By Jussi Rosendahl and Attila Cser
HELSINKI (Reuters) - Pertti Kurikka, 58, wants to make it perfectly clear that while he and the other members of his Eurovision contestant Finnish band have disabilities, they know how to rock.
"It is nice that we are gaining popularity. But we are no softies. We are straight up punk rockers," he said, demonstrating with an "air guitar" how hard he intends to play at the popular Eurovision song contest in May.
Kurikka, Kari Aalto, Sami Helle and Toni Valitalo play together in a band called Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat - which means Pertti Kurikka's Name Day in Finnish.
Many say the nomination has given a much-needed voice to disabled people.
"In some European countries, disabled people are kept hidden and attitudes are not as open as here," Finnish Disability Forum Secretary General, Pirkko Mahlamaki, said.
Drummer Toni has Down's syndrome, singer Kari has Williams syndrome, bass player Sami has a minimal brain dysfunction syndrome, and Pertti, on guitar, has been diagnosed with slight intellectual disabilities.
Last month they won a popular vote to represent Finland in the Vienna finals and have since been touted as one of the favorites to follow Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst's triumph last year.
"The whole band is a little bit in shock. We are going to Vienna and that's going to be a really big step for us because it's going to be so many people over there," 41-year-old Sami said at the band's studio, which is in a workshop for disabled people.
"If we win then we win, if we lose then we lose, but it's going to be fun!"
The band members have made several recordings and toured Britain, the United States and Germany since they got together at the workshop six years ago.
Their songs often comment on life in an institution and call for human dignity. The Eurovision entry song "Aina mun pitaa" (Always I must) lists things one must do, like sleep and eat well and see a doctor, and things one might not be allowed to do, like eating sweets and watching TV.
"Our message is: Believe in yourselves. That's the only thing because if you don't believe, then you can't do anything. Follow your dreams."
(Additional reporting by Anna Ercanbrack; Editing by Michael Roddy and Raissa Kasolowsky)