Steel N Twang
rolls on into 2016 with their late 2015 album Stat(u)e Of Mind,
released in Finland on Bafes Factory Records. The second
SST album, the 14 track Stat(u)e Of Mind features a generous
helping of instrumental tracks and two vocal tracks all featuring
steel guitar wizard Ville Leppänen, backed up by the tight
rhythm section of Tero Mikkonen (drums) and JP Mönkkönen
(bass). On their second CD, SST proves why theyre considered
one of the premier guitar based instrumental rock bands throughout
Europe today. Overall, Stat(u)e Of Mind features a range of
all new originals and serves as a fitting follow up to the music on
their first SST album from 2014 Hales Pleasure Factory. Listening
to track after track, clearly Leppänen
continues to amaze and after a couple spins I was moved by a number
of tracks, including track eleven Duel. Commenting on
the track Duel in his mwe3.com interview, Ville explains,
Duel" is one of my favorites. It's like you said
a mishmash of many styles, there's some Italo western, surf-rock,
Klezmer, flamenco too but somehow it works! Alternative rock
radio has taken a shine to the retro, jazzy, steel-surf meets Hawaiian
sound of SST, so lets hope the jazz community takes a second
look and listen too! www.BafesFactory.fi
mwe3.com presents an interview with
of Southpaw Steel n Twang
How much did your trip to St. Louis influence the new Southpaw Steel
n Twang album, the unusually titled Stat(u)e Of Mind
and how did you come up with the title for Stat(u)e
Ville Leppänen: We had all the tunes and songs ready.
I didn't write anything new for the record. Some lyrics and melodic
ideas popped up though, some of them may find their way to the next
one! Otherwise, the atmosphere in general was very inspiring: a steel
guitar festival, greetings to Michael Scott Jr., great players and
inspiring gigs there. Firebrand Studio was very comfy, very suitable
for our needs. Brian Scheffer, the engineer, was extremely cooperative,
he was all game to whatever ideas we had about recording and offered
some of his own.
After the trip I had this working name for the album, "Statues".
We were in St. Louis's loop, saw Chuck Berry's statue; Saarinen's
statue was facing the Arch from the other side of Mississippi, and
I kept seeing many others around. Now in Helsinki, there's a statue
of Tapio Rautavaara, a hugely popular singer and well known among
Finns, situated very near our rehearsal place. To make meaningful
music, one needs a very special state of mind. Well, anything
you do seriously takes that too. A song or tune is therefore a statUe
of mind! And mind you, art looks and sounds very differently
to different people
so there we are: Stat(u)e of mind. I also
think it's pretty funny but that's a matter of taste; we see things
so differently which is cool.
mwe3: What other artists at the St. Louis International Steel
Guitar Convention impressed you? What were your concerts like in St.
Louis and in New York City and what was your impression of the US
Leppänen: Well, all players I had time to really listen were
very good, some extremely good. Some guys had such virtuosity, wow.
I guess Doug Jernigan's show was the most important for me since I've
listened to his playing a lot from records.
The SST shows were quite acceptable. At least people seemed to like
us. On both days we played quite late, maybe tiredness and our slightly
unorthodox approach was too much, so some left before and during our
performance but a lot of folks stayed and seemed to like what they
heard. We wanted to show respect for the festival and played mostly
steel tunes. Usually I play something like half steel and half regular
guitar, and maybe sing a bit more, even if our thing is to play a
lot of instrumental stuff.
The New York City gigs in Manhattan and Brooklyn (thanks Scott!) felt
a little bit more relaxed, probably because we had those St. Louis
gigs and studio sessions under our belt. Of course, it's another thing
to play in New York than in a bar
somewhere in Finland where you have been a hundred times before
we sure had a blast! Still, in the end, no matter where you are: a
bar, club or concert venue, it is still a place were people come to
be entertained and we always try to do that! I like to visit the States,
it would be great to even work there periodically
we shall see
what happens if we get enough contacts.
mwe3: I was thinking you were listening to some vintage Jim
Pembroke on a couple tracks on Stat(u)e
Of Mind that
you sing on. Tell us about Water and Something.
Something sounds very Pembroke influenced.
Ville Leppänen: Wigwam was a great band and I respect
Jim Pembroke a lot as well as the other guys who played in it. That
being said, I'd say my influences as a singer show from the times
when I consciously tried to imitate styles
more like Southern
rock singers like Ronnie Van Zant, old blues and country guys and
Finnish rock and roots man Dave Lindholm. As with playing, there are
so many great performers out there. Somewhere, I just decided to develop
my own style. We all own something for our influences and idols but
we gotta to be, or at least try to be
ourselves in the end.
But yes, I like Jim's sound so, if you hear something like that in
my singing then I'm honored!
Lotto is a classic of the instrumental genre. So, you
were trying to hit the instro rock Lotto?
Ville Leppänen: There was this tune which also had a working
name, this time "SST Blue", like NYPD Blue, which once was
my favorite TV series. The tune took shape and I began to see yellow
lottery balls bumping and jumping to the rhythm. To me it's also very
influenced by The Meters, maybe hints of The Band in the groove also
Im thinking of "King Harvest. Also Pekka Gröhn,
a very talented Finnish musician and our friend who played keys on
the studio take, mentioned it. And yeah, who wouldn't like to get
a few million?
mwe3: Tell me about Ilo, track 9 on Stat(u)e
Of Mind. Sounds very Hendrix-y!
Leppänen: "Ilo" is a Finnish word that means joy.
Depending on language people pronounce it differently, I guess it
sounds like Hawaiian for non-Finns. (lol) For me, it's pure joy to
play this kind of music with these guys. A band is a minor work community,
and if all members share the same vision, then what could be better
On Jimi... I was a very young man and went to a movie theater in Helsinki
to see Jimi Plays Monterey. At that time there were no videos
or computers or anything like today when everything is in our living
room... man, we went out to see things! Well, there I was in a small
theater, it was a daytime show with only two or three other people
there, me included. It felt very intimate and then Jimi almost literally
exploded on stage. All in all Jimi played slide very little, like
that All Along The Watchtower thing but sure he became
one of my guitar heroes... plus he was a southpaw too!
I didn't have Hendrix in mind when composing "Ilo", but
yes, I guess there's a little bit of that there too. As with most
of our compositions there are themes which are played the same way
always, then there's jamming and improvising. The performances are
never exactly the same.
Tell me about track 11, Duel. It sounds like Ennio Morricone
meets The Ventures before going into a straight ahead jazz middle
Ville Leppänen: Last summer I was sitting on a platform
at a train station in Joensuu, a small town near the Russian border,
waiting for the train to get home after a tour. I had a few hours
to kill and started to write horn parts for Duel. Being
a slow note writer, it took me a long time to get the whole thing
down. The sun was burning on my back and neck and I got a nasty sunburn
without noticing it first!
A month later in the studio in St. Louis, we had a local horn section
but some of the guys were unable to play their parts. Back in Helsinki,
three guys from the Finnish Army Band did the job.
"Duel" is one of my favorites. It's like you said
a mishmash of many styles, there's some Italo western, surf rock,
klezmer, flamenco too but somehow it works. The horns come along in
the middle of the tune and then it's a total, jazzy big band circus!
Of course this is just how I feel, some guys might see it differently,
which is fine.
features a great closer with Sergio. It sounds very Spaghetti
Western like and it's very effective as a closer. Whats your
take on Sergio?
Ville Leppänen: "Sergio" was my name suggestion
for JP's instrumental. Yes, we also thought it would make a great
last tune on the album because of its airiness and kind of static
feeling. I do like Morricone's music and the way it works so well
with Leone's laconic storytelling
maybe on the next one we'll
have some video stuff called "Ennio"!
mwe3: So with Stat(u)e Of Mind just coming out, what
is the plan for SST in the new year?
Ville Leppänen: We had a great, almost sold out release
concert in Helsinki, the additional musicians were present and did
their parts, and my artist friend decorated the scene beautifully!
We have booked a couple mini tours in Finland for spring 2016. I'm
working on some festivals for summer and, of course we are trying
to get contacts in Europe for further operations there and you never
know, maybe we'll visit the States again in the near future if we
can arrange things with our connections! Right now it's pretty cold
in Finland, I hope we also get enough snow here in southern Finland
to go skiing
I just love that!
to Ville Leppänen
and Southpaw Steel 'n' Twang and Aija Lehtonen @ www.bafesfactory.fi
for a travelogue of the SST USA trip written by Ville Leppänen