Yngwie Malmsteen is not a man known for trifling with the electric guitar. He, more than anyone, is responsible for lending rock and metal the harmonic finery of neoclassical arrangements. The back catalogue is formidable. But after 40 years in the business he says he does not rehearse anymore. Furthermore, he’s got no use for a setlist – even if he does draft one each night, it’s to be ignored.
Currently on tour on a string of co-headlining dates with hard-rock legend and former Deep Purple frontman Glenn Hughes, Malmsteen checked in with Eddie Trunk on Sirius XM to update him on the tour, and instructed ticket holders to expect the unexpected.
“I make up the setlist 10 minutes before I go onstage, like, taped up onstage every night, then I go up onstage and end up playing a different setlist anyway,” he says. “I don’t follow any setlist anymore. Ever. I just do what I do.
“I might throw in songs that weren’t on the setlist. I might not do songs that were on the setlist. That keeps me on my toes, and it keeps the rest of the guys on their toes. It makes it exciting and dangerous and fun.”
We should have known. Sure, the Malmsteen set is populated by audacious arrangements, culled from a long career. But let’s not forget, this is the man who triggered a drum on his latest album, Parabellum, with a gunshot from a Beretta M9. And this after years of trying to do similar with a .357 Magnum.
Should we be that surprised that a man like this doesn’t follow the setlist? Or that he has completely done away with rehearsing the show?
Malmsteen laughed when asked if there was much rehearsal involved.
“Haha! No, I don’t rehearse. I don’t rehearse at all,” says Malmsteen. “The band does. I don’t. I just do a kind of a long soundcheck the first day. Ever. I just do what I do. I might throw in songs that weren’t on the setlist. I might not do songs that were on the setlist, so it’s never the same, and that keeps me on my toes, and it keeps the rest of the guys on their toes. It makes it exciting and dangerous and fun.”
Malmsteen’s reasoning seems linked to his gun-play in the studio, to his fondness for Ferrari sports cars, and, y’know, his sound itself.
Speaking to MusicRadar in 2021, upon the release of Parabellum, Malmsteen discussed the gun as a trigger – “People, of course, thought I was completely fucking crazy as per usual!” – and the live performance being something transcendent, an experience that’s wholly in the moment, and not without risk.
“That’s a great thing. I found myself playing stuff and I would almost have an out of body experience onstage,” he said. “When that happens, that’s the greatest thing ever. I basically wasn’t playing; I was listening, like someone else was playing! But that’s also a danger, because then you can fuck it up real bad! [Laughs] A lot of things can happen but in order to get good you have got to take risks.”
Malmsteen told Trunk he needs this danger to stay interested. Without that, there’s little reason to continue. Just spare a thought for the band. They’ve got over 20 albums’ worth of material to familiarise themselves with. At any moment, Malmsteen might throw one of these songs in.
“Well yeah, but that’s the whole point. They need to know them!,” he tells Trunk. “Most of them, they know, but sometimes I’ll throw in something that they might not know what I’m doing – I always do different intros and solos, and stuff like that anyway. ‘Stop here. Start there!’ Well, it’s that, and also I got to trust myself because I might not even remember what I’m doing.
“The reason why I’m still doing this after 40-plus years, and going out and playing, is because I don’t have a rehearsed set, because if I had a rehearsed set it would be like turning on a jukebox,” he says. “It would be that boring. It’s boring for me. It’s boring for everybody. I need a little danger.”
Does it work out? Well... Kind of.
“Most of the time we land on our feet,” says Malmsteen. Most, not always. You can listen to Eddie Trunk’s full conversation with Yngwie Malmsteen – and Alice Cooper – above. To see Malmsteen in concert – and his “uncontrollable f**king elephant” Marshall backline, head over to Yngwie Malmsteen for dates and ticket details. He’s in his homestate Florida tonight and hits the UK on 3 November in Wolverhampton.