Yngwie Malmsteen – The Guitar Gods are on tour
Long known for his outstanding technical abilities and fretboard prowess, Yngwie Malmsteen stands in a class of his own in the guitar realm. This tour is one to set a precedent – the first ever Guitar Gods tour – including other guitar giants Uli Jon Roth (Scorpions,) Bumblefoot (Guns N Roses,) and Gary Hoey (Hocus Pocus.) The first of its kind, this tour celebrates unique and individual guitarists from many different genres.The Swedish legend that is Yngwie Malmsteen is the headliner, a virtuoso who pioneered and perfected what is now known as neo-classical shred metal. As laid out in his recently released autobiography “Relentless,” Malmsteen grew up idolizing great composers such as Nicolo Paginini and Johann Sebastian Bach, which gave him a taste for classical composition that he then wanted to – and successfully did – transpose and transition into guitar technique. The tour was created and produced by his manager and wife, April Malmsteen, who came up with the idea to join like-minded guitarists from different spectrums of the playing field. The North American tour starts this week in Englewood, NJ, with the fourth and only Canadian show of the tour being in Toronto on June 21, and travels after as far as Houston, TX. Martyr’s Devin Size was able to catch up with Yngwie before the tour – driving down the Miami strip in a convertible Ferrari nonetheless – to catch a glimpse into his perspective on this uniquely casted concert series.
DS: They say life really begins at 50. June 30, during this tour you’ll be celebrating your 51st year here, so how has the last year been treating you?
Yngwie: Very well, and I must say, I think I’m in better shape now than I was at 30. So I think the age thing, the number, is very relative. Things have been escalating a lot lately and there’s more going on now than there’s ever been, really. It’s really exciting.
DS: Especially for a guy like you that has slaved away his whole life at this. In the last year you’ve got the new album Spellbound out, your autobiography Relentless is out, and you’ve got your wife, April, organizing this tour for you, things do seem to be working out quite well for you, don’t they?
Yngwie: Things couldn’t be better actually. I have to admit life is extremely active of course. There’s literally not one moment to spare every day. It’s cool. I guess I shouldn’t complain it’s good to be busy [laughs.] You have to count your blessings, and I always do.
DS: The Guitar Gods tour is a revolutionary one, and I think that is really cool.
Yngwie: Well I can’t take credit, first of all it was my wife’s idea to put it all together. At first we had a lot of guitarists lined up, sort of auditioning for this thing. We wanted to get a lineup that… wasn’t the same, you know? Uli I’ve known forever, but this lineup is very varied, and it’s going to be very interesting. We’ve got two openers, so six acts in total, it’s going to be a huge thing.
DS:To be on tour with those guys on this kind of tour, what does it mean to you personally to be headlining this?
Yngwie: For me, doesn’t matter if I’m touring with AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Ted Nugent, or with Aerosmith, or Heart or Eddie Money or with the Scorpions, I always go out there and give 200%. No matter who is on the bill, no matter what’s going on or has gone on before me. But it’s going to be a really cool thing for us, we have a lot in common. But I don’t think that I’d approach this differently than anything I ever did. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen me live but I don’t spare any ammunition. I go fuckin’ full out, guns a blazing. I never slow down on that shit. So whether it’s this tour or any tour. But this one’s going to be great you know? Because of all the great guys. It’s going to be awesome, for the audience especially. I can’t wait.
DS: What I find interesting that you also touched on just now, was how different your styles are, I’m sure it was planned that way?
Yngwie: We wanted to have it this way. We didn’t want a bunch of guys that are all similar and doing the same thing. That wouldn’t be right. We definitely avoided repetition very carefully that way. Like I said a lot of guys auditioned for this, and I don’t want to mention any names, but some people we didn’t want for that reason. We just wanted a really good blend you know?DS: Not only do your styles differ, but you all rose to fame on completely different basis’, some solo and some in bands, you of course doing everything solo yourself.
Yngwie: When I started out as just a little kid, which I’ve written out in great detail as you know in my book, I started bands when I was really young. From day one, I just took charge. It’s always been like that. When I came to America I joined a band called “Steeler,” it wasn’t my band, and I respected that. So I came up with what I thought was right for that band, even though it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Eventually I just reverted back to what I’ve always done, played everything and written everything. It’s not about arrogance or anything, but I’m an artist. So much like a painter, you wouldn’t let someone else paint your painting, it’s your art. And people may love it or hate it, but at the end of the day it’s yours. It’s your legacy and it’s yours to leave behind.
DS: Knowing how you are, especially after reading Relentless, I’m sure it’s hard for people to live up to your expectations, especially playing live?
Yngwie: The thing is I’ve never truly relied on anyone to that point. Not a lot of guys in rock and roll do it like that, they usually work in groups, but I’ve never done it like that. They need to keep up with each other, and I love all those guys, your Mick Jaggers, Keith Richards, or Van Halen, and they rely on each other. I’ve never had that though, I’ve just always taken all the weight on my shoulders. In fact on the last album (Spellbound) I even played everything, it’s all me, every instrument. It’s nothing new for me, I’ve done it before. The guys I hire to go on tour with me, I give them a list of songs. I just say “learn these songs.” When I hit the stage, I play a set list but maybe some completely different way, and they need to be ready for that. SO that way, yeah, it’s pretty difficult, they have to be really good.
DS: You were recently quoted in an interview saying that you “never like to just go through the motions.” I feel like that statement epitomizes you as a guitar player.
Yngwie: I really am very critical of myself. I never give myself breaks, I never keep doing what I’m doing. What I did when I was 30 was great, but that was then, and I’m doing this now, and I always like to take risks and blow myself away. I like that, I like the idea that it can be very stripped down, and I can always play it differently than I did before. I’m very much a perfectionist, that’s my approach so you’re very much correct.
DS: As a man who has seemingly done it all, how do you keep yourself learning and keep things fresh while adapting new techniques?
Yngwie: Well now I don’t think it’s so much about learning new techniques. It’s the creation of new music that’s exciting. For me, I think it’s important to not rely on what I’ve done previously. In saying that, improvisation always makes it exciting for me. There’s a million ways I can do it, so I never do it the same way. It has to be that way as a solo artist, there’s no one there to back you up. And I’m not saying I don’t fuck up sometimes, because I do, but that’s part of the excitement too! If I didn’t feel like it was risky and exciting anymore, then I just wouldn’t do it.
DS: I know you idolized a lot of those composers, who were the best virtuosos of their times, and now you stand as one of the best guitar virtuosos of our time, do you feel like you’ve accomplished what you set out to all those years ago, or will you ever truly be satisfied?
Yngwie: I think I still have a ways to go. I think that there is more that I can do. With this new tour I’m going to do some really out there stuff. I don’t know how to explain it. But for me I just don’t think there’s ever an end station in my journey, you know? If I wasn’t doing that then what would be the point of it? I’m always pushing myself and that’s my challenge and my excitement. I always thought it was weird that guitar players play like other guitar players. If you can transpose a melody onto the piano or violin and it still sounds great, then you know you’ve composed a real melody.
DS: Well that drive is what has made you what you are today, and you’ve inspired a generation of guitarists. I’ve seen some pretty decent covers of your songs by young followers, some damn near perfect, how do you feel when you see that you’ve inspired them to learn that difficult technique?
Yngwie: [Laughs] Well there’s a bunch of feelings now that you mention it. When I was a kid, back in Sweden, I did not play the normal way. What I was doing was strictly my thing, and bunch of different guitar players would laugh and say I’d never make it doing that. They’d copy Van Halen or whoever and they’d be really good at it, but it wasn’t their thing. I think it’s really great, and I love to see them playing that well, but it’s what they take from it and make their own that is important, for their own sake. Being unique is probably the most difficult thing to do. The bigger the risk, the more interesting it is.