Since first entering a recording studio some 15 years ago, singer/guitarist Erja Lyytinen has become a bona fide star in her homeland and a fixture on the international music scene.

 

In that time, "the Finnish slide goddess" (The Blues Magazine) has recorded in places as diverse as Helsinki, London and Memphis, earning numerous accolades along the way. Rooted in both traditional and modern blues, she successfully blends styles like jazz, pop, soul and rock into a sound all her own. 

Interview by Evie Kissack

Your special double bill tour, ‘Monstress Of Guitar’ heads out across the world this spring. You’ll be joined by Jennifer Batten for a few shows – are you looking forward to the dates?

I am super thrilled to be touring with Jennifer Batten! She will be doing her own performance and I will play with my own band, then we get together for few songs. Jennifer is also a featuring guest on my upcoming Another World album, so we will be playing songs from the album together too. It´s gonna be a wicked! The tour is actually only in Finland - for now! Well see how this goes first. Would be amazing to bring this double tour to UK too.


How did the collaboration with Batten first come about?

I met Jennifer in Germany, on a festival in the town of Schorndorf. We were both teaching a master class. I was blown away how great she is on guitar. She has her on unique way of handling guitar. All these sounds she can get out of those 6-strings! I simply was inspired of her playing and suggested to her if she’d like to do a couple of shows together. Luckily she agreed! She is a living legend and started her career in Michael Jackson’s band. Everybody remembers that guitarist with cool blond hair from Jackson tours. She  is a huge role model for so many female guitar players.


The Hare & Hounds will be hosting you here in Birmingham in March, as well as the famous 100 Club in London. What’s the best part of playing in England?

I have to say that I really enjoy playing overall in England and for English audience! The whole country is full of music. England has such a long history with rock´n roll and blues, so I always feel very much bonded with British audience. Besides people really understand the lyrics and the stories behind each song. There’s also this wittiness and sense of humour among English folks. The overall vibe is just very welcoming what it comes to music. But let’s not talk about the backstage facilities in all of the clubs.. they can be sometimes a bit challenging!


Your style is rooted in traditional and modern blues, but you also mix genres such as jazz, pop, soul, rock…who are your musical influences and how would you personally describe your sound?

My sound has developed during the years enormously and nowadays I would call it progressive blues or rock/blues. I’m not afraid of mixing styles. I started by listening a lot of guitarists, naturally, as I started to play the guitar age of 15. So I was listening to Robben Ford, Mike Stern, Pat Metheny, and later on Muddy Waters, Son House, Sonny Landreth, Derek Trucks. I am a big fan of Eric Johnson and Eric Gales too. I never limited myself to just one genre, but tried to learn a bit from everything. I could call my new album a rock/blues album, but I would like to call it a guitar album, as there is a lot of long guitar solos and guitar sounds. I like progressive stuff, like Pink Floyd - or Led Zeppelin, though Zeppelin is very bluesy too. I like the music of 70´s when there was time for elaborating melodies, no rush, but songs could develop into 10 minute long anthems. On my previous album I wrote a song “Black Ocean” which is a 7-minute long, and people ask it very often on shows. It has different sections and grows big towards the end. So not all the music has to be packed under 3 minutes for radio. And not all has to fit in to a certain style box.


Growing up, did you always have an aspiration to become a musician?

Yes I did. I was playing a violin in conservatory and coming from a musical family there was always music around. In the age of fifteen it started to become clear. I wanted to play the lead guitar, make songs and travel around the world. I started touring with my parents, which now looking back has been amazing chance of getting know about music business and touring. So since those days I was practising every day and going to various different music schools. I have studied music in Denmark, Sweden and USA and learned a lot from different teachers. But the best stuff I learned on the road.


Your last album, ‘Stolen Hearts’, moved in a different direction to some of your previous work. What can we expect from your new album, which will be released this spring?

Well the album has rootsy elements and I have used a lot of different guitar effects and sounds on the album. I tried to create layers, so there’s a plenty to listen on the album with all kind of small details here and there. It has elements from rock, blues, funk and pop music. So again its an interesting mixture. But I can tell that again it differs from all of my previous albums. And I am very excited about the colors on it!


Your latest album has been funded by a Crowdfunding campaign, which is an incredible display of support from fans. How did you feel with regards to the response from your fans?

I was blown away how well the Crowdfunding campaign went! People really wanted to support and be part of the album making. I think crowdfunding is a fantastic way of connecting with people. It does also encourage you to bring out the best of yourself. I write for myself, but at the same time for my loyal fans. And its a huge honor!


How has it been working on the tracks for the new album?

We started to do the backing tracks for the album already 2018 so most of the guitar and vocal tracks were recorded in the beginning of 2019. It always take s a lot of time and concentration. I can easily spend 12 hours per day at my studio working on the songs and guitar tracks. I like it a lot, but it requires all of my attention and energy. So my friends don’t get to see me for a while during this period! The album will be mixed in the USA in Austin Texas by Chris Bell. He has mixed some of my favourite artists like Eric Johnson and Mississippi All Stars. Mastering will be done in Los Angeles by Gavin Lurssen.


What collaborations appear on the album? How was the writing process for your new music?

I have two guests on the album. The other one is Jennifer Batten, as mentioned before and then slide guitar maestro Sonny Landreth is playing on two songs in the album. It was just incredible to get these two world-class talents on my album! With Jennifer we played this funky tune together, doing a lot of fast guitar riffs and then playing a harmony part together, which was intense!! Sonny and I play both slide guitars on the tracks, which is a rare treat really. You don’t hear too often two slide guitar players playing on top of each other or in the same token two female guitarists tapping at the same time. So I feel very lucky to do something different with these guitarists.


You’ve performed across the world, as well as alongside other guitar legends such as Joe Bonamassa. If you could narrow it down, what would be your biggest career highlight so far?

I have got to jam with a lot of amazing people, but definitely my biggest highlight so far has been when I got to jam together with Carlos Santana and his band last year. We were opening the show in front of 20 000 people in the Kaisaniemi Park in Helsinki. Carlos had watched the show and approached me for a chat at his backstage. It was incredible to get to meet this soulful man, who’s music I had been practising since I was 15 years old! And there we sat on his couch listening to his demos.. And soon after I was on stage with the whole band, jamming to their tunes. He gave me a nickname “Lightning” Lyytinen - according to Lightning Hopkins. It was a dream come true and I will cherish that moment forever!

Erja will headline a big run of UK dates in March, coming to Birmingham's Hare And Hounds on March 28th 2019. 

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