The 69 Eyes are known as the Helsinki Vampires and the artwork for their new album, Universal Monsters, was inspired by a wax museum of movie monsters in Texas. Surely they must be horror movie aficionados, right?
“I’ve used images from horror and vampire movies as lyrical inspiration for the last few decades,” says frontman Jyrki 69, “but using non-horror movies as inspiration allows me to go much deeper.”
Admittedly the Finns’ best-known songs have more overtly gothic roots, like fan favourites Gothic Girl, Brandon Lee and Lost Boys, but lyrically there’s more to them than you might think. Gothic Girl was a paean to Death from Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel series Sandman and Lost Boys paid homage to the 1987 rock ’n’ roll vampire film of the same name. On Brandon Lee, The 69 Eyes revisited The Crow theme from their 1995 sleaze rock opus Motor City Resurrection.
“Motor City refers to Detroit and all the rock ’n’ roll that came from there, like The Stooges and MC5,” says Jyrki. “It felt like we were resurrecting Motor City rock ’n’ roll, but the phrase is actually used in The Crow movie too. In one of the bar scenes, T-Bird refers to his gang as ‘Motor City muthafuckers.’
“When I wrote the lyrics to Brandon Lee, I wondered what was behind the actor’s eyes when he was acting in The Crow. You already have songs like Gary Gilmore’s Eyes and Bette Davis’ Eyes, so I wrote, ‘What would there be, beyond the eyes of Brandon Lee?’ We released that as a single and I remember people bringing The Crow movie posters along for us to sign in Central Europe. That was a turning point for us.”
There’s no denying that The 69 Eyes’ 2010 release Back In Blood dripped with more gothic references than ever. Much of the track listing directly referenced cult flicks like Lips Of Blood, The Hunger and Night Watch, but despite its title, 2016’s Universal Monsters has a more diverse collection of cinematic influences, from art house to action movies.”
“What would the world be without songs about these films?” ponders the singer. “Glenn Danzig uses a lot of comic and movie references, Dave Wyndorf from Monster Magnet quotes a lot from Marvel Comics and Doctor Strange, and Rob Zombie goes beyond the B-movies and into really weird, underground films. But nobody had written songs about films like The Lost Boys or Betty Blue before. The films I choose show a part of my personality… These are movies that have touched me or made me think, and I’ve tried to share them.”
We asked Jyrki about some of the films that helped shape Universal Monsters. “It’s like a competition to see how many movie references can you spot!”
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
“Yes, it’s a vampire film but it lends itself more to La Dolce Vita than Twilight. It’s directed by [indie movie pioneer] Jim Jarmusch as well so it’s not a standard horror movie. I’ve used the title as a line in the opening song Dolce Vita.
“Some movies really inspire me to dig further and this one introduced me to [the Moroccan city of] Tangier. I’ve always been a fan of the Beat Generation writers and Tangier is a place I would really love to visit because that’s where William S Burroughs and Jack Kerouac once lived. If you ever get a postcard from me from Tangier, it’s because of this movie.”
La Dolce Vita (1960)
“I really love [Italian cult director] Federico Fellini’s movies because they’re larger than life and still relevant today. His ideas are transferred to Paolo Sorrentino’s film The Great Beauty , which is like a modern take on La Dolce Vita – that movie really blew my mind and I made a pilgrimage to Rome last summer to see the places where it was filmed.
“When I first played the demo of Dolce Vita, I heard the same kind of beauty in the music which is what gave me the idea to combine the two elements. The song is about being here in the now and celebrating the night.”
Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)
“Now we’re back doing music with [producer and honorary sixth member] Johnny Lee Michaels, our common language is movies and that’s how we share our ideas. The song Blackbird Pie is inspired by the orchestration in Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks and the epicness of Western movies like How The West Was Won. The song itself has a sort of celtic vibe but Johnny heard something different so it evolved into this big Western theme with flutes and Indian singing. Throwing epic orchestrations into a simple song is a Johnny Lee Michaels trademark!”
“Never has a kind of criminal vibe; it’s almost talking about life on the streets. I think I was watching the Netflix show Daredevil at the time and I quickly wrote some lyrics to sing to the demo. You know at the end of the first season, when Daredevil gets fucked up and kind of desperate? I put that feeling into this song.
“Then one of our fans recommended the movie Bronson to me. I hadn’t seen it before and it really made a big impression on me so I mixed both of them together in the lyrics. Bronson has a modern way of portraying movie violence similar to [Stanley Kubrick’s] A Clockwork Orange.”
Kingdom Of Heaven (2005)
“When I first heard the demo for Jerusalem, the rhythm reminded me of the Middle East and this movie was the one that immediately came to mind. It’s not one of Ridley Scott’s best-known but it’s based on historical events and I even mention the movie title in the lyrics.
“Before I wrote it, I had never been to Jerusalem so I travelled there last October because I wanted to really experience the place before recording the song. After I came back, I finished off the lyrics and I loved the city so much, I went back again in March. It truly was a magical experience; it’s very spiritual and very beautiful. There’s a peaceful message in the song so I’m excited to share that with everyone.”
Alice In Wonderland (2010)
“I was listening to the demo of Shallow Graves when a wild rabbit ran across my path. That inspired the line: ‘Hey, Mr Rabbit, in a hurry…?’ Those words took me to Alice In Wonderland and I think Tim Burton’s version is fantastic. I deliver those lyrics very tongue-in-cheek, a bit like Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter character in the movie. I like to sing in character, whether it’s as a dark goth guy or an apocalyptic street rocker… in this case it’s the Mad Hatter singing to Alice.
“The title comes from the practice of mindfulness and the idea of living in the moment. I think there’s a danger that if you think too much about the past or the future, you end up digging your own shallow grave.”
The Big Blue (1988)
“The album ends with a very simple synthesiser song called Blue, which reminded me of the poster for this Luc Besson [Lucy/The Fifth Element] movie. It’s about the rivalry between two deep sea divers and every time I see it, it’s like watching it for the first time. I mention the ocean in the lyrics, which works really well with the moody music.”
The 69 Eyes new album Universal Monsters is out on April 22, via Nuclear Blast.