Sami Yaffa: The Innermost Journey To Your Outermost Mind
Via Vallila Music House/ Live Wire/ Cargo Records
CD | LP | DL
Sami Yaffa finally emerges from behind the bass to stand behind the microphone as he releases his first solo album, The Innermost Journey To Your Outermost Mind, which proves to be a diverse and majestic reflection of all the influences he has absorbed over a distinguished career in the world of high energy rock’n’roll. Sami also takes some time out from recording demos for the new album by the Michael Monroe band to catch up with Ian Corbridge for an insight into his early years in Finland, life with some truly iconic bands and plans for the future.
Sami Yaffa’s place in and contribution to the recent history of rock’n’roll should never be underestimated. Over the past 40 years Sami has played bass in so many bands I couldn’t possibly even list them here without fear of turning this into a book. Fortunately, Sami has had his own autobiography, The Road Bends, on the shelves since 2016, a book which will finally be available in English by the end of 2021 which will allow so many more of us to enjoy it.
My own first encounter with Sami was in May 1983 when Hanoi Rocks were touring the UK and causing quite a stir on the underground rock’n’roll scene. That gig at Sheffield Dingwalls was one of those life affirming moments when I knew I had witnessed something very special. So many great nights with Hanoi were enjoyed over the next couple of years, especially on the tour they did with Johnny Thunders in October 1984, until the tragic death of drummer Razzle in late 1984 heralded the break-up of this great band whose influence on the formation of so many bands is undeniable, most notably Guns N’Roses.
Over the years that followed, Sami could be found in his native Finland as well as Spain, Los Angeles and New York. This time included three years with JetBoy, hooking up with Hanoi front-man Michael Monroe in Jerusalem Slim and Demolition 23, recording numerous albums with the vibrant and eclectic Mad Juana, a couple of years with Joan Jett and then a truly memorable six years with the re-invented New York Dolls following the untimely death of Arthur Kane in 2004. However since 2010, Sami has been very much focused on recording and touring with the Michael Monroe band producing their own brand of breath-taking rock’n’roll with one of the best song writing teams in the business behind them.
With all that Sami has witnessed and absorbed over all these years, his first solo album now comes with much anticipation and excitement for all those who have admired his work. And it didn’t take me long when listening to the album for the first time to realise the extent of Sami’s versatility as he has infused so many different musical styles and sounds into the songs, albeit it underpinned with a punk and rock’n’roll heart.
The nucleus of the band aside from Sami on bass, guitar and vocal duties comprised childhood friend Janne Haavisto on drums and guitars from Christian Martucci (Stone Sour), Rane (Smack), and Timo Kaltio (ex-Hanoi Rocks) but there are many more besides who helped pull all this together and make the album the magnificent beast that it is. There is also little doubt that Rich Jones from the Michael Monroe band had a significant role to play in relation to the lyrical content of the album.
Opening song, Armageddon Together, serves as a prophetic statement in view of current world events as it observes the “whole world is going down, nothing lasts forever”. It’s a storming opener with a vibe which draws strongly from the Stooges even to the extent of the vocal being delivered in that trademark Iggy sneer. Brilliant start to the album I thought!
Selling Me Shit is a far more hard-core punk sound setting off at break-neck speed aside from the dub reggae type interlude in the middle which starts drawing out those varied influences. This is one of the numerous collaborative song writing efforts with Rich Jones, as is Germinator which is equally harsh and abrasive, drawing very much from the harder edged sound of the latter band. Germinator also features some great harmonica from Mr Monroe himself.
Fortunate One is about anything but what the title suggests but is yet another rock’n’roll scorcher with Michael Monroe adding trademark sax and Rich Jones on backing vocals. Meanwhile Rotten Roots takes us down a classic reggae journey reminiscent of the punk/reggae fusion pioneered by the likes of The Clash. With its anthemic chorus lines, Sami even breaks out the glockenspiel for this one as it asks “Who’s gonna save us from ourselves?”……who indeed!
Down At St. Joe’s is a more acoustically based heartfelt ballad seemingly focused on the demon alcohol and the impact it can have on you if it starts to take over your life, as well as the shame that comes from it all. As the song says “It ain’t easy to understand” and there is more than a nod here to the likes of the Stones and The Faces. In complete contrast I Can’t Stand It is driven along with monstrously heavy riffs with an intense guitar solo as Sami growls his obvious displeasure at some of the big challenges facing mankind right now.
You Gimme Fever ventures back into the world of dub and is thankfully more about love and desire than a certain virus. It’s another great nod to Sami’s diverse bank of influences and even includes his wife and champion of ceramics, Meeri Koutaniemi, on flute. The huge roar and thunderous bass lines of The Last Time were the first clues as to what we might expect from this album, being the first single, and on the evidence of all that I am hearing here no one will be the slightest bit disappointed.
Look Ahead is a wonderful blend of dynamic brass underpinned by a 2-tone rhythm and mariachi vibes all backing up Sami’s magnificent vocals delivered in a rough hewn and gravelly brogue accent. The trumpets provided by Jarkko Niemela add such a vibrant edge to a great song. And as if the album hasn’t already reached several peaks, closing song Cancel The End Of The World not only offers a sense of positivity to us all but also proves to be one helluva epic finale. Featuring some great lead guitar by former Hanoi Rocks member Costello Hautemaki, it has a lengthy and euphoric run off with the message to “Light your candles, burn your anger, cancel the end of the world” with some soaring and atmospheric backing vocals by Nicole Willis.
As a quest to achieve musical versality and reflect a wide range of influences akin to that which became synonymous with the likes of The Clash and the Stones, bands Sami has always greatly admired, there is little doubt that he has achieved this in spades. After all those years of standing more in the background, Sami Yaffa finally steps out into the limelight with this huge statement of intent and I sincerely hope this is the start of another highly productive and exciting chapter in his musical journey.
And as the world starts to emerge from the depths of the pandemic, there is certainly no let up in Sami Yaffa’s workload. However, amid promotional duties for this new album and recording demos for the next Michael Monroe album, Louder Than War managed to catch up with Sami to delve into his musical roots, life on the road with some of the great bands he has been part of and get an idea of plans for the immediate future.
Louder Than War: Which artists, groups and songs sound-tracked and shaped your early years in Finland?
Sami: I grew up in a family of music heads. My brother and sister who were older blasted Stones, Hendrix, Cream, Frank Zappa etc. From Dads side it was Champion Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker, Fats Waller and such. Mom dug Demis Roussos and classical music. In early 70’s I found Alice Cooper, Slade, Sweet, Status Quo, Suzi Quatro, Sparks, Nazareth, then came Dr. Feelgood, a weird prog period with Billy Cobham, Weather Report, Jeff Beck etc. Then as a teen I found punk and it was all over…
Who or what inspired you to consider taking up a career in music and why bass guitar?
My brother played and plays the sax, and a buncha my friends were playing different instruments and I found that world interesting and it started to pull me in, sports fell off the wayside little by little. Bass came to me naturally as my ear always zoned in on the low end. Dennis Dunaway from the Alice Cooper band was my hero as a nipper.
How did you first get together with the guys from Hanoi Rocks?
I played in a punk band called Pelle Miljoona Oy with Andy McCoy when I was 16, he was 17. We were in that band for less than a year and recorded one album which became huge in Finland. I had met Michael and Nasty at our rehearsal space a buncha times, they had an embryonic version of Hanoi together where they played a couple of Andy’s songs and a lot of covers by MC5, the Stooges, Cheap Trick etc. At the rehearsal for Pelle’s fall tour Andy pulled me aside and told me about the plans for Hanoi and about moving to Stockholm, Sweden, I considered it for about 3 seconds and said I was in.
When I first saw Hanoi Rocks in Sheffield in May 1983, it was clear to me that something special was happening. Did you have any sense at that time about the impact and influence the band was going to have in the world of rock’n’roll in the following years?
Of course not, we did think we were the shit though, all the other bands stunk and we were going to be the biggest fucking band in the world.
My favourite Hanoi tour was in October 1984 with Johnny Thunders and The Babysitters. From all the gigs I saw on that tour it just seemed like an absolute blast was had by all. So what was it like touring with Johnny Thunders?
Johnny was a lovely guy, out of his mind but a really sweet guy. We ended up living a couple subway stops away from each other after Hanoi broke up. I played some shows with Johnny and Jerry Nolan as a trio which was a blast to say the least.
Mad Juana, which you formed in 1995 after Demolition 23 broke up (still one of my favourite albums), was a significant shift in style and sound, covering everything from blues, reggae, gypsy rock, flamenco, dub through to good old rock’n’roll. What was the inspiration behind this band and did you draw on any of this when putting together your new solo album?
I was just bored with street rock at the time and needed to air my musical closet a bit. I jumped in head first to all the music that I loved and pulled influences from Tom Waits, Bad Seeds, PJ Harvey, Sonic Youth, the Velvets, flamenco, mariachi, reggae, dub, Balkan, you name it. The band was just too weird for the record labels, we didn’t get signed until the last album Bruja On The Corner. I did put some of that experience to this album, I wanted this album to be a kind of a peek into who the feck I am musically.
I have to ask you about your time with the New York Dolls. As a band that have had such an enduring influence on all things rock’n’roll since their all too short existence, and changed so many lives, not least my own, how did it feel to get that call to fill in for Arthur Kane after his sad and untimely death in 2004? And what was it like recording and touring with those guys?
I’m still grateful for those 6 years I got to be in that band. It was a total and utter blast the entire time we were together. It was just a one giant loud love affair from the beginning to the end. Playing in between Sylvain and David on stage for all those years was just fucking bananas.
As the momentum with the Dolls was starting to slow down you got back with Michael Monroe where you remain to this day. In my opinion, over the last decade, you guys have consistently been the most exciting live band on the circuit with the greatest song writing team behind all the albums you have released. How does recording and performing with Michael and the band compare with any of the other projects you have been involved with?
This band is a rock’n’roll machine with great writers and musicians. As people they are my favourite people I know. We are one lucky bunch. Never a dull moment in 11 years. It was great to have Ginger and Dregen in the band and we made great albums with them but since Rich Jones’s arrival the band has gotten more solid and relaxed. You can’t really compare this thing to anything I’ve been involved with.
In 2014, the first television series of the award-winning Sound Tracker appeared. Have you any plans to do any more of these?
We did 3 seasons and travelled to 18 countries. It has been aired in about 15 different countries, won a buncha awards here in Finland. Probably the most giving thing I’ve ever done. I only wish we would have gotten to do a special on Finland. As of now there is no plans to continue with it though.
2016 saw the publication in Finland of your autobiography, The Road Bends. I am looking forward to reading it once the English translation comes out later this year. I just wondered what prompted you to put this together at this time and how easy did you find it to remember all that had happened over the years?
I was asked to do it by a Finnish book company around 2008. After a couple of false starts with some ghost writers I decided to write it myself. I wrote it for about 4 years sporadically, took my time with it until I realized I needed professional help with editing it. I asked my friend Tommi Liimatta who is a brilliant writer to help me out with task. He did an amazing job in pulling it all together.
You have obviously kept busy throughout the pandemic lockdown period, having seen you perform some great (and very long!) live streams with Michael, as well as hosting some radio shows, writing a children’s comic book and creating a ceramic art company with your wife. Are these things which you have considered getting involved with over the years or was it prompted more by the period of musical inactivity?
Everything I do comes kinda organically and naturally, I don’t really ponder about what my next project will be too much. If I get caught in the creative process like the children’s comic book, I get completely obsessed with it and won’t give up until its done. Ceramics was something I’ve always had an interest in and once I got my hands in the clay and started understanding the process it was all over. Now we are completely obsessed with it, new stuff coming soon.
Your new solo album reflects such a wide variety of styles and influences, whilst always being underpinned with a great rock’n’roll vibe. What prompted you to put it together at this time and where did you draw the inspiration from?
I wrote with the Dolls and Michael Monroe band and had some songs laying around that didn’t necessarily fit those bands. I realized that those songs were my music. I took it from there and started working on new stuff. At one point I got stuck with lyrics and asked Rich Jones from the Michael Monroe band if he could come up with something. We talked about what the songs would be about and he ran with it and came up with brilliant inspired lyrics.
Is it too early to have any thoughts for a follow up album?
No, probably a psychedelic country dub album.
You plan to tour the solo album initially in Finland – any plans to take that tour further afield?
Plans are to tour internationally next year.
Aside from the planned re-release of the magnificent Demolition 23 album, you have recently been recording demos for the next Michael Monroe album. How is that going and more importantly how is it sounding?
Rich Jones did the bulk of the writing for the next one, his creative tap burst wide open, he kept sending what seemed like a song a day for about a month, it was overwhelming! Brilliant stuff!
It’s going to be a great album.
How do you see the next 12 months shaping up for you as the world starts to regain some new form of normality (whatever that may look like) both in terms of touring and recording?
It’s all still fucked up, gigs are getting cancelled again. I’m really starting to hate this shit. Just keeping my fingers crossed to get back on the road again. Stopping after 40 years of touring can play a number on your nugen. Just trying to stay positive with it all.
So there we have it, the world of rock’n’roll according to ace of bass Sami Yaffa. And I challenge you to come up with a finer album than this in 2021!
You can pre-order the album here.
All words and live pics by Ian Corbridge. You can find more of his writing at his author profile.