October 14, 2008 sees the release of guitar legend Yngwie Malmsteen’s first studio album in three years. In fact, 2008 has been quite a remarkable year for him. I decided to ask him just what has been happening and caught up with him on the eve of his upcoming tour of the States. Perpetual Flame (Rising Force Records) will be reviewed here prior to that release date.
This cross-Atlantic telephone interview (US East Coast to France) occurred on Thursday, September 25, 2008.
Hi Yngwie, thanks for calling and thanks for your time! How was the European leg of the tour?
It was fantastic. I mean, I really enjoyed it. I thought the last tour was good and hoped that this one might be as good but, in fact, it was better. It’s not like you have a favourite one or anything. London was great though, in fact, they were all good.
The new band was just fantastic. So much energy and passion. Stockholm was very special. They all were but it’s always kind of special going back to the place where you came from. It was a great reception.
This really is your year: new album, the tour, and I’ve just read that you are gong to be inducted on the Hollywood Rock Walk. That puts you right next to Elvis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. How does that make you feel?
I tell you it is so humbling. Unbelievably humbling. When I first came to the States I used to walk down that street peering in through guitar store windows to see if I could afford anything. It’s sort of surreal to be going back there for this. It is a real honour.
If they were to put a plaque next to your name at the Rock Walk, what piece of work would you like them to put there? What would you like to be remembered for?
I’m just happy to be remembered at all.
And later this year there’s the new custom built guitar …
Yes, another fantastic thing. I was actually the first to have my own signature guitar. Again it’s a huge honour. Maybe it comes from my loyalty to Fender over the years, Fender and Marshall. I’m very excited about it. It’s a very nice thing.
How did you hook up with Tim (Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens)?
Well, I was writing some new songs and they certainly had a hard edge to them. I needed someone who could carry that across. I got together with Tim in Miami and he sang three tracks and it was like wow. Yes. He really does have a great voice and once we started together I just knew that he could do those songs. Sure enough he does. You know it’s like casting a movie you need just the right guy to put over what you want.
Is that where Roy Z came into it, through Tim and the Judas Priest connection?
Well actually I did the all the production on the album. I produced it, engineered it the whole thing really. From the first drum being wired to the final thing it was me. Roy came in and mixed it at the end. He did a great job.
The new album is like you’ve kicked your way into the studio and really want to get the album down. There is so much energy coming right out, straight from the start. Pure energy. How do you maintain that?
Yes. I guess it is passion, passion for it. Some people have a saying that ‘less is more.’ Well, not for me. I look at it the other way. More is more and less is still less. So, I go all out, everything. Give it all and push myself to the limit to get there.
How do you write? Music is in your blood isn’t it – are you the sort of guy that has music flowing through you all the time?
Well, in fact, it’s hard for me to listen to anything without hearing it as a producer does. You know, I wouldn’t have put that snare there or in that way. I can sit at home or anywhere and hear something and grab my guitar and start working with it. It was like when I first heard Deep Purple’s Fireball. My sister gave me Fireball and I was like, ‘wow’, and I went out and bought In Rock. I was eight years old and by the time I was ten I could play note for note Made In Japan. In fact I heard Made In Japan before I heard Machine Head. When I did hear Machine Head I thought ‘mmm this sounds quiet you know’.
Now I’m getting a bit out of my depth here, but I would say your music is more Bach or Vivaldi influenced than, say, Purple.
Let me tell you, yesterday I was doing something for television with VH1 and their thing was to ask everyone, ‘who was the most influential heavy rock band Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin?’ When it came to me I said Deep Purple. They looked at me like I was crazy. But it was hearing the power of In Rock that did it. I can remember seeing Hendrix on television and watching him burn his guitar. Then I listened to In Rock and that was it. I knew what I wanted to be.
When I heard some of that early Genesis stuff, you know Selling England By The Pound, I could hear all these classical progressions. You know it was the symphonic stuff that I really wanted to do and the hard rock of Purple, In Rock. I always wanted to do that, the double bass drum, the works. When I heard the violin, Paganini, that was it. I knew where I wanted to go with it all. I wanted my guitar to be played like a violin.
You are known for your improvisation. Is there still room for that in the studio?
Yes, absolutely, always.
Is there anything on this tour or album that is technically harder than the rest to do?
A lot of it is quite technical. I would say “Caprici Di Diablo”. That instrumental thing. That’s technically hard, fast intricate. I always try and push myself that little bit more.
How do reviews affect you?
No, not too much. You see if someone doesn’t like it, then I know that I’ve done my best at that particular time. I’ve put what I can into it and that’s what it is. Yes, sure I like good ones but as long as I’ve done what I wanted to with it. That’s it. People either like it or not. As long as I am happy with what I’ve done and how I’ve done it, that’s important.
I wanted to ask you about the Concerto (Concerto For Guitar And Orchestra). That must have put you under pressure playing with classically trained orchestras.
Well yes, I always try and put pressure on myself. I am not sure what they thought, in Prague, when I first walked in and they saw me. You know ‘who’s this?’, type thing, but when they opened it up and saw the score they could see what I was trying to do and where the music should go. Tokyo, wow, now man that is real pressure, studio audience and everything. Yes, that was me, really pushing myself. I am very proud of it.
Sweden has a thriving rock scene. I’ve been busy reviewing a lot of very good Swedish or Scandinavian bands recently but it wasn’t always like that was it? What was it like when you started out?
No, you’re right when I started out Sweden was a very socialist place, a different mind set, a different psychology. You know where you think that you can’t do anything, can’t think for yourself, can’t do anything different, can’t break free like by becoming a musician or an actor or something. Especially a musician like I wanted to be. It was always hard but as soon as I got to America it started happening in five minutes. It’s different now and yes there is a lot going on there.
Have you started writing that auto biography yet?
Yes. I started a couple of years ago. It’s on hold a bit at the moment, there’s a lot of other stuff going on around. But yes, I started.
I wanted to end by asking how you maintain such energy and passion after a long and successful career, but I guess the clue is in the title of the album, Perpetual Flame. That fire is still burning in you…
That’s very perceptive of you. That is exactly what I wanted to say with the album. Thanks for picking up on it.
Yngwie, you’ve been great; thank you for your time and patience and best of luck with the album and the tour.
Thanks, I enjoyed it. It was a good one.
So did I. Yngwie proved to be a lovely guy, answering my questions even though he had no doubt been asked them a thousand times or more before.
Don’t forget Yngwie’s Perpetual Flame released on October 14, 2008. Full review will follow shortly.
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