Praise the Lordi

The July 26 Backbeat section contains a profile of Lordi, a ghoul-garbed Finnish group that's one of the odder acts on this year's Ozzfest bill -- a proud achievement if there ever was one. The following Q&A with group leader Mr. Lordi covers more ground even more amusingly.

Topics include the quizzical Stateside reaction when Lordi won the 2006 Eurovision song contest with the tune "Hard Rock Hallelujah"; the question of whether or not Lordi is a metal band; the shame some Fins felt when Lordi was named their country's Eurovision representative; Mr. Lordi's contention that past Eurovision winner ABBA was once deemed "too rock" for the competition; the change of heart Lordi critics had after the band took Eurovision's top prize; visits with Finland's president and prime minister; Finland's rock love; assorted local honors; attempts by Finnish magazines to publish photos of Lordi members out of monster duds; Mr. Lordi's solemn vow not to do a costume-free tour; his preference for Twisted Sister over Andrew Lloyd Webber; the trade-off between extra attention and diminished respect for songwriting that comes as part of the Lordi package; and his belief that by playing in America, Lordi is actually coming home.

Welcome back... for the first time.

Westword (Michael Roberts): A lot of people in the States who aren’t part of the metal scene first heard of you guys when you won the 2006 Eurovision contest – and a lot of TV stations here had fun with it, making it seem bizarre that a group wearing costumes like you do could win. Did you get a lot of that kind of coverage, and those kinds of reactions?

Mr. Lordi: Oh yeah. [Laughs] All the way, all the way. And the funny thing is, it was really bizarre for us – it was most bizarre for us. Whoever categorizes us for whatever category, there’s always someone who’ll say, “No, no, no. They don’t fit in that one.” We are really careful not to call ourselves a metal band – like we’re real metal. No, no, no, no, Lordi is like classic rock. But we don’t fit anywhere, not to mention this Eurovision thing. We were like a fish out of water. Or let’s say we were a shark out of water. So it was weird.

WW: Being on Ozzfest, are you a shark out of water there as well?

ML: Maybe like a shark on the shore. All the other bands there I think are more metal than we are. But then again, Ozzy is more like the kind of music we do, which is hard rock and melodic kind of metal. I don’t know. We’ll have to see. The first show is tonight, so I have no idea what’s going to happen. I hope it’s going to be good.

WW: As far as you being uncategorizable, is that something you guys take pride in?

ML: No, not at all. If you ask me, I’d say we’re a hard rock band, or a heavy rock band. But like I said, we’re very careful not to call ourselves a metal band. Let’s put it this way: If this was 1984 or 1985, we would definitely be a metal band. But in 2007, metal, the whole category is so huge and there are so many sublevels. So in today’s terms, I think we are like hard rock or classic rock. But times change.

WW: Going back to the Eurovision contest, I’d heard that there was pressure on your government to withdraw “Hard Rock Hallelujah” as the official song entry. Tell me about that.

ML: People are stupid. [Laughs] People getting upset about that? Fins as a nation, basically they thought they would be so ashamed if a band dressed up as monsters would go out and make a fool out of the whole nation. There was a lot of controversy about the song itself, about the way we look, about the way we sound. Everything. Because we’re so different from everything before. But it’s kind of funny. In the ‘70s, there was ABBA, who experienced exactly the same kind of thing in their day. Because they were considered too rock and too hard and too brutal for Eurovision.

WW: ABBA was considered too rock for the Eurovision contest?

ML: Oh yeah! Of course, it sounds funny now, but back then, it was different. We were considered too metal, and I think back then, ABBA was considered too metal, too. Think about it. But before we went there, there was a huge number of people who were against us. Of course, there were people who were for us, too. But there were people who were trying to contact the president and the cultural minister to use their veto rights against us. And we were like, “Please! Please!”

WW: Were you proud, and maybe even humbled, that they stood by you guys?

ML: Well, basically, they said there was nothing they could do. It’s a fucking song contest! But like I said, people are stupid. And the funny thing is, when we came back, after we won, we became national heroes. From a national shame to national heroes in one night. That’s what happened. And suddenly all the whiners and all the people who were against us were the first ones to put on a Lordi t-shirt and say, “Yay! Yay! We won!” That’s something I don’t understand. Because there were people before we went there who were saying, “If Lordi wins, or if Lordi even qualifies for the finals there, we will move to Sweden.” And so, when we actually won, the first thing I said was, “Okay, all those people who whined about us and said they were going to move to Finland, we’re going to help you pack. And we’re going to wave at the border.” But no one showed up.

WW: I understand that Finland’s president actually showed up at one of the celebrations.

ML: Oh yeah. And the prime minister was showing the devil horns with us.

WW: That would never happen in the United States. There are probably still politicians in the United States who’d be afraid to appear with KISS.

ML: Well, Finland has always been a rock or metal nation. It’s a small country, but if you look at the top of the charts in Finland, if you look at the top ten, you might see five or six metal or rock bands. I think it’s the only country in the world where the national radio stations are playing metal in prime-time radio. Metallica, for example, when they were big, every few years they would do rereleases of their old albums, and there could be fifteen Metallica albums on the top forty. So when we came back, the whole nation kind of went crazy, because that was the first time Finland ever won. Finland was a country that had the most last positions in the whole competition. So when we won, of course the prime minister wanted to have a picture with us. It was good for him. So there he was, showing devil horns with us.

WW: What do you attribute Finland’s love of hard rock and metal to?

ML: I have no idea. All the Finnish bands are being asked the same thing, and I don’t know. I have no idea.

WW: I also heard that a square in your hometown was named in honor of you guys.

ML: Oh yeah.

WW: Was that a complete surprise to you?

ML: Oh yes, it was. I was like, well, that’s cool. I still haven’t been there. Whenever I visit there, I try to avoid the place. I feel a bit ashamed.

WW: Ashamed?

ML: In a way. I don’t want to go there like being like Elvis about it. I think it’s going to take a few years to be able to go there without even noticing that I’m there. Because there are tourists all the time taking pictures of the statues. And I’m like, “Ahhhh…”

WW: I know there was a controversy about some magazines publishing photos of you guys without your costumes on. Are you still able to be anonymous there?

ML: Oh yeah. Our drummer, he calculated all the pictures that claimed to be pictures of Lordi without the masks and costumes, and if you would believe those, there would be seventeen people in the band. So this was be a really big band. The papers were printing pictures of other Finnish bands, basically. That’s what they were doing.

WW: I know you’re a KISS fan, and there was a period when KISS went without their makeup. Then they realized that was a mistake, and they went back to the makeup. Is that a mistake you never see yourself making?

ML: Yes. As a KISS fan, or a KISS fanatic, really. It’s part of the deal. It’s like if you would have a restaurant and you would become famous for whatever pizza with whatever extra toppings, special ingredients. And if you take the extra ingredient away from it, that would be fooling the customer. That’s part of the package, just like our image. And for example, I know some of our fans, even though we and our fans, the main thing is our music. We’re a band that plays music. We’re a rock band. But still, when we go out and play live or when we do public appearances or do pictures for the paper – when it’s time to market the product – then I don’t see any reason why we would be so stupid to take away the topping of the whole thing.

WW: It probably makes your life offstage a lot easier, since you don’t need to worry about being recognized.

ML: Exactly. That’s true. It’s easier, because you don’t have those people in bars who try to pick a fight. They don’t know who you are. Or they can’t be sure. Ultimately, it works in our favor.

WW: The Arockalypse CD makes it clear that you’re a very polished, very professional songwriter. Do you have songwriting influences that go beyond rock? Maybe something like Andrew Lloyd Webber?

ML: I would love to say that, with Phantom of the Opera and all that. But I have to admit, I think not. My influences are so limited. It’s like KISS, Twisted Sister, Alice Cooper and that’s about it. Really. If it’s what I like, it’s got big drums and riffs, and that’s enough for me. I can appreciate good music, whatever it is. But I have to say I’m really close-minded in that way.

WW: Even so, it’s clear that you really love drama. Does that come from those same groups?

ML: Yeah, some of it. But I think mainly from the horror genre – horror movies and comic books. And even though there’s lessons from groups like KISS… I mean, without KISS, we probably wouldn’t wear platform boots or stuff like that. But the main influence for me come from horror films, like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees and all those horror genre characters. Or Incredible Hulk, from the comic books. I’ve been a huge fan of monsters and theatrics and stuff since I was a little kid. I have never grown up. This is the way I was born. I always liked monsters and creatures, and nothing has changed. I haven’t ever really found an interest in something else.

WW: This is probably one of the questions you get asked the most, but I have to ask it anyway: How hard is it to play with the outfits on?

ML: You get used to everything. We don’t think about it anymore. Of course, in the studio, we don’t wear the costumes. But when you’re playing the songs live in concert, it’s something we don’t think about anymore. I think we would feel a bit naked, really weird to play the songs without the costumes. Because physically it’s a different thing.

WW: I know the actors talk about how when they put on wigs or something like that, it helps them get into character that much more. Does it work the same with you?

ML: Oh yeah. That’s definitely happening when you put on the mask. When you look in the mirror, you see something that isn’t you, and is you at the same time. So of course it changes you. And the people around you, they will react differently when they look at you. It changes you.

WW: At the same time, people may look at you and think of your band as a gimmick, even though the music is really solid. Are there times you think that if you didn’t have the costumes, people might have more respect for the music?

ML: I know they would. I know there are a lot of people who would appreciate our music and appreciate us as artists more if we didn’t have the image. But there is something I’ve never understood. How can the way you look effect something you hear? If someone is a painter, it should effect the painting if the person is fat or thin or black or white or has horns or red eyes. This is something I’ve always said. If the Beatles or Led Zeppelin or Beethoven or Amadeus, whatever, would their music have been worse if they’d worn KISS masks? No. The music would have been exactly the same. It’s just in people’s heads.

WW: You mentioned that you’re on your way to your first Ozzfest date. This is an experiment, because it’s free to the public. Is this an approach you like – opening the doors to whoever wants to come in?

ML: I don’t know. We’ll have to see. I think you should ask that tomorrow. I have no idea, because I have no experience with American festivals. It’s free admission, so I hope it’s good. That probably makes it possible for some people to go and see the band who otherwise can’t afford it. Maybe it’s a good thing. I hope it’s a good thing.

WW: Are you guys making any money on this tour?

ML: [Laughs] No way! No, no. It’s like in the ‘70s, they asked Paul Stanley of KISS, “What is it like to be rich and famous?” And he said, “I know what it’s like to be famous.” So I can quote Paul Stanley on that.

WW: So you’re doing this for the exposure?

ML: Yes. This is our third album, our third studio album, but it only came out in the States about two months ago. So for most of the American public, it’s our first album. So it’s going to take a while. All the gigs that we do here are somewhat promotions. That’s the way it goes.

WW: Because your songs are so influenced by American artists, do you find that your music is very accessible to American listeners?

ML: I hope so. Because all the influences, both musical and visual, they come from the States. So in a way, and I know this sounds pretty funny and pretty stupid for a Finnish person to say this, but the band is coming home in a way. Think about it. Twisted Sister, Alice Cooper, KISS, those bands, they all come from here, and the music we’re doing, it’s American hard rock. I hope that the people will get us here more easily than they did in most European countries, where they were like, “What is this? What is this?”

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts