Yngwie Malmsteen: “I love this country more than anything in the world, you can’t even imagine how much I love America”
Yngwie Malmsteen is currently getting set to head out on the “Guitar Gods” tour, an amazing package tour also featuring Guns N’ Roses guitarist Ron Thal, a.k.a. Bumblefoot, surf guitar legend Gary Hoey and legendary Scorpions guitarist Uli Jon Roth. Approaching his 50th birthday, Yngwie is at a very cool, self-sustaining place in his career with a successful book, “Relentless”, his own successful independent record label/studio to release his music and of course, some pretty amazing guitar endorsement deals. I grew up on Yng’s music as a kid, have followed his career ever since and still consider him to be one of my all-time favorite musicians so I was honored to finally be able to interview him; read on…..
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks for taking the time to do this Yngwie. Where are you at right now?
Yngwie Malmsteen: Miami Beach.
LRI: Are you in one of your Ferraris?
Yngwie: Actually, I was out cruising up until about a minute ago and now I’m inside (laughs).
LRI: I wanted to start by asking you about your autobiography which was released last year, “Relentless”. Writing a book can be pretty self-revelatory and can also answer a lot of the questions fans or journalists ask you repeatedly over and over the years. Did you find that to be the case in documenting your life story?
Yngwie: Yeah, but I think it goes even a little deeper than that. It was a long experience, I started writing it back in about 2006. I wrote it and then I stopped a little bit and then I got back into it and stuff like that so. If you read the book or have followed my career or know something about me then you know I have been through a lot of different phases, so to speak. The thing is, when I look back on what I’ve done, some of the stuff I am like “Wow, that can’t be me, that can’t be something I did, that has to be someone else”. Some of it almost feels like watching a movie to me, almost like “Wolf Of Wall Street” with this totally fucking crazy, outrageous lifestyle. Just totally off the wall behavior which is nothing like how I am now (laughs). I am just the most clean living, normal, I guess some people would call it boring (laughs) person now because I just don’t do anything like that. I just play guitar.
LRI: You’re a family man.
Yngwie: Yeah, and you know, I feel better than ever and in better shape than ever. I feel very together, very focused and just feel amazing. It’s really nice but when I look back at some of the things I did or use to do I am just like “Wow, I can’t fucking believe that”. It really does feel unbelievable or like you’re watching a movie or reading this story about someone completely different so that was one part of the reflection in writing the book you know. The other thing is I was surprised that my memory is very, very good, I remember everything and in some respects that is hard to believe because of some of the things I’ve done over the years but it’s true that I remember everything. Everything in that book is true also which is important. There have been so many things written about me in magazines or the internet or even other unauthorized books and most of it is just complete bullshit so getting the true story out there was another reason I felt very strongly about releasing the book. I also wanted to tell the story more from the angle of the personal experience of becoming what I am or whatever or being what I am if that makes more sense to you.
LRI: There are quite a few things in the book that I never knew about you or knew but didn’t understand including your really early years in Sweden as a kid. Do you think a lot of Americans have some misconceptions about your homeland or you as a kid?
Yngwie: Yeah. Coming from a very obscure place to begin with and growing up in an environment much different from that in America. Most Americans I don’t think could fathom the society that I grew up in. It is a completely different philosophy from America’s. You are basically told what you can be by the educational system. They would look at you in the United States and say “Ok, little Johnny, you can be a doctor or a musician or the President” but in Sweden they would look at you and say “You are nothing, you are never going to be anything, you’re a piece of shit now shut-up and stay in your fucking place”. That’s the way they did things but that didn’t work on me. I’m a very bombastic kind of person and very strong-willed, I’m relentless basically and the more they pushed me, the harder I pushed back so obviously I needed to get outta there. The whole thing, which I discuss so much in the book, is that what I was looking to do was basically impossible to do there in Sweden which is why I have so much love for America. My book is basically a love letter to America. I love this country more than anything in the fucking world, you can’t even imagine how much I love America.
LRI: Is a lot of that love based on the musical freedom and career freedom you enjoy?
Yngwie: Yeah but it goes a lot deeper than that. Everything that I think that a society should offer someone, which is nothing other than the ability to be able to do what you wanna do is offered by America. You get nothing for free, I’m not asking for anything for free and no one should get anything for free but what they should have is the opportunity to do whatever the fuck they want whenever the fuck they want and no one should be able to stop you. If you succeed, wonderful, if you don’t, tough shit bro but in Sweden you didn’t even have that ability or opportunity to try and that mentality is what I am going against. I am convinced that there are few, if any, American people that could even start believing or understanding what living in a Socialist country does to a person. It KILLS the person, it kills the soul, it kills everything, it kills the whole purpose of a person being alive to begin with. It is the worst thing that you can do to a person. In a situation like that it is like Russia Lite, as much as it is a societal system it is much more than that. It is a mental embedding in people, like brainwashing and it’s bad man. In this country, everything, all of that freedom is sometimes taken for granted or not even thought about it’s like “Oh, do you wanna do that? OK, go do it!!”. That’s how it is in America and I just love that.
LRI: When you first came over to L.A to work with Mike Varney and Steeler did you face a lot of doubt or opposition at home or was it a relief on their part at that time?
Yngwie: My mom and family and everyone close to me knew that there was nothing they could do to stop me because I was meant to do this and they realized that and wanted me to do it. They didn’t wanna see me go of course but they knew that was the thing for me to do so they just wished me luck basically. From a practical point of view it was incredibly difficult, I was a poor musician, I didn’t have enough money for an airline ticket. My mom finally scraped some money together and I got a really bad route (laughs) but I was happy I got the ticket to come over and I took my guitar, one extra pair of pants and a toothbrush and I went. I left everything behind basically. The bottom line was I didn’t know if I was coming home the next fucking month. I didn’t know if this was gonna be a permanent thing and it’s been 32 years now so I really had no idea that I was gonna be as successful as I was. I was just trying desperately to take any kind of chance or opportunity I could get including playing with a band like Steeler because I knew it would be a good opportunity or stepping stone for me. I remember the first time Steeler played it was like 30 people and the next time we played it was like people lined up around the fucking block so I knew I was doing the right thing.
LRI: I’ve talked to some of the guys in Steeler and Alcatrazz and the one thing that continually comes up when I ask about you is that people seem to talk about you being in your own little world. Did you feel like you were isolated or in your own little world at that time?
Yngwie: (laughs) I am absolutely sure that I came across very strange to those guys! I had an unconditional drive, a perpetual drive and nothing in the world could stop my vision, nothing could. That affected everything I did. If I said I’m not going to play this, I’m going to play this, even if it were an almost impossible run or even if it was meant to be played years ago on a violin; in fact just most of the time I would attempt those things because that “You can’t do that” way of thinking could never become a part of the equation for me. I would decide I was going to do something and then I wouldn’t stop until I’d done it. That applied to obtaining a certain level of technical prowress just as it applied to me saying “If it takes all of my money I am going to buy five fucking Ferraris”, whatever it was I was chasing it didn’t matter because I was going to get it and no one could stop me. I’m sure a lot of the times back then a lot of the people I worked with were looking at me like I was fucking crazy or whatever but I just had this burning internal drive and internal purpose that I was supposed to meet. That drive was so strong that I kind of didn’t even realize who was around me so much a lot of the time, maybe that’s what it was.
LRI: Did you ever feel out of control of your own talents or your own drive?
Yngwie: No, I never felt out of control. I felt much more in control actually. I just decided that this was what’s going to happen and compromise was not a part of my vocabulary. I mean, I wasn’t stupid, I knew what my place was in my first few gigs and what my purpose was and I delivered that because I knew that those bands were a part of my journey but at the same time I was headed towards something else. I didn’t burn bridges for no reason, I wouldn’t do that but I definitely had a plan and I’m not sure how that came across to others. They might see things quite different (laughs).
LRI: You really had to deal with a lot of the usual crap that goes along with bands on major labels during your time at Polydor and much of that is in the book.
Yngwie: Oh my god, yes (laughs)
LRI: Well, you released your last album “Spellbound” on your own label and had complete control of the entire release. Do you feel a lot less pressure now that you are in control of your own product?
Yngwie: Well, yes and no because the main pressure that I’ve always felt has always been put on myself by myself. So, in a way, I don’t think that will ever go away because I am so extremely critical of myself. It’s not like I’m ever going to be like “Oh, I can just do whatever I want and it will be OK”. I think there was a certain short period of time that I was trying to meet other people’s expectations. I don’t that was ever a huge problem or thing that I did overall though, I just knew that I wanted to get in the game and I wanted to get in it to win it but I wanted to do it on my own terms. If there was a certain radio format then I could deal with that in a certain way but I would never allow the label to tell me what I could do and what I couldn’t do. It was more like me looking ahead and saying “Well, in order for me to do THIS, I’d better do THIS”. It seems like it would seem easier now but it’s not really that clear cut because the pressure was always put on myself by myself not the record label. It is a big difference now because everything has changed in the business, everything.
LRI: In the book you mention that one of your radio hits, “Heaven Tonight” isn’t really a favorite of yours musically. Did you feel any sort of inner conflict when that song became popular?
Yngwie: No, not really, not really, no. Because, here’s another funny thing, at that time, at the time of Rising Force or whatever, the success those records had or those songs had at radio or MTV, I never saw that, I was too busy to really see that. I was constantly moving, if I wasn’t on the road then I was writing songs or in the studio, there was never like down time ever so there was never really a time where I could kick back and say “Oh, look at this success” or anything like that until much later. There was never a situation where I was like “Oh, look at what this song is doing I had better write another one like that” or anything. Once again, I think the pressure was always coming from myself thinking “Man, this is the best record I have ever done, I will never be able to do another one like this again” that type of thing. I would push myself harder to try to top myself or push myself forward in a way, it wasn’t so much about the success of a certain song at radio or MTV.
LRI: You are obviously known as a guitar legend but you also played the bass and drum parts and even sang on “Spellbound”. Do you get just as much pleasure out of playing those other instruments or is it a little less fun for you doing the basic rhythm tracks?
Yngwie: As a songwriter and producer I look at the whole thing and take each aspect very seriously. It’s like a painter paints the background, the foreground and centerpiece I also look at the entire picture and put it together as one piece you know. The solos usually happen pretty easily though once in a while if I feel like it’s not working I will put it down and work on it another day. The other stuff I work at as I am inspired and I have the luxury to do that which is nice because back in the day in the studio they would look at you like “Hey, the clock is running”. Nowadays I can just do whatever I want when I want and that aspect of it is definitely great.
LRI: What about recording vocals in particular, was that something that came easily for you?
Yngwie: That was something where I would do one or two takes and then leave them and listen to them later and be like “Oh this turned out pretty good” or “Oh, maybe I should try another take of that one”. With the vocals I really had to walk away from it and come back to it in order to get a better picture because if you stay and keep on doing the same thing you lock yourself in and you lose perspective. So what I do is I take, it could be anything actually, a solo, a vocal and I listen to it. If it feels ok, then I leave it and then the next day just check it out again and get that perspective after time away, that’s how I do it.
LRI: You are so influenced by classical composers and those strong melody lines and solos on guitar. Is it a challenge to come up with song titles or lyrics or vocal melodies or is that one and the same?
Yngwie: The melody lines are the first thing that come to me, before anything no matter who was in the band at any given time. In Alcatrazz I wrote all the vocal melody lines, all of them. To me, the melody, that’s what is natural to me whether it is on guitar or vocal or flute or whatever, a melody is a melody you know. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart said “Melody is music, music is melody” so I don’t come up with riffs and then work around them to get to a melody no, that is natural right away to anything I am writing. The lyrics are a little different, I wait until I feel inspired and there’s always gotta be a movie or a book or something I see on T.V. that can influence me. It could start with just a good phrase or a good rhyme that kicks it off and next thing you know, there it is. I wait until I’m inspired and then it just flows out really easily. I don’t try and do it if it doesn’t feel right which is pretty much what I do with everything.
LRI: As a fan, as much as I love the Rising Force albums, your concerto albums with both the Czech and the Japanese Orchestras are probably my favorite Yngwie albums of all time. Was it a considerably different challenge recording the Japanese album which was done in a live setting?
Yngwie: Oh my god, yes, it was a huge difference (laughs). First off, I had spent about a couple of years composing. When we went to the Czech Republic, I was there for the recording for about three days and I played with them but we recorded the thing separately. In other words, I put the guitars on afterwords to make it one movement, one piece, that’s what I did. When I had to do it in Japan, I had to do everything in one go, live in front of an audience, that was mind-bending, it was just so bizarre you know. I have to give a lot of credit to the conductor from New Japan who was amazing, he really kind of saved my ass there because he was so amazing in his communication with the orchestra and his ability to read how I played, he was just incredible. It was really amazing how that whole thing fell into place because we really didn’t have proper rehearsal or anything you know.
LRI: It definitely sounds a little looser and as dangerous as it looks on the DVD.
Yngwie: It was and then coming over from Europe with no sleep and then it was like “Oh, well we have these songs to do as well” and I was like “What?” and we made arrangements on other pieces and then it was “Oh yeah, and we’re gonna film it tomorrow” and I was saying to myself “Woah!”.
LRI: Before I let you go, I wanted to ask..is it true that this new Guitar Gods tour was your wife April’s idea and how did this come about?
Yngwie: Yes, definitely. it was my wife’s idea to do everything with this tour. We picked out the people together but the concept, all of it was her idea to do this and it’s going to be amazing I think. Everyone is very excited about it.
LRI: The other three guys on this tour are amazing and stand on their own as artists and Uli was even an influence on you as a player. Do you have time for friendships with all these other players or talk with other guitar guys like this outside of touring?
Yngwie: Whenever we have a chance to talk or hook up and see each other player or hang out and that goes for all of them, Steve Vai, Satriani, all those guys. Obviously, they live in other places than I do and stuff like this but we do find time sometimes including touring and all of us on the Guitar Gods tour are really looking forward to that too.
Guitar Gods tour dates June-July
Thu 06/12/14 Wilkes-Barre, PA F.M. Kirby Center For Perf. Arts
Fri 06/13/14 Huntington, NY The Paramount
Sat 06/14/14 Sayreville, NJ Starland Ballroom
Sun 06/15/14 Akron, NY Concert Cove Amphitheater at Brauns Bar
Tue 06/17/14 Englewood, NJ Bergen Performing Arts Ctr.
Fri 06/20/14 Saint Charles, IL Arcada Theatre
Sat 06/21/14 Toronto, ON Phoenix Concert Theatre
Sun 06/22/14 Joliet, IL Mojoes
Mon 06/23/14 Minneapolis, MN Skyway Theatre
Thu 06/26/14 Seattle, WA The Showbox
Fri 06/27/14 Portland, OR Roseland Theater
Sat 06/28/14 Richmond, BC River Rock Casino Resort
Wed 07/02/14 Santa Ana, CA The Observatory
Thu 07/03/14 Beverly Hills, CA Saban Theatre
Sat 07/05/14 Ramona, CA Ramona Rodeo Grounds
Mon 07/07/14 Las Vegas, NV House Of Blues
Tue 07/08/14 Tucson, AZ Rialto Theatre
Thu 07/10/14 Dallas, TX House Of Blues
Sat 07/12/14 Houston, TX House Of Blues