Yngwie Malmsteen Discusses his Roots, His Rep and his Latest Album in this 1986 Guitar World Interview
"My family was very musical," he adds. "My sister played flute and piano and my brother played many instruments - guitar, drums, piano, violin and accordion. My father even played guitar, but I didn't grow up with him; he and my mother got divorced when I was a baby."
It was Malmsteen's mother, the only non-musician of the family, who decided to name her son Yngwie: "She once had a crush on this guy in her class named Yngwie and she named me after him. It's a very old name; it means young Viking chief."
Malmsteen was a young warrior during his school years, too. "I was a bad boy," he says. "When I was fourteen I drove my motorbike inside the school. I used to fight a lot and I rarely did my homework - I played guitar instead. I'm a lot less wild now. In school I got easily frustrated, especially with people who didn't show a lot of intelligence. Fights would start whenever I told someone how stupid they were.
"The only reason I didn't do my homework was because I didn't want to. I had the highest grades in the subjects I was interested in-art, woodwork and English-the other subjects I just didn't care about. I would never let anyone tell me what to do."
He quit school at the age of fifteen and got a job repairing guitars at a music shop in Stockholm. While working there Malmsteen got the idea to scallop guitar necks. "A lute came in from the 1600s," he recalls. "Instead of having frets, the wood was carved out on the neck, so the top of the wood was the fret. It looked really cool, so I thought it would be an interesting idea to do on a guitar neck. I took an old neck and scalloped it out just like the lute neck. It felt a lot better to play on and you could grip the strings a lot better, too.
"I do my own scalloping on all my guitars. But I wouldn't recommend anyone to do their own scalloping unless they're good at woodwork or good at working on guitars. It requires a lot of skill to do it properly and it's quite painstaking. I've been working on guitars for a long time, so I have the experience to do precision work. Besides, ever since I was very young, I've always been handy with wood: I used to build wooden airplanes. I would never let anyone but me scallop my guitars. I have some vintage Strats that aren't scalloped, but I don't play them on stage."
Malmsteen played guitar so much, in fact, that he based his life around it. "I had to go to the army when I was eighteen," he explains, "but I only stayed for two days. They made me take all kinds of tests. When they realized I had a high I.Q. they wanted me to be an officer, but I didn't want to. They didn't want to let me go, but I acted very insane to them. I told them I could never get along with my mother, I never worked a day in my life and I never used to go to school. All I did was play guitar all day long. There were plenty of guns there, so I made a threat. I told them I would shoot myself if they didn't let me go, and they fell for it."
Malmsteen was getting frustrated with the music scene in Sweden at this time. He wanted to make it desperately, but, since the music he was playing wasn't very commercial, the record companies didn't want to deal with it. Fortunately, Malmsteen wrote three singles that eventually attracted the attention of Swedish CBS. "They were all set to release them but never did," he says. "It really pissed me off."
For some strange reason, however, a demo of the songs made it to the San Francisco area. "I don't know how it got there," says Malmsteen. "It was being played on college radio stations before I ever came to the States." Mike Varney, noted heavy metal connoisseur and head of Shrapnel Records in California, heard it and was immediately impressed with the young Swede's unusual style. "Mike got in touch with me and asked me to come to the States to do an album for his label," says Malmsteen, who made his American debut on the Steeler album. "He believed in me and helped me out, especially when I first went to California. But I still would have come to the States anyway -- I was so dissatisfied with the music scene in Sweden I knew I had to leave.
"I considered working with Phil Mogg of UFO, but it was all talk, really. Then I met Alcatrazz' manager Andy Trueman and he was right on the money. He said, 'You want a job, you got it.' It was definitely the right move. He's my manager now; we get along well and we're a good team."
Malmsteen appears on two Alcatrazz albums -- No Parole From Rock 'N' Roll and Live Sentence. What does he think of their latest release, Disturbing The Peace? "It's an interesting change," he says. "It sounds so different than when I was in the band, so you shouldn't compare them. The music they're playing now doesn't even have a hint of classical music; it has a lot of strange Frank Zappa funk-jazz melodies."
The Zappa influence, of course, comes mainly from Steve Vai, who was a guitarist in Frank Zappa's band before joining Alcatrazz. "He plays the kind of music he plays very well," says Malmsteen, "but I'm not particularly fond of the melody lines he writes. I've always extremely disliked anything that resembles jazz. I'm a purist for classical music."
Unlike a classically-influenced rock guitarist like Michael Schenker, Malmsteen has applied a classical approach in a more radical manner. "Schenker often injects his playing with classical sounds," says Malmsteen, "but in between he's playing all this pentatonic stuff. I'm going all the way with it and I'm trying to put the classical parts in very aggressive and unusual contexts. That's what I tried to do on Marching Out."
Malmsteen produced both the Marching Out and Rising Force albums. "I've always been aware of recording techniques," he says, "and I've always felt I could do a better job than an outside producer because they obviously don't know the song as well as I do. I mean, I don't think a painter would do the background and let someone else finish the rest of the painting. I want to write the songs, produce them and control it until the record is in the stores and 'on the turntable."
But doesn't Malmsteen find it difficult to be objective of his own material? "No," he says bluntly. "Rising Force was meant to be a guitar album, so I purposely wanted the guitar parts to be more prominent. Marching Out is more song-oriented; it doesn't sound as if a guitar player did the production. It sounds very even. You can hear all the instruments very clearly and my solos aren't too loud or too long. I will always produce my records from now on. It's a more controlled atmosphere than playing live, but it's very challenging."
Malmsteen's desire to do it all obviously puts a lot of weight on his shoulders. Will he keep a clean head and progress? Or will he get caught up in the rabid attention he's been getting and stagnate? The answers to these questions will prove if Malmsteen becomes the legendary guitarist he is so capable of becoming.
Yngwie Malmsteen has come a long way in the short time he's been in America, but his most important years will be his next.