Storied egotist and Swedish-born shredder, Yngwie Malmsteen is famous for playing a throttled Stratocaster faster and more skillfully than pretty much anyone else on earth. But the big-hair, big-flair Malmsteen might even be more famous for a string of foul-mouthed words he barked on a tape that circulated the Internet years ago. The scene: Malmsteen and his mates are being a bit too jocular aboard a Tokyo-bound jumbo jet, when a female passenger has enough of their antics and dumps a glass of water into the shreddin’ Swede’s lap. Someone aboard the jumbo decides to tape record what transpires next, which is, natch, Malmsteen losing his head and hollering about how the lady has “unleashed the fucking fury.”
Immediately after the tapes surfaced in 2002, Malmsteen waltzed into the world of Internet rock lore and capitalized something furious on the event. And as tempting it is to flay him for it, his demeanor simply doesn’t allow it. Malmsteen is surprisingly candid, and not at all the frumpy grump he’s made out to be by the bulk of the music press.
From a tour bus bound for Indianapolis, Malmsteen doesn’t shy away from talking about the incident or his now-token phrase, which birthed his fittingly titled 2005 release, Unleash the Fury. Of course, he’d rather plug the new songs he’s been performing on tour, or the celebrated “dictatorship” of his current band–Malmsteen controls every aspect of his output, from lyrics to song structure to production technique.
“People don’t work with me, they work for me,” says a blunt Malmsteen. If his brutal honesty wasn’t so crystalline, one might call him a nasty control freak. “What I do is my thing. If you want to be aboard the ship, get paid for it, you gotta do what you’ve been told. It’s that simple. It’s not a democracy by any stretch. It’s a pure dictatorship.”
But that’s the catch: For someone with such a unified, absolute approach, there’s really no other way to operate. Malmsteen makes no bones about it. His exhaustive vision leaves no room for collaboration.
“Some people like the fact that a guitar player comes up with a riff and the singer sings what he wants, and then the producer comes in and changes all that,” says Malmsteen. “That’s good for them. For me, it doesn’t work–I have a complete idea.”
Born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1963, a young Malmsteen received a guitar at the age of 5, and decided to, quite simply, “become the best.” Slaving away for hours a day, Malmsteen honed his skill and would eventually make the move to America.
“I was very dedicated to getting really good–better and better and better,” says Malmsteen. “I was kind of relentless. I just decided that was what I was going to do. So I did it.”
There’s a queer modesty to some of Malmsteen’s sentiments. It surfaces only on occasion. He’d like us to think he’s a simple man who simply got insanely good at the guitar, an average guy who puts out records he adores. He’s got little to say about anyone other than himself. Malmsteen’s ignorant of American popular music, never heard a note of King Crimson, and strangely been privy to only a single Dimebag Darrell guitar solo. But the man has a firm grasp on himself.
“I’m not a follower of American music. I’ve always been kind of strictly going my own way,” says Malmsteen, whose music, heavy on classicalism and chromaticism, demonstrates this detachment. “I’m not so much into the idea of relying on what’s going on around me.”
Malmsteen hasn’t been rapt by the music of others since he was a kid, impressed by Ritchie Blackmore’s boney guitar playing in Deep Purple, the studied work of Vivaldi and Beethoven and the crazed stage antics of Jimi Hendrix.
“The first impact Hendrix had on me was purely the visual,” says Malmsteen. “They showed him burning his guitar on the news the day he died. I didn’t hear the music. I just thought that was cool. I wanted to play guitar because of that.”
Of course, Malmsteen doesn’t burn his guitar on stage. In fact, when asked what keeps his stage show engaging, his list is quite meager: “The showmanship. I throw the guitar around, spin around, show my teeth. Lots of weird shit. Once you see it, you know what I’m talking about.”
But, even if he’s the kind of guy who can liken showing his teeth to burning his guitar, you’ve still got to respect someone who has this to say to his critics:
“They lack the ability to register real music. It doesn’t bother me. Everybody has an opinion. Sometimes people make their opinions on untruths. I can’t be bothered by it. I know what the deal is.”
Yngwie Malmsteen will get some shredding done at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh on Monday, Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20-22. To hear the infamous in-flight clip, try www.blabbermouth.net . x