A new beginning? There's no such thing for Andy McCoy
Grease Helmet’s debut album brings the ex-Hanoi Rocks guitarist's three years of quiet life to an end
By Jarkko Jokelainen
Three years ago, Andy McCoy effectively disappeared from the public eye.
First, his former band, the Finnish glam-rock institution Hanoi Rocks, was buried once and for all, after a second coming that began in 2001.
After that, his much-trumpeted new outfit The Real McCoy Band went belly-up only after three gigs.
Since then, little has been heard of Andy McCoy.
But now he is back.
Next week will see the launch of the debut album of his very latest band, called Grease Helmet. On the album the familiar guitar sound can be heard once again.
”I am no longer in a hurry to get anywhere”, Andy McCoy describes his present pace of work.
McCoy is in a half-seated, half-lying position on a couch in a studio in Helsinki.
His words find their way out of his mouth unhurriedly.
“I have seen it all. I have seen both the good and the bad sides of this business. And everything in between.”
McCoy’s words echo the experiences of decades past, the highs and the lows of his career, the praise and the body-blows.
It is perhaps hard to believe, but it was all of 28 years ago that Andy McCoy made his mark on the collective consciousness of the Finns by waving a fat bundle of banknotes, containing 30,000 Finnish markka, on a television interview.
He became known as Finland’s only rock star, a self-assertive guitar hero, a motormouth, and a provocative figure, who simultaneously fascinated and exasperated and repelled with his conceited comments.
He went out to conquer the world with his eyes on the prize and predicting that his records would sell by the millions.
But not everything always went as planned.
People around him kept dying, bands kept breaking up, and the money kept vanishing into the wrong pockets.
Over the years, McCoy has seen many things change.
”I have learned to have a break and also to do things when I have the right vibe. Without any stress”, McCoy explains. “One thing is clear. Nobody will ever boss me around anymore. Nobody. We and no-one else will hold the reins of this band. The years have taught me that.”
McCoy is not interested in ”corporate bullshit”, in other words in slugging it out with record labels.
“We already had a ready-made deal, but the record company’s boss was fired, and we would have had to begin everything again from scratch. We figured, forget it. They are just a go-between anyway. In this business the middlemen come thick and fast.”
McCoy is not interested in playing a single unnecessary gig.
“No, I am not fed up with gigging as such, but I have had my fair share of pointless tours. We have played gigs only so that we would make money to then pay off people who just sit in an office and make phone calls.”
McCoy is also no longer into writing hit songs, or as he puts it, “in the money bullshit”.
”I only want to concentrate on making art, either music or paintings. I am not one bit interested in the business side of things, with all the greed that goes with it. It is so banal. It comes across in so many people’s music today that all they think about is money.”
McCoy is not interested in being in the limelight, either. Even with this interview, he agreed to do it only because promoting the new album was “part of the job”.
“I have given up unnecessary interviews. Isn’t it enough that everybody already recognises me? Wherever I go, people won’t leave me alone.”
“There comes a time when one just wants to be left in peace. I now live close to my relatives and old friends. I am being protected quite well. Nobody talks crap about me anymore.”
Ultimately the only thing left is the music. That still holds McCoy's attention.
The new opportunity presented itself somewhat unexpectedly, as for the first time in years a completely new group of musicians plays alongside with McCoy in the Grease Helmet line-up.
The band’s singer Jere Garcia (no relation to the late Jerry Garcia of Grateful Dead fame) is a familiar name from the Finnish disco house/electronica/funk outfit Accu, and the rest of the musicians are drawn from the metal bands Amorphis and Amoral.
“This is good, creative work”, enthuses McCoy. “I wouldn't have embarked on this had we just started writing some hit songs. I have written enough hit songs for one lifetime.”
”We created an album like they used to make them in the old days. It is meant to be listened to as a whole and it will grow with each listening.”
In spite of the musicians’ different backgrounds, the end-result is remarkably close to the previous essential McCoy output.
Take, for example, the opening track, Sold Our Soul. This is classic rock and roll where powerful guitar riffs give way to towering solos. And in the melodic chorus there is a clear hook line.
This is typical Andy McCoy. Unlike many other musicians involved at the harder end of rock music, McCoy has never shied away from introducing come-hither melodies.
He has even been known to stretch out on flamenco numbers on an acoustic, and whatever people say about him, McCoy is certainly no slouch on guitar.
“In my opinion, the two most important elements of a song are the groove and the melody. Without them, no matter what kind of instrumental noodling and fireworks you throw in, it won’t go anywhere. It just becomes self-centred crap.”
“It must be a blend of Finnish and Swedish: the melody probably comes from Sweden and the groove from Finland. In Sweden they used to dig easy-listening schlagers and here in Finland The Hurriganes. I cannot think of any other explanation.”
A new band, new musicians, a new album. Is this a new beginning for you?
“Huh? A new beginning? There isn’t such a thing. I have the ‘ex-junkie’ label printed large on my forehead. Many people still think that I am a druggie, even though I have been clean for 15 years”, McCoy says, in a reference to some of the baggage in his colourful past, which bears a passing resemblance to that of a certain similar - and much much wealthier - British rock-gypsy icon who recently celebrated 50 years in the business as one of the Glimmer Twins.
“A couple of beers”, McCoy lists modestly when asked about his present-day intoxicants of choice.
“But I now do what I want, and only what I want. Have I ever honestly done anything else? Maybe I have tried certain things and noticed that they were not for me. Nobody should give in to doing something that they don’t want to do.”
Grease Helmet will play their first gig in Vantaa’s Tulisuudelma restaurant on October 26th.
Andy McCoy a.k.a. Antti Hulkko is one of the best-known Finnish rock guitarists and composers. He was born in the Lapland municipality of Pelkosenniemi on October 11th, 1962. In other words, he will turn 50 next month. ”It’s just a number”, he plays down his special day.
As a young man, McCoy lived in Stockholm and upon his return to Finland he started the punk rock band Briard in 1977. He also played on the punk outfit Pelle Miljoona Oy’s 1980 album Moottoritie On Kuuma.
In the Hanoi Rocks line-up McCoy played from 1980-1985 and again in 2001-2009. “We got a new generation of fans, so I have no regrets about that rebirth thing”, McCoy describes the reunion. “We pulled down the shutters at the right time though, before things got bland and boring.”
McCoy’s other bands were Cherry Bombz, Suicide Twins, and Shooting Gallery. In addition, he has released two solo albums (Too Much Ain't Enough,1988 and Building on Tradition,1995) and is planning a third. Towards the end of the 1980s he also played in Iggy Pop’s tour band.
McCoy lived in Stockholm in 1980-1982, London in 1982-1988, and Los Angeles from 1988 to 1994. After his return to Finland in 1994, McCoy was regularly in the limelight. A half-real, half-fictional movie The Real McCoy, a television series called The McCoys Show (modelled on MTV's The Osbournes), and the Sheriff McCoy: Outlaw Legend of Hanoi Rocks autobiography all date from the years since his return.
In addition to Andy McCoy on lead guitar, the Grease Helmet band includes vocalist Jere Garcia, guitarist Ben Varon, bass player Niclas Etelävuori, and drummer Jan Rechberger.
A fair number of McCoy's performances with Hanoi Rocks and others (including Keep Your Helmet Greasy from the new Greasy Helmet album) can be found on the YouTube site.
Grease Helmet’s eponymous debut CD will come out this Wednesday (Sept. 19th).
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 17.9.2012
Previously in HS International Edition:
Break-up of The Real McCoy Band blamed on swine flu (12.11.2009)
Hanoi Rocks bids farewell with series of eight concerts (14.4.2009)
Hanoi Rocks to break up (again) in the spring (22.10.2008)
Former Hanoi Rocks frontman Michael Monroe sets up new band (26.1.2010)
Hanoi Rocks (Wikipedia)
Andy McCoy (Wikipedia)
JARKKO JOKELAINEN / Helsingin Sanomat