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John Peel OBE, 1939 - 2004

Red Lick Records



 

 

Early Blues Interview
Erja Lyytinen,
singer/guitarist/songwriter

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"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

© Copyright 2011 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

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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.

© Copyright 2011 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Alan:  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 rytmusikkonservatorium [Rhythmic 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.

© Copyright 2011 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Alan:  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 earthy!

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 experience.

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, definitely.

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.

© Copyright 2011 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

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 inhabitants.

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 stuff.

Alan:  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.

© Copyright 2011 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Alan:  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 carries on?

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 Scandinavia tour. 

Alan:  Thank you so much Erja and good luck with the tours.

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www.rufrecords.de

www.erjalyytinen.com

Check out Erja Lyytinen at the Linton Music Festival

© Copyright 2011 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

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