Erja Lyytinen releases her 10th studio album ‘Stolen Hearts’ on Friday 7th April together with a brief UK Tour, which includes the album release party at the infamous 100 Club. With that in mind we thought it was the perfect time to touch base with the guitar slinging Finnish beauty and wax lyrical about all things blues.
RnL – I believe you were born into a musical family?
Ejra – Yes, my mother played bass and my father guitar. We always had music in our house, I remember at age 2 or 3 my father-playing guitar and I was singing along, already making up melodies. I can vividly remember getting that tingling sensation that came from making music.
RnL – What type of band did you mother and father play in?
Erja – They had a Finnish musical orchestra, so they basically had to play a variety of styles, dancing music like the tango and foxtrot etc but they also would have had a section for Rock n’ Roll, like Elvis and songs like Yellow River and so on.
RnL – Your mother and father being musicians must have had a profound influence on your own musical development growing up?
Erja – Yes of course, you didn’t really think of it back then but now I realise that I just have musicality in me, being in that kind of family. We always had instruments around the house, guitars and bass’s and we even had a PA at some point in the living room! That’s cool right?
RnL – ( Laughing ) That’s a bit far out!
Erja – Yeah far out right? I have two brothers and we used to jam a lot, we had a cosy room and we had all the instruments down there, drum kit, all the amps and I can remember playing the guitar, my little brother playing drums and my big brother he loved to sing, It was really cool you know these moments.
RnL – Im sure you must have had a lot of musicians coming through the house and a few colourful characters?
Erja – Actually no, we didn’t have that so much. But I did attend a musical high school and we used to have the kids over who would jam a lot so that was pretty cool, mum and dad were always cool with that, who does that these days! Nobody.
RnL – I was lucky enough one evening to hang out with Elin Larsson of the Blues Pills and she talked about the education system in Sweden and their focus on the arts and the creative, Is that similarity shared in the Finnish education system?
Erja – I think it is quite the same yes, I have studied both in Sweden and Denmark so I have as well as the Sebelis Academy here in Finland so I have a good idea of their viewpoint on that, there really is a high profile education in Scandinavia. You don’t get in by paying; it’s purely on a performance related testing so you have to be at a certain level. When I compare this to my time studying at the MIT in Los Angeles, you can pay to get an education there. So the skill level disparity was huge between the students there were so many different levels.
RnL – It must have been a great time though, gaining a wealth of knowledge from all these prestigious institutes?
Erja – Yeah, I had to learn all aspects of music from conducting to arranging and composing, different instruments and various styles of music, classical to analysing music. My musical education might at times seem a bit much for what I am doing now but I try to exploit it all the time, for example a few years ago I had ‘The Sky Is Crying’ a tribute to Elmore James, I was able to arrange the horns for that album myself and before that I used a cellist and two violins on a previous album and I was able to compose the parts for that, so I have made use of that education where I can. I think this is what I tried to do also with the new album; you shouldn’t be ashamed about being educated but I have to admit I learnt to play on the road but my musical education was a totally different thing, you get different perspectives and tools and that’s a great thing.
RnL – So between leaving school and going to university etc were you out about gigging during those years?
Erja – I’d been out gigging from about 15 yrs old, I was kinda freelancing playing with various band, being in a musical college you’d come up with different bands and gigs every week when you were offered a show. In 1998 I got my first gig at a festival with my first blues band, and shortly after I joined a Finnish TV band and we did a lot of shows but by 2000 things started to take off, I have joined a band called Dave’s Special featuring Erja Lyytinen and I started to gig more and more. It was the middle of 2005 when I was introduced to Thomas Ruf from Ruf Records, a German label and I got a record deal with them that really took me to an international level. That was a big breaking point in my career and pretty much ever since I’ve been gigging for 12 years!
RnL – Yeah its funny when you say that as from 2002 with your debut release to 2017 with ‘Stolen Hearts’ you have been fairly prolific with 10 studio albums and 2 live recordings also.
Erja – Yeah its a nice number when you put it that way, you need to be productive. My last studio album with original material was 2013 so it’s been almost four years since; I had two albums in between a live album ‘Live In London’ and ‘The Sky Is Crying’ a tribute album. Now days it seems like things can get old quite fast, you’re always working on tunes, you’re always writing something but with this album I didn’t want to rush it. I felt I had a really good collection of songs and I wanted to give them time, I did postpone the release of the album a few times as I just felt that I didn’t have all the pieces of the puzzle in the right places.
RnL – How to do you approach a new album, do you set-aside time to write or are do you prefer to work organically?
Erja – It goes with the flow, sometimes you feel like you need to write, people say the best art come from pain, when you feel pain it can force you to write to make you feel better. So song writing can be a cathartic process for me to help make sense of everything going on around me. Of course there are moments of happiness also that you want to write about, for example there is a song of mine ‘Awakening’ it’s a happy song about falling in love and with this album I did have some old songs involved ‘City Of Angels’ which I started writing while studying there back in 2004. That was a long time ago but I had this song in my head and for one reason or another I didn’t know how to make it happen, so last year I finally had a forum for that song, Its about society and how they worked in LA back then. So I am really happy I could put my feelings about my experience there into that song.
RnL – So I believe your new album was recorded in Helsinki and you went to London to work with Chris Kimsey to finish it off?
Erja – I did the backing tracks at the Sonic Bump Studio Helsinki, I used that studio for the 1st time and I really, really liked it there. I had thought at first that I would do the guitar parts and vocals in England, but it just made sense to do the guitar here as all my equipment is here. I knew also how I wanted the guitars to sound already and I had a great engineer here in Helsinki working with Lauri Hämäläinen. But why go abroad? I really wanted to take this album to another level, to give this an international touch and being born in Finland and speaking Finnish, not being a native English speaking person its always good to have someone who can teach you about pronunciations, about the phrasing and the lyrics. That was a really good experience, you’re always learning, you’re whole life is a learning process and I’m more than happy to get a kick up the ass once in a while to get better. I got to know Chris ( Kimsey ) through our mutual friend Alan Darby who is a songwriter and producer himself, he thought we would get along really well and we did from the off.
We decided to do the album at the State Of The Art Studios in London, it was a really cool studio and for the 1st time ever I had a producer who had a really vast knowledge of different microphones. He really loved the old mic’s and I remember when I recorded in Mississippi we used some really old ones there cos they go way back! Chris really liked the old Repo mics on my vocals and we maybe used between 5-10 different mics.
RnL – It must be a pleasure to work with an engineer / producer like Chris who can extract the best out of you as an artist?
Erja – Yes definitely and its not just that we choose mics for all the tracks, he would listen to a track and THEN choose a mic appropriate for the vocals and feel of the song. that was really interesting and we actually some mics that were so old, like from the 1940’s it was really cool, for a modern album working with really old gear, its something different. This is what I like about Chris and its something that brought us together, we both love to use old and new at the same time. He would still use pro tools etc but then mix analogue too.
RnL – Chris was very complimentary about yourself about working with you, not just about your playing ability but also your musical intellect and knowledge which he greatly appreciated as it allowed him to get the very best out of both of you.
Erja – Yes I was really pleased to hear what he had to say, he was very complimentary about my slide playing and my vocals. I think he also appreciated I like to work hard, and I’m quite driven and this is what I liked about him also. There were some night that we were in the studio at 5am and he just kept on saying “I need to finish this track for you” and I was like its time to go home! But he’s in his 60’s so I was really taken with his professionalism.
RnL – You mentioned you had already laid down the backing tracks in Helsinki, so when you reached London and Chris how much work was there still to do?
Erja – Well I think the vocals really made a huge part in the recordings, we did the lead vocals and backing vocals at State Of The Art with Chris and then of course he mixed the whole album too, mixing is a huge part of the album as it can either kill it or make it shine. He kinda bonded everything together, people would say you have a very diverse album but also a cohesive one and I think he made that happen.
RnL – So your UK is on the horizon, have you guys been rehearsing for that?
Erja – (Laughing) Yeah we have been rehearsing a lot as we’ve played 40 odd shows this year already! It’s been a tight year so far, but you know I said to the guys just the other day that we need to mix it up! I’m one of those people who always like to improve on things where possible. We’re literally just back from a week in Holland and Germany so its all been going well.
RnL – Are you looking forward to getting back to the UK?
Erja – Very much I love playing in the UK. I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback especially from the UK, I’m looking forward to playing the songs live, its always a different thing as you only have 1 guitar and vocals so I really hope people with enjoy the live approach.
RnL – So what does the rest of the 2017 have in store for you?
Erja – Well a lot more of the same but there is some interesting stuff going on which I cannot talk about just yet! But there is some really cool stuff on the horizon, which I am really looking forward to, a kind of new path for me so it’s all-good.
I have to say a BIG thank you to Erja for fitting us in here at RnL with her busy schedule, I’d like to wish her all the best for the album release and the year ahead. A joy to talk to and utterly charming to boot for those who aren’t in the know, she does a mean cat impression too but that’s a whole other story.
APRIL 2017 UK TOUR DATES
Square & Compass, Ilminster
Sunday 9 April 2017
Box Office – 01823 480 467
Windmill Hill, Ilminster TA19 9NX
Worthing Pier Southern Pavilion
Wednesday 12 April
Book Online from SeeTickets.com and Ents24
Venue Tel: 01903 366 017
Marine Parade, Worthing, BN11 3PX
Durham Gala Theatre, Durham
Co-headline with Chantel McGregor
Thursday 13 April 2017
Book Online: Durham Gala Theatre
Box Office: 03000 266 600
Millennium Place, Durham, DH1 1WA
Hard Rock Hell – Blues Festival
Saturday 15 April 2017
Box Office: 0203 287 4994
37-43 Arundel Gate, Sheffield S1 2PN