SAMI YAFFA – former Hanoi Rocks and New York Dolls bassist discusses debut solo album “The Innermost Journey to Your Outermost Mind”, and much more.

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Sami Yaffa is a Finnish bassist, writer, and TV persona – best known for his work with Hanoi Rocks, New York Dolls, and Michael Monroe band. Yaffa has had a unique career as a musician. It all started in 1979 when he joined the punk band Pelle Miljoona Oy at the age of sixteen. In 1980 he become one of the founding members of the classic glam rock band Hanoi Rocks. Yaffa then spent the first half of the 80s as an international rock musician with all its ups, downs, and trappings. The band released five studio albums before splitting up after the tragic death of the drummer Razzle in 1985. Around 1987 Yaffa moved to the States to join the hard rock band, Jet Boy. During the 1990s, among others, Yaffa played and recorded with Smack, Jerusalem Slim, Demolition 23, Mad Juana, The Waldos, and Murphy’s Law. In the 2000’s he played with some of the most notable bands in the rock world, such as Joan Jett and The Blackhearts and the New York Dolls. In January of 2010, Yaffa announced that they had started a new band with Michael Monroe and this collaboration continues still. In September of 2021, Yaffa released his long-awaited solo debut album, THE INNERMOST JOURNEY TO YOUR OUTERMOST MIND. We met with Sami a couple of weeks ago in sunny Helsinki and went through the solo album creation process from start to finish, but not forgetting the colorful past, or the bright future either.


SOLO ALBUM

Well, first of all, before we go into the deeper stuff, I have to ask about the title of your solo album. Where does that come from, and why did you choose a name which is almost impossible to remember! “Laughs”

Well, it just popped in my head because making this record was kind of an innermost journey to my outermost mind. I’m a huge fan of Funkadelic, and they often had those kinds of titles or song titles but most of all, when I’m talking about weird titles it comes from the New York Dolls. Do you remember their first comeback album ONE DAY IT WILL PLEASE US TO REMEMBER EVEN THIS? David Johansen came to the studio and said, “Hey, boys, I got the album title.” We were expecting something stunning and explosive, but it was “One day, it will please us to remember even this.” And the whole band was just sitting there silently staring at him until somebody said, “Are you fucking serious? He said that he was. And now, when I think about it, the title of that record, I still remember that moment in the studio, and I think it’s a genius title because it’s so true. It really is. It does please me to remember even that, today. And so, when I was playing around with album titles, I didn’t want to have the typical rock album title. Something, oh, “very rock”! NO! I just kind of wanted to steer away from that and be more like me. Also, if you listen to what’s in the album, it’s not just a rock album. It’s more like a collection of all kinds of things that are inside of me, musically, and I kind of had to go and look for it, who the fuck am I, musically, and hence the title.

When I first heard your album name, that New York Dolls thing came to mind right away. Those two titles do “rhyme”, if you know what I mean.

Absolutely.

If I remember correctly, you have said somewhere that the original idea for this solo album came for the first time around 2015. Is that information correct?

Yeah, probably, because I’d been writing music with various bands that I’ve been playing with, and I had a lot of kind of unused ideas and stuff. I also made all the background music for my tv -program Sami Yaffa: Sound Tracker, and so there was a whole library of riffs and beats and chord changes, I had a lot of stuff just laying around. And I had written “Cancel the End of The World”; the whole music was done, and “The Last Time,” which was the first single, that was completely done already, and also “Selling Me Shit,” I had the music and the chorus done but it was missing the verses. We actually tried to do that song, “Selling Me Shit” with Michael Monroe Band, but it just didn’t work. It wasn’t for that band. And once I had those three songs ready, I kind of thought that maybe I could do a solo EP or something, a smaller thing. And then, once I started working on it and putting it together, then I realized that more and more songs and song ideas started coming up. It’s like, “Armageddon Together” the riff is actually in a Sound Tracker Indonesia episode. I wrote it for when I’m riding around in this homemade Vespa in Bali. I wanted to have a kind of like, “Get the motor running…” “Born To Be Wild” meets Motörhead type of vibe. Then suddenly, I just came up with the whole idea for the song and the lyrics, and there it was. And I got Rich Jones involved because I wanted the lyrics to be fucking great, not something half-assed. I can write okay lyrics, but they take a long fucking  for me, you know what I mean? I’m too self-critical for that, and in my book, Rich is seriously one of the greatest rock and roll lyricists out there. He’s a fucking genius. So, I threw him songs. I sent him “Cancel the End of the World” and “Look Ahead” and a couple of other ones that were way out of his comfort zone, and 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. I can’t do it.” But then, two days later, he sends me brilliant lyrics. I was like, “So, you can do it then.” It got his juices flowing as well, once that happened I knew I was going to have a pretty good album.

Rich Jones and Sami Yaffa. Live at House of Culture. ⓒMarkoSyrjala2017

How much of your own musical influences are present on the record? I mean, there are a lot of different styles on it, rock, funk, reggae, etc., and I can even hear some so-called Scandinavian Rock vibes there, but it’s just my opinion.

I think that the Stooges is coming through more than those bands. “Laughs” The thing is that the bands that I like the most have a lot of variety and for example artists like the Stones, the Clash, Tom Waits, they were not afraid to try out different things. If you think about the Stones, they have done everything from RnR to soul, country, funk, reggae, and jazz. They covered the entire thing and they were not ever afraid of trying different things, but still managed to make it sound like the Stones, which is the greatest thing. And it’s the same thing with the Clash. You just have to listen to LONDON CALLING, which is probably my favorite record ever. It just runs through like, I think, five different so-called genres in the first five songs. I hate the fucking term “genres” because to me music is just music. But the first five songs on the record, there’s “Guns of Brixton,” there’s “Jimmy Jazz,” there’s “Brand New Cadillac,” and there’s “London Calling,” and then it goes into full pop with “Lost in the Supermarket.”

It’s a stunning record, and I thought that if I’m ever going to make a solo record, it’s not going to be just a regular rock album The thing is that I love bands like Motörhead, and I love AC/DC, and I have nothing more than full giant respect for those bands. Those are two of my absolute all-time favorite bands, like The Ramones, but I didn’t want to sound like that myself. I didn’t want to make the album like that style. I wanted it to be a little bit more surprising, and I also wanted to satisfy my own soul.

SONG-WRITING TALK

You’re known as a bassist, a TV star, you have a radio show, and you’ve released several books. But before this album, you haven’t been very well known as a songwriter. If we go back in time far back, when did you actually start writing songs?

Well, I wrote all the music for the Mad Juana records, and I wrote a bunch of music with Jetboy in the late ’80s. I write music, but I’ve never been a lyric writer even though there are bits and pieces in the songs that you wouldn’t know which are mine, but I never got credit for. With New York Dolls, I wrote the opening track “We Are All In Love” with David Johansen for the comeback record. And on the second New York Dolls album, CAUSE I SEZ SO, I wrote the music for two songs on it, “Muddy Bones” and “Temptation To Exist”. For the Monroe albums, I’ve written lots of stuff. So, it’s not like that I haven’t been writing, but I’ve always been more like a collaborator working on songs together with a band in a room. That is where I usually work the best when it’s a band situation. But once the technology got to the point that you could easily start making demos at home. I was able to spend more time on the creative side. I can play guitar, I play bass, of course, I can play the piano a little bit, I can program drums and all this kind of stuff, so, I can put stuff together myself. But the first writing stuff was Hanoi Rocks’s “Boiler (Me Boiler ‘N’ Me),” that’s right. That whole groove of it, it’s me. ”Dum-dum-dem-dem, dum-dum-dem-dem, dum-dum-dem-dem.” It’s pretty much taken from ZZ Top, but you know?

I went through the songwriting credits on the latest four Monroe albums and I find it interesting that you have a lot of credits on the first two albums, only one credit on the third album, but none on the latest ONE MAN GANG album. Does that mean that you have kind of saved your material for this solo album?

No. No, I wasn’t saving anything. It’s not that kind of thing. With ONE MAN GANG, it’s just that Rich gets these diarrheas of songwriting, and he just, like on this last album that we just recorded. I think he sent us like 28 ideas in four days and they were all almost done. I mean, he had been working on them, but it’s like that, Rich just suddenly turned VERY prolific on songwriting. And maybe I just went through a period where I wasn’t really too inspired to write that kind of stuff. It wasn’t coming out, and also, we weren’t playing together in a room, which I think is a drag, you know? I like Richie’s songs, and I like ONE MAN GANG and that, but there are certain aspects on those, specifically the first two records, and partly on the third one where the collaboration was happening at the rehearsal place.

A LITTLE BIT OF HANOI ROCKS TALK

You joined Hanoi Rocks in 1980 and played bass on all of the band’s records until 1985. Were you involved in composing in any way at that time, or was Andy McCoy writing all the music then?

Honestly, it was all Andy’s stuff. I mean, Michael collaborated with him on a couple of things, but otherwise, it was all Andy’s writing. His writing was pure fucking magic back then; he wrote a ton of brilliant songs. It’s pretty amazing if you look at it now —the stuff he created and what he had inside of him. But sometimes I also came in the picture arrangement-wise. Like with “Taxi Driver” for example, it was originally just a regular blues song, Gyp Casino was playing it to a high hat and “dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun,” and it was a bit boring. It didn’t have much of a vibe going on. I wanted it to be as fucking wild as it could possibly be. At the time, I listened to The Cramps song “Human Fly” a LOT. That song was in my head all the time, and there is absolutely no hi-hat in that song. Everything is on the cymbals and crashes, mostly on crashes. I told Gyp in the studio, saying, “Don’t touch the fucking hi-hat, not once. Just play the whole thing up there on the cymbals, just fucking crashing and banging it.” Played like that, the song sounds like it’s completely out of control, and to me, that’s the thing that kind of created the song’s vibe. It’s the same thing with “Underwater World.” Andy didn’t have a specific, nobody had a specific idea about how the verses should groove. I just started playing the bass groove, and Razzle was playing a straight beat. Then around that, Andy and Nasty began weaving the guitars that were kind of answering each other, so there was a lot of collaboration like that going on in the studio and in the writing process. But for the first album, it was literally all Andy’s stuff. Of course, there’s some of my stuff, but even most of the bass lines were his. Like “11th Street Kids,” which has an absolutely crazy-ass bassline, and I don’t really think that any bassist would ever imagine playing that. It sounds like a guitar player who’s written it, as it is, but it’s a brilliant piece of a basslinemanship. I learned a lot
from that.

After Hanoi Rocks, didn’t you write a couple of songs with Pelle Almgren for the EP which was released in 1986?

Yeah, Pelle Almgren. Well, he did most of the writing on that. That was basically just– he was kind enough to put my name on it to create the arrangements and have some suggestions from me, but to be honest, it was all Pelle.

Hanoi Rocks in 1982. Michael Monroe, Nasty Suicide, Sami, Razzle (RIP), and Andy McCoy

THE CREATING PROCESS AND REMEMBERING TIMO CALTIO

Let’s get back to the new album. How long did the whole process take from the moment you wrote the first song until you had the finished product in your hands?

Well, that’s a difficult question. “Cancel The End of The World” is from… I think it’s from 2009 or something, or 2010? I wrote it when I was still with the New York Dolls. And I remember showing that song to Sylvain Sylvain. I told him that I came up with this crazy idea, and he was just like, “That’s an amazing song, but it’s not the Dolls.” Actually, I had done the two rhythm guitars and the bass and the drum machine. The guitars and bass were actually from the original demos, which I did in 2009. We did, I think, we did the drums for seven out of the eleven songs that are on the record in Spain in 2018. I had already done the basses and the guitars on them and the drum machine, then we went to Spain with my drummer Janne Haavisto. We holed up in my friend Puter’s little, tiny studio (PALAM Studios) we spent about four or five days recording the drums plus about eighteen backing tracks for a possible new Mad Juana record. And once we got Janne in there, in those songs, I realized I had an album going on.

Then I needed to get some real guitar players in because my guitar playing is kinda limited and I needed to get some pure fucking magic on it. I started thinking about who to get to play on it? I didn’t want to use Rich and I didn’t want to use Steve Conte. Even though they’re brilliant players, it would’ve been too obvious and too close to Michael’s stuff. And then I thought of Christian Martucci, who was an old friend of mine. I’ve known him since the Doll’s days. He used to play in a band called Chelsea Smiles, with Karl Rockfist and Todd Youth (RIP). Later on, he joined the Stone Sour and Black Star Riders. He’s a super cool guy and an amazing guitar player and I just asked him, “Would you want to play on this record?” And he’s like, “Yeah, dude! Send me the tracks.” I sent him four tracks, and he literally sent everything back almost ready, almost. There were a couple of little things where I had to adjust it a little bit with the vibe and style and that was it. I also wanted to have some of my old friends on the record. Costello Hautamäki played the lead guitar on “Cancel The End of the World.” I definitely wanted to have Rane Raitsikka from Smack on the album because the only thing we ever recorded together was that one Smack single in 1989 or 1990, in L.A. I have known him since we were 14 or 15 years old. We are childhood friends, we were little punk rebels fighting against “the society” together. “Laughs”

Sami Yaffa live at Rock in the City, Kerava. ⓒMarkoSyrjala2021

Then there’s Timo Caltio, who had moved back to Helsinki in 2021. I really wanted to get him to play on it because he had his special touch of playing. I had two songs left that needed guitars on and I thought they were perfectly right for him. So, I asked Timo to come to the studio. It was a really great afternoon, he played on “Fortunate One” and “I Can’t Stand It.” I’m very glad that I got him to play on my album because he literally passed away the day before the album was released. We’d never recorded together. We played together a lot, we jammed together, years ago we even had a jam band together in Los Angeles, but we never got to record together. So, when he passed it was a very, very heavy thing for me because he was one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I knew Timo for 41 years; he really was like a brother to me. I’m just glad that we got to record together, at last, it’s some kind of memoir.

And this became his last recording ever?

Yeah.

You were good friends, and you shared a lot of common history. Perhaps you can tell us how and when you met for the first time?

Well, we had just moved to Stockholm with Hanoi Rocks in September of 1980. We were always on the lookout for places to go to sleep because we didn’t have an apartment. We had no place where to live. Michael said that he has a friend from his old neighborhood in Helsinki whom he had known as a kid and that he lives in some Stockholm suburb area. He didn’t know the exact address, but he knew the area vaguely. So, we went there, Michael and me and Nasty, and started looking for this guy. The only thing I knew was that he looks like a rocker. We’re walking there in different directions and looking for him. The neighborhood was just endless lines of buildings, blocks of flats everywhere. I happened to walk by this building, and I saw this– on the ground floor; I saw this open balcony door. I looked in, and there was this rocker-looking guy sitting on a couch smoking a cigarette and watching TV. It was in the middle of the afternoon. I thought, “That’s gotta be the guy.” I jumped over the balcony railing and literally walked right into his living room. It scared the shit out of him, and he jumped up like a rabbit on fire. He was like, “What the fuck man? Who the fuck are you?” I said, “Take it easy, man. I’m Sami,” and then he kind of recognized me. I told him, “I’m here with Nasty and Michael. They’re waiting outside.” He was like, “Oh, fuck, man. Oh, just sit down, man. Have a cigarette.” That’s how I first met Timo. He worked with us throughout the Hanoi days– almost all through the Hanoi Rocks career, maybe not the first year, but I think he started working with us in ’81 or 82. Later on, when I moved to L.A. in ’87, somebody told me, “there’s a Finnish guy living here.” It was actually the Jetboy guys who said, “there’s a Finnish guy living here called Timo.” “What? It can’t be him,” and sure enough it was him. We were the best of friends for many, many years.

Timo Caltio and Sami Yaffa. ©Beki Cowey

MORE ABOUT THE RECORDING PROCESS

As you said earlier, the record was recorded in different places over a long period of time, but the final product was put together at the InkFish Studio in Helsinki?

Exactly. It was put together there. We recorded some of the drums there. We thought if we should re-cut the songs and re-record the drums. But when I listened to the original recordings from Spain, I liked that little bit of lo-fi feeling. It means that it was not that superbly produced or overproduced. I liked that most of the songs were recorded in a small room, instead of a big room with a lot of mics because I think rock and roll should be like that. I’m always thinking about my favorite rock and roll records, they don’t necessarily sound fucking great, you know what I mean? It’s more about the spirit that is in there. I just think that rock and roll records should not be too clean. They need to be a little bit trashy. The key to the whole thing was Janne and the way how he played the drums on those songs. I sent the tracks to him to listen to before we went to Spain. But once we got there, I noticed that he hadn’t really listened to it. So, I played the track for him, after which he went to the recording room, sat down, and said, “Okay, play the track to me one more time.” He sat there and got the drumsticks ready, listened to the arrangement, and said, “Okay, let’s go for it.” I told the engineer, my old friend, Puter, “Record it.”.This was on “Armageddon Together,” he had asked me, “do you want me to play it tight, or do you want me to toss it like Philthy Animal Taylor would have done it?” I said, “Exactly, the second option.” It’s the first take on a lot of those songs on the album, that’s why some of those songs have drum fills in weird places. They are not thought out, the fills. They are instinctively played, and they just kind of fall unexpectedly. He followed the music as if we were just jamming together. That’s why, I think, it gives a weird kind of life to the songs. It sounds fresh, I wanted to keep that feeling on the record. It was kind of imperative for the end result to keep it like that. For some of the songs, I wanted to have better, a bit bigger drum sounds. “I Can’t Stand It,” “You Give Me Fever,” and “The Rotten Roots.” I wanted to have a little bit better, more produced kind of sound for those songs, so we did that. And we should not forget Erno Laitinen, the engineer from InkFish studio. He has worked with everybody from Tuomari Nurmio to Haloo Helsinki!, 69 Eyes, and JVG. With all those big names in Finland. He’s a bit younger than I am and comes from a little bit different school of music, but he’s a rocker at heart. His knowledge of the modern way of recording is also something that I wanted on the album, I mean, I wanted to keep some of that roughness but also use some of those modern production techniques, it worked out great together. Erno was a really important part of creating this record.

I have to say that this album is put together very well. It really doesn’t sound like it was done in many different places, as it actually was.

The album sounds like it’s played in the same room. It is a bit weird because it was actually done in many different places. There’s a lot of stuff on this album that I also recorded at home.

Although the album was released in 2021, it doesn’t sound like that and I’m saying it in a positive way.

Yeah. It sounds like it came out in ’28! It’s a retro-futuristic album.

Sami Yaffa. live at Tuusula. ©MarkoSyrjala2021

RECORD LABEL TALK

The album is released by Gabi Hakanen’s Vallila Records.

Yeah. Here in Finland. Cargo Records released it in the rest of the world.

Gabi is a well-known professional in the Finnish music scene, but Vallila Music House Records is not that well-known name. They’re not a so-called major label. Well, how did you end up to sign with them, because you probably had other options as well?

Well, just exactly because of that. And also, because Gabi is a real music fan, and I believe in universes colliding. When you meet certain people, you should follow them, if there’s a spark. That’s how I’ve been my entire life, and good things seem to have come from that. I met Gabi– I mean, I knew about him years and years and years ago, and I knew him from the industry, but I had never met him. And we then met at the Town Hall here in Helsinki. My wife Meeri was receiving some kind of an award, and so was Elli, the singer from Haloo Helsinki! and Gabi was of course there. We just started talking and had really good vibes immediately. And once this thing started materializing and I started to think about labels, I got in touch with Jake, our booking agent from Warner Live, who said “Well, what kind of label are you looking for? What do you want? Do you want a major label or something else?” I said, “Yeah well, I’m open to everything but I’d rather have a record company that’s maybe a little smaller, but very dedicated to this.” And he said, “Well, what about Gabi?” I had just met Gabi two weeks before, and I was like, “Oh shit, this is weird, this is definitely okay.” I called him, and sent him rough mixes of four songs, “Germinator,” “Armageddon Together,” “Selling Me Shit,” and “Fortunate One.” And he just fell in love with it all because it was so rough. He was like, “Yeah, man. Let’s do this.” He gave me their studio and Erno to engineer. He didn’t stick his head into the studio until the record was done. So, there was no usual meddling from the record label’s A&R guy coming in and going, “Oh well, I don’t hear a single here,” that kind of thing. He was just like, “Do your thing. This is going to be great.” I am really grateful to him for everything. He’s a great guy and we made a good match.

Are you generally satisfied with the feedback and reception the album has received and did it meet your expectations?

I wasn’t expecting anything. Seriously. I put out a lot of records with Mad Juana, so I know better! “laughs” But I’m super happy with its reception, especially in the foreign press, especially in the UK press. There was a lot of press in different UK papers- and digital magazines. I think it was voted for the album of the year in a couple of those. It got really, really great reviews everywhere. In Finland, it got “okay” reviews. There was one reviewer in Soundi -magazine who didn’t get it, in my book, but other than that, the feedback has been amazing. It got lots of spins on rock radio stations and all that. And now, it’s up for grabs for the Rock Album Of The Year at the Emma Gaala here in Finland. So, I can’t complain.

The vinyl version of the album sold out already a long time ago. Do you have plans to press out more copies of it at some point?

We’re waiting to get more vinyl. It’s a drag because of this covid situation. All the vinyl pressing plants are packed up because there’s a lot of demand for the vinyl again, which is great. I’m happy as a pig in shit that vinyl is coming back because it means that the musicians are actually going to see some money again, instead of this streaming crap. But yeah, the first pressing is sold out, and now Cargo Records UK is coming out with a special edition vinyl this spring of 2022. I think they’re making a gold-colored vinyl of it? And we also ordered with Gabi some more vinyl for the Finland market

There is also a Japan CD release of the album, but apparently, there is no Japan vinyl version existing?

Japan, I don’t think they do a lot of vinyl in Japan, it came out through JVC and they only did CDs on that. There’s a bonus track on it called “A Fan From Japan”. The lyrics are based on a true story that happened in Japan when we first time went there with Hanoi. Check it out “Laughs”

LIVE SHOWS

Once the record was released, you put together a new band with Janne Haavisto, as well as Linde and Burton from HIM. How was this lineup born?

Janne was an obvious choice, we knew that there would be some scheduling problems, so we still had to juggle a lot of things. I had just started to do some Trio gigs with Michael Monroe. During the corona pandemic in 2020, we did plenty of shows with Costello as a guitar player. It was a kind of a semi acoustic-electric trio thing that we put together. Costello got busy with his own stuff and with Popeda, so we were suggested that we should try out Linde from HIM. And to be honest, we both were a bit like, “Really?” Because the band HIM is so different from what we do. But we thought, well, let’s give it a shot because you never really know? Linde then came in at the rehearsal place, and once he plugged in his guitar and started talking about Iggy Pop and all the bands that we love, and suddenly it was like he was a long-lost brother to us. He did his job in HIM brilliantly, but there are a lot of different sides to him. He’s a great player and super sweet guy, and mad as a hatter. So when I started putting the live band together, I thought, Linde, is definitely the guy. Then I started thinking about the rest of the band, how should I do it? There are a lot of other elements in that record, too; it’s not just the two-guitar attack thing.

There are all kinds of other stuff on it, and I thought, well, I’ve been doing the two-guitar attack thing all my life. And I thought that maybe I wanted to have another kind of sound world for the live shows. Since real live music very rarely sounds the same as on the record, I thought, okay, let’s put a spin on it. There’s for example “Down at St, Joe’s,” “Give Me Fever,” and all this other kind of stuff, well, why not throw in an imaginative keyboard player in the mix. I knew about Burton, and I’d been checking out on Instagram his strange and beautiful synagogue thing, he also played in Elli’s band, the Ellips band. I knew that he is a great player. I had met him a bunch of times before. He’s a great, sweet guy, and I thought, let’s have the two HIM guys in the band and keep it as a four-piece. I didn’t want to fill the stage up with a lot of people, it worked out great this way. So, the live band lineup is a bit different than it’s on the record, but it works out great.

Linde, Janne, Sami, and Burton. Live at Krapin Paja ©MarkoSyrjala2021

SINGING LEAD VOCALS

Stepping up as the main songwriter is one big thing, but now you are also the lead vocalist in this band. You’ve always sung a lot of backing vocals starting from Pelle Miljoona to Hanoi, The Dolls, to Michael Monroe, but now you’re the lead vocalist. Is there anything different to be in that role compared to what you’ve used to do in the past?

Well, the first time I really sang any lead vocals was when I played with Walter Lure from Johnny Thunder’s Heartbreakers. I played in his band, The Waldos for a while, and he said, “You want to do this gig? Then you gotta sing some songs.” I was like, “What?” But then again, they were fucking The Heartbreakers songs. I said, “Okay, I can do it, I think” It was two Heartbreakers songs; “I Wanna Be Loved” and “Pirate Love”. And then, later on, I went to Japan with Sylvain Sylvain, and he said the same thing. You gotta sing three songs. And again I was like, “Fuck,” because I never wanted to sing the lead vocals. It’s not me, I thought. I don’t want to be the center of the fucking attention, I never wanted to be that. I’m quite happy to play bass, which of course is the most important part of the band. But once I started singing those demos, “Armageddon Together” “The Last Time,” when I sang the demos at home, I realized, “Oh, I do have a voice, seems to be good enough to be a lead vocal too.” I mean I’m not a fucking Pavarotti by any means, but I have a decent rough voice that fits rock and roll. So, I thought, fuck it, man. The original idea with the album was for years and years that maybe I do it the same way as Slash did on his first solo album; he had a guest vocalist on every track and all that. I thought, maybe that’s one option because I know a lot of singers. But once it started rolling and I heard myself singing, the whole vibe of it came together. I just thought, “Fuck it, I’ll just give it a shot and sing it all myself.”

This may be a bit of a weird question, but now that you’re used to singing the lead vocals, is it possible that you would also sing a song or two at upcoming Michale Monroe band gigs?

No way. It’s a whole different thing! it’s a Michael Monroe show for fucks sake. What is he going to do while I sing? just jump around? It’s an impossible thought. [laughter]

Costello. Michael Monroe, and Sami. ©MarkoSyrjala2020

STEPPING UP TO THE FRONTLINE

I recently interviewed your former Hanoi Rocks colleague Nasty Suicide, and he said that after Hanoi Rocks, it wasn’t an easy task for him to transform into the frontman role in his own Cheap and Nasty band. He said that it was difficult, because he didn’t want to be the frontman, and had always preferred to stay more in the background instead. But after all, it went just fine. How it was for you, was it difficult for you to adapt to the frontman role?

It was not that difficult because I’ve always thought that people were always just looking at me when I’m on stage. [laughter] I didn’t think they were watching anybody else. So, I have always been the center of the stage! [ morelaughter] In all the bands I’ve been to, the members have always been very active on stage. It’s like everybody always had their own thing, running around like rabbits. Nasty had his own thing in Hanoi, I had my own thing, Michael had his own thing, Andy had his own thing. In New York Dolls, Sylvain Sylvain, and David had their own show going on all the time. So, to me, it’s a part of the show biz. It’s part of the package and all that. When I did those The Waldos shows, they were in venues like CBGBs and Bowery Electric, and there was always a very demanding hardcore crowd present. Johnny Thunder’s fans, Doll’s fans, and all that. So, it wasn’t easy to go and do it at first, but once I got good feedback from people who loved it, I was thinking like, “Fucking hey. Wow, really?” And I felt like, “Yeah, I can do this.” It was exciting. I like challenges. I enjoy good challenges, and that was probably the biggest challenge I ever had. My biggest problem is remembering the lyrics because I never had to remember anything except for the choruses, and now I have to remember the whole damn song. So, I’ve never really used that part of my brain. It’s like being a fucking actor, and you have to read a script. I always wondered how the stage actors remember all their stuff, maybe I need a stage whisperer.

They probably use teleprompters all the time.

Yeah. I’m leaning towards it. If I could afford a teleprompter, man, I would carry it all the time with me! Instead, I spread this pile of paper with lyrics in front of me that I can read from. The cheat sheets! [laughter] I have there the lines that I always, or usually forget. Now I can just glance down, “Oh, yeah, it was that.” One day I’ll get it all down.

Sami and Sylvain Sylvain (RIP). The New York Dolls live in Helsinki. ⓒMarkoSyrjala2009

I’m sure it’s getting better in time —another thing regarding the Nasty interview I did earlier. I  asked him if he was surprised by how well you can actually sing lead, and he replied, “I’m not surprised at all. Sami’s vocals sounded awesome already in the Hanoi Rocks days, unlike what sometimes was heard from the other side of the stage.” [laughter]

Well, yeah. I like it when people sing with personality. Let’s put it that way. Right on, Nasse!!! [laughter]

I think that it was very well-said.

That was absolutely well-said. I actually encouraged Andy to sing during the Hanoi days because he was really insecure about his vocals. I always thought his singing was a bit similar to Mick Jones of The Clash. It’s not perfect, but it’s a distinct voice, and if Andy had developed it in the right direction… Well, I think he started developing it in the wrong direction but when he sang “No Law and Order,” I told him, “You should fucking sing this song.” I don’t know if you have heard a version of it with Andy’s vocals, but there is a version of it, and I think it’s fucking great. We recorded it first with Andy is singing it on the demo, and I always saw him singing something like that.

I think that one important thing that created that original Hanoi Rocks sound was that you always completed to each other, also vocal-wise.

Yeah. And Nasty is a really good singer. His pitch is fucking immaculate. That’s the thing.

TOURING PLANS, THE NEXT SOLO ALBUM, AND OTHER RELEASES COMING UP

As we spoke earlier, after the album was out you started a tour with your solo band, but unfortunately, many shows had to be canceled or rescheduled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. What kind of plans do you have touring wise for the year 2022, and do you have plans to work more solo music in the future?

The canceled ones from the 2021 fall tour were rescheduled for February, and now they got canceled again. So now we have to reschedule those somehow again. We only got to do two shows out of the planned February-March tour. I think I have four or five festivals coming up this summer with the solo band here in Finland, and we have a tour in Spain and a one-off gig in Paris in April or May ’22. So, I’m definitely going to keep going with this thing. And I have already started working on the second album. I started digging even deeper into what I have, and there was like 90 of these song ideas. I was thinking “Oh my fucking God, why do I have to keep everything?” I write in my free time when I don’t have anything else to do. I sit down, and I just come up with something, and sometimes that something is crap, but sometimes that something has something in it. So, the last January, I started the process of weeding out the ideas down to like 25, and while I was doing that, I was also writing some new stuff.  Now I have about 25 tracks that I’m going to start collaborating with Rich regarding the lyrics. He’s like Bernie to my Elton. [laughter]

Do you already have some tentative plans for the second solo album release date?

We have the Monroe record coming out now this year. So, I don’t want to put it out in 2022. I want to take my time with it, and I kind of always do stuff at my own pace. I don’t want to rush into things. So, I think, in about a year, in 2023. Exactly. I’m thinking of releasing it in the spring of 2023.

Earlier, you mentioned that you demoed some stuff with Janne for the next Mad Juana album in Spain, so, is that band still existing as well?

No, Mad Juana is no more. We started writing new stuff with Karmen, and we did record some demos. But she lives in Mexico, I live here, and I think that that train has left the station. So, it’s not really happening anymore, but I do have a dub reggae album coming out with Janne Haavisto at some point this year. We’ve been working silently on that one, and it will be a fucking strange album. Seriously, it’s going to be very strange but in a good way man. It’s going to be all instrumental, I think. Well, there’s a bit of vocals on it, but, you will hear it then.

That sounds really exciting project, but before it you have a very extraordinary vinyl release coming this spring. It’s strongly related to the English version of your autobiography TIE TAIPUU (2015), which will be out simultaneously with the vinyl. So what can be expected from that one?.

That’s coming out in April, I think, I think it might get pushed back by a month or two though. That’s definitely another fucking weird one! My autobiography came out in Finnish in 2015, and now I got a deal for an English version. It’s going to be called “Sami Yaffa: The Road Bends”, and will be available later this spring through Rare Bird Books which is a book publisher from San Francisco. They approached me about putting it out, and it took over a year to translate it. First, a person translated it, I read it and realized I had to re-translate it to sound more like me. It’s kind of like– it’s how I did my book here in Finnish. I wrote it myself from my birth until the year 2015. And then Tommy Liimatta came in and started editing it. He asked me some additional questions from the period of 2010 until 2015. But then he started to write it as Tommy Liimatta would have written it. I said, “Sorry, this is not going to happen. We have to keep it as I wrote it, keep it sounding like me.” So, he basically edited it from written text. And this is kind of– the same thing, with this English version of the book. This woman did a little bit of strange work in translating it. I read through it and realized, “Yeah, sure it’s been translated, but it doesn’t sound like me at all.” She tried to translate my Helsinki, Finland, slang into slang that sounded totally off. I learned to speak English in London, L.A., and NYC so it’s a very weird way of speaking, I had to literally write it again. So, it took another two or three months for me to go through the whole book and rewrite it. So now it sounds like me, and I’m very happy with it. I hope I don’t piss too many people off with it! [laughter]

Then the book publisher called me one day and said “Well, let’s do this thing. Let’s put this thing out on vinyl.” I said, “What? You want to put out like 24 vinyls?” [laughter] They were like, “No, no, no. Let’s just pick up bits and pieces of it, so it becomes like 40, 45 minutes long. We can edit it, we pick certain stories, and then you read it in the studio.” I said, “Does that mean that I could make the background music for that too?” He said, “Absolutely. That’s fucking great idea.” I asked, “Can I do whatever I want?” And they said, “Yes.” Then I literally did whatever I wanted. It’s one strange ass record I can safely say. Me and Janne put it together, the background music. But it’s good, man. Far out. Just like the book It’s funny as fuck. Funny and strange. What’s better than that?

THE LAST WORDS

We have already covered a lot, but is there still anything more you want to say about THE INNERMOST JOURNEY TO YOUR OUTERMOST MIND?

I hope that a lot of people will hear the album. That’s the thing. In this day and age, it is very hard to get to be heard because there’s so much music everywhere, and people are basically nowadays… Let’s put it this way, the hardcore fans will buy it anyway, but otherwise, music is very hard to find if it doesn’t end up on something like Spotify Top list or something, because nowadays, people are into playlists. I like certain aspects of Spotify but I don’t like that they don’t pay what they should pay the artists. That’s absolute bullshit, but there’s something good about it. I find new music there myself. I find new stuff that I like that I otherwise probably wouldn’t find, or I would have to spend weeks and weeks in the goddamn record stores, and I don’t have time for that. So, now I can find it easier. But I want all of you to spread the word and use the old school thing because that’s what we used to do as kids. When I grew up, I didn’t have a lot of money, I had to save every penny to buy records, as did all my friends. We would buy different records and record each other’s records on tape. I guess that’s in a way a form of pirating and streaming (laughs). That’s why we had great tape collections. Our own record collection wasn’t maybe that big, but our tape collections were fantastic. I’d like people who like my album to share it with their friends, send ‘em the damn links to Spotify and iMusic, and go to Amazon shops to buy the vinyl and cd and tell them “Fucking listen to it, or you’re not my friend anymore.” [laughter]

I also remember that we used to do that tape trading with my friends. There were not only albums but also some demos, live shows, and interesting stuff like that.

Yeah. There’s something good about being active like that. It was fun and I think it was very healthy.

I also remember that at one point we realized that it was actually illegal to do that trading. But we didn’t understand it back then “laughs.”

Yeah. I know. You were crooks when you were kids. You were criminals. “Laughs”

I think I still have a lot of those tapes from the 80s. I have many boxes of that stuff, somewhere “laughs.”

Oh. Wow. I wish I had some of that too. I mean, Mad Juana’s first album, SKIN OF MY TEETH, will come out soon via Svart Records, the first time on vinyl. They’re going to re-release it, and they were asking if I have any of those album demos to use as bonus material. And I’m like the anti-Michael Monroe, who has everything stored. I have nothing. I barely have the records that I’ve played on. I don’t have all of them, and maybe it’s a bit weird, but I don’t like collecting my own stuff. Once I do something, and it’s out there in the world, it’s out of my hands, to me, it’s more the journey than the end result. I rarely listen to my own stuff anyways but if I do, sometimes it’s really painful, and sometimes it’s a lot of fun. I do have other artists’ records; I still have a lot of that stuff. When iTunes came, I had a shitload of CDs, and I dumped all the CDs in there to safe keep them, Then came the iCloud, oy vey (laughs). I have all of them in my external hard drives and stuff like that. So, I have a big music collection of stuff that I’ve bought over the years. But my own stuff, I usually give them away. Sometimes I’m having a party at home, and maybe drink a bit too much mezcal, and get extremely sentimental. I might have something like the Hanoi Rocks Box Set in my hands, and find myself giving it to one of my guests “This is for you, man. Take it home and check it out!!.” The next morning I wake up thinking “Well, it happened again. Fuck!” “Laughs” [laughter]

Ok Sami. Maybe this was enough for now. I wish you the best of luck in all your upcoming projects and see you soon on the upcoming Michael Monroe tour, which will start in a few days.

Thank you, Marko.

 

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