Jyrki 69 (lead vocals) from The 69 Eyes
Without a shadow of a doubt, all THE 69 EYES disciples will be thrilled by the Helsinki Vampires' long-awaited and new offering once they hear it. On April 22, ‘Universal Monsters’ will finally be unleashed on the world presenting eleven killer Goth'n'Roll songs. The dark rockers from Finland are back – in top form and, as always, with an edge. In fact, they've actually never been gone and never will be, for one way to read the album's title is that Jyrki 69 (vocals), Bazie (lead guitar), Timo-Timo (guitar), Archzie (bass), and Jussi 69 (drums) are timeless creatures themselves, iconic as the monsters of the classic horror movies, being around and enfolding us in their melodic duskiness or rocking our socks off for already over a quarter of a century. Vampire and vocalist Mr Jyrki 69 has a busy schedule, but he kindly took the time to talk to Reflections of Darkness in detail about the band, the fans, music, and the world.
Jyrki 69 [J69]: Good evening!
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: Hyvää ilta, Jyrki! Mitä kuuluu? (“Good evening, Jyrki! How are you?” in Finnish)
RoD: Thank you for taking the time to talk!
J69: Yeah, sure!
RoD: Congrats and “kiitos paljon” (“Many thanks” in Finnish) for your new opus ‘Universal Monsters’! It's full of powerful tracks that sound so 69 EYES and at the same time totally new and absolutely diverse – a monster of an album, so to speak! And thank you for all the catchy tunes, I actually woke up today with the words “Good morning, Rome!” in my head (Note: first words sung in the opening title ‘Dolce Vita’)!
J69: Oh yeah, thanks, that the best compliment by far! I mean, it's a little bit like, if somebody has heard THE 69 EYES before, he or she will know what to expect. And most likely everybody who's gonna hear this record has heard us before, because that's why we make the record; we make them for fans these days. When we had the previous album out, nearly five years ago, we were still part of the music business and had an international nature and so on, so we were pushed and interested in seeing if we can push THE 69 EYES further and maybe even have some crossover acceptance, but nowadays everything has changed and five years is a very long time. So, if we make music, we make it only the fans and obviously for ourselves. So, I think people who will hear this record will know what to expect, nothing will come as a surprise. I get inspired by traveling around, which is obviously very inspiring to all of us. So, sometimes a song can be about Berlin. And what I am personally proud of is that we can play the song `Feel Berlin´ all over the world, it just feels right and not weird. I myself don't even know exactly what it means but I think it has a peaceful message in the end, you know. So, “Good morning, Rome” - I think that transfers as well, even if you haven't been there you can see in your eyes. Most of us know something about Rome, have seen a couple of pictures. So, with “Good morning, Rome” you have probably a kind of beautiful vision in mind and hopefully, someday, you'll have the chance to go to experience it by yourself. Thanks for this commentary; I wanted to explain it a little bit and I feel satisfied with this response.
RoD: Yeah, there's this universal aspect about it.
J69: Yeah, it's very simple and nothing very special in any of those, but I like them and it fits for us.
RoD: ...but still powerful.
J69: And I haven't heard those things anywhere. Even though my favourite bands have songs about Warsaw and of course Berlin, mentioning a lot of things about these cities, but I have never heard “Good morning, Rome!”, you know, “Buongiorno, Rome”!
RoD: It's been four years after ‘X’.
J69: Well, nearly five years, in the respect that we wrote the songs five years ago.
RoD: Right, and now you're about to release your 11th studio album this month. How do you feel about that? The fans can't wait to hear it. Are you excited to share your new tunes as the release date is approaching?
J69: Well, I hope that the fans know that the record is coming out! I noticed that this has changed during the last five years. For instance, let's say, four, five years ago, when we had a record out and when we released a single, it was a radio hit here in Finland. It was played all over the radio stations and was it was actually number two here in the playlists. And there was also a TV show to show the video. Now, five years later, there aren't even those radio channels left anymore that could play us, you know. So, there's no more excitement of getting air play. I don't know if this record will be played on radio, it doesn't matter anymore. Then, the TV show doesn't exist anymore. So, there are two ways to tell them that we have new music out: to play shows all around and the other thing is social media, of course. But, it seems that people are actually so busy that it's hard to reach them. I'm expecting to reach at least half of the people who are, for instance, following us on Facebook. But when we had the first single out (`Jet Fighter Plane´), we put it and the video out there, and just a tiny little amount of them seemed to check it out. And then, let's say after a couple of weeks, we put the video there again saying “Hey, have you checked out the single?”, and then there are people commenting, “Oh, do you have new music out? That's awesome! Will you ever release a new record again?” (pretending to sound super surprised and excited)
RoD: That's weird!
J69: Yeah, but that's social media. People are so busy and there's so much information coming from every direction. It's challenging to reach even those people who are committed to be your fans. But that's not that serious, I just let it go. We've done the music, we're extremely happy with it, of course. You know, you heard the record... and from a creator's point of view, I think it's our best. My voice is better than ever, I like the songwriting and arrangements, and my lyrics are better than ever. Of course, the fans have their favourite records because they relate their past at some moment to it and so on. But from a creator's point of view, it's not just wishful thinking that “Oh, this record is very good!” – it is! But does it speak to you like some other record of ours because of in what situation you are in life? I can't tell. But it's interesting; I'm curious how to reach people, from a statistic's point of view. In general, how to help getting these people to know that we have new music out, how to push the message through. No matter how good it is, I just wish that the people have the chance to listen to it, that they will find out one way or another. So, that's my expectation. It'll be fun to let the people know.
And then, we're gonna do some things we haven't done for a while, which is to play in Central Europe. We haven't really been there for a while, nearly four years as well. So, we're gonna play there and that'll be interesting just to see that as well. There hasn't been any kind of break. We've just been playing continuously here in Finland. Actually, the previous album felt still fresh to me. We've been talking about taking more songs from that album for our live set and all of a sudden we realized, “Hold on, it's four years old!” But we have fans who started writing to our social media sites, like “Hey, where's the new music? Are you gonna release new music because it's been this and this long from the last one.” So, that's really nice because there are bands whose fans don't want them to release any new music ever again and if they do so, they don't wanna hear them live. We have a totally different vibe going on, so that's of course nice. We're creative and I think that our band is at its best at this moment in many aspects.
The thing is, the band hasn't changed at all, but the world has changed around us. And that's always been with us since we are outsiders, not from any scene; we are not a Gothic band, we're not a Metal band, we're not a Hard Rock band. I guess some guys wish we were a Punk band, but punks say that “you definitely are not”. So, we've always been outside all the scenes, but that made sure that our music has stood the test of time, has stayed timeless. We don't belong to any period of any particular scene, like “Oh, that sounds like mid-90s Metal so much because of the drum sound or because the riffs were like that then...” It's always like: “Well, that sounds like THE 69 EYES... and that sounds a little bit like this and this, but in the end it's always THE 69 EYES.” We're also far from being original, in many ways, but so were THE ROLLING STONES, or LED ZEPPELIN, or even THE BEATLES. They were just borrowing bits and pieces and putting them together. There's that and nowadays the festivals are very prolific, especially in Germany, so we're never gonna play at a Metal festival, that's for sure. Gothic festivals? Well, we haven't been invited any more. Festivals really want to specify right now who's gonna play at their festival, so we're pretty much left over at the moment, but it doesn't matter. Honestly, I actually like it more to play at smaller clubs. So, that's what's going on: We're playing in clubs for our fans, and that's it.
RoD: That's cool, I like that.
J69: Well, I mean, I never liked big festivals. And then, we've done that a million years and once in a while you start to think, “Why is that?” and “Why is this?”, but my favourite bands and musicians have never been these big stadium players, they are more those who play in the clubs to perform the songs. So, as we start to play now for this record, I wanna make a difference. It has become a template: You record a record and then you go on tour for half a year, you play the same venues over and over again, the same that you did a year ago, and then there's your backdrop which is your album cover and there're side drops on stage, and then you have smoke and fire, and then you do the whole tour again, and then you record a new album, and then you have a new backdrop and the same touring routine. Well, I'm not interested in that at all! When we're gonna play, we'll just have our amps, and whatever lights there might be, and just come to play the songs for the people, nothing special. You know, like MOTÖRHEAD had, or RAMONES – just the instrument guys and the songs. And leather jackets! So, it's very simple, going back to the simple days. And it's the same thing for the album covers: Guys with the grim flashlight under our chins showing the years and playing without any special effects or makeup or anything, just like that. I really wanna do everything differently and hopefully that will inspire, but I also wanna go back to the original roots of Rock 'n' Roll, of how the things were done back in those simple, good old days.
RoD: So, you're gonna let the music speak for itself.
J69: Yeah, exactly. It's the simpleness, there lies the beauty!
RoD: That already answers one of my questions. You'll be hitting the stages here in Germany soon, shortly after the release, and I wanted to know what kind of a live show can we expect.
J69: We'll play the songs that the fans come to listen to and a couple of new ones. That's it. It's gonna be a like a meeting after a while. It's gonna be us, and the songs, and the fans.
RoD: Cool! And as a support, you're bringing along the duo THE GHOST WOLVES...
J69: Oh, yeah, that's really fun because I've been playing around with my Rockabilly band 69 CATS, intelligently named outfit, in the States and one of the best bands I've seen in a long, long time is from Texas, Austin; they're called GHOST WOLVES and they're like a duet. A guy playing drums and the girl playing amazing guitar and they're really raw, very powerful! Also with a simplicity – drums and guitar – but great songs, straight attitude, straight in your face. So that's a perfect opening up, I mean for years we had been having these kind of similar sounding bands, like ourselves, and now I'm happy to bring my favourite band over, so that will be exciting for me as well.
RoD: I haven't heard of them before and when I checked them out my first impression was also that they sound very raw and energetic and that always promises a fun live show.
J69: Yeah, very simple, it's just drums and a girl with a guitar who tells you what to do next, like “Enjoy, and relax, and listen to the music!”, and then we will come with our melodic, dark songs. I think that's a really perfect package, to be honest.
RoD: Yeah, I can't wait! Let's get back to the old school sound of the record. It's really back to the roots. Are you coming full circle with ‘Universal Monsters’?
J69: Yeah, it's exactly like that. Like going back to where it all started. We've been making the records `Blessed Be´ and `Paris Kills´ like 15, 16 years ago with Johnny Lee Michaels together. He was there doing everything and we were the band. And now, we're back to the same thing: He did everything and we were the band. We did everything together, there were no outside forces. We don't have to explain anything to each other, everybody knows exactly what to do and knows what's it's about, and what the magic is. And the magic was still there. And it's a nice way, we come full circle, to the turning point, and if this was our last album it would be a nice way to close the whole book as well.
RoD: I'm really impressed with this new record because you bring everything 69 EYES have been all about to perfection...
J69: Thank you!
RoD: And there are also some sonic surprises that enrich your sound and I'm sure will blow people away.
J69: Thank you.
RoD: Maybe we could talk about these surprises in three personal highlights, that I picked; one is the epic song ‘Blackbird Pie’. It's almost six minutes long and there some Native American sounding vocals on it and also some flutes. Could you tell us more about this tune?
J69: Oh yeah, thanks. I didn't know that it's so long... Well, if we were still part of this big game – music business – somebody would say: “Stop it, don't do it! It's nonsense, it's too expensive. Nobody does this kind of a record anymore.” And nobody does! It would be too expensive to do especially a song like ‘Blackbird Pie’, just an album track being so epic. Actually, that's why making the record took pretty long. We started to record it already in June (2015), the first drums and everything, and all this time, like till... like a month ago [laughs], we were still making the record. And, you know, there is no budget for that, of course, but there are even no commercial forces to tell, to expect, or say, or push, or warn, or anything saying “Hey, it has to be ready by now!” Nothing like that, we just did it kind of in peace... just because it has to be like this! So, `Blackbird Pie´ is a funnily epic song, which has Celtic melodies, so I heard, and then Johnny Lee brought some strange Ennio Morricone kind of Western movie elements into it. And there're big choirs. I don't know anybody who makes this kind of a music anymore. In our case, it was nearly too much, but we got the song, and it's there. And on the other hand, it sound like THE 69 EYES. Every time we've been doing music with Johnny Lee Michaels, there're also this kind of strange, epic songs popping up. The song might start very simple and then all of a sudden it grows to a strange epic. But that's also interesting: Does anybody have time to listen to a whole album?! Who has time to listen to anything these days?! Or the patience?! Well, I mean, this is done as the album, like a whole record, old school, like: “Hey, here is the CD! It's this and this long and has this and this song.” It's a whole album, not the singles and some extra songs; no, it's a whole album! It's thought to be an album like back in the days when albums still were something that people were interested in. We did an album! Form the first song to the end.
RoD: And what's up with the lyrics of ‘Blackbird Pie’?
J69: It sounds like a Celtic song and ‘Blackbird Pie’ is this old children's song from the 5th century, or something like that, from the English literature. I was in Austin, Texas, exactly a year ago and there were a lot of blackbirds and I was curious because I've never seen those kind of birds before. And then the guitarist from THE HEAD CAT, Lemmy's band, who is also playing guitar for 69 CATS (Danny B. Harvey), was singing something about making pie from blackbirds. I was like, “What? What are you singing? Why do you wanna make pie from these birds?! That sounds horrible!” I didn't know that it's just a children's song from like 500 years ago. I asked him: “What do you mean? Are you... like insane?” And he said, “No, no, it's just a folk song.” And then I checked it out and then we had the music when we started to make this new record and all of a sudden that blackbird pie theme was stuck in my mind and I transferred and changed it to make it like this kind of fairy-tale, a sleazy song about stealing the queen from the king of darkness. So it's a tongue in cheek song from somewhere from the past, but not exactly.
RoD: That's an interesting song. Next, I picked ‘Shallow Graves’. It has some rocking riffs, it has some good old bells – I love bells! – and there're some croaking crows in the end – quite cinematic. What's the story and message behind this song?
J69: Oh, it's like that: ALICE COOPER came to play here in Helsinki last summer and all the band members are friends of mine, like the guitarist Ryan Roxie, and Tommy Henriksen, another guitarist, Chuck on bass, and Nina on the other guitar, and of course Glen Sobel on drums, they're all my friends. And I think ALICE COOPER's new band is one of the best Rock'n'Roll bands at this moment, really, I mean THE STONES are great, but Alice Cooper's band is fantastic! So, we went to see the show and hang out with the guys. And the show was really, really good, like I said; it blew us away. And then we were still writing songs for this album last July and our guitarist somehow came up with this riff which sounds a little bit like ALICE COOPER stuff. I got the idea of writing lyrics which would fit. I was walking and listening to the demo and all of a sudden a real rabbit ran in front of me and I thought I have to put this in a song, like “Hey, Mr Rabbit, where are you running?” I put this in the song and of course the rabbit is from “Alice in Wonderland”. So, I threw the song to Tim Burton's “Alice in Wonderland” world. And I actually noticed that there's a new, second movie coming up with Johnny Depp as the mad hatter. So, I threw that song to that world and message of `Shallow Graves´ is this: Some of us spend all their lives, for instance, building a house. It's pretty common here in Finland that you have a wife and two kids and then you work all your life to build a house to maintain your family. And building a house is like building a shallow grave. It's a symbol of a busy world; it's a grim message as you can't change your destiny because it's in your DNA memory, you know. So, it's a grim message but thrown into the “Alice in Wonderland” world with a couple of drops of acid from Johnny Depp's tea pot. That's what the song is about.
RoD: That's quite nice, I mean...
J69 (laughs): ...Smack and crack, yes, I talk about it. I have to use it later on: a couple of drops of acid from Johnny Depp's tea pot. That's great!
RoD: OK, since we only have some time left for a third favourite, I have to say that I love the mystic vibes of ‘Jerusalem’ – my personal highlight! How did this one come to be?
J69: Oh, thank you! That's one of the things that I like: I always want to surprise the 69 EYES fans one way or another, in a good way of course. Sometimes, I'm a little bit upset that sometimes they probably expect us to make music about red wine and roses and dark moments of loneliness without love, or something like that, which of course doesn't interest me at all. Singing about Jerusalem was like: Wow, this is actually great! I heard the demo for the song and its music had this Arabic rhythm there and so it took me to the Middle East. Then, one of my favourite movies is Ridley Scott's “Kingdom of Heaven,” which is all about Jerusalem. All of a sudden I thought it would be interesting if that song was about Jerusalem. I've never been there so I just wrote the lyrics like as if Jim Morrison was in Jerusalem sending a postcard, like “When you get yourself down here...” (imitating Morrison's voice). And then, after we did the demo, the song sounded really cool, so I actually booked a trip to Jerusalem last October and I was there the first time ever. I spent some time there and obviously it's the holiest city in the world, a beautiful, fantastic place. It's a place where man meets God. And it's been like that ever since the beginning of mankind. It's also said, that whatever happens inside the walls of Jerusalem, it transfers to the outside world as well. It's very accurate these days. So, when I sing, once you bring peace down here inside the walls, hopefully, that will affect the current world as well. So, that can be also understood as a little bit of a political song as well, but it has so much symbolism and the whole concept of Jerusalem – so exciting! So, I was there and had a real vision of the place when we recorded it, and I was actually to Jerusalem two weeks ago again because I had to go there. And I’m glad that whether it was God who brought the music to me to bring me to the town, or however you wanna think about it, I'm glad that Jerusalem is in my life for many aspects. It's a truly mystical and magical place and it was exciting to make it into music. It's gonna be the third single from this album and obviously, as I was there, there's gonna be a video for the song as well.
RoD: Oh, that's great!
J69: It's very interesting! That's what interests me most at the moment: the spirituality in our lives and all these vibes. I'm really excited about and it was interesting that this town came into my life through the song, which I wrote by myself.
RoD: Yeah, that's amazing!
J69: Everything has its purpose! It's true stories, a simple story of my life, and hopefully it inspires other people. And maybe someday there will be peace there...
RoD: Let's hope so.
J69: ...and everywhere else as well. So that's what we hope.
RoD: Yes! Thank you very much, Jyrki! So, keep on rocking and I'll see you soon at the gig in Cologne!
J69: Alright, cool! Thanks for pronouncing my name right. Have a good night! Auf Wiedersehen (“Goodbye!” in German), bye!