The 69 Eyes are back and rockin'
By Naughty Mickie  notymickie@earthlink.net
Photos by Byron Spears

I'll admit it with ease-- I'm a huge fan of The 69 Eyes. Ever since their album, "Angels," landed on my desk, I just can't get enough of these guys. I've dabbled into the rest of their catalog and kept waiting for them to announce a new record and, better yet, a tour. Finally I got both. "Back in Blood" (The End Records) was released September 15 and The 69 Eyes passed through Southern California at the beginning of October.

The 69 Eyes was formed by friends in Helsinki Finland in 1989 and the lineup, Jyrki 69, guitarists Bazie and Timo-Timo, bassist Archzie and drummer Jussi 69, has remained stable. They began as a glam metal group and gradually evolved in to what they refer to as goth n' roll. The band's music is influenced by the The Doors, Elvis Presley, Hanoi Rocks, Billy Idol and Sisters of Mercy, as well as vampire films and literature. The 69 Eyes have several gold records, including "Angels," which debuted at number one in Finland. They are very big in Europe, while the U.S. is still discovering them.

"Back in Blood" was produced by Matt Hyde are recorded in Helsinki and Los Angeles. It was released in Europe in August and in the U.S. in September. Bam Magera directed the first video for the first single from the album, "Dead Girls are Easy," which premiered on playboy.com in July.

I answer the phone to hear a deep, melodious voice.

"Greetings from dark, September Helsinki and all that," Jyrki says.

I respond by commenting that "Angel" and "Back in Blood" seem very different from one another.

"I don't think that there's that big difference, but the main difference for it is how it was produced," Jyrki replies. "All the records we've done during the last 20 years, we've done here in Helsinki, Finland. We've never even done any records outside of Helsinki, we've always recorded here. This time around, this was our ninth album, so we thought let's try to do something different, let's try to at least get a foreign producer, we've always worked with Swedish guys before.

"We were going through a few ideas as producers and then we figured out that Matt Hyde is the best guy because he came up with some great ideas, he seemed to understand our band perfectly and then after that we were trying to get Matt Hyde here to Helsinki to do the record with us, the whole album," Jyrki continues. "Then he had the idea that hey, why don't you come to L.A.? He has studios there and everything. Of course that was one of the things we wanted to do actually, we wanted to get out of Helsinki. It wasn't a dream like let's go to L.A., it was like let's do the record somewhere else than Helsinki with a foreign producer."

Knowing bands work in various ways, I ask if the material was studio-ready or did the band still need to write.

"Everything was already written." Jyrki explains, "We had a little over 20 songs and Matt Hyde, when he came into the picture and we chose him, he did the cherry picking from the songs, let's have this and this on the album. Then we flew him over to Helsinki to do the pre-production with us, when we played the songs with him and we did some arrangements before going to Los Angeles to his studio.

"This was something we had never done before and obviously I think that's why I'd like to explain it comes with a package when you get a record producer and go to the States, and that's what we wanted actually as well, the sound is more rocking. And I think there's a little more American-wise there, which it doesn't come with the package automatically, like oh, yeah, you're recording something in the States and then you've got it. It comes from the producer, but especially in this case when the producer is the rock producer who's based on classic rock values, like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, this kind of stuff. So of course he tries to introduce those ways more to our sounds as well.

"Especially if you think Finnish bands like HIM or like us, our music is pretty polite." Jyrki goes on, "American music has always been, ever since the days that Elvis was leaning over the audience or Jerry Lee Lewis was setting his piano on fire, it's always been very aggressive with a very strong attitude, so if I think like more American rock, the rock music you guys hear on the radio, there's bands like Slipknot, Mastodon, Disturbed, this kind of stuff really just rolls over you. That's what I understand is the American sound and attitude, so a little bit of that is added to the regular 69 Eyes sound, but otherwise I don't think it's that drastically different at all and the songs and the melodies and the concepts are 69 Eyes."

So how does The 69 Eyes write their material?

"Our guitarist Bazie writes the songs and he comes up with the demos, which are instrumentals without vocals, and then I listen to them and some songs I have the idea immediately and some songs I don't. I just listen to them for a couple of weeks and I still don't come up with an idea, I just throw them to the trash bin. Sometimes he tries to recycle those trash bin songs and tries to mask them with some other idea," Jyrki says and laughs, "that if I don't figure out, oh, that was the song that was terrible, then it might work, I come up with some other idea. Otherwise it's like, hey, don't try to bring this song back to me.

"I already have some ideas. I come up with ideas lyrically for the song or chorus which I saved somewhere or I get the music from our guitarist and it starts to happen in my brain and I come up with the lyrics and we have another 69 Eyes song." Jyrki continues, "He writes very different kinds of music. For this particular album I wanted to have an unhealthy dose of gothic juice as well. There's a lot of really rocking and more clangy stuff, but also there's this classic 69 Eyes rock and roll tunes. That's something we talked about, let's have those songs, like what kind of music comes out of it."

As a vocalist, I'm curious where Jyrki finds lyric ideas.

"They come out of nowhere when I hear the music or when I see something which I want to be included in the future," responds Jyrki. "For instance, we have this song called 'Hunger' on this album and which of course is inspired by the movie called 'The Hunger.' I was enjoying the movie and I was thinking since I'm the guy who makes songs eluding to the movies, like 'The Lost Boys' or 'The Crow,' I should pay a tribute to this movie as well. My intention as well in this case is I hope there's some young kid who is into 'Twilight' and discovers our band, maybe goes to rent 'The Hunger' and discovers that movie and maybe up from that David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve or even Bauhaus from the movie. It's a little bit of little clues to go and find out some cool things in the music. I was referring to movies in the songs like this, it had been waiting there so long, so it was time to do a song called 'Hunger.'

"In general, especially this album it's mostly inspired by vampire themes and also horror movies. I really love to write songs which are more like mini-movies or short comic stories, like from 'Creepy' (an American horror-comics  magazine originally published 1964-1983) or referring to that kind of thing. In this album there's, of course, I'm dead and vampire, but out of that there's nothing else which has inspired my role like stupid heart, it's more like 'Kiss me, I'm dead bitch' or something like that.

The 69 Eyes has been around for 20 years and still gets buzz from the media and boasts a growing fan base. I talk to Jyrki about their success and staying power.

"I think we're pretty fortunate for the fact that, now I'm talking from the point of being a European band and having a record out here, every time we have a new album, the media and press here in Europe has been very interested in us, like in a way we are still a very exciting, new band," says Jyrki. "I think we've had that going for the last 10 years. Every time we have a new record out some part of this world, we're introduced like this new exciting band, which has played 15 years or 17 years or 20 years. But always it's never like, 'Oh, they have an album out and a tour coming out, see you soon.' It's always like, 'Wow they have a new album out, this is fantastic and this is a great band, though they have been together a few years.'

"We have somehow managed to maintain this, which I think is really cool and very unique and it's not my imagination, it's true. I said European band because to the States we absolutely still a very new exciting band. We've never done appropriate press for the States before this album, so once again, in some part of the world we're always introduced as a new exciting band."

Jyrki, himself is very intriguing. He has a low, operatic voice and is influenced by Peter Murphy, Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison and Danzig. He has a degree in analytical chemistry and reads and draws comics. His book, "Zombie Love" (Deggael Communications), was published in Finland in 2006. Jyrki is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador of Finland and has visited Kenya twice in that capacity. He is currently helping to campaign against child trafficking and sexual exploitation in West Africa and on HIV-AIDS issues in Kenya.

I can't resist asking Jyrki if he sang as a child.

"I was more mimicking in front of a mirror while listening to Elvis and I had my hairbrush, which looks like a microphone," Jyrki shares. "What the hell are the kids doing these days? They probably have a 'Rock Band' I think, 'Guitar Hero,' but I mean what happened to the mirror and the hairbrush? Come on guys, get real. That's how it should go. It should be don't buy your kid a 'Rock Band' or 'Guitar Hero,' buy them a hairbrush, mirror and classic '50s rock and roll and let's see what happens."

Chemistry and rock- what's with that?

"I feel pretty stupid to be just a singer." Jyrki expounds, "Once you have a brain I thought it would also be pretty cool to use it. It's not a big deal to get an academic education at the same time as being in a rock and roll band, That's the best thing to do, get yourself to the university and start a band, that's how the Beatles did it, that's how the Stones did it. Or drive a truck, that's another alternative."

I wonder if Jyrki has to work a side job.

"Not at this moment, but of course if you're a real rocker you probably don't make a real fortune with your band." Jyrki says, "I think that's the case with The 69 Eyes, we're probably closer to the Ramones or the Cramps or the New York Dolls, if I see what's going to happen in the future. We're probably one of those bands that people are wearing our t-shirts and playing our songs as cover songs and praise how great we are, but we'll probably never end up selling more records that New York Dolls."

OK, I have to ask about UNICEF.

"I think that's a really gnarly move from Finnish UNICEF to pick up a guy like me to be their spokesperson or their ambassador because my mission is like this- exactly what I'm doing right now," states Jyrki. "It doesn't matter if I'm doing an interview like this or if I'm being interviewed by a Brazilian black metal magazine, always in the end, the question about UNICEF, so through me the whole UNICEF concept goes to different media that it probably wouldn't otherwise. And in the end, I think, it's a win-win situation when there's a gothic girl who Googles what UNICEF means and figures out that it's a cool thing and maybe she takes part or at the least buys a UNICEF Christmas card.

"As the Goodwill Ambassador I've had the chance to make a couple of trips to Kenya, Africa and I know what they do there so I can explain or tell kids about it and I push the message to some other media that where it wouldn't otherwise go. Of course, that's an interesting topic always, everybody has to know about it." Jyrki goes on, "People are always interested in what's my favorite vampire movie all the time and are most likely interested also in why I'm involved in UNICEF and what is this UNICEF. That's the whole thing. That's the least I can do for Mother Earth."

Back to music, I prod Jyrki to compare European and American fans.

"Obviously the answer is the fans are pretty much the same, they even look the same, they dress up the same in every country," Jyrki replies. "The 69 Eyes is the kind of band that if we don't know where the venue is, we just follow out audience, it's pretty easy to point out that 'Oh, these guys are probably going to see our band' because we gather all these grave rockers and freaks and goths and psychobilly people and everybody is our audience. The audience looks fantastic and scary at the same time.

"A Latin American audience is more passionate, they might even cry when there's some epic song, they put more of their heart there, they have a different kind of life there. In some parts, an American audience might put up a mosh pit more easier than for instance than let's say a German audience. There are tiny little differences, but not that big, our audience all together are beautiful."

Jyrki seems to have a good grasp of English. We discuss writing and singing in English when it is not your native language.

"I think in English," Jyrki shares. "The language of rock and roll is English so I always listened to American rock and roll and especially my roots are in the '50s rock and roll and Elvis. That's the only language for rock and roll for me. That's how I learned to write the lyrics. It's natural, I don't translate anything.

"In Finland we might have a little bit easier access to English because in the rest of Europe they dub their movies and it's still going on. If you go to Germany, you can't go to movies because they speak German, it's strange, you can't find a movie theater or go to see American movies unless you want to hear an actor speaking in German. That same thing in other European countries, they dub their movies and TV shows. In Finland we only have subtitles so it's
easier."

The 69 Eyes will tour America for six weeks, which will be followed by tours of Finland for the remainder of the year and then Europe. I ask if the band will be working on any new material during that time.

"Not really. These days if I write on the road, I write MySpace blogs, that's what you're expected to do if you're a modern rocker, that's what your fans expect." Jyrki says, "I think the fans expect you to write blogs and take pictures instead of writing music on the road. Especially in my case, even though I'm hyperactive, I can't do all these things so I have to choose, but maybe one night I write a blog and the next night I write the lyrics for a song.

"The 69 Eyes exists for our fans. The fans are our bosses and that's why we still exist and that's why we make records and that's why we tour. So these days also fans want to interact with you and you have to be available or telling a lot of things all over and that's what you do in the Internet. You tweet with Twitter and then you write a blog for MySpace and all these things, that's part of the thing that belongs to it if you want to be a full-time rock and roller."

"It's been two years since we played last time in California," Jyrki goes on. "Personally, and I know from the band, we can't wait to come over there to rock. It was painful to record the album there knowing that we don't have a chance to play a show there and meeting fans on the street. I'm happy that we've come this fast. I wasn't lying to the people that I run into in the clubs and the street that we will come as soon as possible because this time we do, we start the tour from California. That's a privilege for us and I think and hope that the fans realize that that's a privilege for them as well. The whole world has been waiting for 'Back in Blood' two years and we're starting from California this time."

Learn more about The 69 Eyes, their album and their tour at www.69eyes.com

Also visit my blogs at http://mickieszoo.blogspot.com and www.insidesocal.com/doodah

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