Dead Men Walking
“The late ’80s were a very magical time in New York,” says Jyrki 69, the singer for Finnish gothic rock-and-rollers 69 Eyes. “There were clubs like the Limelight, the Ritz, and CBGB, and I’d see my idols like The Ramones and Johnny Thunders on the streets.” For a period of six years, the then-wide-eyed glam rock teenager would save enough money to make pilgrimages from Helsinki to the Big Apple and soak up as much of the Reagan-era rock scene as he could. These experiences not only inspired him to form 69 Eyes, but also helped establish the band’s aesthetic and lyrical themes, the latter thanks in no small part to Jyrki 69’s dabbling in NYC’s goth underground.
“People were always telling me, ‘You look like a vampire, with your blue eyes and white skin.’ I was even a member of the Count Dracula Society of New York,” Jyrki 69 recalls with a laugh. “So when we started the band we naturally explored vampires and horror movie themes.”
Since forming in 1989, 69 Eyes’ sound has evolved from the gritty street glam of Hanoi Rocks and Guns N’ Roses to the Sisters of Mercy meets ’80s hard rock style for which they’re now known. But Jyrki’s fascination with the undead remains a focal point of their lyrics, as heard on 69 Eyes’ latest record, Back in Blood. “With this record I decided to bravely go where no goth-and-roll guy had gone before, and make a concept record about vampires,” says Jyrki with another laugh.
And his timing couldn’t be better. When producer Matt Hyde (Slayer, Monster Magnet) discovered Back in Blood’s concept, Hyde couldn’t contain his excitement. Jyrki recounts, “Matt said, ‘That’s great! We have this new movie in the states called Twilight, and it seems like they’re already promoting you guys!’”
To help give Back in Blood’s first single, “Dead Girls Are Easy,” the appropriate blood-sucking flavor, Jyrki enlisted old friend Bam Margera (who also directed 69 Eyes’ diabolical “Lost Boys” video, from 2004’s Devils). “I first met Bam about 10 years ago, when [Finnish rock band] HIM was becoming very popular and bringing a lot of people to Finland,” says Jyrki. “Now it seems like every time Bam and I hang out, we get wasted and talk about him directing a video.”
Margera fleshed out the “Dead Girls Are Easy” concept with sexy vampire girls and tattooed fans. A close look at the video will reveal that the extras are full of ink featuring the 69 Eyes logo and gothic ankh symbol. “They’re actual fans with real tattoos,” says Jyrki. “It’s the ultimate sign of appreciation.”
To reward that appreciation and celebrate the release of Back in Blood, the band held an online contest in which fans submitted photos of their 69 Eyes tattoos, which were judged by Jyrki’s longtime friend Kat Von D. Coincidentally, the two were first introduced around the same time Jyrki met Margera, thanks again to HIM singer Ville Valo.
“Kat was in Finland to see HIM, and that’s when I first took notice of this beautiful tattooed American,” says Jyrki. “It wasn’t until later that we became friends and I saw her portrait tattoo [work], which is extraordinary.”
Jyrki’s connection to tattoos reaches back to the same late ’80s NYC scene that spawned his musical inspiration. Back then tattooing was still banned within the city limits. So with the help of his friend Jupiter, who had some tattoo connections (and has since become a tattooer in her own right), Jyrki hopped a bus to New Jersey, where the art was legal. When they arrived on the other side of the Hudson River, Jyrki followed Jupiter down a flight of stairs into the basement shop of now-legendary tattooer (and current proprietor of Brooklyn’s Flyrite Studios) Elio Espana.
“It was very exciting,” says Jyrki. “He put on Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, which brought even more mystique to an already spiritual experience.”
For his first tattoo, Jyrki wanted something discreet and “romantic—that a girl would discover if she was lucky enough,” he says with a laugh. So Jyrki had Espana sketch a small, full-color 3-D heart, which he tattooed on the right cheek of the singer’s butt.
To this day, that “glammy valentine” has been his sole tattoo, a fact that may soon change if Kat Von D gets her hands on Jyrki’s backside.
“When we were in L.A. recording Back in Blood, I talked with Kat about updating my heart,” says Jyrki. “The schedules haven’t worked yet, but she promised to do it. It’ll be cool … but maybe I should ask Elio if he approves first!”