YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – The New Rising Force
Metal Forces, Issue 3 (1984)
While the name Yngwie J. Malmsteen might not be as catchy or pronounceable as Eddie Van Halen or Gary Moore, it’s destined to become a renowned term among guitar hero circles in no time at all. Malmsteen has taken America by surprise and is destined to be the next groundbreaking innovator of the six-string instrument, having arrived here in the States early last year after heavy metal entrepreneur Mike Varney caught an earful of his self-produced demo tape, accomplished through his band Rising Force. Varney was so enthralled by Malmsteen’s phenomenal speed and exotic use of Blackmore-esque scale structures, as well as his complex compositional skills, that he insisted the 19-year-old axeman be transported from his hometown of Stockholm, Sweden onto Stateside soil.
Upon arriving in America, Malmsteen quickly joined the ranks of Los Angeles-based metal unit Steeler and cut an album with the band on Shrapnel Records last fall. At the same time, he was quickly gaining attention through his flamboyant stage antics and charismatic presence. Upon arriving in San Francisco for an April appearance with Steeler, he was greeted with a response no less than fanatical, with hundreds of Bay Area metal enthusiasts in awe over Malmsteen’s uncannily fast fingerwork, inspired by and performed in the tradition of such legendary guitar gods as Uli Roth and, more inevitably, Ritchie Blackmore.
Recently, Malmsteen resigned from Steeler to take up guitar chores with Alcatrazz, a move that virtually guarantees him superstardom. In addition to Malmsteen’s talents, the band also boasts the vocal abilities of Graham Bonnet, renowned among rock fans having previously held stints with Rainbow and MSG. Bonnet’s powerful voice, accompanied by the back-up talents of keyboardist Jimmy Waldo, bassist Gary Shea (both ex-New England), and drummer Jan Uvena (ex-Alice Cooper), makes for an impressive foundation which Yngwie uses to his fullest as a showcase for his soon-to-be-discovered guitar brilliance.
In addition to playing all guitar work for the band, Malmsteen is also a proficient songwriter. Besides co-writing all material for Alcatrazz’s debut album, No Parole For Rock’N’Roll on Rocshire Records, he has also composed numerous brilliant Rising Force-period numbers, one of which is played live during the band’s current set – the complex instrumental ‘Evil Eye’.
Yngwie, when did you officially start Rising Force? “It depends on how you look at it. I started my first band in 1976 when I was 13, but it wasn’t called Rising Force – it was called Powerhouse. Then I took a singer in, and he had a band called Rising. Then I kicked him out, and I thought, well, I still wanna keep this name Rising, but I wanted to add something to it, hence the name Rising Force. That was in 1978 – I was 16. Since then, I had a hell of a lot of different line-ups, like 25 different line-ups, with members going in and out of the band. It was kind of a weird situation really.”
Did you play many live shows during the early Rising Force days in Sweden? “Oh yeah!”
Lots of pyrotechnics? “Yeah, always burning and smashing guitars!”
Why did you choose Blackmore as a sole influence during your youth? “The whole thing started out when I got my first guitar, when I was five years old. But I never really played it until I was seven, when I saw a TV programme with Jimi Hendrix and I saw him burn the guitar and all that stuff. That motivated me to start playing, and from the time I was seven I played and played all the time. Two years later, I got Deep Purple’s Fireball for my birthday. That turned me onto Ritchie Blackmore. From then on, so to speak, I started to learn all the things he’d done. I kept on doing that stuff ’til around ’77, but then from the day I started all the Rising Force shit, I didn’t listen to Blackmore at all. I went from the whole fanatical thing about Blackmore, towards hating him. I hated everything about Ritchie Blackmore! Now I kind of like him – I respect him for what he is – but I don’t respect him for being a guitar player. I don’t think he can play anymore.”
Has anyone since taken his place as a favourite guitarist? “No, I don’t have any favourites. I don’t listen to any guitar players at all, ever. I don’t try to copy anybody. You see, for a brief period after I listened to Ritchie, I started listening to Uli Roth and I thought his stuff was great. But after awhile I kind of got tired of that stuff, too. You see, I feel it’s very limiting to try to do what someone else has done. I wanted to do something on my own. So eventually, I started listening more and more to classical music. I’d already listened to a lot of classical stuff, since I was in third grade. My mother used to have stacks of classical stuff… Bach and everything.”
Do you still listen to classical today? “Yes, that’s all I ever listen to; never anything else.”
Did any musicians from the early Rising Force line-ups ever go on to form other bands? “Yeah. Have you heard of a band called Europe? That bass player (John Levén) used to be in Rising Force. There’s another Swedish group called Glory Bells Band, and that’s the drummer for Rising Force. Basically, I played with every musician in Sweden at one time or another.”
How did you get involved with Silver Mountain? “Just one month before I left for America – it was New Year’s Eve of last year – I met a guy in a music store who was a good friend of Silver Mountain’s. At the time, the band lived a couple of towns away, but I needed some musicians for Rising Force ’cause I’d kicked everybody else out. The guys from Silver Mountain knew about me and wanted to form Rising Force with me. So, I went to their town for two days and rehearsed and recorded a demo. On that demo was the original song ‘Evil Eye’, which we played tonight. I wrote that song with them the same day we played it for the demo, actually. That’s the only time I played with them though. They were never really in my band or anything.”
It’s hard to imagine you playing in a band of such contrasting style as Steeler. How did you get along with Ron Keel (band leader)? “I didn’t! I was close to killing him several times.”
What was your initial reaction to Mike Varney’s offer to bring you to America? “He called me up and said he wanted me to come over and do a solo album. One week later, Ron Keel called me up and said he wanted me to join his Steeler shit. Actually, I received that call the very day I got home from doing the Silver Mountain sessions.”
Had you ever heard Steeler previously? “No, I’d never heard about them. But I’d always had the intentions of joining a band in America, even though they may have been shitty, because I could play live and get exposure and eventually get a better gig instead of just doing a solo album and never playing live. So that’s what I did – I joined Steeler for three months and started getting other offers – from Phil Mogg (UFO), all kinds of shit.”
Did you find Steeler’s material to be limiting? “I think he (Ron Keel) cannot compose more than a turd. He’s as musical as a turd, know what I mean? Musically dead. He refuses to do melodies. It has to be one note like ‘Cold Day In Hell’ or ‘Backseat Driver’ (starts singing choruses).”
I notice your attire hosts many pentagrams. Are you into witchcraft? “No, but I’m very into the occult. It’s very hard to explain. It’s like I possess the knowledge of the witch, ya know… the power of the mind, not devil worshipping. Unfortunately, when I first joined Steeler they all thought I was a devil worshipper ’cause all my Rising Force stickers said ‘Heavy 666 metal’. Varney freaked out; he calls me up and says ‘Hey man, I brought you all the way from Sweden and I don’t wanna hear any of this crap about you being a devil worshipper’.”
How can you stay in tune and hit the vibrato all night long? “It’s just a matter of doing it right. You don’t have to spend $250 on a fucking Floyd Rose if you know how to handle it.”
Sometimes with Steeler you sounded as though you were going off on your own little trip, just to make them look bad. Did you do that on purpose? “Yeah, I didn’t want to play like them!”
What was your initial reaction to America? “First of all, I want to say I was so happy – so relieved – that all my efforts at last did work. I was working so hard with Rising Force, but nothing had really happened. I was doing all those demos and shit, and it never seemed to amount to anything. I was so relieved when things began happening – I started getting tons of fucking fan letters and stuff – and I didn’t really care that I had to join a shit band. I mean, Steeler’s shit. But I didn’t even care, ’cause the whole idea of being in America playing was to me so amazing that I’d do anything to get there. However, I must say that the first impression I ever got of America was terrible. I lived in the same house as the whole Steeler band and we lived in a very, very bad area, with a lot of poor black people. We couldn’t go out and get a hamburger after nine o’clock without being afraid of getting mugged. And the water tasted like shit, you know. It was a terrible experience to me. But later on I found out that if you go to the right places in America, the people can be very nice.”
How much of a response did you get from Varney’s ‘Spotlight’ column in Guitar Player magazine? “I got like 2,000 letters. My mother just called me up the other day and said that she had like 8-900 letters from all over the world – France, Belgium, Indonesia, Japan, Czechoslavakia etc. I get Japanese fan letters from girls drawing my face and stuff, it’s great! A lot of people would get all this attention and get a big ego. I don’t go like that. I’m still very critical about my guitar playing and I don’t think I’m any more now than what I used to be. I’m still just as critical as I’ve always been.”
Were there any particular Blackmore solos that really influenced you? “Yes, one off a song called ‘Demon’s Eye’, from Fireball, but on the American version it’s ‘Strange Kind Of Woman’ instead of that song. It used to keep me up – awake all night – trying to play that solo.”
Did you have any other offers from bands before joining Alcatrazz? “Yes, the same day I joined up with Graham Bonnet, I was at Phil Mogg’s house drinking and eating hamburgers. It was a very weird situation, because it was the day after my last Steeler gig. Phil Mogg had been to that gig, and was real interested and wanted me to come down to his house. Later on that day, Graham Bonnet’s manager called me up. The thing that attracted me to Graham’s band was the fact that they didn’t have any songs already written, and I like to write songs. I knew that if I joined this band I could write all the material. As for Phil Mogg, he was a real nice guy and everything, but he was too laid back. It was like ‘Yeah, yeah, have a beer, have a hamburger.’ And I’m like a workaholic: I want to work – I want to play!”
Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 3 (1984)