By Keith Wright
In modern exclamations, this article for me has the OMFG. WTF?! I had the rarest privilege to speak to a living legend, Yngwie Malmsteen.
Coming to NZ on Thursday June 4th, Yngwie and his band will no doubt blow the Powerstation to bits with his anthem styled guitar shredding and neo-classical/metal musical brilliance. A guitar hero and musical genius spanning several decades and still inspiring thousands of guitarists around the globe today.
Ok, so to some it's no big deal, but I just interviewed and had a freaking awesome conversation with a guitar god and musician extraordinaire. I have to say simply, if you don't know who Yngwie Malmsteen is then go and find out, for those who do, this is my recount of a moment in time which I personally will never forget. Having myself a collection of 3CD's and 5 Cassettes (8 albums) should leave you in no doubt I am a huge fan, and give you a rough estimate of my age?! Yikes...
Ok, so, I have kept a gap in my diary to interview Yngwie Malmsteen. Yeah yeah... like as if!
Phone rings, Hello (said with an accent) hello?! My heart rate soars to palpitation rhythms, almost giddy and childlike, gotta hold it together, I will myself to remain calm! Gday?! Yngwie? hello.....
We're underway....f#$k me ...is it really him? Phone cuts out - I'm like f!!!, please call back please call back - phone rings again... we have a moment of awkwardness, you there, I'm here, you there, hello, hello - ffs please phone stay live!!
After initial introductions I thanked him for being a major influencer of my own musical journey and charged through the below questions.
You are a living guitar legend, time magazine listed you as one of their top ten, many of the post poll reviews pointed to you as being number one however, how do you rate yourself?
"It was pretty awesome", he replied. He says he takes it in his stride and is flattered, but ultimately doesn't change what he does. "Every poll will be different" he says.
Classical / neo-classical / 80's metal do these terms have any truth? How do you describe yourself?
From an early child influenced by many types of music, Malmsteen doesn't really see that that he ever changed from the 80's or cares for labels people brand music. Like the dawn of electric and hip hop etc, he thinks he's as popular now as he ever was - it's just Yngwie Malmsteen. You know it when you hear it
Old vs new Yngwie - whats changed?
"The new Yngwie is better" is responds. He still looks back on the good old days and remembers a great time but feels better and enjoys himself more these days.
Getting older do you find playing as easy or does the body sometimes let you know its getting on a bit?
"Getting better, actually the body is keeping fine" he explains. He still plays tennis and keeps fit, eats well and doesn't drink or do anything... and has not had a drink in last 11 years. He says he "feels great and better than ever", but still remembers it was a great time back in the day. He laughs and says "He doesn't party these days".
So you are the family man these days?
"Family is good and they travel all over the place together".
So you are a gym convert, health nut? No burgers?
"Haha, not a gym nut. I play tennis and generally keep in shape, but happy to indulge in a burger".
Instrumental or lyrical - do you have a preference for composing, what is more difficult - how do you come up with the idea and then into the eventual recording?
"It comes from improvisation and playing setting out structures and working with them - some can come spontaneously others take a bit longer". He talks about having a studio with protools (music software) and mixing desks etc, and still maintains a methodical approach laying drums, playing jams, improv sessions and having jam session with musicians. He adds "lyrical has to have meaning and some storyline".
Improvisation - how much does this happen on stage - do you ever make mistakes big enough for people to notice?
"I pretty much improvise all the time" he says. He doesn't think about mistakes but works through ideas and plays purely for the audience. Malsteen makes a point of going out and giving it his all for the people who have come to watch. "It kind of comes out better in that way", he explains. "There's definitely theres a lot of improvisation on stage".
Choosing other musicians to work with what traits do you look for all ability aside - if you were to create a super band who would be in it?
"I wouldn't have a super group, it's not what I'm about". Malmsteen says he focuses on what he does well and what he creates. He has a mind set of ignoring what everyone thinks he should do, so keeps to creating what he does and what he himself comes up with. There is a depth and fuller meaning to his music and lyrical content, rather than a "oh baby oh baby". There is a story and a meaning the music matches this too. People have to have a focus and likes to work with similar minded musicians.
As a budding musician myself, we all make embarrassing mistakes - have you got one of those oh my god I cant believe this is happening to me moments?
He explains he has had many but he just carries on. He puts his all into the shows and performances
What was your biggest regret if any?
"No regrets", he admits. He has had an amazing life, reminisces a lot about his childhood and "having been lucky and blessed for it".
No doubt you will remember the record and cassette days , how much technology e.g programming vz live recording influence the way you work now?
"It hasn't really deviated from the old ways of recording and laying music" says Malmsteen. He plays many instruments besides guitar, one huge bonus was that in the old days when you laid the drums that was kind of it. Everything else was put on top, these days digital realm makes it easier to edit. Otherwise he takes the same approach to recording as he always has, uses the modern interfaces but everything is generally played and not programmed.
You're self taught on guitar - did you eventually learn the theory behind the music?
"Yes learned it and threw it all away. Its what most accomplished musos do".
Guitar wise what is the single best advice for learning how to shred - do you think in patterns or scales - do you still discover stuff on the guitar?
"Practice and practice" he answers. He says he "plays in patterns" and "from what he has in mind", but does also think in chords and scales. He plays with riffs and stuff he knows and then experiments with those in other ways.
What are your thoughts on guitar tunings like drop D or 7, 8 string guitars etc?
"Na no!" he has no interest ...short response!
Scalloped guitars, is there any advantages?
He prefers these. He has been playing them for essentially childhood till now, it's what he's used to. It's his signature.
Do you have time to take in the sights and culture in NZ?
"Not very likely", he says. He hopes to see what he can but he notes he travels tens of thousands of air miles every year to all sorts of places.
Living in the US - would you ever return to Sweden or perhaps move here to Auckland?
"More American" he reckons. He is happy where he is and doesn't reckon a move to NZ is on the cards. "But haha, who knows?" he replies.
I am sure we talked about much more, it was such a blur and certainly nothing I would have ever dreamed about. See you all at the concert and enjoy. He's an amazing performer guitarist and musician and certainly worth every penny of your time and money. A thoroughly nice bloke!!
Thursday June 4th: The Powerstation, Auckland
Tickets via Ticketmaster