With a career that has spanned over 40 genre-defining years, Yngwie Malmsteen needs no introduction. Often viewed as the guitarist’s guitarist, Yngwie has inspired two generations of players with his neo-classical flair and almost superhuman speed.
Interview: Yngwie Malmsteen
With the release of his stunning new solo album Parabellum, Yngwie Malmsteen spoke to Metaltalk’s Kahmel Farahani about the new album and his creative process and how he stays inspired.
Yngwie Malmsteen was at the forefront of breaking Metal barriers in Sweden, and here he also discusses Kiss, Eddie Van Helen, David Lee Roth, Phil Mogg, Graham Bonet and how he brought the Stratocaster back into style.
Yngwie’s 22nd album is Parabellum. The title is Latin and translates as ‘Prepare For War’. With one track on the album called (Si Vis Pacem) Parabellum, which translates as “if you want peace, then prepare for war”, Malmsteen told us that it “was a last-minute decision to make Parabellum the album title, but I think it fits very well.”
Like most musicians, the period of inactivity throughout the COVID-19 phase gave him the gift of being able to spend more time creating. With the luxury of spending more time on the record, Yngwie is very pleased with the result. “It was completely natural,” Yngwie says.
“The thing is, the last album was kind of bluesy, and that was on purpose, but I never meant to divert from my true self. This is maybe the purest record I’ve done since I can remember.
“Even on my early albums, I did compromise. I did consider airplay and what other people thought and so on. On Parabellum, I didn’t consider any of those things. It came naturally. It’s more like how I played when I was 17 – just making the best music I could make.
“It feels amazing that it had such a good reception! I’m so pleased. I couldn’t be happier. The thing is, it all came naturally – I didn’t think ‘Oh I’m going to make a classical album reminiscent of this or that’, nothing like that.”
Over a forty-year career in music, he has always been a poster boy for uncompromising excellence. “Yeah, it’s weird to think of it like that,” he said, laughing. “It still feels so fresh to me. When I was on stage this weekend, it felt so fresh and exciting! Not like ‘oh doing this again’. Same with the new album, it feels inspired, I feel inspired. Like my song says, I feel very blessed and grateful for all the blessings.
“A lot of times in the past, I would do records with riffy stuff that would be accessible, and that’s not hard to play. But to make music like Parabellum or Toccata from this new record is extremely difficult to play, so I guess I pushed myself even more. The way I see it, music has to be a natural thing, so when something comes to me that is challenging, I find it interesting to go there.”
G3 and Generation Axe
There are so many highlights in such a fantastic career. In 2003, Malmsteen joined Steve Vai and Joe Satriani in the G3 supergroup. In April and May 2016, Malmsteen was one of five guitarists featured on the Generation Axe tour. “Steve Vai is like a brother to me,” Yngwie says, “and we’ve known each other since we were kids in our 20s, and Joe is an amazing guy and a great player. I love him.
“So doing G3 was a great experience, so was my own Generation Axe. We did a live album in China and filmed it too. The reason I still go on stage excited is that it still feels like a challenge. You go out not knowing exactly what to play. Just playing something exactly as it was written, I can do that standing on my head, but it’s not exciting or dangerous.”
Hear ‘n Aid
Hear ‘n Aid was the 1986 Metal charity project organized by Ronnie James Dio, Jimmy Bain, and Vivian Campbell, and the single Stars featured a mind-blowing solo from Yngwie. “The thing is, I was actually on tour in Europe when Ronnie called me and said he wanted me to play on it,” Yngwie remembers.
“So I said ‘fuck it’ and flew out to L.A. from Denmark. I got there totally jet-lagged, and it was a party. Everyone was drinking and hanging out. I said, ‘OK, I’m ready to go now,’ and they said, ‘yeah, Brad Gillis is in there doing his part now’.
“Four and a half hours later, and I’m still waiting! Then George Lynch went in and spent a couple of hours too. I was thinking this is going to take a long time,” Yngwie said, laughing.
“I remember from the point I walked into the studio to record to when I walked out was 20 minutes. Ronnie had already sent me the chord progression, so I just went in and out. That’s how I like to run, though. I don’t really like to do them over and over. I’m not knocking Brad or George either since they’re both fucking great.”
With such a talent, it is no surprise that there were calls and rumours of calls to join other bands over the years. “It’s true that Kiss called,” Yngwie said. “I mean, somebody from their camp called, and I don’t know who. It might even have been Gene since I know him now. I think it was their management who got my number, and I was only about 18 at the time.
“I got a call, and the guy says, ‘You’re hat, you’re really hat,’ and I go ‘Gesundheit’ (laughs). I said, ‘Ohhh, I’m hot.’ (laughs).
“So they said they wanted to bring me over to try out, but first they asked if I was 6 foot tall. I said I was 192 inches since I didn’t fucking know anything but metric (laughs). I’m 6 foot 3 inches, but they thought that meant I was four feet tall or something, so they didn’t call back! (laughs).”
Dave Lee Roth
In late ’85, Dave Lee Roth assembled his supergroup with Vai, Sheehan and Bissonette, and Yngwie revealed that he was offered the guitar slot. “It was crazy,” he said. “I was offered a gig in David Lee Roth’s band just after he left Van Halen. I was very, very honoured by that.
“I did a tour that year in 1985, and he would come to my shows all the time! He’s very smart. He thinks he had to get a hot guitar player because Eddie is the king of everything. At the time, Billy Sheehan was in my opening act, and he asked Billy to join his band too – he obviously said yes. I should probably have said yes, too, thinking about it now since it would have been fun. But I was doing pretty well, and I was only 21.”
UFO and Alcatrazz
Earlier, Phil Mogg had asked Yngwie to join UFO. “I was 19 at the time,” Yngwie says, “and still with Steeler. So Phil came to one of our shows and afterwards said, ‘hey, come to my house tomorrow.’ So the next morning, I got a phone call from somebody in Graham Bonnet’s team who said, ‘we heard you’re hot as shit! Come down and try out.’ I said OK. So I went there, and they didn’t have any songs or even a good drummer. They said, ‘You’ve got the gig, you’ve got the gig!’ and I said I would call them back later – I was very cocky (laughs).
“So then I went to see Phil Mogg, and he was super nice, but he didn’t have his shit together either. So I called Graham back from Phil’s house. They were not called Alcatrazz at the time. They were just starting out. I said OK, I would join their thing, but I will write the songs and told them to get a new drummer. So I was already making demands (laughs). That was actually really good, I thought.”
There were other projects too, which were in the back of peoples minds, but which never came to fruition. “I mean me and Ronnie always talked about shit, but you know,” Yngwie says. “Like Ozzy, there was some sort of…I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but he didn’t come out and ask me. Deep Purple too. Steve Morse is such a great guy and an amazing player, and he fits so well there. When you think of Deep Purple, you usually think of Blackmore and Jon Lord, and it’s kind of hard to change that, no matter how good you are.”
Scandinavian rock scene
With Yngwie starting his career in Sweden, the rise of the Scandinavian rock scene is something he witnessed first-hand. “When I grew up in the ’70s in Sweden, to be a pro musician was like being a fucking leper or something,” he said. “It was looked down upon very, very much, and it wasn’t accepted as a job. Then if you played something out of the ordinary as I did… I could play you a demo from 1978, and you just wouldn’t believe it!
“Tuned down Heavy Metal and arpeggios and shit I’d never heard anyone else do. People would just say, ‘oh my God, what is this?’ (laughs).
“Sweden didn’t have a scene or any labels or signed bands or anything like that. Just some local bands floating around. So I decided to send my tape to Guitar Player Magazine. As soon as I did that, the band Europe also got their first breakthrough.
“Those two things that I made it in America and Europe coming out, that opened the floodgates, then it seemed like there were hundreds of bands from where I was at (laughs).
“To go from being obscure to touring the world in six months, people noticed and went wow this kid really made it! Now it is very active, and there’s a lot going on, but when I lived in Sweden, there was nothing. I’m not taking all the credit, but I know it made a big difference there.”
The first signature Fender
And that rise helped him to set many standards, including being the first guitarist ever to get a signature Fender. “I was the very first one,” Yngwie says. “That was in 1986, which was unheard of then. Fender never even gave a free guitar to an artist.
“Hendrix and Blackmore all had to buy their own guitars. I was extremely honoured. Then Dan Smith, who ran the company at the time, and the Fender guys came to my show at Long Beach Arena and said, ‘We want to build a guitar with your name on it.’
“I was like, ‘Fucking A! (laughs). When I first came on the scene in America, nobody had any brand deals, then suddenly just about every guitar company in the world came to me and said, ‘we’ll build anything you want!’.
“But I said I would rather buy a Fender than get another guitar for free. Then when my first solo album came out with the Strat on fire on the cover, that was it. Same with amp companies, but for me, it has always been Marshall. I’m very loyal to my brands (laughs).
“Remember, Eddie Van Halen, changed everything. Suddenly, everybody had to have a humbucker and a Floyd Rose! Kramers and Hamers with stripes. Then my album comes out with a Stratocaster with single coils. Like fucking what the fuck?!? (laughs).
“I think I influenced people to start liking the Fender Strat again – I definitely believe that.”
With such a long, varied career, it might be tempting for Yngwie to take the lead from Michael Schenker Fest and bring back faces from the past to play live again, but Yngwie tells us that is not on his horizon.
“I feel it is so weird. I mean, I don’t think about it. If they want to do it, that’s cool. To me, that would feel like going backwards, and I don’t like going backwards.
“I play some of those nostalgic songs in the show today, so they’re always there. I don’t see it happening. I’m not saying never. It’s just something I’m not thinking about.
With things beginning to open up across the world as countries learn to live with the COVID-19 pandemic, Yngwie is keen to tour the new album. “I’m hoping to tour,” he says, “and I already started playing last weekend! I played Florida and Texas, and in November, I have a huge American tour. It’s slow because all the promoters were kind of waiting for somebody else to do it, but now it is going to pick up. I really hope so.”
The last words are on the future of the guitar. “I think it all goes in waves,” Yngwie says, “and I don’t think the guitar is ever going to go away. It’s been said many times, but I think the guitar will always have a very big attraction for people. I think it’s great when people start playing and I really wish the best to everybody. Just keep on doing it.”
Parabellum is out now and can be ordered from smarturl.it/Yngwie_Malmsteen