When thinking of Finnish rock stars people will bring to mind Hanoi Rocks. However with her tenth studio album Stolen Hearts receiving huge acclaim, and a European tour which sees her play seven U.K. dates during September, Helsinki based slide blues
guitarist, vocalist and writer Erja Lyytinen is determined to change that.
Stolen Hearts is Erja’s first studio release since the 2014 tribute to Elmore James with The Sky Is Crying, voted amongst that year’s top three of international albums by writers of Blues Matters Magazine and best European Blues album as chosen by Canada’s Blues Underground Network. Live in London was released in 2015; a sizzling recapturing not only of Elmore James’ masterworks but also of Erja’s own original material, which had fans, critics and peers alike drooling.
Stolen Hearts, though, sees further new ground being broken, with its eclectic-but-nonetheless-blues ingrained roots enshrining eleven beautifully composed tracks.
“It’s totally blown my mind that people love the new songs and production so much,” Erja said via Skype from her office-studio in Helsinki. “The album has a very modern vibe, but the sound of it is more 1970s; sort of soft but at the same time very clear, which is a result of the way it has been mixed on the EMI consul we used at State of the Ark in London. It is mostly analogue equipment we’ve used which has produced this warm feeling and made this so very different from any of my other albums.”
“From the beginning to the end, the whole project was a learning process. Initially I took on the sole responsibility for absolutely everything; booking studios, arranging rehearsals, production, writing … Everything. I started to record
in Helsinki where we cut most of the backing tracks. Then we came across to the UK and that’s where I met the legendary producer Chris Kimsey for the first time. That was the cherry on the icing of the top of the cake, really. Especially as I was recording the vocals in the same booth as probably Tina Turner had used!” Erja laughed.
No matter the legend Tina Turner might be, she won’t have sung better than Erja Lyytinen does on this album. The diversity Stolen Hearts contains is astounding, with the first two numbers – the title track and Rocking Chair being out-and-out rockers – lead nicely into a more balladic/ pop infused Love Laboratory.
“The diversity comes from my writing a lot of these songs for years and reflect things at definite times. When I was listening back to the demos, I was always thinking which would be best for the album so in themselves they all have the strongest stories attached to them.”
There are moments that are quite personal amongst the tracks, too. Silver Stones for instance is dedicated to a friend with mental health issues. Writing such songs has proven to be something of a catharsis.
“I love writing but it isn’t always easy. When you write about stuff that’s very personal, like Silver Stones, when you witness a friend through tragic things like she did, it kind of kills a little part of you in the process. Although it’s painful, you as an artist are kind of compelled to write about it otherwise it’ll haunt you forever; it’s part of the healing process.”
“There are other songs that are personally delicate on the album, as well. Slowly Burning is very personal for me and mirrors a lot of the deep feelings of what I’ve been experiencing over the past couple of years or so; I don’t think I’d have been able to write this kind of song without having gone through these experiences. I’m glad to say that now – after what’s been a difficult time – that things are on the up; that I have been lifted by the blues! I’m very happy right now but I’ve been through some heavy stuff. Stolen Hearts is something of a salvation if you like. I needed to do this kind of album and I’m very proud of it. I feel now that I’m a point in my life, as a musician and writer, when these different experiences are beginning to form one big picture. There’s definitely something happening and I’m sure the next album will be different again.”
September sees Erja playing seven dates across the UK as part of a pretty extensive tour playing before a variety of audiences. “The only real difference is the vibe in each venue and you learn to pick up on it pretty quickly from experience. You want the audience to respond to what you’re playing of course, and when they do it’s the most beautiful thing.”
“I just played a gig in an open air, 500 seat theatre where the audience was a bit shy to begin with, then really opened up. It was a great night, it really was. You need to trust that the people will enjoy what you give them and that they understand I love being on stage. That said, it really is our responsibility to make sure the audience enjoys themselves as much as they possibly can.”
Stolen Hearts is Erja Lyytinen’s first studio release in three years and her first collection of her own songs since 2013. Why now? “Well I’ve had a very busy time in my private life since 2014, the highlight being the birth of my twins which, obviously, has kept me pretty busy!” Erja chuckled. “Also before now wasn’t the right moment. I did go into a studio a few times, but it didn’t feel quite right. Maybe the songs weren’t quite ready?”
“Then I was experiencing all of these emotional things that were happening and I realised I need to get them down
on paper, take them in and finish them as songs. I also knew it had been awhile since Forbidden Fruit, the last album of my own music released back in 2013. I definitely won’t be taking as long a break before the next one that’s for sure, and I hope to be back in the studio next year.”
Good news indeed, from a singer and musician who comes from a family of musicians and singers.
“My parents had a band in the 1960s and 70s – my father plays guitar, my mother plays bass and they both sing – then they had a little break of 15 years while they were having a family. They started again in the 80s. By the 1990s I was already playing guitar and I’d also had some classical training on the violin. So when I was 15 I joined their band.”
“We played in a restaurant every Friday and Saturday, 5 sets of Finnish dance music which covers all different genres: rock ‘n’ roll, blues … soul. Yellow River by Mississippi was one number we did and a few by Elvis Presley. I’d play some songs by Santana, too, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am that they trusted me enough to include me. It gave me fantastic experience playing in front of people and what I learned most was to play for the audience and to enjoy what you do. ”
“As a teenager I was listening to a lot of different stuff to what we were playing. Pop music icons like Michael Jackson firstly, and then rock came into my life with the likes of other legendary bands such as Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. In fact, you could sort of say I’ve come full circle in meeting Chris Kimsey and Ray Stamp; Chris of course worked on Sticky Fingers with The Rolling Stones and Ray mastered David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Mott the Hoople’s All The Young Dudes albums.”
So what did Chris and Ray bring to Stolen Hearts? “They closed the deal in bringing it all together. I already had the songs, but what Chris and Ray did was bound all the loose strings together, brought their vision, knowledge and experience to the project and sprinkled their own brand of magic dust onto everything.”
Mastering took place at the legendary Air Studios, founded by Sir George Martin. “Oh my, that was so nice and what made it even more special was that The London Philharmonic Orchestra were downstairs at the same time as we were working! You cannot believe how exciting this was for a girl from The Helsinki Philharmonic, I can tell you!”
Something else that must have been exciting was 18 months playing ago in Mumbai.
“It really was quite a trip. It was an incredibly long flight and we were all pretty exhausted by the time we arrived, but it was really exciting and quite a big culture shock with all the people and traffic and hustle and bustle. It was really
quite sad too in some ways; kids living and playing in the streets among all these millions of cars and fumes and motorcycles. Remember only 5.5 million people live in the whole of Finland. 20 million live in Mumbai alone … it’s crazy to get your head around.”
“We saw a lot of cool stuff too. My promoter took us to meet a local guy whose family had been manufacturing sitars for seven generations. It was really great because after he showed us how they’re made, he gave me a sitar lesson! It was really interesting, especially as I learned that the sitar they gave me wasn’t in tune and I had no idea. It was a fabulous occasion and a great opportunity to get behind the scenes a little bit.”
Will an in tune sitar be making an appearance on the next album then? “Yeah, I guess I could do whole Beatles thing, right? Especially now I’ve been to George Martin’s studios!” Erja laughed again.
Erja Lyytinen Stolen Hearts is available now. Click for PlanetMosh review.
ERJA LYYTINEN: STOLEN HEARTS UK TOUR, SEPTEMBER 2017
ALL TICKETS: £12.50
BOX OFFICE – 01472 349 222 (9am-5pm)
BOOK ONLINE – www.solidentertainments.com
Edinburgh, The Caves
Thursday 21 September
The Caves, 8-12 Niddry Street South,
Edinburgh, EH1 1NS
Nottingham, The Bodega
Friday 22 September
Book Online: www.solidentertainments.com
Venue Box Office: 0115 896 4456
23 Pelham St, Nottingham, NG1 2ED
Chester, Live Rooms
Saturday 23 September
Live Rooms, Homer House, 1 Station Road,
Chester, Cheshire, CH1 3DR
Venue Tel: 0161 834 1786
Band On The Wall, 25 Swan Street,
The Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 5JZ
Monday 25 September
Bristol, The Tunnels
Tuesday 26 September
Book Online: www.solidentertainments.com
Venue Box Office: 0845 605 0255
The Tunnels, Arches 31 & 32, Bristol & Exeter Mews,
Temple Meads, Bristol, BS1 6QF