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Yngwie J. Malmsteen    
yngwie malmsteen
Yngwie J. Malmsteen is an important figure in the foundation of modern metal, and a Swedish guitar god. Of this I am now sure. You see, an hour before we were scheduled to meet with Yngwie for this interview, a few of us got together for a quick listen to the new Malmsteen record, 'War To End All Wars', and rediscovered this fundamental truth: Listening to the record brought us all back to being fourteen years old and hearing 'Rising Force' for the first time, amazed by the speed and virtuosity of his playing. Sweeping appreggios and neo-classical speed runs were once again gracing my ears. I smiled. Just like that, guitar hero worship was back in style. All too soon, the time for the interview was upon us. We put on our coats and hiked the few blocks over to New York's Essex House Hotel. Soon we were sitting in the middle of a fairly swanky Central Park hotel bar, eating free pretzels, drinking dark beer and talking about the Yankees, while listening to piped-in classical music and watching all sorts of strange rich people dressed to the nines stumble around drunk at what was still a relatively early point in the evening. After a few moments of this we were joined by Mr. Malmsteen. He sat down, said hello, and immediately jumped right in.

Yngwie J. Malmsteen: Let's talk about the new album.

Metal Update: I like it.

YM: Thank you.

MU: But let's start out broader than that. I'm curious what you think of the fact that in 2000, rock is coming back. Only this time, for the most part it's without guitar solos. What do you think of bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn as symbolizing the new rock regime?

YM: To be honest with you, I've never heard those bands. So I don't know.

MU: You've never heard Korn or Limp Bizkit? Those hip-hop rock / metal bands?

YM: No. I've never heard them. I keep myself pretty much. . . you know. . . I'm pretty much into my thing. I'm doing my thing.

MU: So you don't listen to the current, latest bands?

YM: No.

MU: Wow. OK, well . . . do you think the "guitar hero" thing is happening right now in terms of commercial popularity?

YM: Well, I'm the wrong guy again. I really don't know. The only thing I know is that trends come and go. That you can bank on. Whatever's in now is not necessarily going to be in tomorrow. I think the key to my longevity -- cause I've been doing this for more than 20 years -- is that I'm real. (Slight pause while Yngwie asks the waitress for more pretzels and to turn down the music which is being piped-in directly above his head.) I never try to follow trends. Therefore, I don't really keep an eye out or an ear out. I'm just doing what I feel is right, you know, and I've always done that. I've always done that.

MU: You say you don't pay attention to trends, but it was your Rising Force album that sort of kicked off what I would call the "guitar hero worship thing."

YM: Yeah, well, that's right. Then again, you know, that trend died out, but I didn't die out because I didn't. . . just because I started a trend doesn't mean I have to die out with that trend. As I say, very often, about guitar players, copiers and even good copiers -- some of them are so fucking good, I think they're me . . .

MU: Like Tony McAlpine?!

YM: That's the one! I have a funny story about that. I was in "The Listening Room" with John Stix from Guitar magazine. This is years ago. And I'm sitting there and he's playing me things and he doesn't tell me what they are. I'm supposed to say what I think before I know who they are. He's playing some Jeff Beck and some Hendrix maybe some Van Halen. I don't remember exactly what they were. Anyway, he starts playing this one thing and I swear I'm sitting there for like 30 seconds and going, "When did I record this? When did I record this?"

MU: (laughs)

YM: I can't remember recording this. It never entered my mind that it Wasn't me.

MU: Who was it?

YM: Tony McAlpine! I was fucking blown away, man. What is this guy doing fucking wanking Malmsteen records? What is this shit? What's up with that guy? That's pathetic.

MU: Isn't your singer playing with him? I just read that he's [Marc Boals] doing a solo record with McAlpine playing guitar.

YM: Yeah, I love Marc. He's fucking great, you know. I wish him luck with that, but I think he made a great mistake, personally. He asked me to play on his album.

MU: It would have been the same record, right?

YM: I just felt like, why? I mean, why don't you do your thing and I do mine.

MU: The new album sounds like a bit of a return to your early years. There's the same fire and the same excitement. Was that a conscious effort?

yngwsie malmsteen

YM: I had a couple of slow moments. I did a couple of records that were a little more top 40. There was a time that I was trying to cater to the American market and stuff like that. I don't really regret it because at least I tried it. But I think the last two albums. . . I don't know if you've heard 'Alchemy' or not. . .

MU: Sure.

YM: It's the same thing, but this album here ['War To End All Wars'] has more power. This is a more powerful album.

MU: There's a lot of heavy songs. There's not a lot of spacey, trippy songs.

YM: There's one ballad on there.

MU: And instrumentals.

YM: A few.

MU: Is that your focus? Is the focus on the guitar playing or are you more into the songs?

YM: No no no. I'm a songwriter. I'm a songwriter. [To the waitress: 'can you just turn off this speaker?' The waitress tells us they have a piano player playing now, and it is his performance that is being piped-in above us. We look up. Yep. A piano player. We really have no choice but to acquiesce.]

MU: The first record, that's mostly instrumental with a few exceptions.

YM: You know the background to that? I was still in Alcatrazz. When I was in Alcatrazz, eight months after moving to America, I was in Japan headlining with a Gold Album. I got offered a solo deal and they said, 'you can have a solo album but you can't have a singer on it.' I'm like, 'What?!' I wanted to do a record, you know, I was into my heavy metal. Of course, you know, Alcatrazz was a little. . .

MU: Graham Bonnet?

YM: He was all-right, you know. It wasn't a bad record. It was a pretty good record.

MU: Definitely a fun record.

YM: I mean, I was only nineteen.

MU: I've even heard Steeler.

YM: Oh, that sucked. . . balls!! (laughs) Anyway, so I said,'shit, I get to do this record and it's better than nothing.' So I start recording it and I'd have to go back out on the road with Alcatrazz. I'd have a couple of days off. I would take one of my amps and guitars, go on a plane -- no sleep -- and go to L.A. and just record a little in bits and pieces. Then go back out. Then everything fell apart and I left. I said, 'Fuck you guys. I'm off.' Finished the record. It was only supposed to be a Japanese release. So I said, 'OK, I'd better form a band, and I'd better go out with a record that's gonna fucking kick people's asses.' So I wrote songs for 'Marching Out' -- "See the light" and "Viking".

MU: That shit is a lot heavier.

YM: You know, that's what I wanted to do. I didn't really want to do that guitar thing. But it did become something that everyone associated me with. It actually entered the charts and they had to release it. It actually got a Grammy nomination.

MU: Not only did you sort of kick off the guitar hero thing, with due respect to Satriani and Vai and those guys. . .

yngwsie malmsteen

YM: But they were long after.

MU: Yeah.

YM: Long, long after.

MU: But the whole neo-classical thing is attributed to you. Were you the first guy that you know of that did that thing?

YM: Yeah. There was a good explanation for that. I got my first guitar when I was five years old.

MU: Was it a Strat?

YM: No. Acoustic guitar. Anyway, I started when I was five and I had a guitar sort of like a toy. I have my own son now, by the way.

MU: Antonio.

YM: Yeah. I'm gonna see him tomorrow (beaming). I've been gone for four days. I'm never gone from him. . . but anyway, we'll get back to that. So I started playing guitar. I just wanted to play guitar. Then one year later, I got an album, Deep Purple's 'Fireball'. I loved the sound of that. The fucking double bass drums. duggu daggu duggu daggu! From then on, that's it. I learned everything and played note for note exactly as him.

MU: What was the inspiration for the Strat?

YM: Obviously, Hendrix and Blackmore, you know, to begin with. You know, I had to have one.

MU: I guess Blackmore was doing kind of neo-classical stuff. . .

YM: No no no no! (laughs)

MU: Harmonic minor scales and. . .

YM: No, they did not.

MU: I hear the old school records and I hear a little of that stuff. . . it begins to go in that direction. Maybe that's just me, I guess it's just my ears.

YM: . . . (shaking head no, over and over) . . .

MU: Ok, I give up. If Yngwie tells me I'm wrong about a guitar thing, then I'm probably fucking wrong. (laughs)

YM: Let me tell you how I started. By the time I was ten, I could play Ritchie Blackmore's guitar solos inside out, upside down, standing on my head. That was great for a while, but I started feeling like, is that it? Is that all there is to it? You know, pentatonic is a pentatonic. Do do do do do (mimicking a pentatonic scale while playing air guitar). A minor. It's a box on that part of the neck. It's never this, wo do do do do de do da do do (singing an arpeggio while playing a air guitar). Never that. Never. My older sister brought home one of these Genesis records and I started hearing ba pa ba pa ba pa ba pa (singing keyboard part). Counterpoint notes and not necessarily harmonic minor but very classically influenced things. Then I realized my mother had about 200 classical records of Bach, Vivaldi, Beethoven, everything. I started listening to this shit. I started playing along with that. I sort of figured out that there is way more to this shit than Deep Purple. The whole neck and all the strings. You can really go places. Then, ultimately, when I heard Nicolo Paganini, it was all over, man. I put away those Deep Purple records and I never listened to them again for about ten years. All I cared about was trying to get the sound of the violin, wee-ee-ee (wide vibrato screaming note). Like this extreme shit. Have you ever heard Paganini?

MU: Oh yeah. But, admittedly, it's only because of you that I ever listened to Paganini.

YM: Paganini is not that famous. He's not like Bach or Beethoven or Mozart.

MU: My parents were all worried. They would say, 'Why are you going to the classical section of the record store?' I'd go grab some Paganini tapes and go to the cash register and say, 'I'm just getting these today.' My parents were like, 'what's going on?' I guarantee that there was a whole generation of kids out there that checked out things like "Flight of the Bumblebee" and things like that trying to think about the speed and the classical intersection. That's because of that first Rising Force record.

YM: I think it happened even before then. I remember, I was the youngest player ever to be on the cover of Guitar Player.

MU: What year was that?

YM: The beginning of 1984.

MU: Your first solo record came out in 1984.

YM: Well the first Alcatrazz record had some of those elements in it. (He pauses to play a bit of air piano to some Chopin and laughs.)

MU: Do you play piano?

YM: Yes.

MU: Did you ever try to play violin?

YM: Badly. (laughs) I forgot what I was saying. Oh yeah, I did that big interview for Guitar Player. That was the first time I mentioned Paganini and Bach. I think that's when it started.

MU: What about the sweep arpeggios?

YM: They're not sweep pick arpeggios!

MU: You alternate pick everything.

yngwsie malmsteen

YM: Yes. It's so funny because everyone says, 'Malmsteen's sweep picking.' It's nuts. I should have brought down the guitar to show it to you.

MU: It's funny you say that, 'cause we were walking over here saying how awesome it would be if you had a guitar with you.

YM: It's upstairs. I can go get it if you want. [How awesome would this have been? But we were in the middle of a crowded, upscale New York hotel bar, and our interview was almost supposed to be finished. And the Yankees were deep in the playoffs and gametime was fifteen minutes ago and . . . we just went on with the interview.]

MU: You've got to remember, you brought that neo-classical speed guitar sound to the mainstream rock / metalhead -- bang your head, pound your fist -- kind of audience.

YM: I certainly didn't take it from other guitar players. It's so interesting because a lot of people came up to me when I first came out and said, 'Oh yeah, you sound a lot like Jan Ackerman.' I said, 'who the fuck is that? From Krokus? I never heard of the guy.'

MU: My favorite feature of your playing is your vibrato. It's just screaming. It's not like anybody else's. I don't know if you got that from listening to Blackmore and trying to take it up a few more notches over the top or if you got it from listening to the violin.

YM: (Beaming) It has nothing to do with Blackmore. It's totally and utterly the violin. I'm happy now that I am a guitar a player. I started off as a guitar player and realized that the guitar player style of rock is really very limited. I wanted to expand on it and didn't know exactly how to go about it. Then when I heard Nicolo Paganini and Vivaldi, that's when I realized, whoa, if I can get some of that shit into my playing, then I'd be happy. That's all it is really. It's quite simple.

MU: What about your gear? You still play the same guitars through the same Marshall amps? Where do you get all your Strats? Do you get them from Fender or do you have people out looking in pawn shops for you?

YM: I get new Strats from Fender. Old ones. . . I've got something like 200 guitars.

MU: I saw that thing on VH1. They showed your house; you've got the guitars and the cars. I said this guy's got a great fuckin' life! 200 guitars? Are they museum pieces? How many of them do you really play?

YM: (Lost in the piano players version of "Eleanor Rigby," Yngwie starts snapping his fingers and says, sarcastically, 'this guy rules, man' and laughs). I'd say there's 30 or 40 that you could just hand me to play. I have some of the most rare Strats -- the March '54, which is one of the first ten Strats. It's completely original. I didn't change anything.

MU: You didn't scallop the neck?

YM: No. Nothing like that. I used to have a bunch of those things, but I went through. . . whatever, I got rid of a lot of them. I'm not so much into collecting anymore. I'm more into good players. Good players.

MU: Why do you never change your gear? People must send you tons of toys?

YM: They do. If it ain't broke, don't fix it? I'm not curious even.

MU: What do you think of guys that rely on a bunch of that shit? Are you critical of someone like the guy from Rage Against The Machine, or maybe you've never heard of them. (pause) Anyway, a lot of guys are getting their sound through lots of pedals, effects and toys. It's crazy stuff, what the current "guitar heroes" are doing.

YM: I missed the whole thing.

MU: That part of the Hendrix phenomena of the gadgets, noises and sounds, and the studio trickery didn't appeal to you?

YM: Not really, no. I've always considered the electric guitar to be kind of an acoustic instrument. I have this organic sound. When I play the note, I don't expect some echo, flanger or harmonizer to help me out. This is all me. Am I going to express this note the right way? I'm going to play this run perfectly well or not. I never relied on effects.

MU: Is any of your own stuff tough to play for you? I mean does anything give you trouble?

YM: I made up a lot of shit I can hardly play. It's ridiculous.

MU: Really? I can imagine people trying to figure out which ones so they can learn to play it and brag they're better than you!

YM: No! Of course, I can play it. How the fuck do you think I put it on the record? Obviously, I can. It's just that some are more demanding than others.

MU: What's the hardest stuff? If someone wants a challenge and wants to learn the toughest Yngwie licks, in your mind, what would you say?

YM: I did this photo shoot with Steve Vai. He's a good friend of mine. I played him some of the stuff from the Alchemy record which was current at the time. There's this one track called "Asylum" because it's so fucking crazy, it's ridiculous. It's a trilogy. The first part of Asylum is playing while we're taking pictures. He makes this face like (Yngwie winces). He says, 'when I hear you play like this, the little hole in my guitar (pointing to where the output jack would be) closes up never to be opened again.' (laughs) His own words. Check that one out. That one is pretty damn sick. It's fucking out of control. There's a thing on the new record called "Arpeggios From Hell". It's very very very very difficult to play.

MU: What a great name.

YM: It's actually called "Multa Arpeggiosa" which means many arpeggios or much arpeggios in Italian.

MU: Do you ever go back and listen to your old stuff and say to yourself, how did I think of that?

YM: No, not really. I'm not intrigued with that at all. (At this point, Yngwie's lovely wife April shows up, sits down and is introduced to us all.)

MU: Our website is dedicated to Metal. Heavy Metal. Are you part of the metal scene? Is that something that means something to you? Or do you just consider yourself a guitar player?

YM: I am detached from everything. I'm not part of anything. I'm not part of heavy metal. I'm not part of guitar heroism. I'm not part of anything at all. In fact, I'm not from the same planet. I am completely detached from everything.

MU: Well do you have respect for metal music? Obviously, you started with Deep Purple. You started with that kind of stuff.

YM: Yeah, but that was thirty years ago. I've sort of grown away from it. I don't compare my music to anyone else. I don't research what's going on. I don't try to take part in what's "in." I have nothing to do with anything. I am completely like this (puts blinders up). I've got my studio and I started recording and composing shit. Not comparing it to anybody. Is it valid? Is it contemporary? Maybe. Maybe not. Frankly, I don't give a fuck. I think it's a fluke that I came out with this album now, 'War to End All Wars', because the resurgence of metal is quite obvious. I signed this new deal with Spitfire Records. So God bless everybody. I'm happy. If this is a big wave of metal coming in, then I'm happy to float right along. But I'm not really part of anything, you know. If the people think I fit, then great.

MU: Obviously this is a pretty heavy record. You've got loud, distorted guitars and double-bass drums. That's what heavy metal is! (accusing) That's what you are!

YM: Yes. I like doing that.

MU: The same way sixteen years ago when Rising Force hit the scene, you opened a lot of people's minds and you spawned a lot of people to go out and buy metronomes and start practicing and listening to different stuff. You spawned a lot of guitar heroism. Do you think maybe in some ways the time is right for you to do that again with this album?

YM: Well, time will tell. If that happens, it would be great. I don't really have that as a priority or a goal.

MU: Looking back sixteen years ago on your career, was that a good time for Yngwie? Was that cool when everyone was learning to play like you?

YM: That was a very confused time for me really because I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I didn't know anything. I was the wild one, like the song. I was not a calculating. . . I'm still not that calculating. I'm just a little more calculating. I'm older and wiser. I have a slightly different view on things, but not too much. I do what I do and that's it.

MU: Last question: Does the Devil listen to classical music or rhythm & blues?

YM: Sorry? (utterly speechless and confused)

MU: Does the Devil, Satan, listed to classical music or rhythm & blues. What do you think?

YM: The Devil?

MU: What's the evil music? When you're dueling with Satan on the violin, what's he playing? It's a fucked up question, I admit. . . (long pause)

YM: The Devil is a pretty fucked up guy, right? He's probably so evil that he's almost stupid, right?

MU: I've never met him.

YM: He probably listens to crap music. Crap. Crap. No, I know!!!! Mall Metal!!!! (laughs)

MU: That's what I was talking about earlier.

YM: This guy asked me today, 'What do you think about mall metal?' I said what the fuck's that?!?! Mallmetal??????!!!!?????? (laughing)

MU: Korn and Limp Bizkit, those bands I asked you about earlier, that's mall metal. So that's what the Devil listens to? That's great!

YM: I'm doing a pretty good job of isolating myself.

MU: Yngwie, when's the rap album coming out? (laughs)

YM: You can hold a .44 magnum to my head and say, 'all-right, what are you going to do? You can have your brains splattered on the fucking wall or play rap.' I'd say, 'Pull the trigger, man!' (laughs)


Review of Yngwie J. Malmsteen 'War To End All Wars'





Interview: Eric German [ ], Keith Wittenstein [ ]
Editor: Brant Wintersteen [ ]
Webmaster: WAR [ ]
Photography: Cynthia Pelzner [ ]

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