Flashback Interview 1988 – YNGWIE J. MALMSTEEN: “Everyone Can Type Really Fast On A Typewriter. Not Everyone Can Write A Book!”

Backstage With Yngwie Malmsteen
Backstage With Yngwie Malmsteen

In the vibrant rock scene of 1988, one name had been resonating loudly in the world of guitar virtuosity for years – Yngwie J. Malmsteen. It was the very year he released his fourth album, Odyssey, with the legendary Joe Lynn Turner on vocals. The album went on to become his highest-charting release ever. However, Malmsteen later stated that he doesn’t care for the slickness of the album.

In support of the album, the band finally had the opportunity to tour Europe for the first time. Just before taking the stage in Oslo, Norway, for what was undoubtedly going to be a memorable gig, Metal Express Radio had the privilege of sitting down with Yngwie J. Malmsteen for an exclusive interview. Join us as we delve into his musical journey, influences, and the artistic odyssey that is Odyssey.

The interview is transcribed from Swedish/Norwegian

Congratulations with you fantastic new album, Odyssey. It sounds great! You brought in Steve Thompson and Marco Barbero to mix the album this time?

No, it was me who mixed it. It was engineering, they were technicians, in other words. I mixed it.

Joe Lynn Turner wrote a lot of the lyrics this time. How do you work together?

I had written everything before he joined. Melodies and everything. I’ve done all the text concepts. Gaze into to my crystal ball (singing..). I’ve done most of those things. So he just wrote some words in the verses and such. But it was good. I’m very independent when it comes to what I write. I’ve written almost everything. All the melodies and everything.

Can you tell a little about some of the lyrics on the album? Like “Déjà Vu”, “Dreaming”…?

“Déjà Vu” is about meeting someone that you know you’ve met before. You meet a person for the first time, but you realize that you’ve known them before. “Dreaming” is more or less just a wet dream, ha ha

Are you more focused on writing songs now than being a guitarist?

I’m both. I’m a guitarist and a songwriter as well. I’m a songwriting guitarist, plain and simple.

You are one of the few Rock musicians from Scandinavia that had great success in the US. How did you work your way up? How did you become a member of Alcatrazz, for example?

As soon as I made this record with Steeler, there were a lot of rumors. Here’s a guy, shredding like hell. Then there was a rumor going around. Then there were a lot of people calling me. They wanted me to join the band. Then I thought it would be fun. Since I got more freedom to write in Alcatrazz, I wrote the songs there too. Then I thought it was fun. It was simply someone who contacted me. It was through rumors.

Why did you leave Alcatrazz?

There were many different reasons. I think there was too much of an age difference. They were very old compared to me. I was 19-20 at most. They were 35-40. Their taste and everything, it didn’t match. Plus, Graham Bonnett is very strange person.

Picture of Yngwie Malmsteen 2
Yngwie J. Malmsteen in Oslo 1988

Which guitarists have inspired you? Hendrix?

No, not directly. Right at the beginning it was Hendrix and Blackmore. It’s violinists who inspire me the most. John Locke Pontie (?) Niccolò Paganini, for example. It’s seriously that I don’t listen to guitarists. I’m not inspired by guitarists.

On your album, you thank Johann Sebastian Bach and Vivaldi. You’re inspired by classical music?

That’s my influence.

You don’t listen to Heavy Rock much, do you?

No, not usually.

There aren’t as many classical elements in your solos as you had before….?

I don’t understand why you’re emphasizing that. If you listen carefully. If you listen to the arpeggios in Faster Than the Speed of Light and that stuff. It’s very classical.

You’ve maybe become the most copied guitarist in the world. What do you think of all of that? You brought speed to guitar playing.
It became really cool. Maybe you’ve toned it down a bit yourself. You haven’t fallen into the trap that many others have, focusing on speed and forgetting about the melodies. What do you think of it? Is there too little melody now?

Yeah, everyone can type really fast on a typewriter. Not everyone can write a book. I don’t think there’s much feeling in it. No. It’s dangerous to be influenced only by new guitarists. It’s better to try for yourself and find you own style.

You’ve been playing guitar for many years now. I heard that you practiced for eight hours in the beginning.

In the beginning, yeah…

Do you think you have more to learn on the guitar?

It’s just being able to open up a bit more. Do new and different things. Expand, plain and simple.

Is there something you think distinguishes guitar you playing on the last album from what you’ve done before?

I don’t think there’s such a big difference. They might follow the songs more. I usually don’t analyze it so much. I just play.

We’ve talked a lot about your playing style. Where did you learn to play the guitar?

If I had lessons and such? I’ve never had that. You’ve taught yourself. I’m completely self-taught.

When did you start playing?

When? When I was seven. Seven years old.

You were very young when you went to the States. You’ve been there for five and a half years now. When you return to Norway and Sweden. Did you miss anything?

No, but it’s nice. It’s good. This is the first time I play in Norway, but I’ve been home quite a bit in Sweden anyway. So it’s not that big of a deal.

Is there any reason why you haven’t played much in Scandinavia before?

It’s the same reason I didn’t play in Europe before. It’s because of my old management…  I’ve had very bad people. They just didn’t manage… …to make the right budget so I could do it. So it cost too much and stuff like that. It’s not because I wanted to do it. I have always wanted to do it to do actually.

How was the response to the US tour?

It was good, but not as good as I had expected. Normally, it’s better. It was a pretty soft market. There were so many bands out at the same time. The kids only have so much money. They only have a certain amount of money. They can’t go to every concert. As I said, it wasn’t that great. But it was still good.

….but in Japan and Europe, it’s been even better?

It’s been good. The fact that it’s been sold out is what matters. It’s been really good.

If you had the chance, is there anything you would like to change about the Odyssey album now? Something you’d like to do over? 

I usually think that what you do is what should be done. I just do my best every time. You can’t turn back time. It was the best I could do at that time.

You’ve changed singers three times this year. Why has there been so much turnover with singers?

It seems like singers are a strange breed. I write all the music, all the melodies and most of the lyrics. Maybe they feel they want to do something too. There might be conflict that way. I don’t know.

Can we expect Joe Lynn Turner to be a part of the next LP?

We’ll see…

So nothing confirmed yet?

It depends on how the songs turn out. As I said, we’ll see.

Do you feel it’s an advantage to have a famous vocalist like Joe Lynn Turner in the band? That he can draw attention so you can concentrate more on live guitar playing as you could before when you had unknown vocalists?

No, there hasn’t been any difference.

None of the Rising Force guys think it’s a bit unfair that your name is in front of Rising Force, Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force. 

It works well. Some bands have a leader in a band. Some bands have a clear leader. This is one of those bands. It’s all good. We’re really good friends in the band. It works well.

There’s a lot of speculation about Washington Wives and PMRC and all those campaigns, that it’s very risky to run rock’n’roll tours in the States, like the Monsters of Rock tour, for example. Do you notice it? Is there less audience at concerts?

I don’t know if it’s because of that. This last summer… It was all the bands that went on tour that lost money. There was no one who sold out the concerts anywhere. I don’t know if it’s because there were so many bands or something we were doing there. It seems like that’s not going to work…

You’re quite interested in some supernatural phenomena. I see that you thank H.P. Lovecraft. You read a lot about that type?

Yes, I’ve always been very interested in the occult. But I’m not trying to make a big deal out of it here.

What about the title of the album Odyssey? Where did you get that from?

You can’t say it in a straightforward way. I think the music is almost like an odyssey. And you know what an odyssey means, right? It means an adventurous journey. The music goes from very dramatic, hard stuff to soft things. Plus, my life has been an odyssey too.It’s been very much an odyssey. Especially the last year of 1987. It was incredible. All the strange things that happened. So that’s what’s happening.


  • Stig G. Nordahl

    Stig is the founder and the president of Metal Express Radio, based out of Oslo, Norway. He has been around doing Metal radio since the mid-eighties. In fact, running Metal Express Radio takes almost all of his time. Is it worth it...? "Most times, yes," Stig says. "My philosophy is to try to give all Metal releases a fair chance to get promoted in one way or another. As you can imagine, it can be an arduous task to listen through about 20 albums every week! Still, I know we have the best METAL dedicated radio on this planet, and that is a reward in and of itself. I hope one day the whole Metal community can and will make listening to Metal Express Radio part of their daily rituals! Yeah, right..."

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