End of 1995/1996
Yngwie's home in Miami, Florida. It was an excruciatingly humid day there. Even the mosquitoes tried to stay out of the direct sunlight, but once the sun began to set, they arrived in buzzing swarms of agony. I was wearing shorts and I could see them finding the exposed skin of my legs and just setting up home.
To fully appreciate the intimacy of this conversation, you need to understand the violence that preceded it. You need to hear the entire tale. Truth be told, Yngwie himself wanted all of this revealed. And to do that, we must travel back 12 or 13 years ago.
I first met Mr. Malmsteen
through my best friend Jimmy Waldo
, keyboardist with New England and at the time of this interview, Alcatrazz. Jimmy told me I had to meet this new guitar player he was working with. I was pre-warned, given an advance notice: Waldo told me that Yngwie had a bit of an attitude and suffered from a swollen ego. I took all of that into consideration and figured everything would be fine.
I went to the guitarist's home in the San Fernando Valley, a 20-minute drive from my guesthouse in Laurel Canyon. I was there on time and ushered in. Cassette player and notes were retrieved and unpacked and the conversation began.
So, Yngwie, could we start ?
Barely five words into my first question and he interrupts.
No, man, not yet, I have to finish practicing,
he interjected in a thick Swedish accent. He had been holding one of his scalloped Stratocasters, running through what looked like some finger exercises, and that was cool with me. If he wanted to practice while we spoke, that was not a problem. But it was for him. He didn't want to riff musically and verbally and even that I could understand he was in the middle of some guitar exercising so I waited. And I waited. And when waiting became tired of waiting, that verb retreated to be replaced by ennui.
Ten or fifteen minutes later, sensing that he might be finished, I began again.
Watching you play, it's obvious how much time and ?
He interrupts me again, tells me he's not completed with his guitar workout, and once again I sit silently. I think I must have waited close to an hour for him to finish. By now, I was sensing that he was simply making me wait because he could.
We finally started talking and after just a couple of questions, I was ready to walk out. He made comments like he never really practiced (after he sat there for an hour with a guitar in his hand) and had never heard of Jeff Beck (this was a slight mis-communication that, many years later was cleared up, but his response made him sound small and uninformed). He just generally blew off every question I asked and didn't take anything seriously. I was only there, in all honesty, because I was trying to help Waldo in garnering some press for the band; Guitar World
had expressed interest in the story and I had to see it through to its conclusion.
He still held the guitar while we spoke and often times after a question was posed, he'd sit for several minutes flying up and down the neck and all but ignoring the question. At one point, he went to clean off the high E by running his thumb and first finger along the string's length. The string, like a metal paper cut, sliced into the pad of the first finger, left hand, and blood began seriously oozing out. And no little amount of blood either; a trip to the hospital may not have been out of the question. He sat there and attempted to compose himself, although it was obvious this mini-digital dissection hurt like freaking hell. A towel was wrapped around the damaged digit and it did become spotted with blood.
As a side note, later that night, or it may have been the next evening, Yngwie was scheduled to play with Alcatrazz for a live taping. This would be on January 28, 1984, when the band appeared on Rock Palace
, a short-lived show featuring the heavier bands of the day. Actually recorded at a club in Hollywood called The Palace (situated on Vine, right across the street from Capitol Records), the show captured Malmsteen in all his typical craziness. He would solo furiously over all the vocal verses and just generally ran all over the stage in an uncontrolled sort of mayhem.
According to my friend, Jimmy Waldo, the guitarist had even applied Super Glue to his cut in order to close the wound. This cut, apparently, is what led to the mad behavior on this particular night. Every time he placed the pad of his first finger/left hand on a string, he'd grimace in pain. The string, like a nasty little thread of metallic floss, would work its way back into the cut and cause, what must have been, some pretty serious pain. Additionally, his tuning was atrocious (Waldo said he was usually out of tune during shows) and this didn't help matters. During the soundcheck, he had been railing at the guy mixing the house sound since the band didn't have a dedicated soundman on payroll. The technician had been verbally abused and ridiculed during the entire band rehearsal, so during the actual live performance, he lowered Yngwie's guitar in the overall mix. You could barely hear him.
This is a perfect example of Yngwie's behaviour in these early years: He did not understand consequences. You piss off a soundguy and what happens? Your guitar gets buried. Piss of a music journalist and what happens? Your name gets buried.
Anyway, we kept talking and he managed to provide some honest responses. He was not without his charm and intelligence. I wrote the story and sent the first draft to Guitar World. Apparently, I didn't take the appropriate and professional journalistic stance and had allowed my personal feelings to bias the story. They told me that the story, in this original version, was lawsuit-bound; I rewrote it, toned it down, and the encounter was printed in their July 1984 issue.
Several months later, I ran into the musician at an after-concert part for Ronnie Dio. The guitarist saw me standing near the bar of the Cat N Fiddle, an English pub on Sunset Boulevard, and approached. Immediately, curses and insults issued forth. He lambasted me with invectives and taunts of being a terrible writer. In his defense, the manner in which the story was finally edited did magnify his shortcomings (the article was titled The God With A Chip On His Shoulder
). Honestly, they did a pretty poor job of it. So, part of me understood his anger. But I had nothing to do with that final presentation; I had written (or rewritten) a truthful account of what had transpired.
I suffered his verbal lashing and simply told him, Every word printed was true. You can listen to the tape yourself. This did nothing but enflame the situation. He kept mouthing off, standing right in front of me and yelling at the top of his European lungs. I ignored him; I didn't care. I didn't think much of him as a human being in any case, and whatever he had to say to me had to real consequence.
Until he started with anti-Semitic slurs. I won't even print what he actually said. But after the second one, I lost my cool. The drink I had in my hand was tossed in his face, like a scene from a cowboy movie and a saloon. The alcohol momentarily blinded him; I sort of pushed him really forcefully and hit him somewhere in the face area. He went down. My adrenalin is now pumping and I want to rip his head off. We were starting to square off and immediately separated by club bouncers.
A lot more happened: He was carried out horizontally by two monster security guys; Jimmy Waldo took a shot at him; we later ran into him at David Lee Roth's after-hours club (Zero Club) and almost came to blows again.
My first inclination was to write about what had happened, to somehow make this debacle part of every story from that point forward. You know, really trounce him in print. Then I thought, no, wait a minute; the way to really bring him to his knees is by never mentioning this. Never utter his name again. Ever. And that's exactly what I did. In all the subsequent pieces I ever wrote, I never once used his name; in my small fashion, I was making the statement, Yngwie Malmsteen, you're not even good enough to be mentioned in one of my stories.
I forgot about him. And then, about ten years later, I received a call from the Japanese magazine, Player
. They wanted me to fly to Miami, Florida (Yngwie's home) to do a piece on him. Photographer Neil Zlozower would accompany me. I was less than enthusiastic. I told myself that the moment he opened his front door, if there was even a hint of barbarism or childishness, I was heading straight back to the airport and coming home.
We arrived at his house (very cool home); he greeted Neil (they knew each other) and then approached. The person standing in front of me was not the man I'd previously encountered. He hugged me, apologized profusely for the things he'd said; he was gracious and big-hearted and considerate and so very honest about his past mistakes.
I was ready for combat but he disarmed me. Completely. In fact, he was so upfront and vulnerable in his admissions that I was visibly shaken. I mean, OK, maybe I'm not supposed to say this but, I shed a tear. I hated this asshole; I wanted his career fall to pieces and if a strain of leprosy happened to attach itself to some limb, I wouldn't have lost any sleep over it. But you have to give praise where/when it's due, and he'd earned my complete respect. That's a rare occurrence in life for someone who has made a terribly mistake and then ask for forgiveness - and much rarer in the world of music.
I ended up loving the guy. He's one of the nicest and brightest people I've ever met. And that's another thing; I tried writing off his racial rants to stupidity. He didn't know any better. But he did know better. Lars Johann Yngve Lannerbck, born on June 30, 1963, in Stockholm, Sweden, was a well-read and quite intelligent human being. And the thing about him is, he is always Yngwie. There is no semi-Malmsteen or 25% of Yngwie everyday is 100% Yngwie Malmsteen.
Neil and I wound up staying at his terrific house it looked like an old plantation home with big marble pillars and heavy vegetation until 3 o'clock in the morning. We arrived about noon and we just couldn't leave. After the interview, we played pool. Wait, wait, you need to hear about the physical aspects of the conversation itself. As we were talking and he needed to emphasize some musical point, he'd go run off, grab a Strat (they were lying everywhere), and play what he was talking about. A riff, some rhythmic figure, a bit of a solo. Then he'd toss the guitar aside in a pretty careless fashion and continue the discussion.
We're done talking and the pool cues come out. Neil goes first and Yngwie beats him. I play and sink my first and last ball. But the thing about the game was, this was no game. Yngwie wanted to win, he wanted to prove he was the better player. Not in any sophomoric or condescending fashion, not by laughing if you missed a pocket. But by simply outplaying you, laying it all on the line, and going for it. The same way he approaches his guitar playing total abandon and reaching for the sky. When he broke, balls flew everywhere, including off of the table. And his stroke was not a gentle caress; it was powerful and the unleashing of fury.
After pool, we looked at his cars, his Ferraris, played with his pet ferret (Nicola), drank Diet Pepsis and beers, and just hung out. He brought out some collector guns he owned. One of them was the same gun Robert DeNiro used in Taxi Driver. We had a midnight dinner at a fine restaurant where everyone knew him and greeted him warmly and courteously. Following dinner, we returned to his place and watched laser discs of Purple (from the Cal Jam performance)and his own band. He'd pull out a guitar and mimic Blackmore's riffs note-for-note. Perfectly. You could watch him scream in delight when Ritchie burned through some particularly savage section. He gloried in Blackmore's playing, the same way any kid might. He loved guitar and he adored guitar players and there was evidence of that in all the smiling and shakes of the head in awe.
We talked about Magnum Opus
, his current record. He was also involved in some outside projects including a tribute album to Deep Purple that had been organized by Carmine Appice. There was a Jeff Beck tribute record. Here, over a decade later, the guitarist who said he never knew who Beck was, was playing on a record paying homage to that same player. In fact, Yngwie had received a fax confirming his participation the very night of our interview. He showed me a copy of the letter and I asked him if I could get a copy of the fax? Without a second's hesitation, he made a Xerox and signed it. He had included me in his special moment and with that simple gesture, he truly and completely closed the doors on that horrific moment so many years earlier.
"I didn't want to have a f-ckin' job, I just wanted to rock."
I was so moved by the time I spent with him that the next day, upon arriving back in Los Angeles, I called him to express my feelings. I told him anything I may have felt about him had completely vanished. He told me he'd just bought a second ferret (Ludwig). We made some small talk and then he said, I feel like I made a friend.
So, you have all of that digested? It's a pretty remarkable tale when you think about the outcome. Because I would have gone on hating him and silently berating him without ever really having known him. I'd go on to interview him many times subsequent to this breakthrough conversation. He was always affable, bighearted, and understanding. That's exactly the person you're going to read about here.
Neil and I I interview him many times subsequently one time he was in town for a filming of a DVD he was doing his thing, taping was concluded and he walked right by me i thought, No way has he reverted.' He hadn't he didn't have his glasses on and couldn't see a thing happy to see me
Unleash is from 2005 about 10 years after the above include all of it or just pieces
Yngwie Malmsteen's (he has dropped the middle initial for the moment) new album, Unleash The Fury
, is the latest representation of a guitar player who has never wavered from what he truly loved the marriage of metal and classical. Astonishingly speedy arpeggiated lines, licks that run the distance of the neck with an articulation that is both pristine and passionate, overwhelm the listener. The Swedish wunderkind has come to understand that his music must be presented in a specific and exacting fashion and to that end, he not only plays all the guitars, including bass, but writes all the material lyrics and melodies arranges it, produces it, and even instructs his drummer about using a tom tom fill instead of a snare figure.
On this particular evening, Mr. Malmsteen was in a most talkative mood and while he was suitably excited about the new record, he spoke about his past and how he has arrived at this place today. Yngwie had a pretty nasty reputation back in the 1980s, a sarcastic and vengeful nature fueled by alcohol and drugs. But he conquered those demons, put his life together [he is married with a child] and is now one of the most cordial and engaging human beings you'd ever want to meet. And after reading this small tale, you'll just be dying to go looking for him in his Miami, Florida neighborhood, and say hello.
Typically, what is a normal day like in the life of Yngwie Malmsteen?
For instance, a normal day, if I do what I want to do, I get up and play tennis for a couple hours and then I start to record or write. I play with my cars and my watches but as far as what I'm up to, I did the world tour for the Attack!! album and as soon as that tour was over, I became busy with this new album.
Then I spent a long time on the cover because I designed the cover and I did a photo shoot that took like a week because I had different locations; I went to this ancient monastery and in my studio where I had like a hundred fuckin' Marshall stacks and stuff like that.
As you mentioned, the album really is all you; you play all the guitars, of course, play bass, write, and singing on a song. Has it come to the point where that's the only way you can create an album is to do it all yourself? Wouldn't you like the input from singers and other musicians?
Here's what it's like, Steve, what's it like is this: I started playing when I was very, very young, just fuckin' born basically. I started playing seriously when I was seven but before then it was my older brother and sister and I was sort of playing but I really wasn't. So I was like a musician before I became a musician. It's pretty bizarre. It's just one of those families and maybe yourself, too, that you grew up in a really artistic family and there's no set times for dinner, nothing like that. Just a bunch of bohemians running around. That's basically the way I grew up and God bless em for that.
Of course, I started forming bands when I was ten years old and shit and I wanted to be like in Deep Purple and I was trying to get everybody to do what I wanted to do which was to do what Deep Purple did. And sometimes they want to play like what Kiss did or they want to do like Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper and Kiss was huge in Sweden. And Purple was big, too, but big with the grownup kids, like fifteen and sixteen. But twelve-year old kids loved Kiss and Alice Cooper cause it was like a freak show. And to be honest with you, I think they were really good, too, in hindsight.
No, Kiss and Alice Cooper; they had good songs.
Alice did but Kiss?
C'mon, Detroit Rock City (laughs)? ' Don't get me wrong, I was never a fan but in hindsight when I hear some of the songs they did in 1974 compared to what I hear today, God bless em. The bar just gets lower and lower and lower, man. And it's scary. But to make a long story even longer because your original question was about having control, what happened was I was going for this Purple thing. By the time I was 13, 14, I didn't want to do what Purple did anymore, I wanted to do what I wanted to. Then I got really adamant about what I wanted to do.
So, I formed in 1978, a band called Rising Force, and previous to that I had a band called Powerhouse when I was like 15, and it was pretty serious. I just had a bass player and a drummer and I wrote all the songs but those guys had jobs and stuff and I didn't want to have a fuckin' job, I just wanted to rock. So, I got another couple of cats and called band Rising Force where I was the songwriter, lead singer, and guitar player. That became my thing, it wasn't Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force, but everybody knew it was like a Frank Marino's Mahogany Rush or something.
From '78 until '83, I was in total control. But in Sweden at that time, there was no way I was going to get anywhere. We would do gigs and record but we couldn't get a real break. So, I started sending demo tapes out and they eventually got to Guitar Player Magazine and that's how I came to the States and I joined with a band Steeler which was a joke really but I did.
And then I formed the band Alcatrazz (in truth Alcatrazz had been formed by Jimmy Waldo and Graham Bonnet and Yngwie was invited to join) that wasn't by any way, shape or form, supposed to be my band. I was supposed to be Graham Bonnet's sideman. I was only a punk, man, I was only 19 years old, but I took over the whole show. For some reason, that just happened that way. As a result of that, there was a lot of bitterness, from their end, not mine.
So, I was in Japan for the first time in '84 and they said they want a solo deal and so I called it Rising Force. So I put together a little group around me with the Jethro Tull drummer (Barriemore Barlow), and a keyboard player I only played with once before (Jens Johansson). This became my solo thing and I was supposed to stay in Alcatrazz and it was a little outlet type of thing. Then the Alcatrazz thing fell to shit after the Ted Nugent tour and then it was just all over.
Rock as an art form is pretty new; it's not like classical music where the rules and the standards are set. The way I play the electric guitar, for instance, is free for all. It started with Hendrix and Clapton and all those cats, bending the strings and using distortion and all that shit. It's new. And I tried that [using that idea] with Graham (Bonnet), with Joe Lynn Turner, and it didn't work. It's not my thing. I've got a lot of shit for that through the years and people think I'm an arrogant, selfish asshole. I know that's not the truth. A lot of people tend to think that's strange but I think it's much more strange to call oneself Ozzy Osbourne and not even write the fucking lyrics. What can I say?
So, we now understand that you need to do everything yourself. We know you write all the songs so when you began this new album, had you been storing up ideas or do you go in with a blank piece of canvas and then just start filling in the colors? Where did the seed for Unleash The Fury start growing?
Very good question. It's a very strange procedure but I have a little Marshall and some of my guitars are always in front of my TV. It's very quiet and I don't disturb anybody, my wife or my kids. It's a big house, you've been here. So, I will sit there and nothing special, just to keep your fingers moving. And then the commercial comes on and I start playing with the commercial and it's always fun because I have to play in Bb or in F, keys that I don't like to play in. Because my guitar is tuned to Eb and nothing else is tuned in flats on TV. When Dave Letterman comes on, I play along to that theme or whatever or I just sit and fuckin' play. And believe it or not sometimes some shit happens and I go, Wow.' And I just mute the TV and I start playing and it ignites and it starts taking shape and I say, OK, that's it.' And I walk upstairs and I record it.
Then I have the idea that I can later on arrange completely with a machine up there or go to my studio which is a full sound stage that is always miked up with drums, a 24-track studio. And I can go there with my drummer (Patrick Johansson) who now lives in Miami as well; he's a Swede, a very enthusiastic guy. And I'll say, Hey, let's go record' and he will come down and maybe the song will change a little bit and then that backing track we can actually use for the album.
So, let's get this straight you'll work up a basic idea, call Patrick, and then go into your full-sized studio and put down a drum track?
He will play along with me and if I'm being serious I will put down a click and I more or less put down the guitar arrangement and I put some bass down. Then I put the guitar and bass aside and I just sit and talk to him and I show him what I think he should play over it. It's very handy and in that way also, what happens, I have 40 or 50 songs or ideas for songs, that are already recorded, and I take the hard drive and put that in my other studio [at home] and I can put whatever I want on top of that.
For instance, there's one song on the new album called Crown Of Thorns' and that was a scenario where me and Patrick were in the studio and I had this song idea and arrangement and he would play the drums to that idea. When I took that song back here [home], I didn't like the song but I thought the drums were great. So I wrote a new song on top of that drum track; I completely changed it. So, there's really no set formula to any of this.
It could also be that I tell my soundman to roll a CD at soundcheck and I'll come up with a riff. For instance, the riff in Cracking The Whip, I came up at soundcheck on the last tour. That had the nickname, Fuck You' and we used to do it at soundcheck just for a joke.
Before we get further into the music side of this conversation, we need to address the gear you're using at your home studio. You mentioned earlier about software and CDs so one would assume you're using, at least partially, digital equipment.
I have a 2 Studer; it looks pretty. In fact I was talking to Steve Vai a little while ago and he bought the same thing. Man, those machines can never be bettered; they're like a Rolex watch. They're just made so perfect; you can never make a better machine that works on the principle of magnetic tape recording. It's beautiful and I love it. Years ago, I did two albums, Odyssey and Eclipse, and I hated the way they both sounded back then. It was a brand new technology (digital) back then. Now I use Otari Radar II which is unbelievably sonic sounding; it's so punchy and so crystal clear and it doesn't sound like those early digital. The converters are so amazing. But then, of course, on top of that I use Focusrite mike pres, the Summit Audio, and Tubetech gear, tube gear. SSL compressors, Sennheiser and Neumann microphones, all the top of the line shit. I don't use any of this plug-in virtual crap, I don't mix with a mouse. I have a big API mixer board with 64 faders. Except the medium it was recorded to is hard disk. It's 24-bit, so it's not tape, but I'm telling you, man, the proof is in the pudding. If you listen to the record, it's pretty nasty sounding. It's got so much punch.
You know where it really sucked way back when? The guitar sound; you could never get the guitar sound to sound good back then. Almost everything else, keyboards, vocals, drums, you could get it OK. Really, electric rock guitar is lo-fi. It's like putting a piece of cheese under a microscope and all of a sudden you don't want to eat that fuckin' cheese. When you break it down and put it back into audio with binary code, 0's and 1's, it just didn't come back right. For the longest time, I wouldn't touch that shit, but my last two albums are digital, yeah.
So, you've got a drum track you recorded in your big room (Yngwie calls this the Rock and Roll Studio)and you bring it back home to all this wonderful gear. Do you then put on a bass and then guitars? What is the routine?
"I started forming bands when I was ten years old and sh-t and I wanted to be like in Deep Purple and I was trying to get everybody to do what I wanted to do which was to do what Deep Purple did."
I put the drums down and a scratch guitar there and then a scratch bass. I take that hard drive back here and most of the time I put the bass down first and then the rhythm guitar and I have a really solid track. My main bass is a 1952 [Fender] Precision and I use a fretless Jazz for some of the ballady stuff. I used that on Guardian Angel.' I love playing fretless bass; I have two of them. I got a white Jazz and a sunburst Jazz. I don't record bass through an amp; I just use a cheap MXR compressor. I've got compressors for $10,000 in my rig but I don't put the bass through there. I use the MXR and then a SansAmp which is like an EQ/DI box. It's got a little distortion button on it if you want; I crank that distortion up on the bass. And I play with a pick.
While we're here, what was your guitar and amplifier arrangement?
Well, I'm sure that you know this and I'm sure that most of the readers know this, I've been using the same stuff, it seems, forever. I used all Marshall heads since the dawn of time; old Plexi or Mark II's but they look exactly the same. They're from '68 to '72, around there. They have no master volumes, you have to blow em all the way out to get the sound. There's no substitute for moving air; there isn't. Guitars are custom Strats in the way I've always done it with scalloped necks and huge Dunlop frets, brass nuts, DiMarzio (pickups) YGM in the front and the middle and HS-3 in the back. And a stock tremolo. These are from '68 and '71, the ones I use most. I call them #1 and #2 and they're the same color. The one I call #2 for almost all of the rhythm tracks and the #1 for all the solos; #1 has a fluid sound, really glassy lead sound and #2 has a really chunky sound. And I used a '68 maple cap-neck left-handed on a right-handed body.
So, to this day you've never found another guitar that accomplishes what the Strat does?
No; I have a lot of Flying Vs, Neal Schon gave me one on the last tour, a nice white '68 V, some nice Les Pauls, an ES335, an SG. No Telecasters.
More custom types of guitars like Paul Reed Smiths don't do it for you?
I think they're great, I just never really got into them. But mostly Strats and the acoustics and bass and I've got some sitars and a cello. I used the sitar on Unleash The Fury' and Drinking With The Devil.' The middle section of the verse that sounds like the Kashmir' thing.
Curiously, you rarely use the tremolo bar though many people may be under the misconception that this makes up a large part of your style.
I don't use it too much, no. It's more like an effect thing really.
In fact, though Ritchie is your main influence, you don't use it nearly as much as he does.
No, especially when he used to use it in the beginning like for In Rock and stuff. To him, it was like a new toy or something and I really dig that. And Hendrix did it really great.
And the acoustics?
Ovation nylon string and I used a Carvin steel string and I also have an Alvarez and Ovation steel string. I don't even know how many acoustic I have.
So, we now have a drum track and a completed bass track done. Do you then listen to your scratch guitar part and start replacing it and sort of fill in the pieces of the song?
Before I had kids and shit, I had converted the whole house into a studio but now I get shit for that. But basically there was a maid's quarters I made into the room of doom; I gutted the whole room and there's nothing but Marshall cabinets in there. And then there's microphones and those microphones are hardwired through the walls into the control room upstairs and there I have the heads. The heads are in the control room and the speakers and the microphones are down there and that goes into my console. So I record the Marshalls full stage volume and that's how I get that crunchy tone. There's no substitute, full up, man. Everything to 11 so I have no neighbors and it's a beautiful thing. I make sure I have the rhythm tracks real nice and tight and most of the times I don't do the keyboards, I have a great keyboard player who comes in (Joakim Svalberg). If I get antsty, I start doing leads; if there's no else around, I just say to the engineer, Hey, I've done rhythm tracks for two days, now it's time for me to get crazy with the lead guitar. Only if I'm impatient. Whatever feels right because I want to have fun at the same time. The bass and the drums is usually the building block and then usually the keyboard player comes in and by the time that's being done, I write the lyrics. And then by the time I fly the singer in, everything is finished.
Do you typically double your rhythm guitars? The sound on the new album is so big and full that it sounds like your double tracking your parts.
No, I don't believe in that. I actually think when you do that, you diminish the impact.
By the time you've put rhythm guitars down, you obviously know what the arrangement is. Where the chorus comes in, where the second verse starts with, for instance, another little guitar part, that type of thing?
I know that before I do make the arrangement with the drummer. But that was a good question you had about doubling of the guitars. I always try to make it so that it sounds not full, but if you start overdubbing too much shit, not only is it dangerous, but there's only one master when it comes to that. The guy who made it into a perfection? It's Brian May. I love him and he's a great friend of mine. He's a sweet guy and he's very underrated. He really made that into an art form, the multi-tracking stuff. I've done that sometimes but I tend to actually lean towards the more straightforward shit. If you listen closely, some of the songs don't even have rhythm guitar under the solos. I know Cracking The Whip' for sure and I do that on purpose; it gives a little bit more breathing room for the bass. I don't want the bass to overplay but there are definitely places where the bass could shine.
Leaving the rhythm guitars off when you go into a solo has that sort of Van Halen first album mentality.
Yeah, I'm telling ya, I always loved that. When that album came out, I was knocked out. I was a pretty accomplished player and everything and I never knew about this tapping shit. Eddie was great, of course, but what blew my mind was the whole band. They just came out like fuck you and to this day I think there was something very magical about that. Unfortunately that has kind of faded away.
It's interesting because that first Van Halen album had a decidedly Deep Purple influence about it. They did those really fast kind of Purple shuffles that Blackmore was so great at creating. Even though Edward claims to have been much more influenced by Clapton which you can't really hear at all.
I agree with you there. In America, Ritchie Blackmore is overlooked as well; he influenced more people than you know. Well, you know.
What do you think of Blackmore's Night? That Renaissance type of music he's been playing.
You know, God Bless him for that, but I'd rather put Made In Japan on. But then again, I really admire him for that and if that's what he wants to do, then do it.
Let's get back to the album now; the first track, Locked & Loaded' is a really fast and heavy song. When people hear that, do you want them to think that the rest of the album is made up of this type of material?
No, that is my dilemma. One song can never be representative of the whole album, never. If you put on Guardian Angel,' that's not representative of the whole album; if you put on Cherokee Warrior,' that's very bluesy and I'm singing on it, and that's not like anything else on the album. That's very Hendrix influenced. Not don't get me wrong again but AC/DC is one of my favorite bands in the whole world and I think they're masters of making three or four chords into fucking greatness. I love them. There's never a mystery about what they do. Even though I have a recognizable style, it's not only that. In order for you to get an idea of what this album is about, you gotta listen to the whole thing.
Cherokee Warrior' is really one of the most interesting songs on the album. It has, as you said, that bluesy element, which is a part of you that you only reveal once in a while. But you play in that style so perfectly that it's hard to understand why you don't do more of it.
"So many people say I should do a blues record and sing more, the same thing they say about my acoustic playing."
Let me tell you, September 18, 2003, I was up in my studio and I said to myself, Here I am, 33 years later from the day I picked my guitar, 33 years after the day Jimi died. Why don't I just throw some shit down on paper, right now, and just say something for him?' He died September 18, 1970, and they showed it on the news; he set his guitar on fire and I started playing guitar the same day because I had the guitar already and I said, That's why I want to play guitar.' So I deliberately wrote the songs, lyrics and all, just because I wanted to do homage to him and in style of him. And I definitely wanted to sing it because that fits my voice.
So many people say I should do a blues record and sing more, the same thing they say about my acoustic playing. I love to play the blues, trust me I do, but I get to a point where I feel limited. It's such a beautiful medium but I'm definitely not the guy to take it to where it should be taken. I get to a point where I want to know what else I can do with the pentatonic scale. I start adding more notes to the pentatonic mode which you really shouldn't do. One song an album blues is kind of enough for me. It is limited to where if you start expanding too much on it, well guess what, it's jazz. I'm not too big a fan of that, I like some of it; I mean, Allan Holdsworth is God but he's from space.
For instance, B.B. King has the ability to play one note and that one note speaks volumes. U2 did one song where he came and guested [When Love Comes To Town'] and when B.B. King started singin' and then that first lick on the guitar, dude, U2 was way out of their league.
And don't forget, I started playing the blues. And not knocking the kids or anything but when they go out to buy a Malmsteen or a Paul Gilbert instructional video and they want to learn all the fast shit, they forget that you got to have the blues, man. You can't run until you learn how to walk. People will ask me, Well, how can you play that fast?' and I say, Yeah, but look, man, forget about that. You've got to make the note count first and which note and where you're gonna do it.' I know a lot of people think I'm full of shit when I say that because they go, Well, you only play fast.' Well, if you look a little deeper, that's not true. I'm always very conscious of the melodic content of what I play. Fast is only cool if it's melodic and has substance.
In talking about solos, do you know have those sections worked out before you record them? Are the solos on the new album things you've worked on and structured?
No fuckin' idea. There are parts in some of the solos that are written, i.e. arpeggios or pedal notes for instance on Let The Good Times Roll.' Or for instance in (Revelation) Drinking With The Devil,' you have a big arpeggio that's written but then it goes into a free-form solo from there. All I want to know is which key it's in. If I go in there and I feel I'm not cutting it, I don't' beat a dead horse; I go down and play pool, play tennis, I do something else. I like to capture some spontaneous thing during a solo. That happened on Locked &Loaded.' I played this Flight Of The Bumblebee' freaky thing which came out of nowhere. Or I'll break a string in the middle of a solo and just chuck on the tremolo bar. Sometimes I'll keep things like that because it's fun.
Is your first instinct about a solo usually correct? When a solo is completed and you listen to it and know you've captured something, typically is that your reaction the next day?
Well, yes and no; that's a very, very, very good question. What's happened in the past I'd normally feel like something stunk but I'd do and do and do it and I still thought it stunk. And I realized that was not the right way to go about it. Once you start getting stuck in your head, getting analytical is not good. For me, I'll throw a solo down that feels pretty good and then I'll tell the engineer to get me another track and you do another one, maybe two more. Then, you don't listen to it again and don't listen to it again and pick one; two or three days later you listen to it and I've actually used half of one and half of another one. I did that on Unleash The Fury' but I can't swear on it. During the mix, I'll even change it, on The Bogeyman' and Unleash The Fury.' I told Mike Fraser to set up to record; he said we're mixing and I said, Set up to record. And do it.' I even did some vocals during the mix. Whatever it takes, man.
I've learned that when I'm playing bass, think like a bass player; when I'm doing rhythm, I want to make sure the rhythm guitar does what it should do. Then lead, of course, I try to do that as much as possible like a lead guitarist and as a producer, I need to think like a producer all along, every time the keyboard player plays something and I play something and tell the drummer to do a tom lick and keep on the snare, not the hi-hat.
What about a song like Russian Roulette' that has a little more of a classic rock type of chord progression; take us into the harmonic content of that track.
(Yngwie takes a minute while he picks up one of the guitars that are scattered all over the house house and plugs into a small amplifier).
I have the living room guitar here. The verse is in Em, an inverted Bmajor with the 3rd [D] in the bottom, and D, C and suspended B. It's pretty standard really. I'm trying to play the chorus but I can't remember it. The verse is pretty common, it's a chromatic down but when the chords are inverted it has a little bit of a Beatles thing. But I don't like the keys of Cm and F, they don't sound right to me.
Paraphrase' is a beautiful instrumental.
It's a variation by Bach. I have a big bust of him looking at me all the time in the studio and I have some of his handwritten notation framed. And a big picture of Paganini. To me, they're my ultimate heroes and that is like the unreachable level I'll never reach. A lot of people start with classical guitar and got bored with it and started playing rock guitar. I started playing rock, I was a rocker all the way, blues and rock, and I found that classical was field that was unlimited and I knew I could go places with it. But I just loved the impact and heaviness of metal. When I was eight years old, I got Deep Purple Fireball and say no more. I was impaired forever; Purple was the greatest rock band of all.
(Closing note: I'd go on to interview Yngwie many more times after this. Once, he was in Hollywood to shoot a guitar instructional video. I'd heard he was in town and I thought I'd go down to the production studios and say hello. I drove over there, parked, and found the facility. I poked my head in and saw him there under the lights, holding his Strat, and playing along to some pre-recorded track. After a couple of minutes, he finished the segment and took a short break. He walked right towards me and I was waiting to embrace him and exchange greetings. He scurries right by me. I call out his name, he turns around, looks directly at me, and keeps on walking.
I thought there is no way he has reverted to that Mr. Hyde persona. I scramble after him, tap him on the shoulder, and he turns. He sees me and his face lights up.
Dude, why did you just ignore me back there? I asked.
Oh, man, I didn't have my glasses on and I can't see anything.
He wasn't wearing his glasses. Of course.
Interview by Steven Rosen