|Posted on April 26, 2015 at 12:00 AM|
Interview with Yngwie Malmsteen
By Dave Smiles
Few guitarists reach the level of expertise that Yngwie Malmsteen has during his career. Over the course of almost twenty studio albums, four live albums (including a performance with the New Japan Philharmonic), Malmsteem has constantly challenged what seems to be his biggest critic – himself. With a constant need to take risks and striving to keep it interesting he has written and performed some simply phenomenal neo-classical, heavy metal music.
What makes Malmsteen’s career even more impressive, in our technology dominated modern age, is that he made his breakthrough into the music world when it seemed to mean more, in the days of the larger than life rock gods and when dexterous guitar playing wasn’t taken for granted.
I was lucky enough to recently have a chat with Yngwie about his career, influences and his upcoming tour of Australia.
First of all, man, I’m really looking forward to your upcoming tour of Australia.
Unless I’m mistaking it’s been about eight years since you last toured here?
Probably, yes. 2006.
Are you looking forward to coming back?
Of course. I was there, the year before last I think. It was for a guitar clinic. That was great. I was really enjoying it.
What can we expect from the set list?
(Laughs) There’s no way to tell. It’s going to be very exciting, for sure. No worries there. I always mix up old and new stuff. I never do all old, or all new. The funny part… about half an hour before I go on stage I get the tour manager and the band in my room and say, ‘ok, here’s the set list. And everybody gets a set list and it’s printed out and put all over the stage, and we get on stage… and I play a different set list. So no one knows. That’s why I did my live album now, where I did the live album from Tampa, and the live video from Orlando and there’s like one day apart and nothing is the same. They’re totally different shows. I mean, they are the same in a sense that I play Far Beyond The Sun and stuff like that, but the way it’s played not one note’s the same. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t still be doing this. I’d be doing something else. I mean, to me the whole idea of making music is to challenge yourself and make it exciting and not safe. If it’s safe, if it’s rehearsed, if it’s the same every night I would never do it. I can’t do it, you know? Every solo I make, is improvised, every introduction to a song is improvised. The order of the songs is never the same. I usually start and end with the same songs, but that’s the way it is really.
Keeps it fresh, keeps it interesting.
What’s the best thing about being able to perform your music in front of a live audience?
Oh my God, there’s just so many great aspects of it. The thing is for me, ok, it goes back to the set list thing. If I go on stage and I’m just like a juke box, and I’m sure the audience would say ‘I’d love to hear that song,’ we’ll do that song. And that’s great, I want them to be happy. But the thing is, I need to challenge myself and take risks, and if I do that AND I get the response then that’s the ultimate. You know what I mean? And also, it’s a combination of the excitement and … it’s automatically there. If I’m in a rehearsal room and I play say Heaven Tonight. I’ll probably fall the fuck asleep. But if I kick in that song, and I see the whole crowd get into it, then I can get into it too. Musically, that song’s not extremely exciting to me, but it would be something they would love as well. But the whole thing of being able to go on stage and do your thing, it’s priceless.
You’ve recently been inducted into the Swedish Music Hall of fame. That must have been a pretty awesome achievement. How did it feel when you found out this was going to happen?
It was pretty amazing. You know, I haven’t lived there for almost thirty five years. So I’m not there to know this was going on. A couple of years ago my dad called me up and said they’re going to print new money, currency. Money bills. And they decided that instead of having pictures of old kings, they were going to have pictures of more modern contributors, you know so to speak. And there was Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite. And then there was Astrid Lindgren, who wrote all the children’s books and there was me. So I was up on an election to be on the fucking money. So it’s pretty extreme, you know, cause I’m just a kid from Sweden. I was very rebellious. You must read my book. It’s called Relentless. It explains… I was very out of place there. I wasn’t fitting in very well. It was a very, how should I say, structured society, and I wanted to go my own way, so… So, yeah it was a great honour, a really great honour, but it’s funny at the same time. It’s almost ironic.
Yeah, it would be cool to be on currency.
There seems to be a lot of hard rock and heavy metal bands coming out of Sweden at the moment. Do you think you kind of pioneered something back in the eighties?
I think maybe, yeah. But obviously not recently cause as I said I haven’t been there for a long time. What happened was when I grew up in the late seventies, when I was a little kid, I was really trying my best, I was recording, I was doing little gigs here and there. There was literally no bands that played hard rock, heavy metal, whatever. They didn’t exist. There was another little group, outside of Stockholm, in a little suburb area. I became friends with them and they eventually became Europe, but they weren’t called that then. So we used to hang out and everything like that. And at just the same time, 1982, when I left for America. We were in all those battle of the bands things. There were all sorts of different bands, reggae and pop and whatever, and they actually went to the finals. I think either they won, or they got second place. It was a big deal, they were on TV and all that. At the same time I’d already left for America and I was a big ass deal cause I’d just made a record with an American band so all of a sudden people were going, ‘shit, maybe this is something,’ then all of a sudden in the mid-eighties there was a million bands that came out of Sweden. But there was, very much, like the whole ‘hair metal’ or whatever. I didn’t keep an eye on it, per say, but I know what it was. I think it kind of carried on, I’m not sure. To me, it seems there always been a great talent there but they were always subdued by the fact that being a musician wasn’t a real job, you couldn’t make any money – you could live on it, you know. You couldn’t fucking live on music. It was impossible. And that was one of the main reasons I left for the States. I knew that if I came here I would be able to just do music only.
What was it about music that made you want to dedicate your life to it?
Oh man… I would have to suggest that people read my book on that one cause that’s a very very long story. My book’s called Relentless. Yngwie Malmsteen The memoir. There’s other books – don’t buy them! It’s called Relentless, it’s the only one that’s real. The other ones are just tabloid shit. Anyway, to make a very long story an even longer one, I started, I was the youngest kid in the family. Everyone was a musician and singers and pianist and whatever. Everybody, it was like a musician environment. So I got hooked on that, and brought my first record – Deep Purple’s Fireball when I was seven years old, eight years old I think it was. There really was no other options for me. It really was kind of a complicated story cause I came out of a classical background, got into the hard rock thing, then I went back to the classical thing, heavily, but maintained a bit of both sounds. As I said, very very complicated answer to that. It’s my whole life, you know what I mean? I’m in the studio right now, writing and recording a new album so I’m completely immersed in music all day long. That’s all I do, it almost becomes like you have to escape from it, so I go out and drive the Ferrari’s around or something. It’s dangerous sometimes, if you get too into it. You forget what you’re doing. You got to keep a distance from it, sometimes.
How’s the new album coming along?
It’s going real well. It’s going to be like, it’s hard to describe, it’s almost like the first album. There’s a lot of instrumental stuff, very neo-classical, some really hard stuff too, some vocals. It’s hard to describe music, but it’s very Malmsteen-esque, so to speak.
Cool, I look forward to it. In the modern internet age we’re bombarded with information about rock stars and celebrities, etc. Do you think this helps some bands gain exposure or do you think it was better when there was a bit of mystic about rock stars back in the day?
I always, personally, thought mystic was much more exciting, you know. The untouchable, bigger, larger than life type thing. That’s what I, when I was a little kid I’d listen to something and look at the vinyl cover, that’s as close as I could get to them. To me that was great, that was cool. I think what has happened is the whole music quote, unquote, industry is dead, so that all the money people are gone. The music people are still there but the money people are gone. What I mean by that, the distributors and retailers, printers and your manufactures, and you’re A&R people, all those people who took a piece of the pie – they’re not there anymore, cause there is no pie. So what’s happening now is a free for all, there’s no format, there’s no radio play, there’s no MTV play, there’s nothing. There’s just a bunch of shit on YouTube. ‘Look, I got a video on YouTube,’ but yeah so does four billion other people. So the whole thing has lost its lustre. There’s nothing special about it. I remember when I was a kid and I knew I was going to be on a piece of vinyl, it was like stepping into the fucking hall of Valhalla. All of a sudden you’re in the presence of God! You’re not like everybody else. You’re not like everybody else who’s trying to fucking do it. You’re in… The Club! That can’t happen again, there’s no threshold there anymore, just that whole, flat… shit, you know? As far as I’m concerned. I’m NOT saying the music. I’m not saying that at all. I’m sure there’s probably more good music now than ever. But, what I’m trying to say is the whole … mystic is the word you used… but think about it – you’re sitting on a subway train and you’re cold and you think ‘oh man, I wish I was in Led Zeppelin. It’s a big step from being in a suburb of Sweden to being in Led Zeppelin. Now its like, ‘oh, I wish I could have a video on YouTube.’
Yeah, yeah. It’s hardly the same.
It’s hard to describe it. Anyway there’s a song on my new album called lost in the machine which is about this stuff.
Ok, cool. After such a long career in music is there anything else you’d like to achieve as a musician?
To me I don’t see it like that. Every time I pick the guitar up, if you don’t get the excitement - which is always possible to do, especially if you play for forty fucking years, but that’s the thing. You’re got to challenge yourself. By that I don’t mean I’m going to make a jazz album. What I mean is by taking risks. To me it’s not like one particular thing. It’s more like… everything. It’s like when I go out and I’m going to do Monsters of Rock next week with Kiss. I’m going to make sure I’m not swallowed up by the rest of the bands. It’s going to be a high point. I’m going to fucking burn down the place. You know what I’m saying? I’m up for the challenge all the time.
Awesome. Anyway man, good luck with the upcoming tour. I hope everything goes well. Thanks for doing the interview mate.
Thank you. Thank you.
Yngwie Malmsteen’s book Relentless is available from Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/Relentless-Memoir-Yngwie-J-Malmsteen/dp/1118517717
For more information about Yngwie Malmsteen visit the official website at www.yngwiemalmsteen.com/yngwie/