Fridmann grew up in Buffalo, NY, and played guitar, keyboards, and/or bass in a succession of local bands starting in his teen years. He also became interested in sound engineering, which helped him land in the inaugural lineup of Mercury Rev in the late '80s, serving as the bassist and resident studio expert. Fridmann's first high-profile gig came in 1990, when he engineered and co-produced the Flaming Lips' creative breakthrough, In a Priest Driven Ambulance; with the Lips serving as something of a sister band to the Rev, Fridmann would subsequently helm their recordings on a regular basis. Fridmann also engineered and co-produced Mercury Rev's 1991 debut, Yerself Is Steam, and work on both bands' follow-ups — 1992's Hit to Death in the Future Head for the Lips, 1993's Boces for his own outfit — ensued.
With assistance from some of the Flaming Lips, most notably Michael Ivins, Fridmann opened his own Tarbox Road Studios in 1997, choosing a rural location in Cassadaga, NY, near the town of Fredonia, south of Buffalo. Its first project was the Lips' ambitious Zaireeka, a four-disc set meant to simulate quadraphonic sound by featuring different parts of the same songs on separate discs. With his own home base, Fridmann's work schedule picked up considerably; among his many other projects of 1997, most of which were little-known indie bands, he co-produced Jane's Addiction's reunion single "So What." 1998 brought Fridmann's first breakthrough in the form of Mercury Rev's gentle fourth album, Deserter's Songs, which earned massive acclaim in the U.K. and improved his reputation exponentially. Fridmann's upward momentum only increased with the 1999 release of the Flaming Lips' delicate, shimmering pop masterpiece The Soft Bulletin, which topped many year-end critics' polls and revitalized the band's career.