Interview: Yngwie Malmsteen

Photo by alterna2.com

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Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the one and only fury unleasher, Ferrari driver, fret scalloper, ship burner, animal facer, never forgetter, neoclassical shredder pioneer: Yngwie Malmsteen. His new album Relentless is very much so.

— Cosmo Lee

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You’ve been a recording artist for over 25 years. What are your goals now?

Well, I try to make the best music I possibly can, all the time. I never want to make something half-assed. It has to be the best I can possibly make. Of course, sometimes [that] is better than [at] other times. But I’m very focused right now. I’m healthy, and everything is very good, so my mind is very clear, [so] I can make the best music I can.

There are a lot of shredders who are influenced by you. Do you follow modern metal?

Actually, I don’t. I probably should, but I really haven’t had much time. I’m always stuck doing my thing. I’m sure there’s a lot of good stuff.

So you don’t ever hear guitarists and think, “They’re doing what I was doing 20 years ago”?

Yes and no. A few years ago, I used to hear [such guitarists] all the time. I don’t pay much attention to that. I tend not to get influenced by other people anyway, because I like to do what comes naturally to me, to make it pure.

What’s your practice regimen like?

I don’t practice. I just play. I play every day. I always have a guitar by the TV. I keep at a certain level all the time. Of course, when I have to record or go on tour, [I play] even more. But I don’t ever practice, so to speak.

What is it about the Strat that’s made you stick with it?

To me, it’s an organ. It’s part of my body. I mean, I have every other guitar. I have Les Pauls, Flying V’s, everything. But the Strat is made for me. Well, originally it wasn’t, but now they make it for me. It’s so perfect.

What do you think of video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band?

Well, I was originally very skeptical. But it actually turned out to be a great thing because it introduced kids to rock and guitar. Guitar was kind of dead in the ’90s. It’s not a bad thing. It actually turned out to be a really good thing. I have my songs on both of them, Rock Band and Guitar Hero.

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Yngwie shows us how not to be able to play like him

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Now that you’ve been doing this for over a quarter century, what’s the biggest change you’ve seen in music and the industry?

Music always changes. Whatever is in and out – I never bothered with that. I do what I do, and I don’t follow trends. But as far as the industry [goes], that’s been transformed completely, because of all the downloading and all that stuff. The labels, the distributors, the record stores, the radio – all that is different. But if you stay true to yourself, that really is the best thing, the most honest thing you can do with music, and it will work out fine for you.

How did you come to form Rising Force Records?

The industry’s changed, and the labels are not doing what they used to – take care of the artists and promote them, and [allow] me to have [creative freedom]. There were a lot of discrepancies in the sales. My wife is a business manager, and we started a label about three years ago. It’s a really good thing, because I have the freedom to do whatever I want whenever I want. As far as having control over the sales and releases [goes], that’s a really good thing.

The promo for the album didn’t come with lyrics. Is there a central theme for Relentless?

Yes and no. My lyrics always have a meaning and a possibility of a meaning as well. So you can read into it any way you like. There’s one song called “Tide of Desire”. It’s very clear. It’s about how my personality is relentless, and I just won’t be stopped by anything or anybody. “Critical Mass” is about how things don’t always seem to go in the right direction, with some political overtones. It’s a personal thing if you listen to it.

Is it weird to write personal lyrics and have someone else sing them?

No, of course not. It’s like writing a part for an actor. You write the part, and you direct it as a film [director does]. I sing a lot, too. I enjoy that, too. But Tim ["Ripper" Owens] really delivers what I want to deliver with my lyrics.

How did you come to work with him?

A couple years ago, I wrote all the parts for an album called Perpetual Flame. I started recording vocals with the vocalist I had previously, and it just didn’t sound right. I invited Tim down to Miami [where Malmsteen lives] and said, “Hey, come and sing the songs”. He did, and he was awesome.

What do you look for in a singer?

Range. Power. Personality-wise, it has to be somebody who understands his function. I am the creator of this stuff, and he has to deliver my creation, so to speak. Sometimes singers don’t understand that, and it doesn’t work out. But a lot of times they do. And Tim is awesome. He’s a lovely guy. He’s great.

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Yngwie shreds for quite a while

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If people who know nothing about classical music hear your records and want to get into classical music, what three compositions should they listen to?

Vivaldi – Four Seasons. Johann Sebastian Bach – Brandenburg Concertos. Niccolò Paganini’s 24 Caprices.

On your album, on the song “Shot Across the Bow”, the chords remind me of Pachelbel’s Canon. Was this a conscious reference?

Oh, not conscious – that’s a subliminal thing. I’m proud of you, man, you caught that. That’s good. I’ve always loved that piece. To me, Bach, Pachelbel, Albinoni, Vivaldi – they’re inside my brain and my soul. When I do something that is spontaneous and improvised, it will still be hugely influenced by all that. For example, the title track “Relentless” – it’s a very Paganini-ish theme. There’s a center section that’s totally Bach. It ain’t Bach, but you know what I’m saying? It’s natural for me. Since I started, it’s been absorbed into me. It’s inside me already. I don’t think about it. It’s already there. I don’t think about, if I’m in A minor, which notes should I play. I know which notes to play.

If one day you suddenly went deaf, what would you do?

Well, that would be a terrible thing. I would spend my time driving around Ferraris, I guess.

So you wouldn’t do what Beethoven did – compose while deaf?

I totally would, because I know where the notes are, anyway. But it wouldn’t be very nice, would it? I don’t think like that (laughs).

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Relentless comes out November 22 on Rising Force. Hear excerpts and puchase it here.

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