Yngwie Malmsteen Discusses his Roots, His Rep and his Latest Album in this 1986 Guitar World Interview
Here's our interview with Yngwie Malmsteen from the January 1986 issue of Guitar World. The original story ran with the headline "Like Him or Not, He Demands Your Attention" and started on page 24.
Either you love him or hate him -– that’s the way it is with Yngwie Malmsteen. Either way, it doesn’t phase him.
“I’d rather have people dislike my style than change it,” he says. “If someone says, ‘Hey, Yngwie, you play too damn much’ –- I don’t care. They way I play is the way I like to play. If people like it – great. If they don’t, it’s still fine with me.”
“I want to say something very clearly. I understand that I’m a self-confident person who might come off with the wrong attitude sometimes, but I don’t mean to. I just believe in certain things and I know exactly what I want. I’ve always sacrificed things in order to become the best musician I could be. My will power has always been very strong. If I want something, I’ll get it. I’ve had no trouble keeping my head on my shoulders,” and, he adds angrily, “nor do I have any chips on there.”
That last comment is a reference to the story contributing editor Steven Rosen did in Guitar World in the July 1984 issue. The title was “The God With The Chip On His Shoulder,” and Malmsteen is upset about it. “That’s not the way I am,” he says.
“That story described me as being a big-headed guy who sucks up attention, which is totally wrong. The biggest mistake people make about me is that they see me as some sort of God-like figure with a big ego. If I see a button a T-shirt that says ‘Yngwie is God,’ I just look at it as a complimentary way of people telling me they like me. Although it’s very flattering, it doesn’t change the way I look at myself. I’m just a normal person completely devoted to my art as a guitarist and musician.”
That confidence and singularity of vision are precisely why he has become so musically accomplished today. Since emigrating from his native Sweden in February 1983, Malmsteen has become the fastest rising -– and most controversial –- guitarist of the eighties. Much of the bad press he’s received can be attributed more to a lack of understanding his intentions than to his so-called ego.
It’s not the ego, folks, it’s rock and roll careerism. Malmsteen’s sole objective has always been the advancement of Yngwie Malmsteen. He used the two previous bands he was in, Steeler and Alcatrazz, merely as stepping stones to return to the Rising Force project he initiated in Sweden seven years ago.
"I wanted to leave Alcatrazz a lot sooner than I actually left," says Malmsteen, who stayed in the band for nearly a year and a half and in Steeler for just four months. "There was always a subliminal disliking between me and the rest of the guys in the band. We couldn't agree upon things and my influences and beliefs were totally different from theirs. We tried to be as nice as we could to one another, but it was an uncomfortable atmosphere. They probably feel the same way about me."
Maybe so, but you can be sure Malmsteen's former band members are not knocking his staggeringly unconventional playing style or his rapid ascension toward the top of the guitar world. What made Malmsteen so successful so fast? A total obsession with the instrument and a craving to develop a style quite unlike his contemporaries-that's what. " If guitar players just listen to other guitar players it's almost impossible to avoid sounding like them," says Malmsteen, who acknowledges only Jimi Hendrix and Ritchie Blackmore as guitar influences. "I try to achieve a style that is a lot different from what other guitarists sound like. If you listen to other instruments like violin, flutes or keyboards you will break away from the clichés of guitar playing."
Malmsteen, as you know, is most influenced by classical music, especially the unorthodox work of violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini and the more sedate compositions of J.S. Bach. "Classical is the peak of the development of music," says the guitarist, "and Bach is the most influential classical composer of all. Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt all took from Bach. Mozart even took from Bach; he was a little kid when Bach died. Classical is the source of music; it's like a religion, almost.
"Paganini is probably my biggest classical influence. I got turned on to him through a tv show in Sweden. This guy was playing Paganini and I freaked, so I went out and bought Paganini's "Twenty-Four Caprices," which is my all-time favorite thing to listen to. Paganini did with his instrument what few people have ever come close to doing. He was a rock and roller -- very wild and very extreme."
Extreme is one of the many words used to describe Malmsteen's guitar style-an ear-searing combination of heavy metal bombast and classical beauty. Although this approach is readily apparent on most of his recorded work, it was the Rising Force album which gave Malmsteen's career a quick boost right after leaving Alcatrazz. Originally released only in Japan on Polygram, the album sold so many copies as an import that U.S. Polygram went on to release it ... a good move. At its peak the album went as high as number 60 on the Billboard chart-an uncommon achievement for a predominantly instrumental album with no airplay.
Malmsteen also played bass on the album - a Fender Telecaster bass with a tremolo. "The bass parts are pretty straightforward," he says, "so after a while I got bored. I could have played very technical and complex if I wanted to, but I didn't think fancy bass playing would have sounded good. I did a few cool–sounding runs, though."