The “Queen of the Slide Guitar” is getting ready to release her eagerly anticipated tenth studio album Stolen Hearts.
Stolen Hearts is Erja Lyytinen’s first studio album since 2014’s Elmore James tribute The Sky Is Crying. The album was recorded in between Sonic Pump Studios in Helsinki and State of the Ark Studios in London.
Stolen Hearts was recorded under the guidance of multi-platinum selling engineer and producer Chris Kimsey, who is best known for his work with the Rolling Stones on their classic albums Sticky Fingers and Some Girls. Kimsey also mixed the album.
National Rock Review recently caught up with Erja Lyytinen whilst on tour in Finland to talk about her new album Stolen Hearts, her forthcoming UK tour and her plans for the rest of 2017.
NRR: I know you are currently out on tour in Finland. I was just wondering how have the shows been going so far?
Erja: They’ve actually been going very well. The new material has been received amazingly well. As you know it’s a bit different from what I’ve done before, it’s rockier and there are different elements and stuff happening there. But I’ve been happy to receive a very positive reaction from the audience.
We’ve had quite an amount of people actually. Today we are playing in the North of Finland and we are playing in the same venue twice. We have a show today and tomorrow and they are both sold out, 250 seats per night, it’s amazing for a Tuesday/Wednesday night.
So yeah, I feel privileged you know, to be able to do what I’m doing. I’m a blues guitar player and people come to see that stuff, it’s amazing, it feels really good.
NRR: Obviously, you are getting ready to release your new studio album Stolen Hearts on the 7th April. The album is already available in Finland I believe?
Erja: We had the Scandinavian release in February.
NRR: I was just wondering could you tell us a little bit about the album and the inspiration behind it?
Erja: Well, the songs for the album I collected them for years actually. Some of them are really old ones … There’s one particular song that I wrote when I was studying in Los Angeles, the song is called “City of Angels”. You know I was a young girl travelling there, I hadn’t been to much of anywhere in the world and then I was in Los Angeles.
You saw all of these different social classes. The fortunate people with a lot of money, rich people, and then you see poor people. Some people are happy and some people are not so. I started to think about people’s happiness and the social studies in society and this song kind of came up. It took a really long time for me to get the song done, it was perfect for this album.
The other songs I’ve written a few years ago, but I never had an album to put them to and now I’ve finally had the right kind of package so to speak. Some of the songs I wrote in the last one or two years when I was going through some rough times in my life, and you know difficult times.
NRR: The album was produced by Chris Kimsey. He’s obviously worked with the likes of The Rolling Stones. I was just wondering what was it like working with Chris and what did he bring to the table?
Erja: It was such an honour really to work with Chris. I actually got to know him through our mutual friend Alan Darby. I was thinking I wanted to do something different with this album and so I did the backing tracks here in Finland in Helsinki at the Sonic Pump Studios.
I had a feeling that I needed to go abroad and finish the album and of course because I’m a Finnish spoken person, it’s very relevant to get a good instruction for the English words for the lyrics and pronunciation. So that was one of the reasons that I wanted to go abroad and come to England.
So I heard about Chris and I immediately checked out his c.v. and oh my god, it’s amazing. The people he’s been working with from Duran Duran to The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, everything is there – all the music history. He’s been involved with so many bands and artists, it’s hard to believe that really. I wasn’t sure when he got the material, he could have said no, but he liked the stuff. So I was really happy when he said ok, I’m going to take the job.
Then we started on planning on which studio we should do this recording and mixing. He said to me some places, and State of the Ark was available for the time period. It came out to be the perfect studio for me as well. I felt at home there right away.
It’s a small boutique studio owned by Terry Britten. You will probably know him as the songwriter behind some of the bigger songs for Tina Turner “Typical Male” and “What’s Love Got To Do With It”. He’s been writing songs for Michael Jackson and Bonnie Raitt, Lenny Kravitz just to name a few.
So I could just think of all the history that had been going on in the studio before me. Well, you guys have so much history, you know you should share some of that with us as well (laughing). It’s amazing, you guys have such a huge history in rock and roll and in blues.
Immediately when I met Chris, of course, we had spoken on the telephone and writing a lot of e-mails, but when I met him I knew that ok this is going to click. Instantly it just felt really relaxed, very natural and he was unbelievable to work with. It was very comforting to sing for him because that’s what you do when you are in the vocal booth, you are singing for yourself, but you sing for the producer as well. He let me enjoy the whole experience all of the time.
There are some engineers and some producers who like to do the vocal parts sentence by sentence, but he wanted me to enjoy what I was doing there, he didn’t want to interrupt the story. When I’m telling a story, why not tell it from the beginning until the very end. So it was a very good experience to work with him, and I learnt so many good tricks and things.
I was amazed how much knowledge he had about all of the microphones. Well, of course, he has been in the business for 40-50 years and so he tried all of the different microphones for my vocals and for each track. So he didn’t settle for the one microphone, he wanted to find the perfect song for each track, so I really appreciated that. We even had ribbon microphones from the 1940’s on the album and we also used some cool reissue models. So it’s a mixture of old and new on the album.
NRR: Listening to the album, it’s quite diverse. There’s a lot of different stuff going on. You’ve got tracks like “Rocking Chair”, which must be one of the heaviest songs you’ve ever recorded I think. I was just wondering how did that song come to fruition, what was the idea going on in your head when you started off with that song?
Erja: So I had this riff and it was going in seven, and that’s the way the song starts. When you write songs there are different ways of starting the writing process, and for this particular song, it was this riff. I thought this is a cool riff, I’m going to sing on top of that and how do I make it, how do I do it?
Somehow I was reminiscing of the Led Zeppelin song “Black Dog” in my head. I don’t remember which way it came out, did I listen to that song or did I just start to sing between the riff? Yeah, I had the riff and then I sang between the pauses. But it definitely has that kind of a feeling into it. Then it just starts to develop little by little and when we do the choruses in the song we go back to the four beats.
I just felt that I needed this kind of song, a rocky song, and it’s such fun to play on stage as well. In the beginning, everybody was counting those sevens. There aren’t many songs you need to play in seven is there – no there’s not you know (laughing).
Sting can do that, he has one song which goes in seven, but it doesn’t feel like that, it’s so well done. That’s what I tried to achieve with this song as well and it’s a lot of fun, but it’s a very untypical song. You know usually, you have a song which goes in four or three at least in blues music. So it’s not really a blues song, but it has some elements of blues of course, maybe through my slide guitar playing. Yeah, I’m very happy to have that track on the album.
NRR: On the other end of the spectrum you’ve got “Broken Eyes”, which is totally different again. The complete opposite of “Rocking Chair” really, when I listen to it, I can almost imagine myself sitting in a smoky piano bar. It kind of always gives me that feel. Obviously, it’s a song which is not so much about the slide guitar, it’s got a bit of a classical sound to it, it’s got a bit of a jazzy sound to it, it really shows off your vocals as well, it’s a very different song for you I think. I was just wondering what made you want to record a track like that?
Erja: Yes, that is a good question. That song just came out, the story is quite heavy, and there is some truth behind the story as well. Because the story was beautiful and tragic at the same time. I wanted to add some nice chords there. Actually, I wrote the song with piano, singing and playing piano at the same time. It just came out like that and I was thinking, ok I’m a blues artist, but now I’m righting these jazzy chords and beat chords. It is a bit like a musical ballad as well, I could say.
We did add some slide guitar there to have the same feeling on the album, that there is a bit of guitar happening in the song too as on the other tracks.
There was a moment when I was going to drop that song off the album, but then I thought maybe it is good to have one completely different song on the album. I don’t think it harms the album … I like to go outside of the box with the things I’m doing.
NRR: It’s great, and I love that song as well. I like listening to the whole album because there’s just so much different stuff going on, it’s really diverse. I think because there are so many different sounds and influences and genres of music in there, it keeps you interested all the way through, you don’t find yourself skipping songs, you just listen to the whole thing.
Erja: Happy to hear that. I didn’t want to repeat myself, I didn’t want to make another old album. As an artist, you need to go forward all of the time.
NRR: Obviously, you’ve got a UK tour coming up in April, you’ve got an album release show at the 100 Club on the 11th April. That place must hold quite a special place in your heart. Obviously, that’s where you recorded the Live in London album?
Erja: That’s right, I’ve played quite a few times there now. It’s in Central London, people kind of enjoy the atmosphere there …It has all of this history as well, it has a long tradition behind the venue. It’s gonna definitely be a nice night to have the record release show at the same venue.
NRR: Which of the new songs are enjoying performing the most right now?
Erja: Well I do love playing “Black Ocean”, I love it. It’s such a long song, it’s a seven-minute song. I do warn the people before I start that ok, this is going to be seven minutes long, will you be able to sit down and listen to it.
I took a bit of a risk when I put that long song on the album, but it was a conscious risk. I think nowadays we are thinking too much about radio play, that you need to have a song under four minutes, or under three minutes to have it played on the radio. I kind of fought against that idea because back in the 60’s and 70’s all of these progressive bands like Pink Floyd and Zeppelin, they didn’t think about those things, they made pieces and that’s the idea behind that song.
I wanted to make a piece with a long guitar solo, with different sections going on the solo, and there’s a lot of things happening on the solo. Well, the solo is probably four minutes out of the whole song, so it’s relatively long. So that came out really well and I like to play that live.
Well, “Stolen Hearts”, obviously and we’ve been playing those two songs a lot as you know at the live shows already. Yeah and I have a feeling that “Slowly Burning” will come out, by that time it’s going to grow more, it’s still developing, we’ve just started to play it a few weeks ago.
NRR: It’s a beautiful song, I really like it – it’s a nice slow blues number.
Erja: Thank you.
NRR: What else have you planned for the rest of the year?
Erja: Oh, my year has been totally planned, there’s a lot of shows coming in, and a lot of tours. It’s almost booked until mid-December. Well basically the whole year is going to be the record release tour for the album, and we are currently doing 24 dates in 28 days here in Finland, which is quite a stretch. Then we go to Sweden right after for a week.
Then we are coming to England, which I always enjoy. I very much love being in the UK. I love you guys because you know so much about music, and appreciate great music and great beer, so I’m looking forward to that (laughing).
Yeah, so it’s going to be a busy year, we are touring really, but that’s what we want to do and that’s what we always love to do. I can’t wait to get the album out and hear the thoughts of how the world likes the album.
NRR: It’s always great chatting to you and we will see you over here very soon.
Erja: My pleasure Adam, it’s always a pleasure.
Stolen Hearts by Erja Lyytinen will be released via Tuohi Records on Friday 7th April 2017. Erja will be touring the UK throughout April in support of the album.
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