By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Somewhere in Helsinki, Jyrki 69 is stoked: He's leaving momentarily to see Mötley Crüe. "The world can't be bad after all," he muses. Take some Danzig, some Iggy, some Nick Cave. Throw in an Elvis hiccup and drop it what seems like an octave, and you no longer have a human voice—it's Jyrki' s, more like an X-Men superpower.
"It's not an Olympic games," Jyrki says with a chuckle. "I think it's getting lower and lower with age. And the consumption of Jack Daniel's or Jägermeister." But I have to admit that a lot of the reason I like Jyrki's voice—and his Finnish goth 'n' roll band, the 69 Eyes—is that they crystallize things I already like ... mostly guilty pleasures. And Jyrki has absolutely zero problem with that.
"If you listen to our music, if you know a little bit about the history of rock 'n' roll, you can really easily point out a few bands," he says. "If you haven't heard us, and you see our picture, you point out already a few names." With the band's most recent records, 2004's Devils and this year's Angels, the influences do come out easily. The Cult. Sisters of Mercy. Danzig. G 'n' f'n R.
Yet, "It's not like we're a rock 'n' roll recycle machine," Jyrki says. "Maybe because of the reason that Finland is on the edge of Europe and between East and West, somehow I think some values were preserved here better than in the rest of the world where fashion always kills the previous statement, or makes people to forget the history of music." So when people can point to the band's influences, it "feels victorious, but also it's a little like, 'Well, by all means—we got them from you in the first place, somehow.'"
And now we're getting them back. For the past couple years the 69 Eyes have been gathering steam in the U.S.—probably with a little help from H.I.M.'s popularity—but the band's been a fixture in Helsinki for ages. Its debut, Bump and Grind, came out on Cleopatra in 1992; Angels is its ninth album. "We're not young kids anymore," Jyrki says. But he notes that unlike many bands, their fans keep getting younger. While some fans have grown up with the band, "we have also, every year, coming up new young generations, who still get excited about black leather jackets, black sunglasses and black hair. And loud guitars."
Coming from Finland has its drawbacks. "The winters are fucking long and cold, and Finnish people have had to suffer being slaves first for Russia and then to Sweden and then back to Russia again, and then coming independent 100 years ago," Jyrki summarizes. "Of course, we can't change our lot, and that's something that brings the melancholy melody lines to our music. But on the other hand, our outlook is totally different [from Finnish dark-metal bands]. We owe more to American pop culture than to, let's say, Finnish, Russian, melancholy, suicidal side of our lives."
Indeed, whether Jyrki's talking about rock iconography, Cold War films, gospel music, Elvis (one of his faves) or getting props from "Mr. Glenn Danzig," you get the impression that not only does he know more about American pop culture than most Americans, he also understands and relishes it to an uncommon degree. In fact, from the blond bombshell on its cover to lyrics that combine apocalyptic religious imagery with Sunset Strip sleaze, Angels is really about all those things.
"Earlier days, people knew actors about their movies," says Jyrki. "Nowadays you just know actors and entertainment business people about their antics, after dark—that's pretty apocalyptic, I think. Media is driving these entertainers, actors, crazy and then hunting them down. Ever since the beginning, what was said—'Hollywood Babylon'? I think Hollywood Babylon is burning more than ever. People are getting crazy there, or some of them even dying. What Hollywood loves is dead blondes—that never changes, even in 2007. Or imprisoned blondes, at least."
Angels seems basically an extension of the previous album, with the same creepy keyboards and metallic guitars, similar melodies and Jyrki's subsonic croon. If anything, Angels actually sounds dirtier and more, well, evil: Where Devils had a gothic, spiritual tone, with songs such as "Only You Can Save Me," Angels seems to refer less to heavenly messengers than to the all-too-human residents of Los Angeles.
And perhaps it's best that the 69 Eyes are keeping things earthy and earthbound. "I think that rock 'n' roll, like it was said, is 'devil's music.'" Jyrki says. "I think it should be that way."