Stat(u)e Of Mind
(Bafe's Factory)


Southpaw Steel ‘N’ Twang rolls on into 2016 with their late 2015 album Stat(u)e Of Mind, released in Finland on Bafe’s 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 they’re 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 Hale’s Pleasure Factory. Listening to track after track, clearly Leppänen and company 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 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 let’s hope the jazz community takes a second look and listen too! presents an interview with
Ville Leppänen
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 Of Mind?

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 overall?

Ville 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!

mwe3: “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… I’m 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!

Ville 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 musically speaking?

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.

mwe3: Tell me about track 11, “Duel”. It sounds like Ennio Morricone meets The Ventures before going into a straight ahead jazz middle section.

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.

Stat(u)e Of Mind features a great closer with “Sergio”. It sounds very Spaghetti Western like and it's very effective as a closer. What’s 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!

Thanks to Ville Leppänen and Southpaw Steel 'n' Twang and Aija Lehtonen @
Click here for a travelogue of the SST USA trip written by Ville Leppänen


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