When we first got word that Yngwie Malmsteen had signed on to Steve Vai’s Generation Axe tour, it was a bit of a headscratcher. I mean, anyone who has followed the classical shred god’s career since he first appeared in Mike Varney’s Spotlight column in the February 1983 issue of GP has inevitably heard the stories of the Swedish 6-stringer’s over-the-top attitude, questionable on-and offstage behavior, and general inability to play well with others. What could possibly go right? But what has been is not necessarily what is, and in the past couple of decades Malmsteen has been a model citizen, re-committing himself to his craft, his composition, and his career. These days instead of building walls—walls of Marshall stacks notwithstanding—Yngwie is instead building bridges and bringing his inimitable brand of shred to the people.
What attracted you to this project?
Everybody that’s involved is really good. Steve and I have known each other for a long time, and are like brothers. We just did a Guitar Gods gig about a month ago that my wife put together for her foundation [the April Malmsteen Foundation works to protect endangered species and their habitats around the globe], and it was awesome. Obviously, I’ve known Zakk for a long time, too, and he’s great. I have only jammed with Nuno once, but he’s great. And I just heard Tosin’s stuff for the first time this past January at the NAMM Show in L.A., and it’s nutty. It’s going to be a weird combination of all kinds of good sh*t, you know? It will be good and different.
That’s a lot of strings on one stage and it’s a long tour. Any worries about being able to get along with four other guitarists?
Everybody has been around for a while, and everybody knows what the deal is, so I’m not worried about that.
Is this more “democratic” model going to be a challenge for someone like you who’s used to being a headliner?
I don’t think there will be a headliner, per se, on this run. It’s still kind of up in the air as to what we’re going to do, but I think we’re going to do our own sets, and then everyone will play together. Steve and I have been going back and forth—he’s been touring and I’ve been touring, he’s been in the studio, and I’ve been in the studio—trying to come up with a plan. We’re going to play each others’ stuff, and we’ll probably play some classics by other people, and do our own thing as well. It’s not written in stone yet. No matter what we do, it’s going to be cool.
So you haven’t rehearsed?
Not yet. We’ll probably have about three or four days of rehearsal and then get to it.
Will you have chance to play some of your own tunes?
For my set, I’ll probably play what a lot of people would expect—the old stuff, and maybe some new stuff. I just finished a new album that’s going to be out in June. I’ve spent two years working on it, and I’m really happy with it. And I don’t play it the exact same way every night. If you come on two different nights, you’re going to hear two different things from me.
What kind of a rig are you planning on taking with you?
Probably a sh*tload of Marshalls and my Stratocasters. You know, the stuff I’ve always been using. I’ve been playing through the same rig for a long time. If it says Marshall on it, it’s great. They made my YJM 100 amp—which is amazing—so I’ll bring a few of those. Last time out, I brought 40 heads and like 20 cabinets. We’ll see how many I can fit this time. There’s an old saying that there are only two man-made objects you can see from space: the Great Wall of China and the wall of Marshalls onstage with Yngwie Malmsteen!