Gary James' Interview With
Yngwie Malmsteen

He was the hottest guitarist on the Rock horizon back in the mid '80s. So hot that even Eddie Van Halen was running scared. He was and is Yngwie (Ing-vay) Malmsteen. Calling Sweden home, Malmsteen was only 21 and already a legend. His latest album was titled "Marching Out". (Polygram Records)

Q - Ten years ago, people were saying "Clapton Is God." Now I hear people saying "Yngwie is God." Do you take this kind of thing seriously or do you laugh it off?

A - I don't laugh at it. I don't even think about it. I'd rather hear those things than "This guy sucks." It doesn't make me think "Oh wow, now I'm great. Now I'm cool." I've noticed some people seem to think my head seems to get bigger if I read and hear these things and that's probably what would have happened to those people, but not to me. I don't think I'm better because everybody else thinks I'm better. I get very lightly affected by anything that's external input from anything.

Q - Have you ever known a guitarist who let fame and fortune come between his guitar playing?

A - I don't know. I never thought of it. See, I don't follow the Rock scene at all. I'm definitely not into guitar players.

Q - Did you take guitar lessons as a kid?

A - No. I'm totally self taught.

Q - Why did you pick up a guitar as opposed to say a trumpet?

A - I saw Jimi Hendrix on TV and saw him smash the guitar up. I thought the way he did that and the way he was running around onstage was a cool thing, not particularly the guitar playing. So, that's why I started playing the guitar, so I can smash them up. Eventually, I got into the music. But the showmanship has always got to be there.

Q - Some magazines will carry an ad saying "Play guitar in ten days." How long would you say it takes to develop a particular style of guitar playing?

A - That's a very individual thing. It depends on how you direct your efforts. If you direct your efforts on trying to be a jack-of-all trades and try to play anything and everything on guitar then it's probably going to take you longer to achieve a very good ability in one particular style because you're concentrating on so many things. It can take fifteen years for someone to create their own style or someone can play guitar for three years and have a really original sound. I just concentrated very hard on learning how to improvise and how to know the instrument very well from the beginning, and just create what I felt was good to me rather than playing other people's stuff.

Q - What's the music scene like in Sweden?

A - What music scene?

Q - That bad?

A - There's a lot of bands, but there's really no place to play. There wasn't any way to get a record deal unless you sound like a wimp band singing in Swedish.

Q - So what do kids in Sweden do, go to Discos?

A - Yeah, and they drink a lot and they really don't care where.

Q - What's so impressive is that you produced a demo tape at the age of 20 which caught the attention of Shrapnel Record's Mike Varney.

A - No. That's really not the way it happened. I started producing my own demo at 14. I had my own four track studio and played all the instruments, including drums and vocals. The band I had wasn't interested in playing all the time like I was 'cause they had jobs and girlfriends. I just kept making tapes and learned to play all the instruments. And those tapes just started getting around and eventually got to America. I didn't send any tapes at all.

Q - Who did?

A - That's a good question.

Q - So, you're saying if Mike Varney hadn't gotten a hold of a tape of yours, you'd still be in Sweden today?

A - Of course not. I would've done something myself. You shouldn't say if that didn't happen I wouldn't have made it because I would have anyway. My will power is so strong, nothing can stop me.

Q - You probably get tired of answering this question by now...

A - Probably.

Q - But, are you a hard guy to get along with?

A - I'm definitely a leader kind of person. I couldn't work in a group situation where everybody has a say. I wouldn't be satisfied with that. I have to have the final decision. That's just the way I work. That's the way I am. I'm like a director in a movie or a conductor of a symphonic orchestra. I'm an artist. When I create, I want to create to perfection, exactly the way I want it to be, exactly the way I feel the situation should be.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.