Q&A with Finnish singer/guitarist Erja Lyytinen: voted #2 on Total Guitar’s "10 World's Best Guitarists Now” poll

"Music really crosses all the boundaries. Music is a language, that everyone can learn and when you speak the same “language”, you can share emotions."

Erja Lyytinen: Lightning Future of Blues

Born into a musical family in the town of Kuopio/Finland, Erja Lyytinen quickly emerged as an artist to watch in her native country. She recorded her international debut Pilgrimage after signing with Germany's prestigious Ruf Records label in 2005. The 2006 Blues Caravan tour gave audiences in Europe and the United States a first taste of her spirited live performances. The solo follow-up Dreamland Blues took her back to the USA to record with David and Kinney Kimbrough (sons of Mississippi blues legend Junior Kimbrough). After two years on the road, she returned with Grip of the Blues in 2008, mixing hard-edged blues with modern R&B. In June 2018 Erja got to open for Santana at Helsinki’s Kaisaniemi Park. Carlos Santana invited Erja to play on stage in front of 20 000 people. “It was inspiring to see her play. It was from the future and I like the future” Santana said giving her a nickname “Lightning” referring to Lightnin’ Hopkins. Throughout 2019 Lyytinen completely embraced the idea of stepping into new territories both musically and geographically during a year which saw the artist cross the Atlantic on several occasions whilst undertaking several shows in Canada. The highlight of which being a performance alongside Hollywood star and Blues Brother - Dan Aykroyd as part of a collaboration with the Downchild Blue’s Band at the Toronto Jazz Festival.

(Erja Lyytinen / Photo by Hertta Hynninen)

Likewise, the gifted guitarist is not afraid to explore new musical avenues or work with artists outside of the blues genre. Midway through 2019, Lyytinen was honoured to support legendary Welsh singer/songwriter Sir Tom Jones during his Finnish tour. Following the release of Another World Lyytinen’s personal growth and self-expression has not always been musical. The versatile artist added another string to her bow by releasing her first book. The biography, which is titled Blues Queen (Blueskuningatar), was released in the final quarter of 2019. In June ‘2020 Lyytinen was voted Number 2 on Total Guitar’s "10 World's Best Guitarists Now” poll. During the precarious days of the COVID-19 pandemic Lyytinen returned to her hometown of Kuopio to perform as part of an exclusive online pay per view event. That monumental occasion is now represented as the artist’s third live album, the rather unique and historic ‘Lockdown Live 2020’ CD/DVD package, which is due for a November 2020 release.

Inteview by Michael Limnios                    Erja Lyytinen, 2012 interview @ blues.gr

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

By being able to travel around the world and meeting lot´s of different people from different cultures I´ve learned so many things and seen so many things that I wouldn´t have seen unless if I was a traveling musician. I have learned, there´s blues lovers everywhere where you go and it seems to be a unique group of people who value music that has been actually played by musicians on stage, with sincere, honest lyrics and with huge emotional output. Also, the fact that musician lifestyle is so different compared to an ordinary day life, changes your way of looking at things. Nothing is ever regular, except that everything is always irregular. Plans are always changing, and things moving forward. There´s no dull moment in this business!

Where does your creative drive come from? What was the hardest part of writing "Blues Queen" book?

I have been always very enthusiastic about music and playing, ever since I was a kid. I can still remember the feeling what I felt when I sang on top of my Father´s guitar playing at the age of four (4). Music moved me, it made me happy, and brought out feelings. So later in life I really wanted to become a professional musician so therefore I soke into various different music schools and learned so much I could from music in overall. Nowadays I run my own record company and play normally hundred shows per year around the world, and I enjoy performing live more than ever! But I also enjoy that time, when I can just create music, and dig deeper to songs. Music is my occupation and a hobby, and I feel very privileged that I can do what I do.

When writing “The Blues Queen”, hardest thing was to get into ugliest feelings, to open up and tell people about the hard times. But then again, it´s good to tell that success doesn´t come without sacrifices. I have recorded several albums, written a book, and we recently also put out Erja Lyytinen Songbooks (VOL1 and VOL2) and nowadays I also have my own tea brand. So, I really like being creative in other ways as well and this also keeps my mind fresh.

"By being able to travel around the world and meeting lot´s of different people from different cultures I´ve learned so many things and seen so many things that I wouldn´t have seen unless if I was a traveling musician. I have learned, there´s blues lovers everywhere where you go and it seems to be a unique group of people who value music that has been actually played by musicians on stage, with sincere, honest lyrics and with huge emotional output." (Erja Lyytinen / Photo by Hertta Hynninen)

Are there any memories from ‘Lockdown Live 2020’ (on line event) which you’d like to share with us?

It sure was very exciting to play with my band after two months of a break in May 2020. We were all so full of energy and joy – not knowing how long this corona situation would last. While recording “Lockdown Live”, this was our first proper stream gig with multiple cameras, so everything, the whole production, the situation, was new for all of us. We were simply just happy to be able to do some work at least! We had a meet & greet session with the fans in the end of the live stream, and it was really lovely to answer to people´s questions. I didn´t see my fans, but I could “feel” them.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the interaction between the audience and the band. I love the fact that every gig is different and how audience reacts, really has a huge impact also how you are on stage. Although I always do my best, whether I am performing for 20 people or 20.000 people, and if it´s a private gig, a gig in a jail (yes, done few of these!) or a sitting audience in a concert hall. My hopes are that the vaccine really works for the people and we can get back doing what we really love. My fears are that the music industry will suffer even more if this situation won´t get any better. And the less unfortunate people will suffer even more. We will see the effect of corona after few years in childcare and mental services I am afraid.

I really do hope that we can play and travel freely in 2022. I can´t wait to travel to Australia, where we supposed to play last year. I can only imagine the happiness we all feel, when we can finally meet our fans and friends around the globe, and can hug each other without a fear of getting an ugly virus.

"Women´s status in the music business has gotten a lot better nowadays. Majority of the new guitar buyers is females, all the social media channels are full of women and girls playing guitar, bass, drums, all of these instruments, that men used to only play. I think it is fantastic! Music shouldn’t be judged by one´s sex, but by the quality of it." (Erja Lyytinen / Photo by Antti Karppinen)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would improve the compensation regarding digital services and using of music and art freely online. The overall feeling nowadays feels like that music should be free for consumers, although just making a one proper music video for Youtube with multiple cameras requires a lot of resources. I do use Youtube and Spotify myself too and my latest albums and some of the stream gigs are there for free for everyone. But then we also have some music videos on Vimeo for a purchase as well.

What does to be a female artist in a Man’s World as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

Women´s status in the music business has gotten a lot better nowadays. Majority of the new guitar buyers is females, all the social media channels are full of women and girls playing guitar, bass, drums, all of these instruments, that men used to only play. I think it is fantastic! Music shouldn’t be judged by one´s sex, but by the quality of it.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Always be kind, try inspiring others, and don´t be afraid to share. Don´t try pleasing others, but just follow your own instincts. And most of all, be true to yourself, in the end we have to only responsible for yourself, and you are the one you have to live with for the rest of your life, with every decision you make.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?                                               (Erja Lyytinen / Photo by Iiro Laitinen)

Music really crosses all the boundaries. Music is a language, that everyone can learn and when you speak the same “language”, you can share emotions. It´s amazing to get to play for example in India, and encouraging young women by saying, that I am a guitarist, and a Mother and entrepreneur and travelling around the world all the time, doing my dream job. That everything in life can be possible.

"I miss the interaction between the audience and the band. I love the fact that every gig is different and how audience reacts, really has a huge impact also how you are on stage."

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would travel fifty years ahead. Just to have a look how all is then and what kind of future my kids would have. And what kind of music we would listen. I am pretty sure that people will always listen to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix and other “organic” music, and enjoy music performed live, let´s  at least hope so!

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