There are places in the world that people see as “holy.” For some, they are places like Jerusalem, the Vatican or Mecca. For others, they are places like The Sunset Strip or The Whisky a Go Go. Thousands have visited these iconic places where people go to follow their dreams, all drenched in the shadow of broken dreams and the hope for a rock n’ roll awakening. The lure of the marquee lights in Los Angeles has been drawing artists and musicians there for years. From the garage bands in small towns across America to the vampires from Helsinki, Finland – it all started with a dream to make music. The 69 Eyes frontman Jyrki 69 made some time during their busy Hell Has No Mercy North American Tour to tell his story to Screamer Magazine.
During the times of The Cold War in Finland, people were free to look both east and west for inspiration and direction. Although emerged in his own culture, Jyrki found himself intrigued by American culture at a very young age. Unlike a lot of other countries in Europe during this time, television series and news releases were not dubbed, so he often found himself reading the subtitles that brought America into his own home. At eight years old, he saw something on television that would inspire him for years to come – the funeral of Elvis Presley. He watched as the family and friends paid their last respects to the rock n’ roll idol, while thousands of his fans maintained their vigil outside of Graceland. Jyrki was consumed with the thought of who this man was, and why he seemed to be so important. While the news report played, he recognized Elvis from a movie that he had recently watched and started to figure out exactly who he was. Jyrki says, “That is how I discovered rock n’ roll. I was eight years old and I’m still on the same path.” From that moment on, American pop culture played a very important role for him in many ways. Not just in music alone, but in the movies, books, and comics that were popular during this time. Early on, he was always drawing and finding inspiration through artwork. In the eighties, he was a fan of the classic Marvel comics and describes himself as a “comic book freak.” This leaves no surprise that later in his artistic career he would incorporate literature and film into his music, or create a graphic novel to accompany the stories that are told in his songs.
Throughout his teenage years, his fascination with rock music and pop culture only grew stronger. He followed from across the world as iconic bands released music and music videos. Guns N’ Roses had just released Appetite for Destruction when 19-year-old Jyrki decided that it was time to pack a bag and travel to the United States. He yearned to see what was truly going on in the Hollywood music scene. But… he couldn’t afford it, so he ended up at the place that he deemed the next best destination for rock n’ roll during 1988; New York City. “It was actually better,” Jyrki stated. “Because the old New York punk rock scene was loosely still there.” The famous CBGB club was still pumpin’ and had become a forum for punk, new wave, and hardcore punk bands. You could see Dee Dee Ramone, Joey Ramone, or other famous musicians just walking down the street. “I was influenced by the New York rock n’ roll scene, which wasn’t that far from the Hollywood Glam Scene, it was just more raw, biker, punk…” Jyrki adds. After spending a few weeks of his summer in the city, he returned to Finland with the drive to start his own band. Although he believed that Finland had a great music scene in the mid-’80s, he had seen for himself which kinds of bands were missing and wanted to bring those sounds to Helsinki. At this time, bands like Hanoi Rocks and Smack were very popular, but a lot of Finnish rock bands had moved to Hollywood to gain exposure. Jyrki and the band members of The 69 Eyes came together to create a band that they would have loved to go see themselves. And they still feel the same way, 30 years later.
We asked how people reacted to the new band in Helsinki, Jyrki explains, “People were pretty puzzled about my dreams and visions. But you know, it’s always like that. People were just confused, like ‘what’s going on’ when we started. It took ten years for us to become mainstream,” Jyrki says. “But if you want to succeed, let’s say in a band, you should first succeed in your own country, or town, or bar, or whatever…start from there and start to build from there. I guess it’s very different and probably even difficult to do that these days, because of the internet, but you have to build something somewhere and then start to spread it from there,” Jyrki continues. His deep connection from where the band was unearthed is stated in their label Helsinki Vampires. “When we released the first seven-inch vinyl back then, I wrote in our bio that the band is put up between Helsinki and New York, but Helsinki is very important,” Jyrki states. The label was intent on relaying a heartfelt meaning; to not only tell the story of where they came from but to “be real” with their fans and their music. And even as rock music has evolved over the years, The 69 Eyes continued to stay real and true to who they are and always have been.
In the late 80s, the band dressed glam, gothic and in all black. Appearing as what could be seen as a cultural trend, in reality, they dressed in all black because that was normal and relevant in Cold War times. There was a constant dark overtone in their music, but in life, at this time there was a constant threat of nuclear war. When gothic music arose it was seen by Jyrki as “the answer for the dark days we were living.” In the nineties, the band could already be seen as “eighties relics.” The jackets, sunglasses, and boots all became their classic values. There were periods of time during the late 90s and early 2000s when they would fit the popular music trend and then there were times that they were doing something that was totally different than anybody else. Jyrki describes this span of time with understanding and acceptance. “Over the years, you are always a little bit ahead of your time, or you are late from your time. And sometimes, time and what you are doing is in sync.” Time and relevance is not something that is important to the band. The importance lies with the people who connect with the music and the art that is being made. “We have our own audience. We don’t have to convince anybody,” Jyrki says with a smile. “The 69 Eyes, I see also like my art project, because I can put my vision of graphics or art, music, literature; everything into it. And that’s why it is like what it is.”
In 1990, when the band released its first-ever seven-inch single, it came with a four-page mini-comic book enclosed. Later on, Jyrki teamed up with comic book writer Kurt Amacker to create the graphic novels The 69 Eyes: Helsinki Vampires #1-3. As previously described by Screamer Magazine, “The story follows the vampire Jyrki as he travels to Los Angeles in the heyday of its raucous death rock scene. The urban witch Christina Death has summoned him from across the globe, even as their intentions are entirely at odds. What follows carries them from L.A. to Paris and then to New Orleans, in a spectacular vampiric odyssey of love, loss, and obsession.” Although the comic seemed like something so small, it set the precedent for the way that the band would remain over the years. Jyrki reminisces “…a friend of mine drew that. There was our band, playing for a handful of monsters and punks and freaks. So, I’ve always seen 69 Eyes like that. I mean we played for 30,000 people at big shows like international festivals, but I always thought it was kind of like a band in a movie. In the movie it’s nighttime and the main characters go to some weird bar. And all of a sudden, in the corner, there is this totally out of place rock n’ roll band playing for just a handful of freaks and monsters. I always saw us in that way and that is how it is still going to be given.”
On the latest album West End, a lot of the songs were created through the same artistic expression and inspiration through pop culture. Album titles often have profound meaning or hold a cryptic messages on West End Jyrki almost laughs when he says, “It just looked good, to be honest.” After being asked this question over and over again with the release of the album, it seems kind of odd to him that titles hold so much relevance to the album itself. For him, it is much more simple. “When I write lyrics I try to avoid modern expressions, like selfie. I try to keep it simple, so it will stand the test of time,” Jyrki explains. He compares it to one of his favorite places for inspiration – a horror movie. Throughout film history every time that new technology has been surfaced, such as a computer, mobile phone, or social media platform, it is placed in a horror movie script. In a couple of years, this plot and this technology now look outdated and most of the time pretty ridiculous. He thinks about that when he is writing lyrics, or coming up with a title. Avoiding key phrases and modern situations keep the stories told through music relevant and interesting every time that they are heard. But that doesn’t mean that the messages are not there, they just run a lot deeper than the words themselves. For instance, in the song Burn Witch Burn, he never uses vocabulary to make you think that social media is one of the present topics in the lyrics. Instead, he uses the lyrics “You’re staring at your crystal ball, who’s the fairest of them all…casting spells over the ocean, the evil eye is everywhere,” to discuss the topic in a poetic way that will outlast the current trending topics and technologies.
Jyrki talks about social media with ambivalence. With social media being so present in this day and age, it has consumed the masses into comparing themselves to others and creating even more of a competition than there already was. There is a correlation to this in the hit song 27 & Done from the latest album. This song presents dark humor over the notional 27 Club. This “club” became a cultural phenomenon after actors, artists and musicians were documented dying at the age of 27. It has been an inspiration for television, movies, books and more, but for Jyrki, this song ran a lot deeper than the title. “Everybody comes to Hollywood to fulfill their dreams – even me, even at this age. But a lot of people who are much younger are still out there trying to make it happen. With social media, there is this pressure to show out,” Jyrki describes. “All of this together has been crushing people on the boulevard of broken dreams.” When he wrote the song, he looked at the people around him in the music scene over the years and saw what a tough competition it truly was. He realized that most people’s dreams are nearly impossible, but he hoped that they weren’t. “Everybody should believe in their dreams,” Jyrki adds as he explains that the song is not only a dark and desperate piece of reality, but that it is also meant to be a reminder that life should be lived. In this digital age where we want everything in an instant, we have to remember to be present and to enjoy the life that we have, not just the life that we present on our social media platforms. Jyrki recollects that although these technologies can often be perceived as toxic elements in our lives, they were originally intended to unite us and still can be when used properly. There is gratitude in his voice when he tells us that Myspace was the platform that helped The 69 Eyes to break in the United States. It was there that they were able to gain notoriety in America and eventually lead to their success in touring and record sales. He expresses that, “The Internet can be a great tool to communicate with fans and promote what you are passionate about, but that you have to be careful not to get caught up on a personal level.”
The song Outsiders, Jyrki explains was inspired by the S.W Hinton novel The Outsiders. The book was a very important inspiration to him growing up because it resonated with him being a teenage boy coming of age. When he heard the first instrumental demo of the song, somehow the story came to his mind. Inspired first by the book, and then by the iconic 80s film by Francis Ford Coppola, the song was about reckless teenage abandon. Another song, The Last House on the Left holds a special place on the album and in the band’s history. “When we started in the very late 80s we were a glam band, but also like a garage rock n’ roll band. But what I wanted to bring there was horror from my other favorite bands like The Cramps. There was always a horror influence,” he shares. Which is why there are a number of song titles inspired by Wes Craven films. When Jyrki randomly ran into Wednesday from the band Wednesday 13 and asked him to be on the new album, it was clear which song would be a match for the two artists. “I wanted him (Wednesday) to write the lyrics,” Jyrki explains. “I wrote the first verse, and I wanted him to finish the storyline. There is a storyline based on the movie.” Once the lyrics were down they needed a revengeful female voice and chose Calico Cooper from the band Beastö Blancö. Complete with the sound of Dani Filth, founding member of the metal band Cradle of Filth, the song was brought to life. “Everybody who was on this record, they are all our old friends – starting with the guy who has done the cover artwork,” Jyrki says brightly. “We just really stuck to our guns, you know? We didn’t approach anything new, we just recycled ourselves and all of the influences we had…it’s just like the real deal.”
Jyrki takes pride in remaining real with himself as an artist and as a band, especially during live performances. He believes that the stage persona you create in the early stages of your music career and your true self eventually meld together. The 69 Eyes live shows don’t come with any gimmicks, special lights or special effects. “Our performances are based on the songs,” Jyrki expresses. “Fans come to listen to those songs and we perform them to them. And when we share that moment they can sing along, or even just clap their hands. It’s very old school…I think that right now especially, rock n’ roll as an art form is best experienced live. And there are still some of us bands who play like that.” With the popularity of going to live shows and supporting musicians continuing to grow, there is hope that music will be done the way that it once was. For Jyrki, there is hope that this ethereal experience between the musicians and the fans will continue to be experienced. “No matter what happens, when we five guys are on stage, nothing matters really. It’s like all of sudden the magic is there, no matter what happened that day. I hope that what we create can take those people who are in the audience, their minds away from reality and leave everything behind. And somewhere we are sharing that moment and getting baptized by rock n’ roll.”
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