Yngwie Malmsteen Discusses his Roots, His Rep and his Latest Album in this 1986 Guitar World Interview
Malmsteen turned the bass chores over to Marcel Jacob on the recently released Marching Out, where the emphasis is more on songs than flash. Apart from a couple of guitar arias ("Overture 1383" and the title track), the album is comprised of hard-hitting rock and roll-material which may come as a bit of a shock to those fans familiar only with Malmsteen's more adventurous Rising Force album. Marching Out is heavy enough to satisfy metal fans, but Malmsteen's presence makes the album more than just a typical slugfest. The first thing you notice about his solos, aside from their pronounced classical influence, is Malmsteen's unusually fast technique his trademark.
What is it about playing fast that appeals to Malmsteen?
"lt's not playing fast in itself that appeals to me," he says. "Speed can be very dramatic if you do it together with playing slow-it's a great contrast. It's also important to me that what I play fast will also sound good if the same notes are played at a slower speed. The reason I concentrate mostly on fast licks is because that's what my audience wants to hear, to a certain extent.
"I don't consider myself to be a very fast player. I'm sure there are other guitarists who can play faster: What I do that a lot of other guitarists don't do is I don't play things that are rubbish. If you would slow down the fast licks that a Iot of other guitarists do, people would puke. I play classical runs, arpeggios and broken chords that if played at a slower speed would sound very nice as well. But if you do it very fast and very clean, but not necessarily as fast as someone else, you will appear much faster because what you're playing actually makes more sense.
"I developed a fast technique simply because I didn't want to be limited. I was obsessed with the fact of always improving. Just because I would play a certain thing in a particular way one day, it doesn't mean I couldn't improvise and play it better the very next day. I approached the guitar that way for a real long time."
Here's how Malmsteen developed his technique: "I had two cassette decks that I used to tape my music on-one at the rehearsal studio and one at home. The one at the rehearsal studio was slower than the one at home. So when I went home and listened back to the tape I recorded at rehearsals, my guitar sounded so much faster than I actually played it. I said 'Wow -- I can't believe how fast I sound.' And since my goal was to improve on everything I would play the day before, I developed a lot of speed and I began playing faster and faster and faster. It's a weird story, but it's the truth.”
Anyone who's witnessed Malmsteen on stage knows he is an intensely exciting performer. Most guitarists with mind-boggling technique are actually quite boring in concert, but Malmsteen manages to impress as well as entertain. He is always in constant motion, whether playing his Strat with his teeth or effortlessly twirling it around his body.
"When I play a song at rehearsals I often get bored with it," he says. "As soon as I get in front of an audience I get excited and everything comes alive. This is because I'm not just playing for myself. I live for my audience-they're everything. It's the best feeling in the world to go on stage and have the crowd love you. As long as there's an audience, I'll never lose a desire to play."
Malmsteen and his band Rising Force continue to be lumped into the metal genre. Does it bother him? "I don't care if people call our music heavy shit or heavy metal," he says. "Onstage we're definitely metal because we're just as heavy as the headbangers could ever want it. But what we play is a lot more sophisticated than what those run-of-the-mill metal bands are doing. Besides, I don't think my guitar playing sounds like anyone else."
Much hard work, of course, has gone into honing his style. "I 've been playing constantly since the age of eight," says the twenty-two-year-old guitarist, who first picked up the instrument after seeing Jimi Hendrix on TV the day he died, September 18, 1970. "Hendrix inspired me to play, but I'm actually not that musically influenced by him. I loved his image more than anything. He looked really cool onstage and was a fantastic performer."
Malmsteen started playing on a cheap acoustic from Poland that his mom had given him: "I taught myself how to play it. I bought a pickup for sixty cents in a mail order catalog. I put it on the acoustic and played through an old tube radio. I cranked it up and. it sounded real heavy."
He acquired his first electric guitar, a Clear Sound, at the age of nine from his brother. "It looked like a left-handed Strat," says Malmsteen, "and it had a great neck. I even put an extra fret on it. As soon as I started sounding decent, I played to what was on the radio. But I never practiced in a traditional sense-not at all. I never sat down and played the same licks over and over. From the very beginning, from the very first day I picked up a guitar, I was improvising and just creating music. I have perfect pitch, so I figured everything out just by listening. I played a real lot - up to nine hours a day - only because I wanted to keep getting better and better.