For 26 years and counting, Yngwie Malmsteen has been a constant on the road – a self-professed “Have Guitar Will Travel” – taking his signature “neo-classical metal” to venues big and small around the world to fans of all ages.
During that time the native of Sweden has had two Fender Signature guitars designed in his honor, done major tours with artists including Steve Vai and Joe Satriani (G3 Tour), Whitesnake, AC/DC, Judas Priest and Deep Purple as well as solo treks and performances with philharmonic orchestras in Japan and Russia. He’s also been inducted into Hollywood’s RockWalk.
And there’s much more to come.
Malmsteen launched his own label, Rising Force Records, last fall with the release of Perpetual Flame, an album that essentially reflects his career, and many other projects are in the works.
And aspiring heavy-metal guitarists who have played “Rock Band,” “Rock Band II” or “Guitar Hero II” should be acquainted with Malmsteen’s artistry. “Guitar Hero II” has an “Yngwie Malmsteen Award” for players who hit 1,000 or more notes in a row.
The guitar virtuoso talked to Pollstar about the early days, how he’s kept his focus as an artist and what effect the video game, MySpace and YouTube trends have had on his career.
Your music is out there even more now for aspiring guitarists to learn from. There’s even an “Yngwie Malmsteen Award” on “Guitar Hero II.” How does it feel to be included in this trend?
It’s been tremendous for me because I’ve been doing this for many years.
A few years ago, I took my son to a big video store and there was a cat there that knew who I was and everything. I’m sure he did this to amuse me but he said, ‘Check this out!’ and he put on his plastic guitar. I’m like ‘Is this guy for real?’ This was before [the trend] exploded and I was very skeptical. But having said that, I am completely for it now. This has become what MTV was 20 years ago but this is even cooler because it’s interactive.
We can go to Best Buy where I live, for instance, and there’s a full-blown music store as well. They sell the Marshalls and Strats like Guitar Center. To see these kids standing there, trying out their plastic guitars and then look over to the real ones, it’s a good thing.
Have you been noticing new age groups at your shows?
It’s unbelievable! Super-young kids, older fans, girls – it’s a great mix! It’s not just the guitar-playing dudes. I think it started when I went out with G3. That’s when I saw it first happening in the U.S. and Canada – the guitar thing was just going through the roof, and that was just the beginning. Now it’s growing more and more.
It’s the funniest thing. I go into GNC and buy some vitamins and here’s some bodybuilding guy saying, ‘Dude! I saw you on YouTube, man!’ That wouldn’t have happened five years ago.
Have the changes in the music industry over the years altered the touring experience for you at all?
When I first started out in the United States, I was very lucky. I got to go out with AC/DC for four months coast-to-coast. I love those guys, they’re amazing and what an opportunity for me! Then I went out with Iron Maiden, another band called Triumph (1985) and a few shows with Aerosmith and stuff like that. It seems to be a thing of the past now.
I guess what I mean is back then, it was more wide open and more fun, really (laughs). It wasn’t business, it was fun. That I see as a difference. [But] I think once you’re on stage, it’s very similar. I don’t think that has changed. The audience has always been great.
I go to Argentina, France, different states in America, Taiwan or Bangkok, Thailand – they’re completely different cultures but the audiences are the same as always at my stops. I feel like [the music] is communication beyond languages. That’s what makes it so rewarding to me.
How have you kept your vision for your music through all the different trends?
Some people had the misconception for a while that I had something to do with the ’80s. I became known in the ’80s, or what people now think of as the ’80s. And when the ’80s became the ’90s and everybody wanted to turn everything upside down, it didn’t change what I wanted to do. I’ve never turned my coat to the wind.
It’s actually turned out, in the long run, to be the right thing to do. There’s a lot of people who were doing what I was doing 25 years ago who are not [now.] What’s ‘in’ is bound to go ‘out,’ so if you don’t have a steady course, you’re lost.
What’s more important is that, to quote [Italian musician and composer] Niccolò Paganini, ‘One must feel strongly to make others feel strongly.’ When you feel so strongly about what you do, people can’t help but like it or hate it but they won’t ignore it. If you’re real about it – what you see is what you get – that’s longevity.
I love to go on stage because every night is different – a different audience and a different show. Every time I hit the stage, I play like it’s the last show I’m going to do.
What prompted you to launch Rising Force Records now?
It’s something we had discussed for a long time. [When] I was very, very young, just a teenager … people saw me coming a mile away, so I got ripped off a lot. The music was all that mattered to me. I didn’t think of it as a money thing and I had many managers.
About five years ago, my wife became a manager and since then, no matter what happens, it’s always in the family and that’s been a great thing. We made the decision to start the label because it keeps an eye on what I’m doing. But we did discuss it many times over because of this whole thing about digital downloading.
The album title Perpetual Flame seems to describe the path your career has taken so far. True?
That’s exactly what it is. If you want to find out what I’m all about, listen to Perpetual Flame. I really think my music does most of the speaking.
It was one of those albums where I went on tour, came back and recorded some, then went on tour and wrote some more lyrics. I had to change some people in the middle because I write all the songs and produce all the music, engineer, I do everything. I’m not just a guitar player.
So it’s like being a painter – you paint the whole painting, not just a little bit of it – and it really came together. It has all the elements that none of my words can describe. It must be heard.