Q&A with internationally renowned singer and guitarist, Erja Lyytinen - master of the slide style with a lot of unique energy

"For me there was first the emotion. I wanted to play gospel, blues and soul music because of it´s high emotional charge. There needs to be a feeling in what you are doing. And for me that goes with playing and singing. Technique comes later!"

Erja Lyytinen: Diamonds On The Road 

Anticipated by a series of incredible singles such as "You Talk Dirty" and "Diamonds On The Road" itself, the new album by Erja Lyytinen, internationally renowned Finnish singer and guitarist, master of the slide style, with a of unique energy and ready to conquer the Italian and European public. The latest double album entitled “Diamonds on the Road – Live 2023” was born from the desire to reclaim the dimension of live concerts, that emotion of being without a safety net and with only one possibility of capturing those perfect moments and preserving them forever. The album “Diamonds On The Road” marks Erja Lyytinen's fourth live work and follows “Songs from the Road”, “Live in London” and “Lockdown Live”. The album is the famous guitarist's first concert to capture the live experience in the post-Covid period. «Diamonds on the Road was recorded towards the end of our spring tour, in March 2023», says Erja «We played ten shows in a row, of which eight were sold out. The band had good energy and the songs flowed."                                            (Erja Lyytinen / Photo © by Denis Carpentier)

Speaking about her new concert album, Lyytinen said: «When you play live, you only have one moment to get it right, and then that moment is already gone. There is no possibility of subsequent corrections, so it is simultaneously very difficult and exciting. Adrenaline flows throughout your body and the audience and everything around you influences your performance." Lyytinen's ever-evolving sound also depends on her fleet of guitars, which sees her move from Telecaster to Stratocaster without difficulty, and the choice of songs saw the revival of "You Talk Diry" first released 20 years ago, as well to also compete with Jimi Hendrix with “Crosstown Traffic” and to dedicate a piece to a work by the Finnish artist Pekka Halonen, who took inspiration from a Finnish saga and took on folk metal tones. 

Interview by Michael Limnios                  Archive: Erja Lyytinen, 2022 Interview

Special Thanks: Erja Lyytinen & Davide Grandi (AZ Press)

Currently you’ve one more live album, titled “Diamonds On The Road Live 2023”. Do you have any interesting stories about the making of?

We recorded the live album in the middle of our Spring tour in 2023. The band was in a great live condition and we´d been playing the songs from “Waiting for the Daylight” album for few months then, so all the songs were going smoothly and beautifully. It was time to make a new live album for sure! We recorded two shows, which the latter was better one. Everything simply clicked on that night. While mixing the album, I noticed that I did say few swear words in few places, so I had to instruct my mixing engineer to cut these words from the recording.  It was better to leave these words out not to be censored in the air play afterwards..

Why do you think that Finnish epic saga, “Kalevala”; and Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic” continues to generate such a devoted following?

Our national epic saga “Kalevala” is such an inspiring mythical story that was written by Elias Lönnrot in 1835. Maybe there was really a shaman called Vainamoinen in Finland long time ago, who knows. But it is interesting saga and I remember learning about Kalevala in the schools already in the age of seven. I also remember as a child when I saw a picture of Jimi Hendrix posing in an old music magazine wearing a colorful outfit, with his curly black hair, and an electric guitar in his hands. He looked totally different to anything that I had seen before. I was a big fan of Elvis as a child, who was very different looking with polished outfits. Hendrix had something raw and mystical about him. He was intriguing. Jimi died such a young age but was quite a figure and left a huge legacy. He invented a new way of playing the electric guitar back in the days and was so utterly open when playing. Of course drugs had it it´s impact on his live performances, but still. He was and still is a character, a mystery to be solved, like Vainamoinen probably is in the saga of Kalevala. Something out of reach, something out of this world.

"I had a chance of support Carlos Santana in Helsinki Kaisaniemi Park in 2018. It did change my musical life a lot. I got to meet Carlos afterwards and he said such amazing things to me and encouraged me to do what I was doing musically." (Erja Lyytinen / Photo © by Elsa Wellamo)

What's the balance in music between technique skills and soul/emotions? Why is it important to we preserve and spread the blues?

For me there was first the emotion. I wanted to play gospel, blues and soul music because of it´s high emotional charge. There needs to be a feeling in what you are doing. And for me that goes with playing and singing. Technique comes later! But without a technique it´s hard to do anything. So, guitar techniques are important, they help me to express my feelings. But technique shouldn´t be the main purpose. It´s the balance. We see a lot of fast guitar players on-line nowadays, shredding for 20 seconds... I could watch one-two songs from them, but to keep my interest, I need emotion in the music, expressions, feelings. The lived life needs to be heard in your music. Then it is genuine and something that listener can also relate to. 

What it comes to blues music, it´s origins where so raw, so sad and heartbreaking. We can only read from the history books about the abuse and sorrow, that involved slavery in the southern parts of America. Field workers singing songs in a hot weather, in oppressive atmosphere, being taken from their roots and brought to a foreign country to serve  others. Blues music is beautiful, yet painful, and does remind us listeners nowadays from the bad times. For me playing blues has helped to overcome my own demons and misfortunes. So, blues nowadays works as a therapy and how you can overcome bad stuff by listening or playing the blues.

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better musician?

I split with my long-term partner while making of the Stolen Hearts album in 2016. We had been together for 17 years and I had just gotten our twins. The labour was heavy, my body was aching for months afterwards, I was dead tired all the time. We had no money as I couldn´t play shows because my pregnancy was a risky one carrying two babies and traveling. So there was a lot going on, and in top of all that, you hardly slept with two babies. It was hard also because our family broke, or so I felt back then. I was a wreck and wrote songs like “Slowly Burning” and “Black Ocean” to pour my heart into. I remember that I had a feeling of I don´t have anything to lose. So, I noticed when being on stage, in a way I was free. Free of expectations, I didn’t care what people would say about my playing or singing or performance, it was just me, my voice and guitar expressing my feelings and thoughts. So, something happened and I noticed I was taken to another dimension as a musician. Becoming a mother was a huge thing too, and it changed everything in my life. And there´s a silver lining in all. I´m good friends with my ex and my twins are just great kids and I couldn’t be happier to be able to have a family and at the same time to be a traveling musician.  So, through the bad times to better ones, the personal and musical growth keeps happening through your life.

"Blues music is beautiful, yet painful, and does remind us listeners nowadays from the bad times. For me playing blues has helped to overcome my own demons and misfortunes. So, blues nowadays works as a therapy and how you can overcome bad stuff by listening or playing the blues."

(Erja Lyytinen / Photo © by Elsa Wellamo)

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

I had a chance of support Carlos Santana in Helsinki Kaisaniemi Park in 2018. It did change my musical life a lot. I got to meet Carlos afterwards and he said such amazing things to me and encouraged me to do what I was doing musically. It was very enlightening, and he also gave me a nickname “Lightning”, referring to Lightning Hopkins. Maybe he just couldn´t spell my last name “Lyytinen”, but I didn´t mind, he is Carlos Santana after all! He also invited me to play with him on stage with his orchestra among Cindy Blackman and others. There was 20 000 people in the audience, and no rehearsal. So, I jumped on stage with an open mind, my ears open and let the music take me along with the ride of music of Santana, a band that I´d been listening since I was fifteen years old. Yes, that day will stay with me forever.

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