Harry Guerin talks new album To Beast or Not to Beast, The Eurovision and common sense with the legend that is Mr Lordi.
Harry Guerin: To Beast or Not to Beast is the heaviest record Lordi have ever made. Did you set out with that plan?
Mr Lordi: [Laughs] Yes and no, actually. When we were recording the previous one, Babez for Breakfast - which is, funnily enough, probably the softest album - we decided to work with producer Michael Wagener (Accept, Alice Cooper, Megadeth, Metallica, Motley Crue) again. We were pretty sure we were going to make another AOR, really Eighties kind of album. But then we got a new drummer, Otus [who passed away in 2012]. He joined us on the tour for Babez for Breakfast and his playing style was so modern and more metal, so that actually changed our whole view on writing music. When we started writing To Beast or Not to Beast it just happened that we started writing a lot heavier stuff. It was kind of like a new window had opened and we started experimenting a little bit - within the Lordi frame[work] of course!
The album is a fitting tribute to Otus.
It is. It's funny, even though he doesn't play a note on the actual album - apart from his drum solo at the end – he was the main catalyst for the new style.
There's an 80s thrash metal influence there as well...
[Laughs] Which is kind of funny for us! For 10 years we've been the band that swears in the name of hair metal, 80s melodic [rock], Twisted Sister, KISS, WASP, even Poison, Warrant Motley Crue – that's our cup of tea. So people in Finland were surprised! 'What the hell... Why are you doing that?!' And I said: 'Well, nobody ever asked but we listen to some harder stuff too – it's not only everything that Desmond Child (Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Bon Jovi, Kiss) has ever written!' Even though Desmond Child is my favourite songwriter of all time, I'm a huge fan of King Diamond and Venom, for example.
What was the hardest thing to get right on To Beast or Not to Beast?
The balance of the old-sounding Lordi material - the traditional Lordi stuff - and the new stuff. And it wasn't all without complications and fights! We got to a point where we could have chosen to do a really traditional Lordi album - really melodic, really 80s heavy metal meat and potatoes thing - or we could have done a really brutal metal album. In the Lordi frame, of course; we're not Biohazard!
And how did you feel?
I was on the team that said: 'Let's skip all the traditional stuff. Let's not do it this time; let's only do the harder stuff', while there were people that said: 'No, no, no, let's not go there'. And there was a good point where someone said: 'If AC/DC would all of a sudden do a disco album, what would their fans think?!' So we decided: 'Let's try to find a balance'. It's funny, because now we know: the reaction has been really good from the fans and I think it has been the best reaction review-wise that we have ever received around the world. We might be doing something even a little more harder next time.
You performed on the Late Late Show when Ireland chose its song for this year's Eurovision, Ryan Dolan's Only Love Survives. As a former winner, do you think Ireland has a chance?
I have absolutely no idea! Every year, around this time, I'm asked this question by, well not every single country in Eurovision, but like half of them - and especially Scandinavian countries. And I always say I'm not an expert in Eurovision!
I think every single artist and country has an equal chance. I wouldn't have bet my money on our victory. You cannot predict the future - you don't know how the people are going to vote around Europe. Some crazy **** has won over the years, ahem [clears throat deliberately]. You never know. I think everybody has a chance, because it's a TV show. People seem to forget that it's a TV show and it has not that much to do with music, actually. I mean, yes, it needs to be a good song in its own category, but it needs to be entertaining as a three-minute TV little piece. That's what it's all about.
I thought the greatest thing that ever happened in the Eurovision in terms of giving it a shot in the arm was you winning in 2006.
Oh thank you - so do I!
When you came through the semi-final, did you think: 'Hang on, we've got a really good chance here'?
Yeah. The hardest part was to be selected from Finland. The Finnish Eurovision Board invited us back then and we said: 'Well, we have absolutely no chance of winning the Finnish competition, but let's just go out there!' Our new album was coming out at the time so we thought: 'Let's get some free PR, free primetime TV' - we didn't think any further than that. But I did say: 'You know, if we win the Finnish competition then it's pretty possible that we could land in the top three or top five in the whole thing'.
Because, and this is just mathematics, usually every country sends an artist that is not known at all outside their own home country. But when we went to Eurovision we had been touring for four years around Europe, so we knew that we had our fans in pretty much every country there. We knew that there were people who would vote for us, and we knew that there were people who even though they weren't necessarily Lordi fans would be fans of the genre. So we brought votes - that's pretty much what happened, really. The people who are in the rock scene or metal scene just wanted to be anarchistic that one year: 'Lordi's not my favourite band but I will vote for the phenomenon now'.
What was the most surreal thing about winning it - the whole thing?
[Sharp intake of breath] Yep.
Is there one memory that sticks out in your mind?
No. Someone said me the other day: 'It was a huge thing for you guys'. And I said: 'No, it was a huge thing for everyone else except for us!' When anyone ever asks me what are the fondest memories of Lordi so far, it's really hard for me to fit Eurovision in the Top 10 of Memories. Think about it: it's something that we didn't plan. We didn't have any high hopes or anything; we just went and did our own thing.
And won it.
Ok, and we happened to win it and now all of a sudden overnight the media exposure was overwhelming and we got awareness around Europe within the mainstream people that couldn't have been done with touring or with a normal rock band that fast. But other than that it was like: 'Yeah, it was a TV show; we did it. Yeah, ok, yeah, yeah, yeah, we won it'. But if you ask me what are the biggest things they are more like getting praised by your own idols, working with your own idols or sharing the stage with your own idols - those are the things that make me tick. But Eurovision? Even though I have absolutely nothing bad to say about the Eurovision as an organisation or a show or anything, it's still not in my Top 10 list.
It's Mr Lordi to you...
Ok, then, so what is the best thing about being Mr Lordi?
I'm a kid; I'm a child; I'm a 16-year-old so I get to play a character because no-one can tell me how Mr Lordi acts! I'm playing every night - child's play. That's the greatest thing. And I love the reaction when you're in the costume and the make-up. Even our crew: after I'm in full gear, they address me differently, they look at me differently, they really believe what I am saying! It's the authority that comes with the costume and the mask - it's so much fun!
Is it easy to put that to one side when you're not touring? Can you just put the character away?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. The character literally comes with the costume: when you feel different; when you are 35 centimetres higher than you normally are! You are watching people down your nose. You cannot fit in small doorways. You move differently. When people glance at you their face looks different - even the people you know. So it comes with the costume and character, it's no difficult to keep those two apart.
Do you think you don't get enough credit as songwriters?
I mean, that people focus too much on the image and not the quality of the songs?
Yeah, yeah, if you put it that way... I get credit from myself because I know when I've done something right, and the fans are the direct feedback channel! The whole image thing is just the wrapping on the present. It's like a Christmas present: you just want your wrapping to be something that stands out under the Christmas tree from all the other boxes. We are trying to keep our wrapping on the package the most beautiful, the most eye-catching that it can be.
To Beast or Not to Beast is out now on AFM Records.