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An Exclusive Interview With Legendary Shredder Yngwie Malmsteen

By Dave Reinlieb, Contributor
Wednesday, April 10, 2002 @ 5:01 PM

Guitar Legend Yngwie Malmsteen

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Yngwie Malmsteen was imported from Sweden to LA in 1983 to front a new band called Steeler. Steeler was put together by Mike Varney, who had recently formed his own label, Shrapnel Records. Yngwie had been making a name for himself in Sweden and a demo had made its way to the States and into the hands of Varney. Varney, impressed with Malmsteenís playing like everyone else was, flew over the 18 year old and rushed him from the plane to the studio. The band quickly recorded the self-titled Steeler album, Malmsteen slept on the pool table. Steeler toured a handful of dates and before long the young Malmsteen was the hottest thing on the scene. Not since Eddie Van Halen had anyone seen such virtuosity in a guitar player. Yngwieís playing was fast and furious, and so advanced that he would even play ďEruptionĒ with his teeth. The creative restrictions Yngwie felt in Steeler prompted him to leave the band and he was soon working with former Rainbow singer Graham Bonnet in Alcatrazz. The buzz over Malmsteenís playing continued to grow and after releasing one studio and one live album with Alcatrazz, Yngwie was signed with Polygram Records and a successful solo career was born.

Yngwie J. Malmsteenís Rising Force was released in 1984 and went to #60 on the Billboard charts. The album was nominated for a Grammy, and Yngwie was solidified as a successful solo artist. After his debut, and a few honors such as ďGuitarist of The Year,Ē Yngwie went in a more metallic direction, his intention from the start. His playing style was classically influenced and technically perfect, but Yngwieís licks were pure metal. The term ďshredĒ was quickly coined and placed in the dictionary with Malmsteen's picture.

Malmsteen graced the cover of all the guitar magazines and had his career right on track until he wrapped his Jaguar around a tree in LA. Malmsteen awoke from a coma unable to use his right hand due to serious nerve damage caused by a blood clot in his brain. While in the hospital with his career in serious doubt, Malmsteen learned his mother had died of cancer back home in Sweden, and that his manager had taken off with all his money. All this only motivated Malmsteen, and before long he had recovered the use of his hand and bounced back with 1988ís Odyssey. Fronted by the other Rainbow vocalist, Joe Lynn Turner, Odyssey was a huge commercial success and featured the hit ďHeaven Tonight.Ē The album was followed with the Live in Leningrad/Trial By Fire album/VHS, which was recorded on the last gig of the bands world tour. After that last show, Malmsteen dismissed his band and retired the name Rising Force.

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The next album, Eclipse, featured a new lineup and was a more polished effort. The buzz created from Odyssey, however, was gone. After this release Malmsteen split with Polygram and signed a promising deal with Elektra Records. Released in 1992, Fire and Ice was a major label, big budget guitar album. Unfortunately for us all, by this time metal was on its way out and Malmsteenís contract with Elektra would soon follow. CMC then signed Malmsteen and after barely releasing Seventh Sign to the stores, Malmsteen was once again without a recording contract for the US. At this time Malmsteen gave up on trying for the US market and concentrated on Europe and Japan. This was the last most people heard from Yngwie Malmsteen in the United States, but he continued releasing album after album for Pony Canyon overseas. To this day, every one of his records goes gold in Japan. He released two more live albums, a best of, a cover album featuring former band-mates, delivered several songs for tribute albums, and did a few small American tours throughout the Ď90s. Malmsteen topped off the decade with his lifelong dream of recording with a full orchestra on his Concerto Suite For Electric Guitar and Orchestra. Recorded with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Prague, the Concerto was critically acclaimed and solidified Malmsteen as more than just a great guitarist, but as a brilliant composer.

The new decade brought new management, the name Rising Force back, and a brand new deal with Spitfire Records. Last yearís War to End All Wars, although being criticized for itís raw production, was still classic Malmsteen and served to bring him back into the forefront of the resurging metal scene.

Yngwie is criticized for being arrogant, blunt, and very difficult to deal with. I found Yngwie to be very upfront and candid with me when we spoke via phone on April 5th. His personality is very strong and is certainly one that would rub some people the wrong way. People with such strong personalities are often stubborn and hard to deal with, but the conversation I had with Yngwie showed him to be a musician with a ton of integrity that is just not willing to compromise or budge even one inch when it comes to his music, like it or leave it, he doesnít care.

KNAC.COM: Hello, Yngwie how are you doing?
YNGWIE: I am doing good, thank you.

KNAC.COM: Fantastic, thanks for calling.
YNGWIE: No problem.

KNAC.COM: So youíre currently working on your new rock record right?
YNGWIE: Iím in the studio actually, been recording maybe for about ten days now.

KNAC.COM: Who are you recording with now?
YNGWIE: Itís sort of up in the air really. What Iíve done is Iíve written a lot of songs, and the only two people that Iíve had locked in completely for 100% sure, actually 3 people, are the engineer, Tom Fletcher, whoís done a lot of records for me before, and the drummer Patrick Johansson from Sweden, and keyboard player Derek Sherinian.

KNAC.COM: What kind of direction is the music going? Same as War to End All War?
YNGWIE: I donít know what to call it, really, I mean Iím not so sure. You see what happened was my last two albums, I donít know if it was a mistake or not, Iím not knocking them, I still think they were good albums, you know, but I have a certain view, a certain vision, of what I want to do, whereas this one is more, I just let it flow and so far, you know, its very difficult for me to explain it, its very melodic, very strong melodies, strong hooks, both riff and melody wise. And the production obviously I am paying an extreme lot of attention to that.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, there has been a lot of criticism over that, especially on the last album as far as production.
YNGWIE: I know, and that will never happen again, ever! Unfortunately the reasonÖ (laughing) what happened was thatÖ ah, itís a long story really. Itís past and basically what it comes down to is thatís one aspect that Iím paying a lot of attention to. But the soundís going to be incredible, the songs I think are very, very strong, the players are very, very good, and I feel Iím at the top of my game. And so all in all I am extremely excited for this record and Iím shooting to get it out sometime in the summer.

KNAC.COM: You didnít mention a vocalist.
YNGWIE: Well you know I donít want to say anything until it is for sure, you know? I have a few guys that I am talking to, and they are all good, and they are good people and everything, but I donít want to say anything now.

KNAC.COM: Are you working with a producer this time?
YNGWIE: Well you see, most people have a very distorted idea of what a producer does. A producer is someone that comes in and arranges songs and this and that. It really doesnít have much to do with the sound. The engineer is who is doing the sound. But the producer says ďOkay, I want more bass on this,Ē or whatever, you know? So no, I will never use a producer per se, but trust me, the last thing you guys have to worry about is the sound, and that I will make sure of.

KNAC.COM: Are you planning on touring with the orchestra for your Concerto?
"[In music today] you gotta be tattooed, and bald, and with baggy shorts, and gotta play kinda shitty. Iím not prepared to take part in that... [I'm] not going to be concerned with what is commercial."
YNGWIE: Yes, there has been a lot of talk about that, but these things unfortunately take a long time to arrange.

KNAC.COM: And youíre also working on the Genesis CD, which contains your early demo material?
YNGWIE: Thatís finished already.

KNAC.COM: So thatís almost ready for release then?

KNAC.COM: Out of all your past singers, who would you like to work with again, if any?

Long pause

YNGWIE: Well, (laughing) itís a bit of a dilemma that, you know? Itís a bit of a dilemma... I must say, because I think they are all great, but they seem to have a bit of a problem with the fact thatÖ

KNAC.COM: Youíre the boss.
YNGWIE: Yeah. And so, songwriter as well. So that and some other aspects that keep it becoming a bit of a dilemma to get back you know. Even though a singer is the guy that sings the song, to me, the singer is just like the drummer or the bass payer, or the keyboard player, to me. I donít understand why singers have that attitude that they are, the star, you know? They gotta get out of their fuckiní Elvis mentality. This is rock & roll, baby, this is not a fuckiní -- some crooner you know? And so thatís the problem I have with that.

KNAC.COM: There was talk not too long ago about you working with Graham Bonnet, how did that come about?
YNGWIE: They were calling me all the time and saying that they wanted to put Alcatrazz together.

KNAC.COM: Who was calling?
YNGWIE: All of them, and I didnít say no. But then it all just fizzed awayÖ (laughing) I donít know what happened there. I mean Iím always busy with my own thing, but I didnít say ďNo way,Ē or anything like that.

KNAC.COM: And you know what, Graham ended up getting back together with Impilliterri.

KNAC.COM: Exactly! (Me thinking Yngwie is being funny)
YNGWIE: Who is that?

KNAC.COM: Chris Impilliterri, a copycat of yours that came out in the Ď80s.
YNGWIE: Oh, really?

KNAC.COM: Graham sang on his first album Stand in Line, around the time you released Odyssey.

KNAC.COM: I have been a fan of yours since the Odyssey record. A lot of people would love to see you record with Joe Lynn Turner again. I know youíre not such a big fan of that album, but is their any chance of that down the line?
YNGWIE: The thing is whatís happened the last ten years, back in the Ď80s, you knew what was on the radio. You knew what was on MTV. And their was a format and I found it was very easy for me to just write a song -- I can write a very wide array of songs -- but I found it very easy then to write something that I knew was going to be popular, like ďYou Donít Remember, Iíll Never Forget,Ē ďHeaven Tonight,Ē ďNow Is the Time,Ē ďHold On,Ē ďDreaming,Ē -- stuff like that. I knew exactly what people were going to eat up, because thatís what was on the radio, their was a format, call it commercial, call it whatever you want.
But today, there is no such thing. Today if you were to do a ďHeaven TonightĒ song, you would be laughed out of the fucking room. Now you gotta be tattooed, and bald, and with baggy shorts, and gotta play kinda shitty. Iím not prepared to take part in that. Basically what I am going do, is not going to be concerned with what is ďcommercial,Ē or whatever, because Iím not following anybody. So what I am doing is Iím making the best music that I can. The best songs, the best playing, the best musicians, everything to me crŤme de le crŤme, you know? And hopefully people are going to pick up on that. Hopefully people are going to say well, yeah, this fucking guy is good, or this band is good, or this album is good. And thatís all I have to go on.
So when you say, do you want to work with Joe Lynn Turner, well Joe and I are still on very friendly terms, I never had a problem with him, in fact he came back and sang for me on my Ď96 album Inspiration, which was great fun, doing that record. But Iím sorry, he is still stuck in that stuff, and I canít go with that. So that probably wonít happen... never say never though.

KNAC.COM: Are you ever going to do another all instrumental album like Rising Force?
YNGWIE: I have no plans to do that, no. In fact, if you knew the background story behind that album, youíd probably be surprised. I was in a band called Alcatrazz, and you know I did a world tour with them and I went to Japan and the Japanese record company was impressed with me so they offered me a solo deal. But they said ďYou must make an instrumental album,Ē and I said, ďI donít want to make an instrumental,Ē -- I never wanted to make and instrumental album.

KNAC.COM: And it was nominated for a Grammy too!
YNGWIE: Yes! And the ironic part is that I never wanted to do that. You know what I am saying?

KNAC.COM: How has Spitfire Records been so far?
YNGWIE: Pretty cool, pretty cool. You know, itís a combination of the industry itself and you know, hitting the right people with what you do, itís not an easy market, because metal per se, is still not back yet you know? It isnít mainstream yet, it used to be but its not anymore.

KNAC.COM: What, if anything, do you think needs to happen with your music, or your image, for your career to really start happening in the United States again?

Long PauseÖ

YNGWIE: Well I donít, I donítÖ(Laughs) I donít know. You know, I have a vision, I have style, I have created my own sound, and I have no intention of changing that. Longevity is the most important thingÖway, way more important than overnight success. So, you know, Iím still hereÖ still doing my thing.

KNAC.COM: Whatís your guitar collection up to now?
YNGWIE: I havenít counted in a while, but itís a hundred plus.

KNAC.COM: I think a few years ago it was a hundred plus!
YNGWIE: I havenít really been getting much more, 130 or 140, I donít know. Itís a lot!

KNAC.COM: How is The Duck doing? (Strat featured on the cover of Rising Force)
YNGWIE: Itís sleeping! I used it a little bit on War, but itís still hanging out. I never really try anymore to use it. Itís so fucking worn out itís ridiculous. The guitars I do play are exactly the same year, the same color, everything.

KNAC.COM: Ď72, right?
YNGWIE: Itís a Ď71, actually I like between Ď68 or Ď72, around that era. And the Marshall heads about that era too.

KNAC.COM: You have a new amp coming out right, the YJM50, by Rhino?
YNGWIE: Yeah, they actually did a real good job. I Also I have a DOD pedal out. Thatís really good -- I use that one.

KNAC.COM: You use it yourself?
YNGWIE: Oh yeah, itís really good.

KNAC.COM: You have perfect pitch right? I mean you can listen to pretty much anything be able to play it on guitar, right?
YNGWIE: More or less (laughing). I find it very easy to pick things up because everything is within scales and modes, if you know those things, then there is no guesswork really. Itís got a lot to do with the fact that also from day one I was always improvising everything. And by improvising you find exactly where you should be and where you shouldnít be, and what fits and what donít fit, that chord progression, that key, the mode, whatever, you know? Then you realize more and more what you can do with it.

KNAC.COM: Do you have a favorite album of yours?

KNAC.COM: You love them all?
YNGWIE: No. I have kind of lukewarm feeling about all the things Iíve done. Because what it is, everything I do is always the best, the best I can do. And then after that I do the next thing, and that has to be the best thing Iíve done. And after that, Iím on to the new thing, the other ones I donít care about. I donít say they are bad -- I donít think Iíve done a bad album to be honest with you -- I donít think Iíve done a bad album. But, specifically, because every time Iíve done an album itís always been the best I could do at the time. So Iíve always tried to outdo myself. Obviously the Concerto stands out by itself, itís a different record you know. But whatever I try to do has to be ultimately as good as I possibly can make it. And right now all I have on my mind is the record I am working on now, I donít think about any of the other ones.

KNAC.COM: So we can look forward to a fantastic record from you this summer with great production?
YNGWIE: Oh Yeah!! That, you can take it all the way to the bank man! Cause when I read all that shit (WTEAW criticism) I said no, noÖ there is no fucking way I am ever going to have that again!

KNAC.COM: It was a good album, but unfortunately received a lot of criticism. But you know what? You must get that on every goddamn album. How could you possibly please everybodyÖ Itís impossible -- critics are rough on you.
YNGWIE: (Laughing) Thatís ok. Itís a very, very energetic record, this new album, I can tell you that much. Now when Iíve thought about it. You asked me what itís like. My new drummer is just unbelievable.

KNAC.COM: Another Swede.
YNGWIE: Yes Swede, Viking.

KNAC.COM: I was actually pretty fond of the Fire and Ice lineup.
YNGWIE: Fire and Ice?

KNAC.COM: Now that weíre speaking of Swedish band members.
YNGWIE: Yeah, (laughing) did you ever see that lineup live?

KNAC.COM: Sure, I saw you then at The Ritz in New York City actually. You didnít think they were good live?
YNGWIE: Well, I mean unfortunately the singer couldnít sing a song unless it was two steps flat.

KNAC.COM: The album was good.
YNGWIE: Yeah, I think so too.

KNAC.COM: Too bad that whole Elektra deal didnít work out.
YNGWIE: That was a fiasco!

KNAC.COM: It was looking positive around then wasnít it?
YNGWIE: Well, you can thank Nirvana for that.

KNAC.COM: Oh yes, 1992, what an awful time, what an awful time.
YNGWIE: (Laughing) Well, if you look at it in retrospect, Iím still standing you know? Some of those bands that were selling millions of records one year before are now mowing lawns for a living. So I canít complain.

KNAC.COM: When you first came to the states to join with Steeler, there was a huge buzz around you then, what kind of offers did you get?
YNGWIE: All sorts of weird people used to pop up. Actually, before I even came to America, I got phone calls from Ozzyís management, From Kissí managementÖ Once I came to the states Ronnie (Dio) was always at my shows. I became friends with him and weíre still friendsÖ I admire him very much. UFO, Phil Mogg was asking me to join him, I canít remember now, some other bands also, but they wanted to do some super group things like me and Sheehan, stuff like that.

KNAC.COM: Would you still do that?
YNGWIE: Well, I was open for everything at the time. I had a meeting with Phil Mogg and Graham Bonnet the same day. The reason I joined in with Graham Bonnetís project, which was to be his, sort of thing, but it became mine, funny enough. Actually, I took over the whole show there.

KNAC.COM: He didnít like that did he?
YNGWIE: Well, no, I mean, at first he did. It was cool because he didnít have direction, he didnít have songs, didnít have anything. And I walked in there and just took care of it. And then when some shit happened on the road (fighting with Bonnet), then yeah, that became kind of rough. But thatís why I joined in with them because I felt that, especially since Iíve been a song writer all my life, and then being in Steeler playing two chord songs, and very biennial bullshit, I felt very compelled to be able to write again. So having a chance to go in and be the songwriter for the whole thing, I felt that was the right choice. And I think it was actually, I think if I had gone with Phil Mogg it might not have come out to be another thing. (His solo career)
I did later on get an offer from David Lee Roth as well.

KNAC.COM: Really?
YNGWIE: And I said, ďThanks, but no thanks.Ē But thatís the weird thing becauseÖ (Pause) Oh maybe I should have done it, I donít know. This was like Ď85; Sheehanís band was my opening act, Talas. And he (DLR) came to see the shows. And he snagged up Billy Sheehan, and he wanted to get me, and I said, ďThanks, but no thanks,Ē Ďcause I thought I was on a fucking roll you know? And in a way I was.

KNAC.COM: And he went and picked up Vai.
YNGWIE: Yeah, Steveís a good friend of mine, heís a good guy.

KNAC.COM: How is your son doing?
YNGWIE: He is big!

KNAC.COM: How old is he now?
YNGWIE: He is 4.

KNAC.COM: And how is he on the guitar?
YNGWIE: Oh I decided to just let him be a kid first. Because itís more important for him to be a kid, then he can become serious about something. But heís very musical and very intelligent. Iím not worried about it at all.

KNAC.COM: If you could change anything about yourself, what would you change?
YNGWIE: Nothing.

KNAC.COM: What are the fondest memories you have on your career? What time do you like to look back on?
YNGWIE: The best time I ever had in my life is right now. Right now. Iím at the top of my game, I have everything in order, everything is going my way -- it would be easy to tell you what my bad moments were! Because there have been plenty of those.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, right before Odyssey right?
YNGWIE: Oh, that was bad, yeah. I always go forward, and I donít dwell too much on what happened before you know, whateverÖ good, bad, I donít give a shit. I gotta go forward. The only way you can get somewhere is by going forward.

KNAC.COM: Thank you very much for calling Yngwie. Good luck with the record.
YNGWIE: Thanks very much. Nice talking to you.

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