Finnish musician Sami Yaffa started playing music at the age of 16 and it was the start of a journey including Hanoi Rocks, where Yaffa was one of the original members. He has also played with Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, the legendary New York Dolls, and The Hellacopters.
Now, in 2021, Yaffa has finally released his debut solo album, The Innermost Journey To Your Outermost Mind. Shortly before the release of the album, we caught up with Sami to chat about this musical life, his influences and the solo album.
Thanks for your time, Sami. How is life treating you at the moment?
Sami Yaffa: “Not too shabby considering the times we are living in.”
So, you’re about to put out your debut solo album, what can you tell us about it?
“It’s a result of digging into my hard drives and doing some personal introspection of who the hell I am musically. I’ve played in some great bands and with some great artists, I didn’t necessarily have the urge to do a solo album as I was musically pretty satisfied with those bands. I co-wrote with some of them like the New York Dolls and Michael Monroe Band and found out that I had a bunch of material that didn’t necessarily fit those bands but sounded more like me. I also decided to sing lead after procrastinating about that for a quite a while. At first, I was thinking about having guest vocalists but decided to take the leap and to step to the front.”
You’ve been playing music since the age of 16, why is now the right time to record a solo album?
“Better late than never right!? Everything I do seems to happen pretty organically, I don’t force stuff out. This was a culmination of hanging with friends and working on my own for the past six years. About a third of the album is from that time period, the rest I put together and finished during this unholy year of COVID-2020. Once I got Rich Jones to work on the lyrical side of things the ball started rolling.”
You’ve played in and worked with some hugely influential bands and artists. What lessons have you learned from those experiences?
“I’ve picked up bits and pieces from all of them, good and bad! I’ve been a one lucky bastard to have played and recorded with so many great artists, starting from Pelle Miljoona Oy in Finland and Hanoi Rocks. Then The New York Dolls, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Murphy’s Law, Jesse Malin, The Hellacopters, the Monroe Band, etc. They all have given me a lot, also some of the producers have played an important role, Bob Ezrin, Jack Douglas, Overend Watts and Buffin from Mott The Hoople, Tom Allom etc. It’s been quite an intense school that has lasted for over 40 years!”
You’ve talked about the record having a range of styles on it. Given this and the previous point about your career, who do you think this record will appeal to?
“The same people who liked Hanoi Rocks, The Dolls, etc. and people who like a little bit of spice in their music. I grew up on English punk and was blown away by bands like The Clash and The Ruts as a teen, they were not afraid to mix up different styles of music, but still managed it all to sound like the band they were. Fearless stuff. I also put the Stones in that category who’ve done everything from RnR to soul, country, funk, reggae, and jazz. I have never liked boundaries in music, it’s like eating pizza every day, I mean I love pizza, but not every day, if you do that it will eventually kill you.”
Having a huge catalogue of albums you’ve worked on, what challenges have you faced writing your own record?
“Honestly it’s been a blast making this album. There was no record label guy breathing down my neck about having to have the single or which direction the album should be. It’s my direction, I produced it, wrote all the music, and almost half the lyrics. The lyrical side was the biggest challenge. Although I lived in the U.S. for a quarter of a century and lived in the UK for some years and speak English pretty well it’s still not my native tongue. Some of the songs were kind of stuck lyrically until I got Master Jones to work on it. I threw him songs that were way out of his comfort zone and usually the e-mail reply to the music I sent was, ‘man, I don’t know if I can come up with anything for this, I’ve never written anything to music like this.’
“Then, two days later, he sends me a fucking masterpiece! It got his juices flowing as well, once that happened I knew I was going to have a pretty good album.”
Going back to your influences, you talk about rock n’ roll and punk rock playing a big part in your life. Do you remember which bands and albums turned you to the music?
“As I answered before, the game-changing bands were The Clash and The Ruts. As a wee nipper, I LOVED Alice Cooper, Slade, Sweet, and Status Quo. Had The Sparks records and Rory Gallagher stuff. At the same time, in my household, the record player was spinning Django Reinhardt, Memphis Slim, Frank Zappa, Ornette Coleman, Art Ensemble Of Chicago, etc… My head was full of all kinds of sounds since I was a kid.”
Out of all the artists you’ve worked with, who do you feel you have learned the most from?
“Hanoi Rocks, New York Dolls and in a way my own band Mad Juana that created pretty marginal music but I got to experiment with whatever I wanted to experiment with. Also, my TV show Sami Yaffa: Sound Tracker enabled me to check out musical traditions close up in 18 countries, it was a mind-blowing three years.”
In terms of your future plans, what is next in the pipeline for Sami?
“The new Michael Monroe album is in the works. When I signed the record contract for the solo album in Japan with JVC they wanted the option for the next two Sami Yaffa solo albums! I hadn’t even thought that far but now it gives me the reason to go for it, for at least two more albums!”
What about touring, you’ve announced your touring band but what are your plans for touring?
“We have a tour planned here in Finland for mid-September/October but we’ll see what happens with that due to that fucking plague. We’re rehearsing with the band anyway and plans are to hit the road properly next year, hopefully, we’ll get to tour the UK with this album!”
Given the break from touring and the title of the record, how has the “time off” during the last 18 months helped you explore different musical avenues, and has that time off changed the direction or helped shape the sound of the record?
“It gave the time to to take my own time to put it together without having to juggle touring, writing, and recording schedules. I also started to make special programs for the National Radio Of Finland last year and this year. They gave me the chance to create a program that would explore music without genre boundaries. The album is a mix of RnR, punk, reggae, psychedelia and some weird not yet defined music. The red through it is punk.”
Putting yourself out there with a solo record, what are you most excited about for people who pick up the record?
“I think and hope that people will be happily surprised by it, that they will get their money’s worth and then some. Open your mind and your arse will follow!”
Thanks again for your time Sami and good luck with the album. Over to you to wrap this up…
“Thanks a million for this! The album will be available on vinyl and CD as well, whoever still has a record player and a CD player (I do), please get them. This streaming thing is a strange one and the only way we musicians really get paid for our recorded music is by fans buying the physical product. Strange times we live in with this fecking pandemia that’s strangling our touring income and streaming that’s strangling our recording income. Take care, ya’ll and hope to see you next year!”