Guitar Hero

Shredder Yngwie Malmsteen has only gotten faster with age

With a career that stretches back some 30 years, Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen is one of the metal's most accomplished players. His new album, Spellbound, commences with a blistering guitar riff and then rarely lets up (the shredding only subsides for a brief moment during a mid-album string arrangement.) Malmsteen, who kicks off a lengthy tour this week in Cleveland, spoke via phone from Miami Beach as he was "cruising around with the top down" in one of six of his Ferraris. His memoir, Relentless, is due out next month.

Your new album starts fast and furious with the title track "Spellbound." Talk about the meaning behind the song and what made you want to title the album after it.

I make a record and the last thing I do after I make the album is decide the title and the order of the songs. It's a little bit different record. It wasn't something I planned to do but I ended up playing all the instruments and doing all the singing on the record. I wrote everything and played all the instruments.

You're about to turn 50. Do you feel like you can play as fast now as ever?

I probably play faster. It's a funny thing. They say age is in the mind. It really is for me. I feel younger than ever. I'm very health conscious. I play tennis all the time. I don't drink or smoke. I don't do anything. I'm completely clean for ten years. Mind and body is focused right now. I guess everything goes hand in hand.

Any plans for your birthday?

I already got myself a birthday present. I got another Ferrari. Now, I got six. That's my thing. I'm crazy about them. The way I look at it, age is just a number. I feel better now than I did when I was 30.

Classical music has been a big inspiration. Do you still listen to lots of classical music?

I do but not. It's hard-wired since I was very young. I always loved using the Marshall stacks and heavy kick drums and making it loud with a heavy sound. Rock 'n' roll uses pentatonic scales, which is kind of limiting. When I got heavily into Bach and Vivaldi and Paganini and Tchaikovsky, I found those melodies were much more appealing but I was still in love the hard sound of metal. It became a natural combination, like fusion. It's not something I think about. It's second nature. When I write something, it will be automatically in the vein of inverted chord progressions and harmonic minors. The second track on the album, "High Compression Fugue," is very baroque in its build-up. I don't even think about it. I just do it. I don't need to listen to anything to get that. It all happens by itself. When I'm on stage, everything is improvised. I never play the same thing twice. Classical has always been my biggest influence but I don't have to listen to it.

Talk about the process of writing your memoir. What made you want to write an autobiography?

It's funny because I'm one of those artists that people either love to make shit up about or just exaggerate. I've been around for a long time and people think this or that. I figure I want to give perspective on what it really is that I've done. My book is about how I grew up in a country near the Arctic Circle and the way I was feeling and the way I saw things. Things that no one else could write. It could only be me who did it. There have been other publications where they interview other people about me, which is tabloid crap. If you want to know about me, you have to hear it from me. I started about seven years ago and I rewrote the book how many times and it's finally coming out now.

Any big surprises in it?

I don't know. I don't know what people expect. I describe how I thought I was maybe born in the wrong place. I like the hot sun. It's a broad spectrum of everything and it's also about when I would listen to Frank Zappa and Genesis and shit like that and I was only 8 years old.

Do you talk about other musicians?

I do but I'm not into the dirt kind of thing. When I stared touring, I almost got shot by a jealous husband and shit like that. There is tragedy but also amazing stuff. I could never ask for a better life.

Is it difficult to be in a band with you?

Let's rephrase that question. This is not a band. There never was. I was like 14 or 15 years old when I started a group called Rising Force. I was guitar player and lead singer. I was the writer and I was the boss and it was my way or the highway. The right way is Yngwie. Back then, I didn't pay anyone and when they weren't getting paid, I still ruled with an iron fist. It's a hilarious thing. When somebody gets paid to be a musician and they play with Sting or whoever, it's just Sting. It's not Sting and the band. It's the same with me. This is not a band and it never was and never will be. If you want to get paid, you do what you're told. If you don't do what you're told, you go somewhere else. It's that simple. I decided a long time ago that my mindset is of a classical composer or painter. I don't paint the foreground and someone else paints the foreground. I paint the whole thing and I sign it and put the frame on it and sell it. That's just the way I am. I'm a tennis player and I play almost every day. For me, tennis the perfect analogy of how I am as a person. I don't rely on other people to win. I'm not a team player. If I lose it's because of me and if I win, it's because of me. Some people misunderstand this is as ego. It's not. It's just being an artist and creator and someone that knows exactly what they want. I remember when I was recording the first Alcatraz album. There was a producer there who said, "Can you play it a little slower?" He said, "Less is more." I said, "What the fuck are you talking about? More is more." I don't want to discuss a melody with someone. When Mozart or Beethoven or Bach composed something, the cellist didn't say, "Can I change this around?" No. You see the notes and that's what you play. I only live once and I don't want to dilute my input and creativity by compromising. That's not what I do.