No Dousing This Flame. An Exclusive Interview with Yngwie Malmsteen

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Monday, October 6, 2008 @ 1:49 PM

The results speak for themselves. The sound I always heardÖthis is it.

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These days, it seems that Yngwie Malmsteen has a lot to be happy about. Heís got a new album, Perpetual Flame, a new vocalist, Tim ďRipperĒ Owens [Iced Earth, Judas Priest], an upcoming tour, and some other good news that he shared with me in a recent phone conversation. Though we had not spoken before, after a few minutes into our discussion I sensed he was easy-going and open, and not the arrogant, alcohol-activated loose cannon that the media and haters had made him out to be. Ah, how our reputations precede us, donít they?

Okay, set aside the bad press persona for a moment. Look instead at the man who moved legions of hard rock/metal fans with Marching Out, just to name one album in the sterling Malmsteen discography. Yngwieís innovative, neoclassical style, agility, power, and precision has awed and inspired innumerable guitarists on todayís scene.

His people only gave me 25 minutes for the interview. We were just getting warmed up after 15 minutes. The essentials were covered, nonetheless.

MALMSTEEN: Hi. This is Yngwie.

KNAC.COM: Hi Yngwie. Hey, youíre calling a little early. Thatís different for a rockstar.

MALMSTEEN: Well, this is my ninth interview, now. Youíre number nine.

KNAC.COM: Perpetual Flame is the new record and youíve got a new vocalist, Tim ďRipperĒ Owens.


KNAC.COM: You two worked together on the Ozzy tribute album a while back.

MALMSTEEN: Yeah, but that was a little different. We would send tapes around and I would do the guitar solos and he would do the vocals somewhere else, where with this one we were all together in my studio. I engineered and produced the whole thing myself. I micíd out the drumsóI was being a crazy little guy. This Time around I just took over the whole thing (laughs).

KNAC.COM: You did the bass and contributed vocals as well, right?

MALMSTEEN: I did all the bass.

KNAC.COM: Where will we hear your vocals on the album?

MALMSTEEN: Itís a song called ďMagic City.Ē

KNAC.COM: Are you doing lead vocal on that?

MALMSTEEN: Iím doing the lead vocal, yeah. As far as background vocals, I sing on every song. I sing all the backing vocalsÖwell, with Tim. For instance, one of my favorite ones is ďThe Damnation Game,Ē we did a little Queen tribute. On certain lines we harmonize kind of like Queen, which I love. But in ďMagic CityĒ I sing the lead. Itís more like a bluesy track.

KNAC.COM: This is the debut album on your label, Rising Force Records.

MALMSTEEN: Yeah, thatís right. Well, itís been in the works for quite some time now. My wife sorted the whole thing out--April Malmsteen. Sheís my wife and my manager. She started the whole thing and then we got the distribution thing with KOCH. Itís all been done properly. Itís a little more work than one would think, but at the end of the day it kind of leaves us a lot of freedom to put out a lot of things, a lot of DVDís, and remixes and stuff like that. This is the first one: the big impact, new record, but thereís going to be a lot of other stuff going on as wellóremixes and catalog boxes and all sorts of things.

KNAC.COM: Youíve got your touring lineup in place, ready to rip. Is this the quintessential Yngwie Malmsteen lineup?

MALMSTEEN: I think so. The results speak for themselves. The sound I always heardÖthis is it. I mean, Patrick [Johansson] has been in the band eight years now, so heís been there forever and heís a kick ass drummer, but what Ripper brought to the table is amazing. I think itís a good thing altogether. We actually did six weeks in Europe this summer, so I know how good itís going to be. Weíll be staring coast to coast starting October 4th in Texas. So yeah, itís going to be great.

KNAC.COM: A lot of stuffís going on this year for you this year. An induction into Hollywoodís RockWalk and the release of your custom Fender/Yngwie Malmsteen model.

MALMSTEEN: It seems so, yeah. A new album, a new tour, it seems like thereís a lot of stuff going on.

KNAC.COM: Not that you ever went away, but man youíre coming out big this year.

MALMSTEEN: Yeah, you know itís a really cool thing just looking back at all the time thatís been gone, because there was a period here in The States where it was kind of difficult to even go out and do stuff thatís like what I do. Thatís changed in a big way. Now, the whole sceneís just arms wide open for guitar. Itís great, man. Iím so happy. The American marketís just really cool right now.

KNAC.COM: Weíve all been hungry for guitar solos. What the world needs nowÖoh, that sounds like a Dionne Warwick songÖ

MALMSTEEN: (hysterical laughter)

KNAC.COM:Öbut we need more guitar solos, man.

MALMSTEEN: Well, I can give you some of those.

KNAC.COM: What can you tell us about the record that is the same and different as far as the Yngwie Malmsteen sound and style goes?

MALMSTEEN: Itís different in the way that itís brand new, of course. I have a motto thatís ďmore is more.Ē Somebody said less is more. I donít understand the logic behind that. ďLess is less and more is more,Ē thatís my motto. Therefore, on this record more is more, and thatís what you get. Thereís more guitar solos, more screaming vocals, more double-kick drums, thereís more heavy riffs, more of everything. The Ferrari song, ďRed Devil,Ē itís almost like party metal and then you have ďDeath Dealer,Ē which is full blown, full-throttle and double kicks. Then you have ďLive to Fight,Ē which is more, I donít knowÖtuned down ďIím a Viking, thatís me.Ē Itís a lot of different styles, but it definitely has a Malmsteen-esque thing about it, and with Tim on vocals itís just one more step out. Iím really excited about it. I stay away from it for a long time and I put it back on and Iím like, ďShit. This is okay. Iím happy now.Ē

KNAC.COM: It isnít a departure, but itís got a different flavor, so to speak. Iím listening to it on a stream through my computer speakers because I donít have the CD yet, but I imagine when I get that itís going to sound great.

MALMSTEEN: Oh yeah. Put that in your car and just rock.

KNAC.COM: Yeah man I canít wait. So youíre obviously going to be touring and promoting Perpetual Flame, and I would imagine your set is going to highlight your whole musical timeline?

MALMSTEEN: Yeah, youíll have what people would call ďclassics,Ē but Iím going to try to stick the new stuff in. We havenít really done it live yet. Last time we toured in Europe over the summer we did a lot of the older stuff and it was great. It works great with the lineup, because now weíre putting a different bass player and keyboard player on this tour as well. Itís going to be a cool thing.

KNAC.COM: Youíve had a couple of adjustments in your lifestyle over the last few years. Are you still abstaining from booze and smoke?

MALMSTEEN: Oh, clean as a whistle, man. In four years Iíve not touched anything--no, four and a half, almost. Trust me, man, I donít wanna sound like Iím preaching or nothing, but man, oh man, itís like, ďTake the veil off my eyes, brotha!Ē I canít even tell ya. Itís like I breathe and love and live. Itís just no comparison. Itís just really, really a great thing and you know, everybodyís got to do what they got to do. When I stopped smoking I promised myself I wouldnít start bitching to people who smoke cigarettes. So I donít. I donít smoke, and if you smoke I donít care. I donít drink, but if you drink thatís fine with me, too. But I donít. And I feel so much better for it.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, you never want to get up on some tower and talk down to somebody or preach.

MALMSTEEN: No! The funny thing isóI gotta tell yaóI never had so much fun and so much enjoyment out of everything I do as I do now. Iím having the best time of my life, so for whatever itís worthólet me tell you--it was a good move for me (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Were the first couple of days, weeks, months a hard adjustment?

MALMSTEEN: Of course! Iím thinking the first year, even. But once youíre over that, man, then itís all beautiful. I mean really. Iím not just saying that. Just the whole thing of getting up in the morningóI love the sunshine, I love the palm trees. Iím that kind of guy. I like to drive around with the top down and just enjoy life. I never did that before, so itís a beautiful thing. You get so focused on everything you do, as far as the recording and the writing and all that shit. Itís like totally razor, pinpoint, very, very organized and on, you know? To me thatís extreme enjoyment, really, to be really together, instead of being confused and wondering what the hellís going on (laughs).

KNAC.COM: There were a few accounts that the media ran with, but were you getting into a lot of trouble out there?

MALMSTEEN: Well, Iíve had my fair share, but I wouldnít say more than anybody else, or maybe a little more (hysterical laughter). I donít know--somewhere in between. Thatís so far away and behind me now, so I donít really reflect on it.

KNAC.COM: Itís been three years since youíve put out anything in the studio. Iím sure your new adjustments will reflect that in your music.

MALMSTEEN: Itís a really focused thing. The whole album is very focused and I think it shines through. Everyone I work withóweíre all the same. Dead on, all the time. Thereís no slack from anybody and I find that extremely inspiring. Things just happen quicker and theyíre more together, so itís all good.

KNAC.COM: Youíre regarded as one of the finest guitarists in the world. For you, as a player, do you ever say to yourself, ďMan, Iíd love to have the vibrato that Eric Clapton has,Ē or who do you look up to right now?

MALMSTEEN: Youíre probably going to think Iím mad saying this, but my favorite living musicianÖliving musician is Itzhak Perlman, the classical violinist. His vibrato I want (laughs). My wife bought me a present one time that was a concert and a dinner with Itzhak Perlman here in Miami and he played a Tchaikovsky violin concerto, and Iíll never forget it. Itís the only time I ever asked someone for an autograph in my whole life.

KNAC.COM: You came here to The States when you were sixteen and you started playing in Steeler, then Alcatrazz, and then you went on to a long and hugely successful solo career. Did you ever envision this kind of success?

MALMSTEEN: Absolutely not, and it never ceases to amaze me. It was 25 years ago, now, that I landed in L.A., and I came to The States with a dream, but the dream was kind of like, ďIf I donít have to go in the Army,Ē like I would have in Sweden, or if ďI donít have to flip burgers or something just to pay the rent then Iím good.Ē If I could just live on playing the guitar Iíd be good with that. That was pretty much what my aim was. That was many years ago and it never ceases to amaze meóbecause Iíve been doing interviews all dayóyouíre the ninth interview today, and Iím amazed that people still care what Iím doing, you know? And Iím going, ďWow. I couldnít wish for anything else.Ē I couldnít wish for anything more than that. A Number One hit is a good thing, but to have long, long, long, longevityóthatís better. So, I am extremely honored and humbled and I feel privileged. I canít even give you enough adjectives. I mean, Iíve gone through the wringer. Itís been a ride, let me tell ya. But Iím still here, Iím still fighting. Iím just really pleased at the moment. Right now is the best time of my life.

KNAC.COM: Thatís good to hear. Youíre on rotation on KNAC.COM and obviously back when we were on the FM airwavesÖ

MALMSTEEN: Yeah, I remember coming down to see you guys.

KNAC.COM: One of my favorite songs is ďQueen in Love.Ē I lose it every time I hear that.

MALMSTEEN: Alright. We should bust that one out for a change, then.

KNAC.COM: Put it on your setlist!

MALMSTEEN: I hadnít thought of it before. That would be crazy.

KNAC.COM: What do you think makes a song a hit anymore? What is the gauge?

MALMSTEEN: Thatís a funny thing that you say that, because I was talking to someone earlier in an interview about how I approach something now. There was a time many years ago when there was a radio format, and if a song fit that format it would more than likely get played. Iím talking about ďHeaven Tonight,Ē songs like that. There are two things I had to say about that: even if there was a format I wouldnít follow it, but the fact of the matter is there isnít any. After the grunge movement came and went there was no sound that took overóafter the Nirvana sound there was no definite sound. That was it. Itís funny, and in a way itís good, because it opens the door for other things. But itís weird, too, because like you said, thereís no gauge.

KNAC.COM: Itís been a pleasure talking with you and itís good that youíre back out there. Congratulations on the new album and Iíll see you when you come to town.

MALMSTEEN: You got it, man. God Bless.

KNAC.COM: God bless you.

MALMSTEEN: See you later.

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