"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".
- Vicente Abbate
I was fortunate to meet up
with Erja at the the
Linton Music Festival:
Alan: What were your
first musical memories growing up in the small town of, err, is it,
Kuopio in Finland?
Erja: Yes, Kuopio. I
remember that we always had music at our house. My father used to play
a lot of guitar, he still does, just for fun in the house. I remember
when I was very small, perhaps 4, I used to sing about my fatherís chord
progressions and I came up with my own lyrics and melody and my Daddy
later said that he was amazed at my improvisation at that age. It just
came naturally. I remember that I really liked it and I ran around the
room and singing at the same time. It was something that I had inside
me. My mother plays bass and sings and she and my father had a Finnish
traditional band together in the 60s so it was very easy. Growing up in
that sort of musical environment I donít think there was much choice.
Alan: So did you feel
that you always wanted to become a musician?
Erja: Yes, although there
was a tiny phase in my teenage years when I thought that I wouldnít do
music, but it didnít last long.
How did you get started in music professionally?
Erja: I had what is
probably a common background in that I was put into the concert circuit
when I was 7 years old to play violin. In Finland we didnít have a
school for, say African-American music. If you wanted to learn music
you had to go to classical education. I enjoyed it but when I turned to
be a teenager I was wanting to know why there isnít any improvisation in
this music, why does it have to be so formal all the time. So I did my
graduations in case I needed them later for something like music high
school and then I just stopped playing violin. It took a year that I
was without music but I had this urge that I needed to do something with
music and I started playing guitar. I grabbed my fatherís electric
guitar and started playing these different cover songs I liked, songs I
could sing with Ė you know old pop and rock, Procul Harum's Whiter Shade
of Pale, a bit of Led Zeppelin. I applied to music high school and I
got in and I met new people, more people and started to have bands.
Then I went to different schools after high school; I studied in Los
Angeles Musicians Institute for a couple of months, then in Denmark in
Copenhagen at the
Music Conservatory] which is really good quality and then also in Sweden
I actually graduated from the Sibelius-Akatemian
musiikkikasvatusosastolla [Sibelius Acadamy's Department of Music
Education] last year. My band, they laugh at me that I must be Europeís
most educated blues musician. For me, school has always given me the
freedom to do my music while I was receiving college music. They have
had to work the cafes and then do the gigs so Iím glad I did it but the
biggest school was to go abroad and play internationally.
Alan: What first
attracted you to the blues?
Erja: The feeling. I felt
that everybody was playing jazz music Ė jazz is fine, I enjoy it and I
listen to a lot of jazz and fusion guitar players but maybe it was the
school world but they sang so beautifully and I just wanted to do
something with my feelings and with my heart. I remember hearing Coco
Taylor first in my life and hearing 'Iím a Woman' from 'The
Earthshaker' album, and it just changed my world. I started playing
her songs and I had this blues song at the time, at about 18. I was
also listening a lot at the time to Ray Charles and Bonnie Raitt, they
were idols at that time.
So what does the blues mean to you?
Erja: It is a feeling,
something very deep and rural, how would I say, feet on the ground Ė
Alan: The Finnish
Magazine, ďBlues NewsĒ gave you the nickname, ďthe Bonnie Raitt of
FinlandĒ. Would you describe yourself this way?
Erja: Oh well, Itís hard to
describe yourself, but sheís a great lady. As a performer I think we
are different. I like to be a bit more wilder perhaps than what IĎve
seen what she does.
Alan: Didnít you perform
with her at the Puistoblues Festival in Finland?
Erja: Yes, I opened for her
and I got to meet her. Sheís a fabulous lady, really nice. The
comparison comes from the fact that we both play slide guitar which is
rare for women and then again she also does her own music like me.
Alan: Who has influenced
you the most in your music?
Erja: Thatís a really hard
question because there has been so many guitar players that Iíve been
listening to. I had a phase of listening to Brian Setzer playing the
jump blues kind of thing and in my early years I was listening to a lot
of Rebben Ford a very different guy. And Scott Henderson, an American
guy. Then I found quite late all these old guys like Muddy Waters and
nowadays when Iím at home I like to listen to Mississippi John Hurt, Son
House and all the old stuff. So itís hard to say really, my music is a
melting pot full of everything.
Alan: In 2006 you were
involved with Ruf Records' Blues Caravan with Aynsley Lister and Ian
Parker and you toured Europe and the States. Tell me about that
Erja: I call that my baby
year because that was the first time I was really exposed to the
international music world and to go there, to Mississippi, to THE place
with the history had a big impact on me and I think it changed me
mentally. I started to think about who is different and it gave me more
zest for the whole blues idolship. It was a very nice experience,
Alan: Also in 2006 you
recorded your first record for Ruf Records, 'Dreamland Blues',
with the single featuring on Sue Foley's 'Blues Guitar Women'
double album. How was that experience?
Erja: Well, that was the
educated white girl from Finland who goes to Mississippi and record with
some of the Delta Blues legends. They are very straighforward there and
very relaxed. We wrapped the whole album in three and a half days, that
was fast! Ian Parker was releasing the album, he was with me there.
Itís a different world there.
Alan: You are often
quoted as an exceptional guitarist Ė which is your favourite guitar?
Erja: It must be the blue
GFL, A-SATZ 3, itís a semi-hollow A-SATZ 3 GL guitar, itís blue flake,
very fancy looking. Thatís my favourite because I play all my gigs with
this and Iíve had it since 2005, something like that.
Alan: Are there any
particular songs you play which have special meaning to you?
Erja: Many! Of course in
the new CD we did, the 'Voracious Love' album, thereís a lot of
personal stuff but also many fictional stories as well. I guess
'Grip of the Blues', because thatís a very personal song I wrote
when I was feeling down and that is my blues.
Alan: I know youíve got a
string of concert dates in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Germany. Is
Linton the only UK gig this time around?
Erja: It is for the summer
although we did a tour in March and we are coming back at the end of
this year, at the end of October.
Alan: So what is the
blues scene like in Finland now?
Erja: Blues is getting more
and more attention. In the past ten years it has been increasing quite
a lot and getting more and more attention from media. We have quite a
lot of blues festivals as we are such a small country, some 5.5m
Alan: The Puistoblues
Festival Ė what sort of crowd does that get?
Erja: That's a good crowd,
itís near the capital Helsinki but it gets a good audience around 10,000
every year depending on the weather! We opened for Santana this Monday
in Helsinki in this big stadium and it was raining and you can always
see it coming there the evening before and it can really destroy some
Tell me about the making of your latest album, 'Voracious Love'.
Erja: With this album I
wanted to use as much time as I could. The previous albums I did
'Dreamland Blues' and 'Grip of the Blues' were 'studio live'
albums but we wanted to make it sound like the way we are on the stage
and with 'Voracious Love' I wanted to put all these different
layers there and play many many guitar tracks. Thereís more guitar than
the previous albums but itís more subtle, more hidden there as a little
inner candy thing. We didnít try the songs out at the gigs beforehand
but we went to the studio to build them up so itís very much a studio
album and I also had a lot of guests on the album.
Itís been described as a crossover album that pushes style
boundaries. Did it push your personal boundary too?
Erja: I guess Iím always
pushing myself, Iím challenging myself I guess and itís a challenge for
the audience and listeners. Iíve received different kinds of feedback,
some people say, ďI want this to be just ordinary blues but itís okay
there's bands that will do this as wellĒ, and I have this urge to do a
bit different kind of work, my style.
Alan: Some music styles
may be fads but blues is always with us. Why do you think the blues
Erja: That is a very good
question, but I think itís because itís an old form of music and the
marketing has always there, since a hundred years ago even. Thereís
something genuine about blues music and you can't fake it. Blues is
strong and still growing and evolving and that is why we have to be open
to new modern sounds.
Alan: So youíve got this
tour now and youíll be going back to Finland. Anything else coming up?
Erja: We are going straight
to Germany from here so this summer is going to be good for festivals.
Later on this year we are going to do this Double Trouble Tour with
Meena from Austria touring Europe. Then Iím back to England and then
Alan: Thank you so much Erja
and good luck with the tours.
Check out Erja Lyytinen at the Linton Music Festival
Blues Interviews List
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