Our opening gambit is, “The release of Blue Lightning comes 35 years to the month after your solo debut, Rising Force...”
We barely get to finish the question when we notice Malmsteen’s wry smile and barely perceptible shrug. He’s clearly not in a nostalgic mood. We decide to pursue a fresh line of enquiry... The new record Blue Lightning is Malmsteen’s ‘blues’ album. It features a mix of original tunes and covers including Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze, The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and Paint It Black by The Stones.
It might surprise you that Malmsteen, the man who put neo-classical shred on the map in the 80s, is now doing a blues record - but he’s always had an element of the blues in his trick bag, and from a young age, too.
“Blues was the first thing I learned to play, when I was seven years old,” he says before explaining why he looked outside the music for inspiration. “The limitations of blues - well, the pentatonic scale rather, not the blues itself - led me to look for much wider harmonic ingredients.”
Basically, Malmsteen explored classical music to take him beyond the pentatonic, although, as he continues: “The blues never went away. I would play the blues and people would say, ‘You should do an album like that...’”
And now he’s done an album like that, but he just had to find the right songs. “Some were very obvious to me,” he says. “Others, I had to think about a lot. I picked them based on the song, not the guitar player that originally played on them.
"Some of them I’ve done before: Purple Haze, Smoke On The Water. [Deep Purple’s] Demon’s Eye I did before, but I didn’t sing it. This time I sang it. There’s a big difference.”
I believe you once said you felt like you were imitating Yngwie Malmsteen in your early days. You’ve now developed a style that is recognizably your own. How did you break away from imitation and start developing your own style? —Erik Warren
Well, everyone has influences and I did listen to Yngwie a lot, but I don’t think I ever said or felt I was an Yngwie copycat. There was a whole lot more to my playing than just harmonic minor. There were a lot of neoclassical influences out there, but Yngwie was obviously at the top of that genre. I’ve branched out into every possible style since I was first influenced by Yngwie, and I think that’s the secret — if there is one — to be open to everything. I think it’s fair to say I’ve developed my own style as a solo player and as a rhythm player too.
If you weren’t born in Finland, do you still think you would’ve started a metal band, or is it just a coincidence? —Carmen Gabriela Lupu
Yeah, I’m sure I would. If I was born in Sweden, say, then definitely. Maybe if I was born in Kazakhstan it might have been different! I’m sure that, as it would still be me, I’d have still been a metal guy, but obviously in some countries the possibilities are more limited than in others.
What would you tell your younger self knowing what you know now? —Robert Jensen
I wouldn’t tell him anything. I’d just shut the fuck up and listen to him.
In most Children of Bodom songs, death is a recurrent theme. What’s your philosophy about life and death — and your everyday philosophy in terms of living and enjoying life? —William S.
Well, I do enjoy living and life. I’m married, and my wife has a daughter, so I get to experience all those kinds of things. I kind of have two different lives, so that’s one half. But I’m on the road a lot and I spend a lot of the year living by myself in Helsinki; my wife is in Australia so that’s a different kind of existence. That whole dark thing is kind of intriguing to me; it’s a good source of ideas for music. Sometimes I think of lyrics that are not so much about life experience as self-destruction — sort of like more violent fantasies that aren’t things I’m planning on doing, you know? Everyone’s got fucked-up shit in their heads and music’s my way of dealing with it.
“It was a cheap steel-string acoustic that I got for my fifth birthday. I don’t know the brand but I started modifying it - putting a pickup in there, a whammy bar and all this shit that totally ruined it. Then a little later, my older brother realised I was getting pretty good and started getting jealous, so he bought a Strat copy...
"But he was never home, so I got to play the guitar all the time, through his wah pedal and all his gear. I was only seven or eight years old! My mum saw this and decided to buy me the guitar from my brother and he got a Les Paul. Eventually I started to own good guitars, but those were my first.”
“If I could pick any guitarist alive to jam with, Eric Clapton would be good. Or maybe Eddie Van Halen; I love that guy but he doesn’t say hi to me. I don’t really know what he’s doing these days, so probably Clapton then!
"I think the first kind of blues I ever heard was that first John Mayall And The Bluesbreakers record. And then what he did later with Cream on songs like Steppin’ Out was also really good. I’ve never met him, which is too bad because we’re both Strat and Ferrari men... he knows the deal, ha ha!”
“It depends on where you are coming from, what you want to do and how good you want to be. What are you aiming for? I’ve found being focused is a very important thing. There will always be a lot of bullshit going on in the sides; the less of that distraction you have the better.
"I’m not preaching to anybody, but I don’t drink, smoke or do anything. I’m clean-living, I wasn’t always, though I have been for the last 15 years. That makes me function at my top level all the time. I can stay focused through the distractions. There’s only one way to find yourself and that’s your own way.”
“My most expensive guitar? That’s hard... I own the first 10 Fender Strats [produced] during that first year, in March 1954, and all made by hand. Then later in October, they started to get the equipment to make them by machine. I have ’55s, ’56s, I have them all, plus a shitload of Les Pauls, Flying Vs and more. Actually, I’ve been offered a lot of money for [prized ’72 Strat] The Duck - it could be that!”
Fan-filmed video footage of Yngwie Malmsteen's December 27 concert at Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale, Florida can be seen below.
His setlist was as follows:
01. Baroque & Roll 02. Heavy E Phrygian 03. Never Die 04. No Rest For The Wicked 05. Overture 06. Arpeggios From Hell 07. Badinerie (Johann Sebastian Bach) 08. Spellbound 09. Trilogy 10. Top Down, Foot Down 11. Blue 12. Devil In Disguise 13. Seventh Sign 14. Vengeance 15. Demon Driver 16. Black Star 17. Far Beyond The Sun
18. Rising Force 19. Faultline 20. Final Curtain
This past summer, Yngwie denied his reputation as a temperamental egomaniac, saying that he is a "creator" who likes to control every aspect of his art.
"There are quite a few misconceptions about me," the Swedish guitarist told Music Radar in an interview. "I think some people misunderstand what I'm doing; they believe I'm an egomaniac. The truth is, I'm a very focused person. My way of creating things is unlike rock 'n' roll musicians. I don't have a band; I'm not in a band.