Yngwie Malmsteen interview
December 31, 2008
By Steph Perry
Yngwie Malmsteen’s new album Perpetual Flame was recently released to the delight of fans and critics alike. I talked to Yngwie about the album, his new custom guitar, and his love for America.
Are you happy with the response so far to Perpetual Flame?
Yeah of course! I can’t explain it exactly but it’s obviously a combination of what’s happening in the marketplace in America and the way the record is made as well. But right here in the States it’s getting a lot of attention, and a lot of good attention. So I’m very happy about that.
I heard you are very serious about the lyric side of songwriting. And many people probably don’t realize that because they tend to focus on your guitar playing and music
Well I’m serious about the whole thing. I produce and engineer and arrange. I do everything. Lyrics are the one thing lately, over the last few years, I’ve been very concerned with. I made the mistake a couple times where I made records where I was a little bit lazy, and then I was not happy because I don’t like the kind of ‘yeah baby let’s do it tonight’ kind of lyrics. You know I don’t like that kind of bullshit. To me the words should be even more, and can be interpreted in more than one way.
For myself, I found many themes in the lyrics of your latest album. From spirituality to the futility of war to the perils of greed. What are some of the inspiring events behind this collection of lyrics?
The lyrics always have [inspiration]. Well if you ask me how did you get inspired to do the riff in Death Dealer, there’s no way I can explain except to say I sat on my couch and hours of playing my guitar and there it was. There was no warning, there it was – boom – done. That’s how my music is being done…it’s very very spontaneous. The lyrics, I always have a pad with me, and I always write down lines and concepts. It can be like I’m watching History Channel or it can be whatever. On this particular album, the song Damnation Game is directly from the book by Clive Barker. I wrote the song inspired by one of the characters in the book called the Razor Eater. So that’s always a challenge and the inspiration at the same time, because you have to put a thousand page book into like four minutes. What else, Red Devil is about my Ferrari that’s a simple thing!
What about Magic City, where is Magic City for you?
It’s not only for me, it’s actually the name for Miami!
Oh I didn’t catch that!
Yes Miami is the Magic City. I realized that a long time ago, when I came down here 20 years ago. I said oh this place is amazing. You know I’ve been every where in the world, I mean you name it I’ve been there. For some reason I just connected with this place. It’s the weather, it’s the water, it’s everything.
I read that you recorded 10 extra songs that do not appear on the album. Is it true that these songs may be released at a later date?
Now that the album is out, are you pleased with your final song selection, or would you have done it differently given the opportunity?
No it wouldn’t be my thing to do, I would never do it. I really like all the songs. I have a strong relationship with this record because it was made completely different from any album I’ve done. In the sense that it was recorded, I had the songs written in bits floating around. And I have two studios so I can always just go into the studio and record stuff as it comes out as ideas. So I went into the studio and recorded all the drums and then I went out on tour. Then I came back and did some guitars and bass and I wrote some lyrics and then I went back out on tour, so forth and so on. I went to Istanbul and Moscow and South America. And I came back and the songs for some reason they all came to me a little differently and the lyrics started taking shape. So I think that’s the reason this album, this is going to sound corny, but I’m almost like a fan of it, you know?
That’s really cool.
What I mean by that is I was so removed from it so many times for quite some time, and every time I came back it was like, Wow this is really cool! Where normally I would go into the studio and I would not leave the studio until it’s finished. And being a producer, and so on, as I am, you can’t see the forest for the trees. And it turns out you can make some wrong decisions. On this one, it seems, to me at least, I did all the right choices. And this is how it should have been done because I didn’t rush anything. I am very happy with all the songs, even though the songs are so different like Magic City and Death Dealer are completely different types of songs. One is a bluesy, and one is like just fucking crazy up! Whatever!
So the circumstances actually helped the process?
Exactly. The funny thing was it wasn’t by design it just happened that way.
How did you hook up with Ripper Owens?
Well this has something to do with exactly what happened with the recording. Because I had Doogie [White] in the band, and I wrote the songs, and the songs started getting more and more finished. The keyboard player came in and spent a couple of weeks on the keyboards. Then I started the lyrics for Be Careful What You Wish For and Live To Fight Another Day. I wrote them thinking that’s who I want to have, I mean that’s what I had in my head. So the songs were finished by the time Tim came in. I actually tried to do a couple songs with Doogie and it didn’t work out. I said to Doogie in a cool way, ‘look I’m going this way and this just isn’t going to work out’. It’s almost like casting for a movie. You need someone to take that role.
I’m a movie freak anyway. I’m into movies more than anything. Everybody always asks me ‘what do you think of the new bands’ and I’m sure they’re great. The bands that I still listen to are Queen and Deep Purple and Jimi Hendrix and stuff like that. It’s not that I don’t like the new stuff, it’s just that I don’t want to ever fucking look at what I do as work because then I don’t want to do it anymore. So when I’m working on it, it has to be an inspired process. When I don’t work on music I want to like watch a movie or read a book or play some tennis or whatever.
When I grew up in Sweden, I grew up in some sort of a fucking moon landscape. It was like nothing there. I’m not going to get into politics or shit like that right now but when I hear all these people moaning and bitching about America, ‘you gotta change, you gotta change’. Let me tell you something, you guys don’t know how good you have it! This is the greatest country on God’s earth! There is no better place, no better country, this is the ultimate place to live in, with warts and all. There is no place that could even be a pimple on this country’s ass! And people better start being happy about that because if you get ‘the change’ you better be careful what you wish for. I’m telling you that’s not what you want man, this is the greatest country on earth. Leave it like it is! I’m the living proof, living breathing proof. I came to this country with one guitar and one extra pair of pants. That was it! I was a teenager and everything and beyond I ever dreamt of has come true. And I could’ve never done it anywhere else. The only reason it was possible is because this is the country of the individual, this is the country where hard work will reward you, this is the country of no you don’t get shit if you don’t do shit. This the country that rewards hard work and rewards ambition. And where I came from it was the exact opposite. If you did nothing you got everything paid for, if you work really hard they just take your money. So I know what I’m talking about when it comes to these things…I love this country more than anything I would go and fight and die for this country.
What is the biggest misconception about you?
Let’s face it, in the past when I first started out and all that I probably had a fucking attitude. I was very confident and very young and I probably said and did things I shouldn’t have. So some people have based their opinion or theory of who I am on that. Which is okay because it happens to me almost every day I do these interviews and I hear people say ‘oh man you’re really cool and I was so worried about talking to you’. You learn when you’re in this business that no matter what you do or no matter what you say there’s going to be a certain element of people that are going to try to bring you down.
It’s pretty cool that some of your new material was chosen for Rock Band downloadable content. What goes through your mind when you learn that your songs will be featured in such a popular video game?
I have to be honest with you, my kid is ten years old and a couple of years ago I brought him to one of those video game stores and said hey go get whatever you want. And the guy that worked there knew who I was, he goes ‘hey check this out’ and put this plastic guitar on and starts playing Smoke On The Water or whatever. And I’m going ‘what the hell is this!’ But I have to be honest with you, this Rock Band and this Guitar Hero it’s all been good for me! Because even if it doesn’t say Yngwie Malmsteen it is stuff that relates to what I do and let’s say ten years ago the guitar was pretty much dead in this country. To me this is fucking great! If the kid plays some game like Halo, or whatever they’re doing, that’s cool. But this is something that introduces them to music and good rock and roll. Not long ago I was sitting in the airport with one of my bandmates and this little kid like six years old goes to me ‘are you guys in the band?’ and I go like ‘yea we’re in the band’ and he says ‘I want to be in a band!’ This is so cool because this didn’t happen before. And all the kids you see at my shows now? So I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s cool. I was very skeptical at first but I think it’s good now.
Do you want to talk a little about the Fender custom guitar? Is this the first one you’re doing as a custom?
No. Fender never gave guitars to anybody like Hendrix, Blackmore, Beck, and all these guys, they had to buy their guitars. At the time when I first started getting known, nobody really played the Fenders. Most people played Charvels and Van Halen kind of guitars. So Fender started contacting me and said it was great that I had my guitar on the cover of the album Rising Force. So they said they wanted to make a signature model for me very early on, this was more than twenty years ago, they made it the way I do with a scalloped neck and all that stuff. So that’s been done for many years. But then now what they did was, they take one guitar and replicate it so exact it’s mind bending. I mean every rust particle and every little scratch, everything is exactly the same. They did one for Stevie Ray Vaughan post-humously and one for Eric Clapton I think. And they did mine now which is called the Play Loud guitar. In fact it’s the guitar that I brought with me from Sweden and it’s also the one on the cover of the Rising Force album. It’s a very worn in guitar, it’s really really mind blowing how exact it is.
And there was only 100 made?
Yes, it’s limited to 100. It was a very great honor.
Do you still play the original guitar?
Actually I kind of retired it.
Are there any tour plans in the works?
We just did a quick tour of the States it was great, and then the summer we were in Europe. From what I understand now the next thing is South America and then Japan, then more shows in America and Europe as well.
Well thanks for taking the time to talk with me today it’s been a real honor, take good care.
Okay thanks bye bye see ya.