of adventure. “We’ll see
            when it comes around. I’ll be dealing with Inferno for a while.”

What is clear is that these two minds will continue baffle and amaze audiences
worldwide. Their blends of metal aesthetics with other musical ideologies will continue
to evolve and advance, even if their paths lead them further and further away from
them one another. These are two artists with their philosophies founded upon a desire
to do something different and go against the grain of the current trends of, not just
metal but of all musical genres. True originality and ingenuity is difficult to come
across nowadays but Marty Friedman and Jørgen Munkeby have most definitely
found it in abundance.

Words: Phil Weller