HIDDEN tracks

Music was Pete Paphides' first love. And at this rate, it will be his last.


Sun, 1st January 2006

If I would have to take a dump, I would need to take off everything.”

A few weeks ahead of the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest, I heard that Finland were to be represented by a “horror rock band” singing a song called Hard Rock Hallelujah. When I saw the video to the song, I decided that I needed to meet this group ahead of Eurovision. In order to do this, however, I had to persuade The Times to stump up the cash to let me fly to Athens in the week before the Contest, where all the artists would be rehearsing and embarking on the promotional campaign trail. After a certain amount of hectoring, The Times capitulated – which I’m still surprised about, given that we had no way of knowing at that point that Lordi would go on to win Eurovision.

As self-styled “Viking Welcomes” go, the one put together by the combined Scandinavian delegations is pretty tame. Well-scrubbed young TV presenters munch on tiny Nordic nibbles with Eurovision Song Contest entrants who look every bit as 80s as they do. The proliferation of mullets and turquoise chinos suggests that little has changed in this world since 1984, when Sweden’s Herreys took the honours with Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley.

So when Ox – skull-faced “hellbull” who plays bass with Finnish heavy rockers Lordi – ambles over towards the smorgasbord, your eyes naturally follow his journey. After a couple of seconds assessing the fishy profiteroles, he seems to conclude that it would be too fiddly to pick up said snack with his zombie fingers and successfully guide it past his snaggly undead teeth. Instead he wanders over to a bowl of olives. The character described on Lordi’s official website as “the giant powerhouse on hoofs” realizes he can manage olives far better. He simply tilts his head back and, as his bony corpse jaws open, drops them in one by one.

Across the other side of the rooftop terrace at Athens’ Hotel Divani, Mr Lordi, frontman with the most talked about Eurovision entrants in recent memory is telling a Dutch journalist that, contrary to reports in the Greek press, he isn’t a Satanist. “Of course, there were some misconceptions about the band because of the music, but if they take their time, they will see that we don’t eat babies for breakfast. If we really lived up to our music, there wouldn’t be a single person alive here.” Two aggrieved pink demon eyes peer out from his glowering prosthetic face, towards the other side of the pool where Swedish pop starlet Carola Häggkvist is singing her 1983 runner-up song Främling. “Everybody would be killed. There would be a massacre. Think about it.”

In the surreal world of Eurovision, where an air of Benetton-bright positivism seems mandatory, it’s not difficult to see why Lordi’s entry Hard Rock Hallelujah has caused consternation in some quarters. Written especially for the contest, the song warns of something called “the day of rockoning” and declares that “the saints are crippled/On this sinners night.” But with a chorus that rocks like an ocean liner in a hurricane, it’s also emerged as one of the surprise favourites to win the contest. Ask Mr Lordi – or Tomi Putaansuu, as his septugenarian parents call him – if he thinks his group will win on Saturday, and he conspicuously refrains from pledging to harness the almighty power of Beelzebub in order to vanquish his puny rivals. “The UK entry doesn’t personally do it for me, although I think Anna Vissy’s song for Greece is good,” he says thoughtfully, “It is a strong power ballad type of melody.” As for Lordi, being here is already a victory. Whatever happens on the night, this will change things for us.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Finnish music writer Anna Mutanen, who says, “Lordi weren’t one of the biggest bands in Finland when this happened. Not like, say, The Rasmus or Hymn. I would say they were somewhere in the middle.” As the band’s tour bus heads for the Finnish Embassy, Mr Lordi articulates his exasperation at a Finnish media that has struggled to understand what the band are about. “All the critics are usually putting us down because of the lyrics,” he explains, describing the mixed reaction which greeted current album The Arockalypse, “They’re like, ‘That is so puerile.’ Or, ‘It doesn’t make sense.’”

That seems a little unfair, I suggest. Take for instance, the couplet, “Who’s your daddy, bitch, who’s your daddy/Who puts you in your place?” [Who’s Your Daddy] What’s not to understand? “Exactly! This is entertainment! Or Chainsaw Buffet – that’s me imagining if Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre had a girlfriend and his family invited him out to dinner.”

Unsurprisingly, horror films and a love of rock monoliths like Kiss and Alice Cooper loom large in Mr Lordi’s universe. Growing up as an only child in Lappish Finland, his fascination with the grotesque extends as far back as he can remember. “I used to watch films like The Evil Dead and think, ‘I want to do that, I want to be that.’” Aged seven, he began experimenting with his mother’s make-up bag. “I would draw monsters on paper, so after a while it seemed like the next logical step was to draw them on my face.” At the Finnish Embassy, Seija – a journalist based in Northern Finland who knew Mr Lordi when he was plain old Tomi Putaansuu, remembers a “nice, shy boy who was making films even as a teenager.” “That’s right,” he says, when we get back onto the bus, “My parents bought a video camera when I was about ten, and I knew exactly that I wanted to make horror films with it.”

Indeed, Mr Lordi is quite the connoisseur of gore. Before finding a way to combining his governing passions, horror and hard rock, he graduated from film school and earned a living drawing storyboards. I tell him that as a twelve year-old, I saw An American Werewolf In London – which in turn prompted a mild obsession with Jenny Agutter. He says that he had a similar experience, but developed an arguably more noble kind of obsession with Rick Baker – “the guy who did the special effects. I learned a lot after buying one of his books.” When I tell him I live in the London suburb where Shaun Of The Dead was shot, Mr Lordi is touchingly impressed: “Really? Tell me, The Winchester – the bar in the film – was that a real pub?”

It’s amazing, but after a while, you really do forget that you’re talking to the “unholy overlord of tremors” – a “cyberundertaker”. “Look at these,” says the 32 year-old singer, pointing a black three-inch long fingernail at his knees. On each knee, there’s a skull which opens and closes its mouth when Mr Lordi walks. Just above them is a switch which makes their eyes glow red. “That was my design,” he beams.

Gazing around the rest of Lordi – in their frankly restrictive attire – it’s hard not to wonder how the band tend to their more pressing physical requirements. “It’s a little tricky,” concedes Mr Lordi. “If I would have to take a dump, I would need to take off everything.” He pulls up a flap that hangs over the lycra undergarment covering his legs. “For a leek though, it’s a matter of taking off the gloves. Someone helps me remove them and then, it’s just a matter of taking Little Lordi out.”

Whatever Lordi’s detractors have to throw at them (raw meat is their stated preference), it’s impossible to doubt such cosmetic dedication to the cause. It takes three hours in front of mirror alone before Mr Lordi is brought to life. How tedious must that be? “Well, I am quite a lazy person,” comes the self-deprecating explanation, “I’ve been doing this since 1997, so it pisses me off when I start. But after about eight or nine minutes, I forget and I remember once again that this is fun. It’s what I like to do.”

The tour bus arrives outside The Underworld – the Athens club where Lordi are due to play a live pre-Eurovision set tonight. It’s a low-key gig. Perhaps fearful of courting further controversy, Mr Lordi will opt for water instead of fake blood for his squirty chainsaw. As the group alight the bus, a large crowd of Greeks converge around the band and proceed to stare at them. Doing his bit to subvert democracy in the city where it was born, the band’s German label manager leaps into action and hands out “I Vote Lordi” badges.

It might just be hard reality of wearing furry monster boots in the baking Greek sunshine, but Mr Lordi looks slightly uncomfortable. “In Finland, it’s very different, he explains, “If the Finns see anyone doing anything unusual, they pretend they haven’t seen it.” He tells the story of a Lordi photo shoot for a Finnish newspaper, in which he was required to stand in the middle of Helsinki during rush hour. “Hundreds of people everywhere, and not a single person stopped to look. We are not assertive people. We will do anything to avoid causing a scene or being the centre of attention.” Cometh the hour, cometh the band, cometh the Day Of Rockoning, that will surely change.