Yngwie Malmsteen – Born In Hell

Friday, 29th March 2013

(This content originally appeared on Blistering.com)

The name “Yngwie” will always draw varied reactions. Some find his brand of neo-classical guitar shred revolutionary, others find it a bit much. His attitude and approach is just as notorious – it’s Yngwie’s way or the highway, yet that steadfast approach has enabled him to endure for over 25 years. He has survived a car crash in 1988, the dwindling popularity of guitar-driven heavy music in the 90’s, and most of all, his reputation. Yet here comes Yngwie again, with a scorching new album (Perpetual Flame), singer (Tim “Ripper Owens; ex Judas Priest/Iced Earth) and his own record label, the aptly-named Rising Force Records. 

Being this was the first time yours truly has spoken with Malmsteen, this interview was approached with a sense of apprehension and anticipation. After all, Yngwie has been known to grill many a journalist, but on this cold Friday afternoon, Yngwie was jovial, forthright, honest and accommodating. His thick Swedish accent couldn’t mask his enthusiasm for all he has going for himself and since we like good times and happy people here at Blistering, this chat was an absolute success, prompting this scribe to indulge in a post-chat Saturday afternoon of watching every Yngwie clip on YouTube imaginable. Except for “Heaven Tonight.” That song doesn’t rock, Yngwie. 

Blistering.com: You were inducted into the Rock Walk in Hollywood this past October. How did it feel?

Yngwie Malmsteen:It was surreal. And the thing is, that’s exactly where I was when I first came to the States. I used to walk around those streets when I was a teenager. It was very bizarre, but a very great honor. My goal, basically… in Sweden, it wasn’t accepted to be a musician, you had to get a job like a welder or laying bricks. Music, that wasn’t considered a real job because they have this Socialist attitude. When I came to the States, I was pleasantly surprised that being a musician is highly regarded and that was something pleased about. I wanted to get by just making music and having enough to eat. That was my goal. It turned out a little different [laughs].

Blistering.com: What are your thoughts on the re-emergence of guitar soloing and/or shredding? In the 90’s, you were one of the few to still fly that flag. Heck, your songs are even in video games now.

Yngwie: For me, I don’t follow trends no matter what. I just do what I do and that’s it. When I did the G3 [with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai], that’s when I saw the extreme interest in the guitar thing. It was just us playing guitar – it wasn’t even a rock n’ roll band. It was nothing but guitar solos for three hours. That was nice and surprising, then I realized it was coming back. When the grunge thing came and went, nothing took its place. After that, there was no real sound; everything came more in an open field. In the beginning, I was skeptical for all of us, but now I think it’s a cool think because kids, that’s all they do is play those games.

Blistering.com: Is this any interest in doing another classical album ala your Concerto Suite For Electric Guitar?

Yngwie: For right now, I’m in a metal mode. More than ever, I feel very energetic and passionate about making extreme music. I haven’t had the time do more symphonic or movie-type soundtrack stuff, but I’d definitely like to do it. Right now, I’m in a good place. My mind is focused, healthy and I like to run around with the Marshall stacks, the smoke machines. The classical thing never goes anywhere for me anyway. Even for heavy songs like “Death Dealer,” it’s very classical chord progressions anyway…very Bach.

Blistering.com: Tell me about Rising Force Records. Was this done as a reaction to the current state of recording industry?

Yngwie: It went through a lot of different changes. The whole thing with labels being God like in the 70’s and 80’s is out the window. Most labels are a dying breed because of the distribution of CD’s is different and music being downloaded. The reason I decided I do it because labels have always been to me, shitty people. It really got out of hand even when the most so-called respectable labels were fiddling everything.  They didn’t do the right promotion, they don’t do anything right…it’s really sad state of affairs.

It took an extreme amount of work to take over the whole thing. My wife, who is also my manager, she started the whole thing. It’s great because I have total control. There’s never any worry as to how many albums went out, so it’s all good, but it’s more work. On this last album, I did more work than ever – I even engineered and produced it. Of course I wrote the lyrics and arranged everything…there aren’t enough hours in the day. You are the seventh interview I’ve done today. I’m not complaining. In the past, it was a lot different because I’d sit around and wait for the label to tell you what to do. Nowadays, it’s a completely packed day. I have family – a wife and son, so it never stops. It’s a complete whirlwind. Kinda cool. I like it.

Blistering.com: I guess that ties into your need to be in total control, right? It always wasn’t like that when you were in Alcatrazz though.

Yngwie: In Alcatrazz, I wrote everything. Graham [Bonnet, vocalist] wrote the lyrics. That’s why I was always unhappy in that band. I thought it was a really good record [No Parole For Rock ‘N’ Roll]. We had good a time, but there were some run-ins. Steeler was [singer] Ron Keel’s thing. I respected that and did what they wanted me to do. That’s what I did – I stepped in, was professional and that’s what I expect from people who come into my situation.

Before I came to America, I was in bands since I was eight or nine years old. Even though, they weren’t really “bands,” I was the undisputed leader. It was just always like that. At 10 years old, I was in band with 20 year-olds, so I was like the little fucking circus freak [laughs]. It’s funny, because when I came into Alcatrazz, I was 19 and the rest of them were in their late 30’s, and it wasn’t meant to be my band. It was Graham’s band, but for some reason, it became my band and that wasn’t what I meant to do. I was very adamant abut the musical direction and when we started touring, people seemed to like me running around, doing my thing. I wasn’t trying to do anything differently than I’ve always done.

For my first couple of albums…it was very simple back then – you just had to make music. Then in the late 80’s, I got a little confused. It was not a very focused period. I didn’t have a base. I was living in Miami, New York, Los Angeles and it was a weird thing. The whole thing wasn’t focused. Then, some things happened that shouldn’t have, but most of the time, I’ve been pretty much in control.

Blistering.com: How did you hook up with Ripper Owens?

Yngwie: It was a long procedure. You do a tour, start writing, record, and mix and go out on the next tour for that album. It’s become a much less cycled process. I can go on the road anytime, anywhere, it doesn’t matter if I have a new album or not. I went to Europe this summer – there wasn’t a new album, but we went there to have fun. Same with South America. During all of this time, I was writing songs. I would put them on CD’s and do my studio stuff, then I thought I had some good ideas and went into the studio with the drummer and put down some basic tracks and we were back on the road. Then we came home and I did some keyboards and then went back out. It was done in stages. When the songs started taking form, that’s when I realized the singer [Doogie White] didn’t have the time; he’s not gonna cut it. He’s not going to be up to the level I want him to be. No offense to him, it’s just that our style was getting more heavy and I like that. I didn’t want to hold back. It’s like your casting a movie – I needed someone like an Al Pacino or a Robert DeNiro and Tim came down, hung out, I showed him the songs, and bam, that was it.

Blistering.com: It appears with this album it’s more about the actual song than shred. Do you agree with that?

Yngwie: It wasn’t intentional and it turned out that way. It seems to be the common census – everyone says that to me. It’s not something I meant to do at first. My songwriting has become particular. I put a lot of time and effort into that. Once the riffs and melodies are good, it hooks together. I’ve always tried to do that, but this time it came out much better than before.

Blistering.com: Was improvisation in the live setting you’ve always done?

Yngwie: I improvise in the studio too. Everything is improvised. I never have it set up. Every concert, every night is different. If I put a solo down or two solos on a song, they’re totally different. I grew up in a musical family. My older brother and sisters and we always took music as being free. That’s a lot more challenging and you take a risk, but when it does click – and I never thought after all this time – I could break all the parameters, but I did. For me, it was rewarding to take a challenge. You have to be in such a stage to do in the studio. You have to capture it. If I do a solo and it doesn’t feel right, I say “Fuck it” and I’m out of there. I don’t sit there and do another one. It happens or doesn’t [laughs].

Blistering.com: We’re 20 years removed from your car crash. What do you remember most about it and how did you bounce back?

Yngwie: The funny thing is that it was serious, serious car crash. I was in a coma and everything, but out of all the things that happened to me that year, the worse things that could possibly happen, happened. My mother died, I lost my house in an earthquake, I found out my manager stole all of the money. The whole thing was a fucking nightmare. The car crash was a bad thing, but I bounced back from it pretty damn quick, I have to say. I’m the kind of the person – if you don’t kill me, I’ll come back stronger. You have to snuff me out. The harder you push me back, the harder I push forward. I’m like a solder in the legion of forever [laughs]. The more challenging things get, the more I work.

The funny thing is, is that my stuff is more together when I’m more settled and I’m happy. Then the music comes out really aggressive. Some people go, “you live in Florida where the water is jet blue where there’s palm trees and sunshine, but you write songs like you lived in a dungeon.” And I say: “I’ll tell you what: I grew up in hell!”

www.yngwiemalmsteen.com