To Boldly Go…

By Paul Rigg

Erja Lyytinen (7 July, 1976) is a Finnish guitarist, vocalist and songwriter.  

Lyytinen’s debut record was Attention! in 2002, and since then she has released a further 10 studio albums, including her current record Another World, which she describes as “stepping into new territory, musically and spiritually… discovering the new and being courageous and naturally interested in the future.”  

Lyytinen has supported a number of huge acts on tour, such as: Wishbone Ash,
John Mayall and Carlos Santana, among many others.

Guitars Exchange
catches up with Lyytinen while she is literally on the road between Southport and Bromsgrove as part of her UK tour. “Last night we played The Atkinson, which is a superb venue. It was sunny yesterday but,” she laughs, “today the weather is ‘more English!’ Despite her busy schedule Lyytinen is keen to talk about her most amazing night on stage ever, how her Master’s degree helps her music, and her enthusiasm for her new slightly space-influenced album…

GE:  Your new album ‘Another World’ is out in April; what was the inspiration behind it?

EL: It has been a couple of years since my last album, Stolen Hearts, in which I was going through a lot of things in my personal life, a break up and all those kinds of feelings, so this is a kind of ‘re-birth’ after that one. It is more open and courageous and I would say it has a lot more hope; so it is a very empowering album for me. After a dark period I see the light at the end of the tunnel; I feel like there is a new adventure waiting for me. 

There are songs like Another World, which is kind of Sci-fi, it is like a love affair in a parallel universe. I like the fact that it doesn’t have to be something that can be explained, it is a bit like playing an improvisational solo on stage, it is sometimes hard to explain why it happens. Of course you learn the technical stuff, you rehearse and you have musical theory, but then there is this flow in the moment, where does that come from? It is surreal sometimes. So I have brought that kind of vulnerability to this album.

GE: How are the songs being received on tour?

EL: Very well. I have just started to play them live. One track Hard As Stone has gone down particularly well with our live audiences. It has been very well received. It is quite rocky with a dry sparse blues solo in the middle of the song, and then it explodes into a Latin jamming outro [Laughs] - you’ll just have to listen to it and judge for yourself!

GE: Is there a particular song that has a personal story behind it for you?
EL: I always try to share what I have personally experienced in a song, because it kind of delivers the best for the audience. So there are hints here and there [Laughs]; but it is not my diary, you know?  Miracle is definitely personal, because it is about the birth of my lovely twin boys. I love it. It is about babies but it is not just a beautiful song for all the mummies in the world; it is an up-beat song, and it has a long developing guitar solo. But the thought behind it is love, music and family.  

Jennifer Batten joined you for ‘Snake in the Grass’ – how did you decide which guitar parts you both would play?

EL: Well, when I was thinking of asking Jennifer to play on the album I could instantly see this track was perfect for her because she is an amazing guitar player and this is the funkiest track on the album. So I wrote this harmony part in the middle of the song and suggested where she could add some fills, and it all leads to the end of the song with a little bit of guitar battle in it. I think it has turned out very well.  

Jennifer and I met at a German festival where we were both teaching a masterclass and we kept in contact. She is coming to Finland next week [the second week of April 2019] for a ‘Monstress of Guitars’ festival; it is going to be amazing!  

GE: You are regularly called ‘the queen of slide guitar’ and Sonny Landreth, who plays on this album, is often called ‘
the king of slide’ – how was the meeting?

EL: [Laughs] Yes, two royal sliders at the same time; this is said with humour of course! I have always admired Sonny as he has a unique style, he has had an amazing career, and is also a lovely person. He plays on two of the tracks: Wedding Day and Break My Heart Gently, and he was brilliant on both songs.

GE: You have a number of solos on your new album; which guitars did you use?

EL: I used a number of guitars on the album including an Eric Johnson signature 2009 and a Turquoise Custom Shop Fender; I like custom shop guitars, as I like the tone and the rough sound of them. 


GE: Going back to your childhood, you have said your inspirations were
Aretha FranklinKoko Taylor, and Bonnie Raitt; can you now add more to that list?

EL: Sure. Just to name a few there is Robben Ford,
Brian Setzer, Sonny Landreth, and Mike Stern, and then later on came blues artists like Muddy Waters, Son House and Elmore James.

GE: You started playing at 15; which was your first brand of guitar?

EL: When my father took me to the shop I chose an Aria Pro 2, which looks like a Les Paul. I had it for like two years, and then I switched to American Stratocaster.  


GE: You have a Master’s degree in music; how do you think that training has helped you?

EL: It took 12 years for me to finish my Master’s because I was travelling, making albums, and I also studied abroad in Los Angeles and Denmark during those years; but I learned a lot of skills such as conducting, composing, music history and music theory. During my training I learned to play piano, drums, bass; and I even studied classical music analysis; and all that helped me when, for example, I was doing the arrangements for the album.     

GE: Your songs ‘Not a Good Girl’ and ‘Dust My Broom’ seem to strike a particular chord with your fans on Youtube; why do you think that is?

EL: I used to play those tracks a lot when I started to travel internationally almost 15 years ago, so I guess they have been around for a long time; and they are more fun and straight-forward blues jamming songs that seem to appeal to people. They also both have long guitar solos, so I think that is entertaining for blues enthusiasts.  

GE: Many of your songs on Youtube are live blues numbers but you chose the ‘more rocky number
‘Stolen Hearts’ for your main produced video; what inspired that decision?

EL: The song is about a woman who plays with men’s feelings, but in the end she has to take her own medicine, so the black and white film noire style on the video added a bit more drama to it.   

GE: A change of direction now; I will say a name and you say the first feeling or anecdote that comes into your mind:

Walter Trout

EL: I remember I supported him in Wolverhampton at a superb venue, and it was a very cool evening. He has had a long career, he is a survivor and a hard working man.  

Carlos Santana…

EL: Magical, divine, and spiritual. I supported him in 2018 in front of 20,000 people, and he invited me onstage to jam with his band for 20 minutes. It was the most amazing moment of my life.  

Joe Bonamassa

EL: I played with him in 2009 at a big festival in Norway when he invited me on stage. I admire the way he has built a career and a business and supports music schools.  

GE: Turning specifically now to the six-string, if you were kidnapped by aliens and you could only take one guitar with you on their UFO; which would you grab?

EL: [Laughs] Maybe my G&L Semi-hollow Z-3 because we could do something outrageous in outer space with it. It looks a bit futuristic as well; it would go well with my alien suit!


GE: And which gear would you take with you?

EL: I would take my Whammy 5 pedal because you can make different intervals and different sounds with it. Then again it would be wiser to take my TC- Electronic Looper with me because I could record with it, play on top, and do different kinds of arrangements.  

GE: What advice would you give to aspiring guitarists?

EL: Be patient; rehearse; and be disciplined. My normal day routine was three hours practise: one hour going through scales and chords (there are hundreds of different chords to learn, learning how to play latin rhythms, for example, or funk or blues rhythms); and then the second hour learning songs (for example, of the guitarists I mentioned to you before); and then the last hour I would practise soloing and improvisational skills for these songs. Three hours every day, minimum.  

 What are your plans for 2019?

EL: My album is released on April 26th in Europe, then I tour in Finland with Jennifer Batten and later my band and I will be going to Canada; we have many concerts planned this year. In October 2019 we will also be releasing a book.    

Guitars Exchange
closes the interview by thanking Erja Lyytinen for taking time out of her busy schedule, and she replies that it has been a pleasure. Then she shortly follows up the interview with a jovial email: We will also be touring in Germany, and various festivals over the summer! So, stay alert!”