Yngwie Malmsteen is a six-foot-three guitar monster from Sweden.
He left the dark and bitter cold of Stockholm at age 19, moved to L.A. for a record deal, got famous, drunkenly crashed a Jaguar E-Type V12 convertible into a tree, and broke the steering wheel with his head. Malmsteen not only survived but also beat a blood clot in his brain. He remastered the guitar. Then he moved to Miami in the late '80s.
Famous the world over for his neoclassical heavy-metal shredding and "arpeggios from hell," Yngwie has a new book, Relentless, that tells the truth of how it all happened. He also has a new album, Spellbound. And this Saturday, he's coming home to Grand Central.
So New Times called up the axe-master to chat about fast cars, the rock-star lifestyle, and the Miami Heat.
New Times: What part of Miami do you live in?
Yngwie Malmsteen: I live on the Beach. You might have seen me in a Ferrari. I do a lot of cruising, you know.
Can you compare improvising a guitar solo to driving a Ferrari as fast as it goes?
Two different kinds of sensations, but they're both amazing. It's more difficult to play guitar, but you can't be sleeping at the wheel in either case. In that sense, it's very similar. You have to be very aware.
What do you think of the DJ star culture? Is it possible to become a virtuoso of selecting and playing music?
I think it's possible. You can become a virtuoso of anything. If you perfect something, it doesn't matter what it is. It's all like niche-based, you know. LeBron James is a fuckin' virtuoso. You know where I'm coming from?
Hell yeah. You played the Soviet Union years before Van Halen performed there. Would you play in any other communist countries? Cuba? North Korea?
I will play anywhere. I don't wanna encourage anybody that leads the people in a bad way. Communism and any oppression of any kind is wrong. But I'm not a politician. If I can bring people happiness by playing music, I'll do it anywhere.
How many people have you punched out in your life?
A long time ago, I did that a lot. That was more then. I'm a lover, not a fighter.
For all the musicians out there, what advice do you have about snakes in the grass?
They're all over. You gotta have eyes in your neck. They walk off with your money. That's an unfortunate thing about the music business.
What are some of your signature rock-star stage moves?
I do a lot of shit, like play with my teeth, throw guitars around. I grind them against the Marshall stacks. Whatever it takes. I smash 'em up into a thousand pieces. It's all a part of the show. I never wanted to see someone just stand there and play.
You play behind your head?
Yeah, all the time.
Upside down and behind your back?
What do you think about death metal starting in Tampa?
I understand that sort of darkness coming out of Norway. But from Tampa, I never understood it.
When you're playing the shit out of a guitar, can you achieve a higher state of consciousness?
Yeah. It's not really even in this dimension almost. Once you get into it, it's like you're somewhere else. Very magical.
What do you think about the arpeggio as the most perfect form of expression for guitar?
It's also much more than that. It's the violin technique of isolating notes, patterns, and vibrato that influences me a lot. I love the sound of it. That's something I worked many years on. Violinists like Paganini are mind-boggling. I wanted to do something like that on guitar. That's how Bach and Tchaikovsky and stuff like that influence me. Classical is awesome.
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Can a computer-generated tone ever beat a human-played guitar one?
No. Absolutely not. No chance. A musician at a certain level uses the instrument to express what it's like in his soul. And a computer doesn't have a soul. The idea of the virtuoso goes way deeper than just the technique, and it cannot be duplicated.
Yo, man, you're fucking awesome at playing guitar.
I just do it superloud through Marshall stacks. That's what I do.