|Considered by many to be one of the most technically gifted rock guitarists of all time and the pioneer of shred guitar, Yngwie Malmsteen has accomplished a great deal in the almost 3 decades since he landed in LA, including but not limited to putting the words arpeggio and Paganini in the same neo-classical metal conversation as volume and amps.|
A modern day Mozart with electricity, Malmsteen has never been a wallflower, he burst on the scene in 1982 and has had guitarists, musicians, critics and fans talking ever since.
Having released his latest album Relentless, this marks Yngwie's first studio album in over two years of entirely newly composed never before heard songs that give a new meaning to virtuoso and perhaps a new nom de plume for Malmsteen himself.
We recently had the opportunity to speak to the living legend and get an inside scoop into what makes this prodigy tick.
KIM: Tell us about Relentless...how is it different form your earlier work?
YM: Well, it's virtually impossible to describe music with words, you know? I think it's a little more experimental –no perhaps a little more daring, in the sense that it's not just song, song, song, song...there's a lot of interludes and segue ways, instrumentals...from start to finish, excuse my French but pretty fucking crazy! My guitar playing is completely, out of line.
I didn't plan on making it this way either, but when it started taking shape, my manager said man, it's ridiculous...I've been doing this for forever, since I was 5 years old and yet I am and my music is more passionate, more inspired than it has ever been. Why that is I can't really put a reason on that. It is--Relentless. Someone who's never heard it before will think, "what is this guy fucking crazy or something?" From start to finish it is completely nuts and for many years I didn't do that...and not b/c someone told me...I've never done what I was told, I've always done what I wanted to do. I came here with a guitar 28 years ago, as a teenager, with the thought let's see what's going to happen, let's see and it's been going on, it's been continuous and it's never stopped...it's been nuts but great!
KIM: It had to be a huge change and culture shock for you to take such a giant leap so early in your career.
YM: Yeah, it was. I never had flown over the Atlantic before so I didn't even know what jetlag was! I flew from Stockholm to Brussels to Chicago to San Francisco to La! So when I came off the plane I felt like I had been in a dryer! (lol) I didn't know what was up or down. I even remember my guitar coming out of the chute and it was upside down, and it fell out and here I am running after my toothbrush and my guitar. I really didn't know what was going to happen next because I had left Sweden where I was fairly established, I had an apartment, a girlfriend, band and a studio...and I left anyway. And I was thinking about that as I was talking about what I am doing, now...it's the same thing..the way I did this album was as if it's the first and last thing I ever do, there's a tremendous amount of passion and it shows when you listen to it. I hope so anyway! (laughing)
KIM: Time recently named you one of the "Top Ten Greatest Electric Guitar Players", an honor you share with the likes of Les Paul, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. Knowing that seeing a Hendrix video started it all for you, how does this honor make you feel?
YM: It's an incredible honor you know? I got my star on the street in LA, I have a bookcase here in my living room and it looks like I am Tiger Woods or something! I have gold and platinum albums all over the house, and that's great you know but every time I pick up the guitar THAT is the moment. The other doesn't matter, what I do today...is it, because you are never any fucking better than you are right now.
To me when I don't make music I have other passions, I love my Ferraris and I play tennis, family...but once I get into music I don't do it half ass. Half ass is not in my vocabulary...it's all the fucking way or nothing. So all of the awards are wonderful but at the end of the day, I was like this when I was younger too, sitting in my own bedroom playing, I was going to kick MY own ass! People sometimes ask me how much do I practice...I've never practiced once in my life, ever. I performed whether anyone was there or not. I don't accept myself being a level up or maybe tomorrow I will reach another step...no I either do it now or that's it. I'm a very determined person and I am extremely stubborn. I am relentless and if I set a goal I will not stop until it's done, doesn't matter what the goal is--music or 110 mph...then when I achieve it it's time to move on to something else. It's just the way I do things. I've been doing this for forever. A lot of kids now are interns by me, I've been doing this since before they were born. So one would think after that long you would lose a little of that spark, yeah? It hasn't happened.
KIM: You've mentioned that the name of the CD is synonymous with how you feel about your music and craft. After all of the awards, the shredding arpeggios and commercial success where do you continue to draw your inspiration from?
YM: It's very very varied. I can wake up in the middle of the night and have a finished piece of music. So, I just go to the studio and record it immediately. Sometimes in listening back to it I wonder where did this come from? I have the luxury of having a studio where everything is state of the art and it's wonderful. It's like a painter having the whole palette. If you cant improvise you can't compose...period. A lot of people think that classical composers were wearing penguin clothes like they are now...no these people--Beethoven, Paganini, Mozart--they were all very free spirits. They would improvise on stage so I actually realized my dream by composing a symphony, by myself. So there's 16 bars here where I can play whatever I want. That's exactly what they did and some people miss that point--the classical people today are reciting other's composition not playing their own.
In a lot of ways that's how I approach how I do everything. For example if I am playing a song for the millionth time on stage I wouldn't play it the same way I did the night before. So there's a structure but it's done new every time and that goes hand in hand with how I compose. Composition is very...well I am writing a book right now about it and it's taking some time because I don't have a lot of time to do it, I try to explain it there, but it's hard. The music happens and it is given to me..the lyrics are very methodical, I write them in a very methodical way, maybe more like other people compose. But the composition is very spontaneous, I sing along with the guitar, a lot of the melodies come to me that way. I'm very serious about what I do so when I am dust a 100 years from now this stuff will still be here. I want to make it the best always. To me the music that comes at a moment with inspiration and magic; if I can capture that then I am happy. Instead of being tied to a studio and paying 4 or 5 grand a day, so the pressure is "do it", now I do it whenever I want to, whenever it feels right. This is the first record ever that I did everything in one place, it's such an amazing freedom, if you don't catch it when it's there it gets away, you know? Some of the moments on this record are definitely fucking moments you know? I'm very happy with that.
KIM: You've often been called the Paganini of heavy metal...Paganini had Charles Philippe Lafont, Mozart had Scalieri. Who was or has been either your mentor or competitor?
YM: You know it's a funny thing, that's a good question..when I first came on the scene here in the States it was a whirlwind. I was in Steeler for like six weeks and I joined the band, did some gigs, recorded a record and then I left to work with Graham Bonnett. it happened so quick, that I didn't pay attention and since I am working on this book I've been looking back on my life then and it doesn't even seem like it was me because of my whole way of living now. I'm like a health freak now. I get up at 7 o'clock in the morning, play tennis, I don't touch alcohol, smoke cigarettes I'm like a total freak, and back then that was like the last thing on my list, I wonder what this is like--let's try this...so it's all different...when I first came on the scene there were all these articles about me and comparing me to Eddie Van Halen. I never realized what was going on with that so much, you have to remember I'm from Sweden and we have two TV channels, so all of a sudden this started happening...the whole competition thing, I never understood it cause it's like an art form right?
It seems with guitar players it becomes that way. I never competed with anybody except for myself. I would never allow myself...I'm not a team player for nothing...it's my own shoulders....I'm pushing myself not to impress someone else, not to compete, I never understood my impact until much later. I do remember my first gig with Steeler...we played to 30 people...the next week we played the Troubador..and I'm tuning my guitar and looking over and seeing all of these people lined up on the street and I asked someone who the fuck is playing tonight and the guy pointed to me and said "you are". What? One week it took and I was the talk of the town...they started saying I was the devil, that I said I was better than Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix and I never said any of those things, but this is the way it is. I didn't know what was going on; I was focusing on the music. I had no idea that a religion was being formed. No idea. I was on the road all the time, so I didn't think about the impact I had. When I was 8 or 9, Ritchie Blackmore was my God...then I got into the classical stuff more heavily.
KIM: Being a virtuoso comes with it's own rewards and pitfalls, one being the misunderstood artist aspect...what is it that people often misunderstand about you or your music?
YM: Oh wow, it would be easier for me to list the things that people didn't misunderstand. I don't think people understand me at all. People have said that I was into magic, living in a dark castle somewhere ...I mean even when I did Overture 1383 on the Marching Out album, people were wondering what the significance of the year was and it was when Lowenbrau started brewing their beer, which I was drinking a lot of...that's where I was then. I think people have a certain idea of what I am doing and a lot of times I think people think that everything I do is figured out, none of it is--it's all improvised. I'm perfectly aware of music theory and all; I have a PHD in that, but once you have that you don't think about it...it's like spelling. The hardest thing for me has been to try and capture the live feel in the studio. A lot of people want to make the live show sound like the studio but I always wanted to do the opposite. It's so difficult to do, but I'm getting better at it. I never do second takes anyway, if you can't get it right away then I will do it again later. There's no let's do it again, and again...no, fuck that shit.
KIM : Rising Force Records--you established it in 2008. It's primary function is to release and market new and back catalogue material from you. What was behind this decision?
YM: Well my wife who is my manager is the one with the business mind and I've just never been good at it. If I had focused on that aspect maybe, but I just didn't. Back in 86 and 87 my manager had two Rolls Royces and I had a house with no furniture in it you know? I never did this for money to begin with...that's not the reason, but at the same time when you have people who only do it for that reason like labels, promoters, etc then it becomes too ugly. You do a couple of tours, get a few dollars and they take all of the money--that's not right. So Rising Force Records is more of a business thing, a way to take control--knowing what's printed, what's shipped, inventory control--so you know what's going on.
KIM: We opened our interview up to our readers and Ed had a question for you...Which is more important to you taste, tone, or feel?
YM: You know I got a similar question last week...and it's like asking someone which is more important, lungs, heart...a brain...I would like to have all of them please. Here's the big misconception--if you don't have technique you can't express "feel"...you must have the knowledge and skill, but if you don't have the theory and the technique then it isn't going to come together.
KIM: So what is next for Yngwie Malmsteen?
YM: More touring, I have a new Marshall stack coming out, I love Marshalls...it's like there are two man made objects that you can see from outer space, the Wall of China and Yngwie Malmsteen's stack of Marshalls! Still working on the book and promoting Relentless!