YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – “When I Hired Singers, They Started Thinking They Were TOM JONES, ELVIS PRESLEY, Or Something”
August 21, 2023, a month ago
“I’ve known Glenn for over 40 years,” relays Yngwie Malmsteen from his tour bus as he’s set to begin his U.S. jaunt with Glenn Hughes. Hughes is celebrating 50 years of Deep Purple’s Burn (actually turning 50 in 2024) while the Swedish guitarist will be busting out songs from his most recent effort, 2021’s Parabellum, and others from throughout his career.
Will fans see Yngwie and Glenn play a song or two together? “I haven’t had a chance to talk to him, but I would love to do that,” answers the guitarist.
Malmsteen recalls meeting Glenn on the first show he ever did in America – which was with Steeler in 1983. Speaking of Steeler, that lone 1983 full-length album featuring Malmsteen on guitar, Ron Keel on vocals, Rik Fox on bass, and Mark Edwards on drums, turns 40 this year.
Looking at the Steeler days, Yngwie recalls, “I mean it was a short lived thing for me because I came to the States and I did a few shows with them. Then I went up to San Francisco and recorded the album in one day. And then I went down and did like ten more shows or something and then I formed other bands. So it was a very short-lived thing. I think it was a cool thing to do because it was a very happening scene at the time, you know? So it was great, but like I said it was only a couple months, the whole thing.”
The album still holds up well all these years later. “Right, well I haven’t heard it for a long time, but that’s what people tell me,” he laughs.
Speaking of songs and the show fans can expect to hear on this tour, Yngwie replies, “With my latest album, I will do stuff from that obviously, but I always put in like what we call ‘classics’ like ‘Far Beyond The Sun’. And then doing little surprises here and there. I just try to pick a little bit of everything because I have so many albums. It’s going to be great and won’t be the same every night.”
Yngwie is of course in charge of the whole show as he explains how he’ll divert from the setlist – “I have the guys come in my dressing room and say ‘hey, like let’s do this setlist.’ And we write down the setlist, print it, blah, blah blah. Then I go on stage and I play different stuff (laughs), because I just do what I want to do all the time. That’s what make me actually keep on doing this because it’s not rigid, you know? I can just do whatever I want.”
While the thought of doing anniversary tours to celebrate albums has come across his mind, it’s not something he’s interested in doing. “When I go on stage, I kind of do a little bit of a tribute to other albums anyways,” he answers. “I don’t think I would be keen on doing one album from start to finish. That doesn’t appeal to me.”
A big anniversary is coming up next year with Yngwie’s legendary full-length debut turning 40, but when asked if there are any plans to celebrate it, he laughs and replies, “No, I haven’t thought of anything.”
(Photo – Austin Hargrave)
The past decade has seen the guitarist step behind the mic more prominently on his solo albums. 2012’s Spellbound began a string of efforts with Malmsteen handling all instruments (drummers were used on subsequent albums) and vocals.
When asked if he’s become more comfortable with his voice and singing ability, he remembers his younger days learning instruments and how he always sang before coming to America.
He tells, “When I was very, very young, I was five-years-old, I got my first guitar, and I grew up in a family – everybody was older than me – and I learned how to manipulate the instrument very, very long. So by the time I was like in grade school, I remember it like it was yesterday, it was like in second grade or something. I go up to this one guy in my class and I said, ‘hey, you know we have a gig on Friday, right?’ He goes, ‘What?’ ‘No, no, we have a gig on Friday. You got to play the drums.’ ‘I don’t play drums.’ ‘I’ll show you to play the drums. Don’t worry about it.’ ‘No, I don’t have a kit.’ I said, ‘Okay, I got a drum kit, don’t worry.’ Lo and behold, that Friday we did a show in school and that’s how I have always been.”
“I’ve been taking charge of everything,” the ever confident guitarist says about the way he works. “When I was playing in bands, like high school bands I guess you would call it but I would always kind of change it into what I wanted it to be. And then I was very lucky because my uncle was part of the [research and development] team for Phillips. So he built a recording studio, long before I was born, in the building that was owned by my grandmother. So they gave me a studio. They said you can go in there and I started recording. I learned how to hold up [equipment] and I would bring a bass player, the drummer – sometimes I played it myself. And I would write all the music and play obviously and sing everything.”
Yngwie explains that the situation was different when he came to America and that having a singer would help his career. “I guess I kind of was comfortable in the eighties, it was sort of like a formula going on. I wasn’t following it obviously, but it was always some sort of things that you kind of like did politically and so on. I just found it difficult because I’ve worked like a painter more or less. A painter doesn’t call somebody up and say, ‘Hey, can you come finish half my painting?’ (laughs). Music, painting, writing, acting, whatever; it’s all expressions and art form, and everybody does it differently.”
The guitarist recognizes the merits of songwriting tandems, but it isn’t for him and it plays to why he handles vocal duties himself. “For instance, one of my favorite bands in the whole world, Rolling Stones, you have Jagger and Richards, you have Van Halen, Roth. You have Page and Plant, Blackmore and Gillan, and whatever. You always have these guys that work together, and that’s beautiful. I love all those guys. I never felt good about that. I almost had a perfectly clear version, picture in my head completed. So I write all the parts, I write all the musical instruments. I even composed a symphony, like a concerto suite for a full orchestra, and I wrote all the parts.
(Photo - Austin Hargrave)
While Yngwie has had some terse words for singers he’s worked with in the past, here he takes a more diplomatic approach without naming any names.
“So that’s how I worked,” as he expounds on the way he works. “So, it was just a natural thing for me because sometimes there were people, and I don’t want to talk down on people or anything like that, but I hired a keyboard player to play what I wrote and what I want him to play. Same as drummer and bass player. So when I hired singers – remember I’m a solo artist since 1984, I’m not in a band. When I hired singers, they started thinking they were Tom Jones, Elvis Presley, or something. It just never failed. They can’t behave as another musician for some reason. So that was one of the reasons too.”
“I would write the lyrics, I would write the melodies, I would write everything that [the singer] was saying. It’s sort of like directing Robert De Niro. You have a line, here’s the line. Here’s what you do, you know? No, no, like ‘hey go ahead. Do whatever you want.’ I never did that, ever. It just seemed for some reason that their mindset wasn’t compatible with that. And that’s okay because they can do whatever they want to do and I do what I want to do. And that’s how it should be.”
About the singing/singer situation, Yngwie concludes, “It was more a smart personality problem when they started thinking, not realizing what their function was. You know what I’m saying? That’s when it fell apart, not so much what they performed because it was usually pretty good. But I don’t dwell on things like that. I just do what I do and I feel strongly about my creation.”
On the subject of new music, he is always creating, always writing. “I have my own studio,” Yngwie relates. “I got a real studio, so I go up there whenever – I have a lot of new ideas. But my mind is on touring now. The music is coming naturally. Every time I pick up the guitar, something new happens. So, it’s not like, ‘okay, now I’m going to write a song, or now I’m going on stage.’ It’s all the same.”
Head to yngwiemalmsteen.com/tour for ticket and tour information.