Q&A with Finnish singer/guitarist Erja Lyytinen: one of the 10 guitarists who are keeping the blues alive and well

"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

European Blues Award-winning guitarist Erja Lyytinen marks a new chapter in her career with her latest studio album, Waiting For The Daylight. Consisting of nine original songs, Waiting For The Daylight by Erja Lyytinen will be released on Friday 7th October 2022, via Tuohi Records. The Helsinki native proudly self-produced this her now twelfth studio release. The album was recorded largely in her hometown at Hollywood Studios during the first half of 2022. As with both of her previous albums, Another World, and 'Stolen Hearts', the High-Flying Finn further explores the subjects of love and loss. Erja Lyytinen was in the middle of one of the busiest times of her career when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. However, despite the challenges she faced, the entrepreneurial artist continued to develop new products and ideas throughout the lockdown period including, an autobiographical book titled the "Blues Queen" (now available in both Finnish and English), a pair of guitar tuition books and the development of her own brand of tea.                                    (Erja Lyytinen / Photo by Antti Karppinen)

Lyytinen’s musical palette is vast, encompassing the very best of contemporary blues-rock whilst inspired and influenced by the blues greats of yore. And that respect for those guitar greats has been reciprocated throughout the years. One of the many highlights of the artist’s musical career was in 2018 when Erja opened for one of her musical heroes Carlos Santana at Helsinki's Kaisaniemi Park. The guitar legend invited Lyytinen to play on stage in front of 20,000 people. Carlos was full of praise, declaring: "It was inspiring to see her play. It was from the future, and I like the future.” It was here also where Santana gave Erja the nickname "Lightning", referring to Lightnin’ Hopkins. Since the European borders opened once again, the celebrated slide guitar player has returned to the international stage. Lyytinen recently performed at shows and festivals in Finland, Belgium, Norway, Germany, and France as well as making her live debut in Algeria. Throughout 2021, Erja Lyytinen and her band performed multiple times on Finnish national TV, including a much-revered appearance as part of the country's Independence Day celebration. The artist has appeared in Guitar Player Magazine (US), where she was chosen as one of the "10 guitarists who are keeping the blues alive and well for a new generation of players". The artist was also inducted into the prestigious Finnish Hall of Fame.

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!

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started and what has remained the same?

What it comes to my playing skills and singing, during the past twenty years it has developed a lot. I am pushing myself as a guitarist and a singer constantly. During making of my latest album “Waiting For The Daylight” I tried to find a new approach to my playing. Also, I feel that I have been able to grow as a songwriter and I am not afraid to express myself and sing about deep subjects. I have become more confident how to express myself and how to be on stage. One thing that has always stuck with me is the joy of playing for the live audiences.

Performing is very important to me and I enjoy it very much. I’m not afraid to make mistakes on front of the audience. If you’re always playing on a safety mode and won’t take risks, it might get a bit boring... so I like taking risks and being open-minded when I’m on stage.                                           (Erja Lyytinen / Photo by Antti Karppinen)

"While writing new songs, I usually compose guitar parts at the same time, so I am practicing a lot and trying to come up with new ideas for each song. That pushes me forward to keep up with my guitar skills and stamina. When I’m on the road, I always warm up before getting on stage."

What touched you from the sound of slide guitar? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

Good guitar techniques always helps to better express what you want to say through your playing. Each time I have developed as a guitar player, it has also deepen my performing and given me wider range to express myself. However, if you only think of technical performance, it might lack the feeling, the soul, as in the end, it is all about emotions. When a listener comes to a show, they will most likely remember those moments that moved them in the show, the feelings they experienced. So, technique and soul do go together, you need both to be in a good balance. I instantly loved to wailing sound of the slide guitar, it’s very singing-like and suits perfectly to blues with melancholic melodies.

John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?

Everything I do, I always try to be present. Not to worry about tomorrow or regret the yesterday, but trying to learn to be in the moment. Because it is actually now, that matters, as we don’t know what tomorrow brings and to be bitter about the past won’t get us anywhere. So, learning to be in the moment is a challenge that I try to execute each day. It’s hard though as the human mind seems to worry what there’s to come. Meaning of life...to be friendly, enjoy the life, take care of your loved ones, make music and move people, give them emotions. Not to be judgmental towards other people but give other people space and possibility to be who and what they want to be.

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album Waiting For The Daylight?

It was really wonderful to record my latest album with my band! We chose the first take of the song “The End Of Music”. On the album we have a fade out for the song, but in the studio, this take kept on going and going almost to 10 minutes, as we enjoyed recording this beautiful track together. During making of “You Talk Dirty” I got an idea to sing some ad lib vocals through my G&L Asat Semi-Hollow guitar microphones. So, I had my guitar very loud and I was screaming through the mics, which was so hilarious! It created this haunting, nasal tone to my vocals, which you can hear towards the end of the song.                                                  (Erja Lyytinen / Photo by Antti Karppinen)

"So, technique and soul do go together, you need both to be in a good balance. I instantly loved to wailing sound of the slide guitar, it’s very singing-like and suits perfectly to blues with melancholic melodies."

Are there any specific memories or highlights of your live debut in Algeria that you would like to tell us about?!

My first trip to Algeria was very interesting! We got to play for thousands of people at Dima Jazz Festival in Constantine. The reaction of audience was something else I haven’t experienced before. They were fully supportive from the beginning until the end, cheering for everything you did on stage! So, in a way it was super easy to perform on stage as they loved everything we did. However, I have a nice memory from a little shopping trip I did in Algeria, too. One of the festival organizers followed me to the shops and helped me to find this beautiful purple dress, the kind of the local ladies like to wear. So now I have a little piece of Algeria in my wardrobe! I also wore this gorgeous dress on the photo shoot of my new album cover.

How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

While writing new songs, I usually compose guitar parts at the same time, so I am practicing a lot and trying to come up with new ideas for each song. That pushes me forward to keep up with my guitar skills and stamina. When I’m on the road, I always warm up before getting on stage.

Few years back I started to practice regularly my techniques and created a guitar technique program including different kind of picking techniques, sweeps and so on to improve and maintain my playing. I have noticed that by doing this I have been able to play a lot more advanced material than before. So, practicing with a goal in mind does have a great impact on playing! Between the tours I like to enjoy nature and go hiking. Nature for me is a source of spirituality, I can breathe freely and let my mind wonder. During our Canadian tour in September, we had a chance to go hiking with my band and we spend hours in the forest and went to see Dutcheney Falls in North Bay. That was a perfect pause on the tour and gave us all a nice pause between the hectic tour.

Where does your creative drive come from?

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.

"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 Hans Lehtinen)

What was the hardest part of writing "Blues Queen" book?

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.

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 next year. I can´t wait to travel again to Australia, where we supposed to play years ago. 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 Antti Karppinen)

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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