An Interview with Finnish singer/guitarist Erja Lyytinen: Looking forward meeting the blues in 2050´s!

"Blues simply moved me and I just dug into that world and the feel just felt the right for me."

Erja Lyytinen: Dr Blues Feelgood MD

Erja Lyytinen is part of an exciting young generation of European blues artists who are carrying this traditional form of American music into the future. From her home in Finland, she has ventured out to captivate audiences throughout Europe and recorded albums in places as far flung as her own Seasound Studio in Helsinki and the heart of the Mississippi Delta.

Acclaimed for her slide guitar playing abilities, keen songwriting and smooth vocal delivery, Lyytinen is committed to a life of music. And, as her newest release Voracious Love shows, she continues to develop and hone her craft.
Born into a musical family in the small town of Kuopio, The singer/ songwriter/ guitarist quickly emerged as an artist to watch in her native country. From the beginning, she has combined elements of folk, rock, jazz and pop into her swampy, rootsy blues. Her 2005 international debut, entitled "Pilgrimage" (with Aynsley Lister and Ian Parker), gave audiences outside of Finland a first taste of her spirited live performances, and led to a number of successful appearances in the United States.
For her solo follow-up for the Ruf Records, "Dreamland Blues", Erja returned to the USA to record with David and Kinney Kimbrough (sons of Mississippi blues legend Junior Kimbrough) as well as long-time musical partner Davide Floreno.
Double CD/DVD "Songs from the Road" documents a November 2011 performance at the Savoy Theater in Helsinki – the same venue in which Thomas Ruf discovered Lyytinen six years earlier. The concert focuses on material from her 2010 release Voracious Love while mixing in a smattering of cuts from previous studio albums. Included are outstanding originals like "Voracious Love" and the hard-driving "Everything's Fine," Blind Willie Johnson's unforgettable "Soul of a Man," a revamped "Crossroads" and Tony Joe White's swamp classic "Steamy Windows."

Interview by Michael Limnios


What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?
The blues comes from the sorrow of the African people who´d been mistreated.  People are still treated badly around the world – though we are living 21st century! -  This is a matter which we shouldn´t overlook. Nowadays blues has evolved and developed in to a music form that everyone can enjoy. For me blues is a way of expressing myself and my thoughts. Blues is also a state of mind and me being a happy person, I do still sometimes get the blues feeling quite often as well. But that helps me to create the music and helps the good days feel great!


In what age did you play your first gig and how was it like (where, with whom etc.)?
I guess the first gig was when I sang in the Christmas party to a couple of hundreds of people. I was around 5 years old. But then the real first paying gig I did with my parents’ band when I was age of 15. I had just learned guitar and I played some Santana´s tunes and sang. I also got to see my parents to perform really at the first time, which made me to see them in totally different light. I thought they were so cool!


What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESWOMAN and SONGWRITER?
Should I say a decent amount of experiences and suffering? (smile) I moved from home at age of 17 and started collecting experiences as a young woman. I already knew back then that I wanted to do my own music and play the lead guitar. Blues gave me a channel to do it. When I picked up the guitar, I instantly started to create my own music. But I remember I didn´t have so much to write about back then. But years of hunger for life and adventures has given me more tools to write about.  Songwriting has actually become very essential thing for me – it´s one of the things in life I enjoy the most. I do also write for the other artists as well. In music for me the feeling and the presence is the most important thing. And the message behind the lyrics, what do you want to say.


How do you describe Erja Lyytinen’s sound and progress, what is your music philosophy?
I recorded my first album over a decade ago, and that time I was into jump/blues and jazzier stuff. Also my guitar sound was quite round and soft. Over the years my style has developed enormously and nowadays I would describe my style as crossover blues-rock.  I play mostly G&L guitars, Fenders and different resonators to create a great slide tone what ever I´m then playing.


From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues? What is the best advice ever gave you?
“Listen to other players” has been the best advice probably. Blues simply moved me and I just dug into that world and the feel just felt the right for me. I have learned a lot by playing with other musicians and by watching them. My guitar player Davide Floreno is a brilliant guitarist and I´ve also learned a great deal from him. He has just recently put out a solo album called “One Thursday Evening”, which is a great blues album.


Which memory from David and Kinney (sons of Mississippi blues legend Junior Kimbrough) makes you smile?
When David passed out on the coach, because he had had a bit of a party night before..


Are there any memories from Blues Caravan, which you’d like to share with us?
I have participated Blues Caravan twice, years 2006 and 2009. It´s had been an adventure both times. We once flew to Kansas City and I had just landed to the airport when I heard we are gonna do an extra gig on the same evening. I had just flew 20 hours! To avoid the extra baggage costs I had taken the neck and body separately and put them together with my clothes.  I literally had my G&L in two pieces in my luggage. So on our way to the venue I sat in the moving bus and build my guitar again screwing the neck back into the body and put the new strings and checking the fine tuning, neck radius etc. I was tired but so enthusiastic. When we got there, I was ready to the stage! This tells about this business a lot; you are always in a hurry and you always have to keep up with the budget, too.



Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
When I met my German record company boss Thomas Ruf from Ruf Records. He is the most stubborn guy I ever met and I am very much as well. So you can think of what kind of negotiations we had at the beginning about how to do things, music etc. I felt first I had to give up so many things, but in the end I got them all back with dozen new things!  I've learned so many things from him and I´ll always be very grateful for him from taking me under his wings and by making me as an international artist. Nowadays I run my own company and I do around 100 gigs a year and enjoy all of it!!


Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
I think I am living my most interesting period of time until this moment right now. I graduated after 12 years of hanging in the University of Sibelius-Academy – I now have a Master of Music Degree, which is a nice second plan, if I decide to stop touring (which I don´t think will ever happen though) While in school I felt  a bit restricted and lonely “blues wolf”, because you had to do so many different things and all I really cared was doing my own music. But being a good girl, I needed finish the degree. My dropped out! Now when I´m more grown up and have the wide education about music theory and orchestration, composing etc. I can actually express myself even better. So, yeah, I´m living great time!


Do you know why the sound of the slide guitar is connected to the blues? What are the secrets of slide guitar?
Slide guitar playing supports the singing with the fact that you can “slide” as if you were singing. I do quite often play and sing the same melody and I love the fact that I can go anywhere with the slide. I learned to play regular guitar in schools, so it´s much more predictable for me than the slide playing.
Slide I more or less learned just by myself and listening to other slide guitarists, like Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Son House and later on Sonny Landreth, Derek Trucks etc. The secret is to get the tone and the feel right. And of course right and left hand damping and all other technical stuff to make the each note sing properly.


What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
Prepare to work 24/7. Musicians are the doctors of human minds – every night we get up to the stage, no matter if we are sick, tired, or poor we want every single person to enjoy the concert and leave happier to their homes. It´s tough life to sit in the bus for hours and then run a marathon – because a gig in the hot club or in a big festival is very demanding physically as well. So you should remember to take a good care of yourself as well. Not to get too carried away with temptations like partying and alcohol.


What's been their experience from “studies” with Walter Trout?
I have opened up for Walter Trout while we were on tour in UK. He seemed absolutely fantastic and lovely person and they travel and work so much! He is just getting better and better.


Do you remember anything fanny or interesting from the road with the Blues?
Once we were booked to play a jail gig in Germany – yes, in a real jail! The promoter supposed to provide us a backline and so we didn´t have a drum set with us. Apparently there was no drum set at all and my drummer just had to put his cymbals on top of the chairs and played the whole gig like that. It was extremely funny! Recently we were doing a festival in Norway and we took the same festival bus with Muddy Waters son Mud Morganfield to the festival area. What a lovely guy! Twisted Sister was also playing the same festival and this blues legend´s son got to remembering their hit songs from 80´s and we ended up singing together a bit of their song. That was funny too! Also it was my birthday so it felt even more exciting! I was born on the seventh day of a seventh month, like Muddy Waters used to sing on the Hoochie Choocie Man. So you can just think of how haunting that all was.


What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?
Jam with John O´Leary, he has played with Savoy Brown and Alan Glenn (Yardbirds) the jam was reviewed in the Times magazine, which was amazing. Also it was memorable jam night in the Beale Street in Memphis when I got to play on stage together with the son of a Bobby Blue Bland, drummer Rod Bland.


Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
It is such an old music form and it has always lived and survived. Looking forward meeting the blues in 2050´s!


How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage and what compliment do you appreciate the most after a gig?
Our show is very interactive and I like to entertain people a lot. The feedback after the show is always huge compliment. Yesterday we played on a festival for 3500 people and there was this guy who´d seen me at least 15 times and he said that he still can´t get enough! Being in contact with my fans is so important to me.


Which things do you prefer to do in your free time? What is your “secret” BLUES DREAM? Happiness is……
I don´t have a much of free time, but I love jogging and just spending time at home. Happiness is a great food and drink and laughter with my friends and family!!


Make an account for current realities of the case of the blues in Finland. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene and why?
When I started to operate in blues circuit over ten years ago, there wasn´t much of media interested. But what I´ve noticed is that blues has got so much more media attention in a few years – probably part of the fact that there´s young white girl from Finland playing  slide guitar and touring internationally. So what has happened, we are getting more and more younger people to the audience and women of course, because they see another woman performing and want to come to support us. Also I´m suspecting that in five years there´ll be many little Erja´s playing blues guitar in Finland, which would be awesome!



How you would spend a day with Robert Johnson at Crossroad?
Well obviously it would be a hot day in Clarksdale sometime in 1930´s. So we´d be sitting somewhere under the sun, sipping whiskey straight from the bottle and occasionally throwing in a guitar tune and another. He would tell where he has been to and if I was a traveling musician woman of that time I would share my stories too. In the night we´d go play to the local juke joint to earn money for the dinner and when midnight comes, we´d be both standing in the crossroads, waiting guitars to be tuned…We did “Crossroads” on our new live DVD “Songs From The Road”. It´s a great story.


What are your plans for the future? Do you have a message for the Greek fans?
We have been recording new songs for the new album, which we are planning to release in February 2013. Also a lot´s of good stuff coming this year too! You can check the news from my facebook site. I would so love to come to play in Greek someday soon!! I like eating and I love the food you have there, I have only been on a holiday in Greek and loved the atmosphere, feta cheese, olives and ouzo...So hopefully we meet soon!

Erja Lyytinen's official website

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