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Yngwie Malmsteen: ‘We Want to Give the Best Show Possible’

The Miami-based guitar virtuoso talks about his India debut, challenging himself constantly and his roots in Sweden


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Guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen at a concert in Barcelona. Photo: Alterna2/Flickr.com

Guitar lovers in India might have been waiting with bated breath to watch Yngwie Malmsteen live in action but the Swedish-born, American guitar virtuoso says he doesn’t even know what his setlist is going to be, or who’s going to be his backing band for his upcoming India debut at the Orange Festival of Adventure and Music in Dambuk, Arunachal Pradesh on December 17th.

The 53-year-old says over the phone from Miami, “I’m totally past that point, you know. I’m bringing myself and whoever is going to play behind me. That’s basically going into my approach. It worked out really well in the last few years.” Malmsteen, who released his latest album World on Fire in July this year, isn’t too concerned about the trek to the North East. He adds, “I’ve been doing a lot of travel. I had flown to New Zealand just for one show [earlier]. It’s the kind of stuff I’m used to.”

Best known for his scorching guitar work right from the Eighties, one that placed him alongside guitar wizards such as Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and more, the only likely explanation for Malmsteen’s arrival in India would be his high-energy live performances, filled with shred guitar and more theatrics. Just as he was “getting ready to jump on a plane” and take the long road to Dambuk, Malmsteen spoke exclusively to ROLLING STONE India about coming to the country.

A lot of your social media updates have just been all about coming to India. You’re really excited, right?
Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s going to be amazing.

What have you heard about the country? Have you got offers before?
It’s been talked about but it never happens. It’s the first time, I’ve heard so much about it; it’s going to be a great show. India has a lot of stuff. I love the sitar and India’s great history and its philosophy. And you won’t believe this, but you know what my favorite food is? Indian food.

I go to an Indian restaurant here. I mean, they say it’s Indian and I hope it is! You know, the tikka masala and stuff. I love it.

What is your setlist going to include? Who are you bringing with you in the band?
I actually don’t know which band I’m bringing this week. It’s never usually the same people. The setlist, you’re going to hear a mixture of the classics that you’re used to and some from my brand new album World on Fire, which came out in June. It’s going to be a wide variety of stuff. I never play the same things. I play 10 different sets in 10 shows. I like to improvise a lot. I just play different things and we go into it. It’s never that ‘here’s the set and this is how we’re going to do it’.

To me, the reason I’ve been doing this for so many years is the challenge of not knowing exactly what you’re going to do is amazing. I don’t have a setlist, really. I just can go on. (laughs)

Which is what I wanted to ask – how do you keep things exciting for yourself as a musician?
Exactly like that. I play “Far Beyond The Sun”, right? But I’m not going to play the same intro, the same solo. It’s going to be the same song, but I’m going to play it differently from the night before. A few years, I put out two live albums [Double Live!, 1998], recorded one night apart. It’s completely different, but the same tunes. That’s how it becomes interesting for me. I have to create something to surprise myself on the spot.

The audience has a lot to do with what I play (laughs). I react to the audiences, you know. Who knows, it might go on for three hours.

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You’re going back to Sweden to play a festival in August next year. Do you go back to your home country often?
No, actually. I never go back to Sweden. I’ve been in America for 35 years and I feel very much at home here. I was a teenager when I left and I find myself relating to more of America. If I get booked, I go, that’s how it is. (laughs).

When you play there, do people often talk to you in Swedish?
Yeah they do that here [in the U.S.] too. That’s something that happens no matter where I go, unfortunately. It’s become common. I’m not complaining about it. It’s fine.

What are your plans while you’re here in India?
Since I have some previous engagements, I have very little time, unfortunately. So I’m just going in and out as quickly as I can. I get in the zone [for a show]. I don’t call it meditation exactly, it’s just psyching myself up. I don’t talk to anyone and then I hit the stage and it’s just like an explosion and then I mellow down and go home. I’m going to take all the travel possible to give you the best show, that’s my plan.

What else is coming up for you in 2017?
In Spring, I’m going back out with [Steve] Vai and Zakk [Wylde], like I did this Spring. Things are really good right now. I don’t think the cycle is what it used to be any more – to make the record, release, tour. Now you can make a record even without touring. It’s an interesting place.

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