The 69 Eyes: To Hel' And Back Again

There is a saying in Finland, ‘elama ilmaa viinää on teeskeentelyä’, which roughly translates as, ‘life without alcohol is pretending’. It rings true here, because pretension, or the lack of it, goes straight to the heart of The 69 Eyes. It’s hard not to admire this band who formed in Finland in the early 90s, intoxicated by the glam rock scene in Hollywood and the goth rock scene in the UK, and who have stayed together ever since adding elements of Alice Cooper’s theatricality, Iggy Pop’s rock’n’roll mania and the stentorian tones of the Sisters Of Mercy.

It’s hard not to admire them because, time after time, bands from Helsinki – patently influenced by their dedication to the art of rocking out and their dark but melodic metal – have overtaken them in the fame stakes. Everyone coming out of the insular scene from HIM to Nightwish have outstripped them in terms of success and sales. But sheer bloody mindedness and faithfulness to each other has seen this quintet of self proclaimed rock vampires weather the storms of nu-metal and grunge with little disruption in the Germanic speaking countries of central Europe and Scandinavia or their motherland.

But after all this time (17 years to be precise) it is quite strange to see that a band who so patently worship at the temple of Billy Idol, The Cult and, yes, Elvis Presley are possibly standing on the verge of imprinting themselves onto the consciousness of the younger British rock contingent.

They are over in the UK to promote their tenth album (something of a rarity given their chequered history with this country). It’s a ballsy and typically out of step with the times album that revels in the sheer senseless brilliance of rock and roll. It is as if Jeff Goldblum in _The Fly_ has got into a matter transporter with the video to November Rain, a well thumbed copy of The Dirt, Fun House by The Stooges, Spïnal Tap and a complete set of Turbonegro albums and stumbled out as a rock‘n’roll mutant, The 69 Eyes.

So the question that Hammer has been asking itself all day after listening to this album Angels, is: do The 69 Eyes mean it, or are the just pretending?

The group stagger into an East End boozer for a chat, transforming this little bit of London into a sleaze-sodden glimpse of Sunset Strip. They arrive a blur of leather, chains, Misfits tTshirts, back-combed hair, mohicans, cigarette packets and guitar cases. Like the oldest, but still coolest gang in town. They head straight to the bar for beers and Bazie, the man-mountain of a lead guitarist saunters over and points to his face amiably and drawls: “Sorry about all the blood. We’ve just been stood in a churchyard having our photographs taken as rock vampires!”

“There is that saying that says life without alcohol is pretending, but it’s not Finnish law that you have to drink. It’s just that we do.” Even better.

It’s hard not to presume that a band so obviously keen on breaking the UK and US would be slightly bitter about their experiences (they had a brief and completely unsuccessful tryst with Roadrunner in 2005) but the feeling genuinely appears to be one of buoyancy. Jussi explains the band’s philosophy as the others nod sagely: “At various shows on this UK tour people have said to us they feel sorry for us. Say last week we played in front of 9,000 people in Leipzig and then this week we’re playing in the basement bar of Rock City in Nottingham and people say that we must feel like shit. But we’re just like, ‘We’re really excited. It’s fucking Rock City. It feels like we’ve made it’.”

The singer, who looks like Nikki Sixx’s brother with the keys to the salad bar adds: “And we may have been playing to much smaller crowds than in Helsinki but we knew that we were living our dream, reaching England and playing to rock fans. I mean it was never our aim to have loads of number ones and earn loads of money – not that I’m pretending that it wouldn’t be cool – but that wasn’t the main goal. Every time I get interviewed I always get asked how come you’ve never had a line-up change and I think this is the reason. We’ve never had these goals of becoming really big or earning lots of money, so we don’t get frustrated not having millions in our band account.”

Jyrki is blasé about the subject adding: “We’re really powerful on the Central European gothic scene, especially in German speaking countries and obviously with Angels we’ve gone a lot more rock’n’roll. And obviously there will be fans who are looking for the romantic, gothic, red wine drinking, red roses on marble tombstones in the moonlight kind of stuff and they’ll probably be very surprised when they hear The Rocker or Frankenhoooker. I trust them and I know that they’ll understand that it’s time for us to put away the velvet cloak and get back to rocking.”

To make sure that we’ve got the message he jumps out of his chair and shouts: “It’s time to rock!”

We don’t want to keep on beating them with the success of other Finnish bands but it must be a dark irony that casual listeners may think that they are ripping off HIM.

Jyrki is nothing if not philosophical about this: “We probably have a much more varied sound than HIM, so it’s not that straightforward. People say that The Beatles were the most influential American band to come out of Britain and we know what that means because we are fans of American rock culture and English punk culture. We love Guns N’ Roses and we love Motörhead. It’s mainly American bands and bands from the UK that maybe aren’t seen as being as important as they are, bands like The Cult and Billy Idol are very important to us. But at the same time we always manage to sound like ourselves. We’re the ultimate rock’n’roll recycle machine.”

Rock’n’roll recycle? So you’re like Green Metal instead of Black Metal?

Jyrki laughs and says: “I’ll have to tell that to Dani Filth and see what he makes of that. I’m not sure what he thinks of green metal…”

The Helsinki scene is insular and self-sustaining with most musicians sharing the same crew, producers, studios and resources. In fact it was HIM’s Ville Vallo who asked Jyrki if he could sing backing vocals for him just by approaching him in a pub. The favour was returned two years ago, when Valo helped pre-produce the Eyes’ Paris Kills album. The smallness of the scene has helped in other ways as well, Jyrki comments: “It is the way that it works in Helsinki. It gets to about 3am and they call last orders and that means it is time to go and record on someone else’s album. That is how we got Apocalyptica on the new album, they live near us but we’d never needed cello on an album before. It was 17 years before we felt like we really needed to have cellos.”

Hammer notes that cellos are like buses – you wait ages for one, and then four turn up at once. The band ponder this and nod sagely. When asked if it is a blessing in disguise to have a lot of time to get one’s shit together before having a proper crack at the UK and the US they all agree, implying that if you stick to your guns long enough people will always, eventually, come round to your way of thinking. Bazie adds: “It is very interesting. It is a good way to do something. We’re not bothered that we’re the oldest out of the old gang to have a proper go at it.”

This said it’s strange that Jyrki even has time to be in The 69 Eyes given all the sidelines he has as a fairly successful comic book artist, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador to Africa on the behalf of children, amongst other things. He adds: “I think it was very clever of the Finnish Unicef to get me involved, because I’m much more interesting as a character than just some guy in a suit. I had been on some field trips to Africa and seen the desperate conditions that some kids live in. I’d had that privilege so I guess I was a better choice than some stupid sports guy. I hope I can get more people interested in these things. I would like to see Dimmu Borgir getting involved with the Norwegian Unicef. Wouldn’t that be cool?”

The band have to go and get ready for their gig in Camden tonight. It’s only going to be in front of a couple of hundred people, but you get the feeling that when they come back later in the year it could be to much larger venues. Before they leave, the conversation slips into a good natured row about what their name means, with Archzie claiming: “The best explanation I ever heardm was that the alien from the film Alien has 69 eyes up his asshole.”

Jussi counters this by saying: “I always get pissed off when people start talking about the asshole. Like your eyes are close to the ass when you’re…” He trails off for a second: “In Finland it is translated as Position Eyes and that’s a funny phrase, but our name has nothing to do with it.”

Jyrki adds: “I think that some people think it is a reference to both The Cramps and The Misfits. I read an interview with Andrew Eldritch once in which he said that the only question that every band will always be asked is what their name means, and no cool band will ever have the explanation.”

Just before he leaves he randomly adds: “We’ve taken a step forward and we’ve done it on our own terms. We’re going to where a band from Helsinki has never been before.”

Where, Mars?

Without missing a beat he adds: “Yeah. We’ll get to play the Astoria first.” A little later on, as they make their way to Camden’s Barfly venue where a capacity crowd is already snaking around the venue two hours before stage-time, it doesn’t seem far-fetched at all.

Be ready.

This was published in Metal Hammer issue 168.