Yngwie Malmsteen is the king of the neoclassical shred guitar. Since 1984's Rising Force, the Swedish musician and composer has somehow bridged centuries, from Paganini to his own arpeggiated acrobatics.
His new memoir, Relentless, begins with a quote from David St. Hubbins of the parody metal band Spinal Tap, extolling Malmsteen's skill but also the use of his middle initial, J, "so you don't confuse him with all of the other Yngwie Malmsteens in the business." Malmsteen says he considers it an honor.
Here, Malmsteen speaks with NPR's Scott Simon about the candid rock 'n' roll lifestyle stories featured in Relentless, his newfound purpose as a family man, and growing up on Bach, Vivaldi and Jimi Hendrix.
On his frustrations with rock 'n' roll
"I grew up in a family that was very musical, learned the blues and everything like that. And I became a little bit frustrated with the simplicity of rock 'n' roll and blues. I started listening to a lot of classical music — mainly Bach, Vivaldi. Then one day on TV — I was about 12 or 13 years old — there was a Russian violinist (I can't remember his name) that was playing solo violin: 24 Caprices for Solo Violin by Niccolò Paganini. I completely freaked out, because I knew that's what I was hearing in my head. I decided I was going to use all of the arpeggios and linear notes and wide vibrato of the violin. I've always been a little bit of an extremist, so I decided to go all of the way."
On Jimi Hendrix and burning guitars
"My fourth birthday, I was given a violin, and my fifth birthday, a guitar. I didn't start to play until I saw Hendrix on TV. They showed him setting his guitar on fire and burning it for the Monterey Pop Festival. I wanted to learn how to play guitar, so I could smash it up and burn it. I was only a little kid, so that was my incentive. [Laughs.]"
On guitar shred as a shtick
"It runs the danger, I think, but I feel very strongly that I've made a statement as a composer, as a performer, well beyond just guitar shredding."