Finnish guitar goddess Erja Lyytinen returns with a brand new live album recorded last year at the legendary 100 Club in London.
National Rock Review recently caught up with Erja to discuss her new live album, upcoming UK tour and her influences.
NRR: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us here at National Rock Review today. I love your new album I had it sent to me a few weeks back, it sounds great.
Erja: Thank you
NRR: The first question Iâ€™ve got for you is basically when did you first start playing guitar?
Erja: Actually I went to guitar lessons for the first time in my life when I was 13 years old, but it didnâ€™t catch me then and my tutor quit giving me lessons, so it took me a couple of years. Soon I felt I needed to do something with music.
I used to play violin you know, a very ordinary background. I went to conservatory when I was 7 years old and played violin for 7 years. That classical world didnâ€™t really suit me when I was a teenager, so at the age of 15 I felt that I needed to do something on my own. My fatherâ€™s guitars really started to interest me during that time. I just grabbed them and I started to play.
NRR: So you are very well known as being a slide guitar player. When did you get into playing slide guitar?
Erja: Well I think I was around something like maybe 19-20 years old when I got into playing slide guitar. Instantly there was something totally different to what I had been learning since I was 15 years old. It was something that I hadnâ€™t learned at all. You learn normal guitar playing and you have certain things you can really learn, scales and stuff, but slide guitar for me it was like I was just listening to what I heard in my head and I tried to play that.
You know itâ€™s very vocal like, singing like kind of playing if you know what I mean. So it was very interesting there was no rules to slide playing so thatâ€™s one of the reasons I like to play it now-a-days as well, no rules, no boundaries, itâ€™s not too educated letâ€™s put it this way.
NRR: Your last album the Sky Is Crying that was a tribute to Elmore James. So how did you get into Elmore James and do you remember the first time you heard Elmoreâ€™s music?
Erja: Yes, it was some time in the late 90â€™s I bought this blues cd/compilation and there was a track on there from Elmore James â€˜Dust My Broomâ€™ and I went oh cool song, let me try to learn that, and then I tried to play his stuff and I tuned my guitar in open D and tried to play the slide. So actually I learned to play open tunings from that track. It is kind of a corner stone in my slide guitar playing. Over the years you go back and forth with different guitarists and Elmore has always been with me. Iâ€™ve always played his songs in my set. So I thought maybe it was time to make a tribute to him.
I think B.B. King has probably had a lot of influence on a lot of guitar players.
NRR: Iâ€™ve noticed amongst a lot of slide guitar players these days are using cigar box guitars and I was just curious is that something youâ€™ve ever tried out?
Erja: I do have a couple of empty cigar boxes (laughing) so maybe If I have time during the summer I will try to do something with those boxes and build my own guitar. Yeah, thatâ€™s very interesting Iâ€™ve never actually tried it. I think Iâ€™ve tried it at a festival somewhere where people come and they show their instruments theyâ€™ve made, but thatâ€™s all. Iâ€™ve never tried cigar box guitar, not like Iâ€™ve really played a gig with it or anything.
NRR: I thought it might be interesting, because I know the likes of Samantha Fish plays it a lot.
Erja: Yeah Iâ€™ve seen her play that. Itâ€™s very interesting. I guess the sound is very different compared to normal electric guitar, Fender or something like that. Must be fascinating. I do have a Supro from 1952, itâ€™s a very old instrument and it does have a very different sound, when compared to 21st century guitars.
NRR: Where do you find the inspiration for you song writing?
Erja: From life, general, love, frustration, disappointment, sadness, all the deep shit we
have (laughing). You know for me when I start to write a song, some feeling or something has happened in my life to me or somebody I know or somebody close to me or something in the environment has happened and so I get the inspiration from there and I start to build the song and write the story. You know thatâ€™s how it usually starts.
NRR: Obviously with the recent passing of B.B. King I was just wondering how much of an influence was his music on you as an artist?
Erja: Yes, I think B.B. King has probably had a lot of influence on a lot of guitar players. First of all he had a great long career, he died at the age of 89 was it? So he really, really, really played for many decades.
I particularly remember listening to one of his albums at the beginning of the 21st century. I had this jam blues band, Daveâ€™s Special featuring Erja Lyttinen and we played a lot of jam blues, swing and boogie woogie stuff and there is this Louis Jordan tribute album he has â€˜Let The Good Times Rollâ€™ and we were listening that recording a lot. He was brilliant in that style, really great.
Of course Iâ€™ve listened to a lot of his stuff. I think one of his greatest albums really is the â€˜Cook County Jailâ€™ recording. You know itâ€™s awesome to just listen to the way he talks to the audience, to the prisoners there. You know Iâ€™ve done some prison gigs as well. You have to remember where you are and the way he talks to the people there, itâ€™s amazing how he handles the audience its great.
NRR: So on to your live album. You are about to release your brand new live album and DVD which is called â€˜Live in Londonâ€™ and it was recorded at the 100 club. I was just wondering what made you chose the 100 club in particular to record your live album?
Erja: We were thinking about making a live recording, and we thought about where we would do it. We had this tour last year in October in the UK for a couple of weeks. We were thinking if we could do it in the UK, where would be a nice place. London is a busy, great vibe place, thereâ€™s a lot of the music industry there, itâ€™s interesting and the 100 club is right there in the middle of the center, everything is happening there.
The club itself has a great history. A few years back I heard Sun Houseâ€™s recording from the 100 club. His recording was made in 1970. You know and back then I didnâ€™t think that someday I would be on the same stage where he had been. So it has a lot of historic potential in that place, it was very cool to be there really.
NRR: It is a legendary venue, it has a lot of history like you say.
Obviously youâ€™ve got a really great band with you including Roger Innis and Miri and youâ€™ve got Davide. So how did you all meet as a band, and how long have you been playing together and touring together?
Erja: Yes, weâ€™ve played together for around three years now. Actually, Davide has been with me much, much longer. So weâ€™ve been touring for two and a half years before we did this DVD. You know thereâ€™s a lot of gigs, you can really hear that we are a tight package on stage and thatâ€™s the way it goes when you travel with the same band all of the time. So it was a very nice thing to do this live recording with this band.
NRR: I got to see you not too long before you recorded the live album at Whitby Blues Festival.
Erja: Whitby, thatâ€™s right. Are you from there?
NRR: A bit further north, but I was at that show. It was the nearest you came to Newcastle where Iâ€™m based.
You are coming back in the summer, youâ€™ve got some festival shows and you are doing a headline tour at the end of the year. Is it still the same band you are bringing with you with Roger and Miri or is it different guys you are bringing with you this time, because I think Roger has been touring with Laurence Jones recently?
Erja: Yeah, actually and Miri as well they are both playing with Laurence right now. So on the October tour Iâ€™m going to have guy from Germany playing the drums and Roger is going to do the bass part. Thatâ€™s going to be the touring band and Davide is going to be playing the guitar. Iâ€™m really excited for this tour. Weâ€™ve been getting you know very nice reviews about Live in London so Iâ€™m really excited to get hopefully some new people as well to the shows.
NRR: Roger is an incredible bass player. I mean his six string playing is amazing. Iâ€™ve seen him play recently with Kirk Fletcher, Laurence and yourself.
Erja: He plays with a lot of people. He does probably 300 gigs per year. Heâ€™s really a hard-working man.
NRR: So youâ€™ve played all over the world, but I was wondering if there was anywhere in particular that you would still love to play like your dream show?
Erja: Dream show. Well, I do like playing England. I like the fact that you guys really appreciate good music. You can tell the good from the bad really (laughing), itâ€™s great you know. Itâ€™s probably part of the thing that you have a big cultural history in music.
I think there must be a lot of places that I havenâ€™t been to where I would be delighted to play. Last year I did my first shows in Canada and that was really cool. We played Thunder Bay Blues Festival, and actually in those areas there is the biggest Finnish population outside of Finland. So it felt a bit like being home (laughing).
So yeah, I donâ€™t think the countries really matter, but I guess every artist just wants to you know spread their wings in different places and play in the bigger venues. You know the Royal Albert Hall would be brilliant to start with (laughing). I like fancy theatres.
We did this tour in Finland this year, 24 shows only in concert houses. So that was really cool. I like the fact that when you have the very nice interiors itâ€™s beautiful and they have seats for people and they can really sit down and listen to the music and just watch the show. So I like concert venues definitely yes.
I do like playing England. I like the fact that you guys really appreciate good music.
NRR: On your 2010 album Voracious Love you actually did a collaboration with Marco Hietelia from Nightwish. What was it like working with Marco?
Erja: Brilliant, heâ€™s great. Iâ€™ve been his fan since I was 12 years old. He plays in this band called Tarot, and itâ€™s a heavy rock band, and actually my mother is their big fan as well. Me and my brothers we were more or less 10 years old when we went to see them, and I always liked his energy on stage.
I did actually play some gigs with him back in the Kuopio, back in my younger days because we were from the same city. So I called him and I had this ballad and I thought maybe we would make a duet out of it and I was thinking who could be the guy I would ask to do it and so I thought about Marco and I called him and he said â€˜yeah sure, letâ€™s do itâ€™ and we sang it together in the studio at the same time. Which you know nowadays is quite rare.
People make music â€œtogetherâ€ and they just send the tracks back and forth, but we both live in Finland so it was easy to get in the same studio and do the singing at the same time. Heâ€™s a brilliant singer, really great.
NRR: Yeah, Iâ€™ve seen him with Nightwish before.
Erja: Yeah, he knows his stuff. Heâ€™s very talented Iâ€™m very happy for his success.
NRR: So you must like some heavier music as well. Apart from blues what type of music do you listen to when you arenâ€™t playing?
Erja: I think nowadays I listen to a little of anything really. If somebody suggests to me some new music I will definitely have a listen to it, but I guess most of the stuff is still pretty rootsy. I think it has something to do with me just liking really rootsy music. So itâ€™s mostly blues, blues rock.
NRR: On the new album you start with a nice acapella by Fred McDowell, which is beautiful I love that.
NRR: So really the last question Iâ€™ve got for you is, what else have you got in store for 2015 apart from the album release and the tour? What other plans do you have?
Erja: Well during the summer Iâ€™m going to go into the studio and start recording my next studio album. You know I havenâ€™t been in the studio making my own stuff for ages. The last studio album was for Elmore James music, you know the tribute album. I did do a couple of my own songs on that album as well, but it was mostly concentrating on Elmore James music and now we have this â€˜Live in Londonâ€™. So now itâ€™s a good time to make my own album with my own music, and I do have a bunch of songs already waiting.
Weâ€™ve actually tried some of them already on these shows we did in Finland in concert venues and we got pretty good feedback for most of the songs. I did have one song which is more rock/pop and I was thinking maybe itâ€™s too much for the so to speak blues audience but no actually the reaction was really great, and they were like this is great youâ€™ve got to record this and I was like ok and so I thought maybe I would put it in the next recording. You never know what people are really going to like, but I guess if you stand behind what you say and what you are doing and what you are singing about then itâ€™s honest and that delivers.
NRR: We look forward to seeing you over here very shortly and I think we will be coming out to some of the shows and I hope everything goes well with the album release and we will speak to you soon.
Erja: Thank you.
Erja Lyytinenâ€™s â€œLive in Londonâ€ album is released by Tuohi Records on Monday June 8. Her nationwide UK tour starts October 2 at the Darlington Blues Club.Further info: www.erjalyytinen.com
Photo: Â© Tina Korhonen