those whove never been there before, Finland is a guitar lovers
paradise. With a small population that hovers around the 5 million
mark, the Finns have produced, per capita, finer musicians, especially
guitar players, than just about any other country in the civilized
world. A relative newcomer to the instrumental Finnish guitar scene
is Southpaw Steel n Twang. Upon hearing SSTs
2014 debut CD entitled Hales Pleasure Railway,
the instrumental guitar noir genre comes to mind although, as
the band cites on their in English website, the SST instrumental sound
also combines Hawaiian guitar influences, blues, western swing, jazz
and even touches of progressive rock. Central to the band sound is
Ville Leppänen, who in addition to playing the electric,
lap and pedal steel guitars, also wrote all of the music here. Ville
gets ample backup from his SST band mates including JP Mönkkönen
(bass) and Tero Mikkonen (drums). Instead of focusing exclusively
on West Coast surf-rock and Hawaiian guitar sounds, Southpaw Steel
n Twang also adds in a whole lot of Nashville style instrumental
jazz-guitar sounds and combines influences from guitar greats like
Chet Atkins and Danny Gatton to modern steelers like Greg Leisz. Country
jazz, surf-noir and a wealth of other steel and lap steel guitar sounds
collide in a sonic paradise on this first Southpaw Steel n
Twang CD. www.BafesFactory.fi
mwe3.com presents an
of Southpaw Steel n Twang
Can you tell us where youre from originally, where you live
now and what do you like best about it?
Ville Leppänen: Im from the capital area of Finland,
Espoo to be exact. I nowadays live near Helsinki in Vantaa city. Its
a sleepy suburban area, nothing special in it. Peaceful place, its
also easy to get on tour thanks to the near highways, railway and
mwe3: What period of music did you grow up in and who were
your biggest musical influences, both from a musical / compositional
point of view as well as from a guitar perspective?
Ville Leppänen: I became aware of rock & roll in the
end of the 1970s. I was 12 years old, had been playing clarinet
and classical guitar and my mother tried to find something for me
to do since I wasnt interested in sports and such
then Elvis died and that launched a big American 1950s revival
in Finland. I heard Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and other
great rockers of that decade. I suddenly realized I was playing a
holy instrument, the guitar!
That took me on a path which led to blues, country, western swing,
jazz, cajun... slide guitar became my favorite playing style. Jimi
Hendrix was great but Johnny Winter, Rory Gallagher and Ry Cooder
were my heroes because of their slide playing. And then, at the same
time I dug those cool jazz players like Charlie Christian, Barney
Kessel and Wes Montgomery. Jazz influences came into my playing later.
I was 26, an old man (lol) when a friend of mine gave a cassette which
had Bob Brozmans hot resonator guitar swing in it. Finally a
way to combine slide and jazz!
Whole lot of names... but that was the thing, trying to absorb as
much guitar playing style and attitude as possible. Song writing and
composing really started when my first CD (Keystone Cops: Slide
& Smile) was released in 1992. Im mostly a guitar guy
but it has been really nice to read some very encouraging reviews
about the latest albums where I have written nearly all material!
I wont write a list of my song writing influences here, it would
be too long...
Would you say Hawaiian music is a big influence in the Southpaw Steel
n Twang sound? I saw the video you made of the Sol Hoopi
cover, which was amazing. And some of the tracks on your Hales
Pleasure Railway, especially track 3, Secret Sunset
and the CD closing Still have a cool Hawaiian guitar sound.
What can you tell us about those tracks and who were your favorite
Hawaiian guitarists and Hawaiian music albums?
Ville Leppänen: I found old time Hawaiian steel playing
via Bob Brozman. I started checking his influences. Sol Hoopi,
Jim & Bob, King Benny Nawahi... There was a time when I refused
to listen to anything else but those scratchy old 1920s-30s
tracks! Fortunately Im a bit more open-minded now...
Western swing players like Herb Remington and Leon Mcauliffe. I started
digging them, that was big band swing played with a steel! I found
a Japan copy of a 1950s Fender Stringmaster guitar which had
a double 8-string neck. I had no idea how to tune it but finally ended
up using a 6-chord tuning which I still use.
Sunset is played with a 1957 Stringmaster which has the aforementioned
tuning. I like that tune, it has many key centers which makes it fun
to play! Still is pedal steel stuff, very fragile. I had
to be very careful playing those high notes in the tune. Pedal steel
is my newest acquaintance, theres differences and similarities
to non-pedal steel, I find both techniques very exciting! At first
it was a bit annoying though; almost all the lap steel stuff I had
done with my fingers had to be done with pedals and levers when playing
a pedal instrument! But if you want that pedal steel sound, then thats
gotta be learned.
mwe3: What guitars are you featuring on the Hales
Pleasure Railway CD? Youre left handed so what challenges
if any do you have with guitars, and can you play right handed guitars
or do you only play left handed guitars? How about the lefty steel?
Didnt Hendrix play a standard right handed guitar upside down?
What interests you most in a guitar, sound or looks or playability?
And what picks, strings and effects do you prefer?
Ville Leppänen: The guitars on Hales
are as follows:
1957 Fender double 8 stringmaster, converted for lefty playing
Fender Japan 57 Strat from 1996.
ESP Broadcaster copy (82)
Pedalmaster pedal steel, lefty, 3 pedals, 5 knee levers
Gibson E- 335
years Ive bought various lefty guitars since its still
pretty hard to, say, borrow one if you suddenly need some certain
sound. I can play a little in the Albert King fashion, so that the
high strings are up, but my own guitars are mirror images and have
low strings up, just like Jimi had them. I guess he played righty
Strats because of his personal whammy bar use.
Im mostly a Strat and Tele player, occasionally I use my 335.
Gibsons are great but Ive always liked the way you have to really
hit the string if you want that Strat note ring (lol)
A guitar has to be a good player, be it yellow or pink. I happen to
have trad colors. Strat and Tele string gauges are 010-046, National
Triolian is 016-056 (or 059 if I find em), square neck Duolian
needs a little lighter low end. I dont use those old Nationals
on the SST record, maybe on the next one. Flatpicks are quite heavy,
whatever I happen to have. I play steels with a flatpick and two fingerpicks,
no thumbpick. Very unorthodox.
So thats why you called the band Southpaw Steel n
Twang because of youre being left-handed? And how did you come
up with the title Hales Pleasure Railway for the CD?
Ville Leppänen: Yep, being a lefty I thought it would
be fun to announce that way or another. Hales Tours was a circus
act in the early 20th century. They had a railroad car which was wiggled
manually to give the customers inside an illusion of a moving train.
At the same time a huge, long blanket illustrated with landscapes
was rolled around or past the windows. Virtual reality in its time!
Since the SST record is jumping from an atmosphere to another I think
its a matching name.
mwe3: The lead off track on the Southpaw Steel n
Twang Hales Pleasure Railway CD, Open Field
sets a great mood for the album. What inspired that track and how
many guitars are you playing on that track? Did you use a lot of overdubbing
on the CD or was it mostly done live in the studio?
Ville Leppänen: Open Field is played with
two guitars: first a live band take with a Strat, then pedal steel
was added. I think the steel gives that track a nice, western movie-like
feeling. And its exactly a mood setter like you said, thats
just why its the first track.
Most takes on the CD are basically live... on some tracks I wanted
some dialogue with guitar and steel and so overdubs were done.
Track 2 Bayou and track 8 The Game are kind
of funky sounding. Were you inspired by instrumental funk? Who are
your favorite funk guitarists?
Ville Leppänen: Well... I like Meters stuff, Funkadelic,
that tight James Brown sound... Bayou starts with a Voodoo
Chile idea. On that track the Stringmaster is played with a
wah, in my mind that sound is a combination of Sacred Steel and Jimi!
The steel gets so organic with a wah! The Game started
ringing in my ears two years ago in New Orleans while we were recording
another album there.
mwe3: Track 4, Bad Alley sounds a little like Creedence
Clearwater playing instrumental music. What did you set out to create
with Bad Alley and what guitars are you playing on that
Ville Leppänen: Maybe so, now that you mention it. I listened
a lot to CCR when I was a teenager. In fact the whole SST band has
been working with a guy, my old friend here in Finland who sings and
plays CCR hits! That might have affected that song. Its only
the Strat there.
mwe3: Track 5 Butterscotch has a kind of Les Paul
vibe. Were you influenced by Les and his blend of jazz and approach
to sonic invention? Les was also very influenced by Hawaiian music.
Ville Leppänen: Who wouldnt be influenced by Les
Paul, be it Zakk Wylde or the late Danny Gatton or me! (lol)
mwe3: Theres one vocal on the CD, track 6 Steel
n Twang. Is that the SST theme song in a way and
what made you want to include a vocal?
Leppänen: Most albums before this... the albums Ive
been writing material for, are songs with vocals. I usually sing quite
a lot... Steel n Twang is a resting place
in the instrumental jungle of the CD, thats how I see it. It
gives you time to breathe before you dive again!
mwe3: Is track 9 Dark C a kind of heavy metal track?
Were you influenced by hard rock and heavy metal guitar? Is there
such as genre as heavy metal Hawaiian? (lol)
Ville Leppänen: (lol) I never was a heavy metal fan, I
mean, I do appreciate those guys skill but its just not
my style or my idea of swinging and rolling things in music. But I
like heavy sounds in right place... and yes, maybe this weird track
is a bit heavy due to the diminished scale but its also jazzy
to my ears. Heavy jazz!
mwe3: A definite highlight on the Southpaw Steel n
Twang CD is track 10 Feather Wheather. Any story on that
track and why did you change the wording in the title?
Ville Leppänen: Well... that is just weather
misspelled. You know, I havent noticed it to this day! Funny,
isnt it... but the track is basically a tune which originates
from a Finnish lullaby. Its just jazzed a little with an extended
chord progression and the melody is changed so that I dare call it
my own composition. Pedal steel, bass, organ, drums. Im glad
you like it!
How is SST being accepted in Finland, are there other bands there
doing guitar instrumental music that you recommend? And what plans
and musical activities do you have for the rest of 2014 and into 2015?
I hope therell be another SST album in the near future.
Ville Leppänen: So far so good, weve had some great
gigs and the media has been very positive! There are plans trying
to fix something in Europe later, but well see... The band is
very motivated for this. Hopefully well be able to start the
making of another album in the near future. At the end of 2014 Ill
be releasing an album of childrens rock music in Finnish, with
a band called Takuumiehet. Another band I play and compose in, Micke
Bjorklof & Blue Strip, will start recording in October this year.
We also have quite many SST gigs booked!
to Ville Leppänen and Aija Lehtonen @ Bafe's