September 1, 2013 Interview – Ville Valo of HIM
Finland has made a name for itself as a country spawning some of the most unique and best metal acts in the world over the past 2 decades. In 1991 a band by the name of HIM (His Infernal Majesty) formed to start a new wave of gothic metal. Building a name for themselves within their homeland their sound and style was so big, Finland and not even the European continent could contain it. As of 2013 the band sold over 8 million records and growing daily. Their latest offering Tears On Tape (2013) is holding peak chart positions worldwide. Recently we sat down with songwriter and vocalist Ville Valo for a intimate look at the history of HIM, breaking through in North America, horror movies and much more.
CrypticRock.com – HIM has been going strong now for over 2 decade. Your major label debut Greatest Love Songs Vol. 666 (1997) went platinum in your home country of Finland. Since then each album to follow had success in all European markets. It wasn’t until 2001 when Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights was released that you broke through into the North American market. Tell me, was it difficult to finally break through to the American audience?
Ville Valo – Obviously when we started with the band we had the hopes of being able to visit your country. As you said it took a while. I don’t think it was Deep Shadows And Brilliant Highlights that really made a mark, it was Dark Light (2005). We signed with a label in the US that worked for us to get our point across there. It took a while but we had the pleasure of, for example, having one certain Bam Margera helping us out. He started wearing our t-shirts on Jackass, started directing our videos, and all of a sudden we had this little phenomenon going on. I think more or less it was a step by step project. It wasn’t that one album or song was the number one thing to happen. We did it without even having a proper record deal there back in 2003. We are a classic word of mouth band I think. With the help of the internet obviously because news spreads so much faster than it did back in the day. Let’s say we were just plain lucky.
Crypticrock.com – HIM is now internationally known and your logo branded all over. You mentioned Dark Light in 2005 which was the height of the band’s success in the USA. The album went gold in various markets. Riding high from that success you guys have released 3 albums since then. Was your approach to the music different at all after the success of Dark Light?
Ville Valo – Not really. It would be better to ask did our approach changed before Dark Light. I think that usually with any band that has any success they don’t know why they have success. Bands in general work hard and you should do what you feel is the best, go with the flow, and trust your instincts. That is basically what we did with Dark Light, it paid off, and that’s basically what we continue doing. Obviously the whole world of music keeps on changing. You meet your new favorite band everyday of the week. We haven’t been getting much radio air play after that for example in the states. Still we’ve been touring successfully and still there seems to be a lot of people that enjoy what we do and enjoy following us around, which is pretty amazing.
CrypticRock.com – The band has a very strong following internationally. Your newest album Tears On Tape is really excellent. Personally I respectably think it’s one of the strongest albums of all your work. Tell me what the writing and recording process was for the new album?
Ville Valo – It was a bit of a pain in the butt. We started working with stuff in early 2011 and worked at the rehearsal place to get some ideas down. All of a sudden our drummer. Mika “Gas Lipstick” Karppinen, started feeling severe pain in his hands. Everybody was kind of shocked and worried thinking what the hell is going on. He went to the doctor’s and found out he had some repetitive strain injury and some nerve damage as well. Nobody would actually know how long it would take him to heal up or whether he’s ever going to play drums again. In the middle of the start of Tears On Tape we all of a sudden had to take a break for 8 months to wait for him to get better. We utilized the 8 months to work on the songs a hell of a lot more than maybe in the past. At the end of the day I think it paid off. When Gas was fine again and he got the A-ok from the doctor’s in May 2012 everybody was so relieved. That was a huge boost of confidence for everybody in the band. We started working at stuff straight away and worked our asses off May-August and went into the studio in September. It worked itself out pretty quick, it was about 2 1/2 months of recording and your usual 2 weeks mixing and so forth. We have done that a couple of times in the past so that part of it wasn’t really new. The toughest thing was to have the mood and setting right for the music.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, and it’s a good thing that he is alright to play drums again. With that said it gave you extra time, more than you usually would have to work on the songs. It definitely shows in the music and seems like there is a lot of thought into the music on this album.
Ville Valo – Yes, it enabled us to kind of think about it for a while. Which is good because as you know for a lot of bands it’s poor album after poor album. At time’s it’s kind of a never ending cycle which is not too good. It can wear a band down, you lose interest and all that stuff. This kind of redo with the hunger or whatever you want to call it regarding this band. Everybody really wanted to prove we still have a decent album in us.
CrypticRock.com – The band has been consistent over the years. You will be on the Rock Allegiance tour with Volbeat, All That Remains, and Airbourne starting the end of August. That is a pretty unique line-up of rock and metal. Are you excited about the tour?
Ville Valo – Yes, I think somebody had a really good sense of humor when booking it. I always love tours when it’s a bit left of the center and a bit out of the ordinary. I think even though in essence Volbeat in a lot of people’s ears and eyes are a really different band than HIM, they have a lot of similarities to us. They combine different decades of rock n roll and pop music. In that sense I am looking forward to it. It will be a colorful evening every time we go to it. It’s something very different than we’ve done in the past it’s not a headlining tour, it’s a co-headlining tour. It’s cool to have a lot of bands and hopefully a different kind of people attending the tour.
CrypticRock.com – Yes it should be a good mix of rock and metal fans. Sadly your headlining North American tour in May was cancelled. Can fans in North America expect to have a headlining North American tour in support of Tears On Tape in the future?
Ville Valo – We are working it out at the moment. We are trying to figure it out, let’s do one thing at a time. We are doing the Volbeat tour and then we are heading back to Europe to tour for about 2 months here, around Halloween we should be done with that. Then we’ll see where the album is and where the people are who want to take a listen to what we can offer.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds cool and hope to see you back here soon. Finland is loaded with metal bands ranging from black metal, to death metal, to gothic metal. Being from a country with such a strong metal scene and especially so many gothic metal bands, what do you think the key to HIM’s success is standing out above all these bands?
Ville Valo – I think that more or less the scene, as you said, has always been big but there has never been a lot of band’s doing exactly the same old same old. When we started out there were bands like Children Of Bodom and Nightwish and bands like that. I think all the band’s have really strong identities on their own. Even though we were in the same scene more or less, all the bands sounded very different. We weren’t fighting, it was more of a family sort of thing rather than be bitter enemies.
CrypticRock.com – Yes and HIM’s success spawned a massive amount of bands in Finland that have a similar sound to HIM now. You basically formed your own scene over there.
Ville Valo – I’m not taking the credit (laughs).
CrypticRock.com- I am giving you the credit (laughs). Now with that said HIM does have many qualities of metal in the music. It’s not limited in sound though, and I think sometimes people want to be able to label something otherwise they don’t understand it. You obviously have different musical influences. I’d like to know what some of your musical influences are?
Ville Valo – Well I think personally everybody in the band is pretty different. Like Linde our guitar player’s favorite artist ever is Iggy Pop. Our bass player, Mikko “Migé” Paananen, loves old school and soundtracks for films. Our keyboard player, Janne “Burton” Puurtinen, loves classical music, that’s basically the only thing besides Pink Floyd he listens to. Our drummer Gas, he is kind of the old school metal head. He grew up listening to Slayer, early Death Angel, Exodus and all that sort of stuff. Myself when I was younger I used to play bass guitar and drums. At one point I had probably 10 bands playing club gigs at the same time. I was playing jazz one evening, reggae the next, and rock and metal the next. I’ve always liked all kind of music. I think the bands that everybody appreciates within HIM are Black Sabbath and Type O Negative. Those bands are probably the reason we get along.
CrypticRock.com – Those are interesting musical influences. It makes for interesting music because it all bleeds through when you write music.
Ville Valo – Hopefully it does. Since I’ve said all those different genres that everybody listens to it seems like everyone has expertise in different genres. So I don’t have to fight about bay area thrash metal with Gas because I know he knows it better than I do. When it comes to gothic rock or whatever I’m the one who takes the cake.
CrypticRock.com – HIM’s lyrical and music theme is very sorrowful and romantic. Tell me what inspires you to compose the lyrics and music?
Ville Valo – Yes, I think all good music has to come from a personal place. Again it’s the combination of when we started out we didn’t just want to play gothic rock or just want to do metal. We wanted to, if possible, mix all we love into this package called HIM. That’s probably the reason for the way we sound, good or bad. Songwriting wise I’m a huge Neil Young fan, Johnny Cash, Depeche Mode and all sorts of different acts. Usually we are into melancholy music but I guess that’s very Scandinavian. We don’t listen to a lot of happy go lucky bullshit.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs). That’s very true, there is a lot of dark music that comes from that part of the world. Why do you think that is?
Ville Valo – Why that is, no idea. Since back in the day, the traditional classic and folk music has always been pretty dramatic and melancholy. It goes back to the mental state people are in. Us Scandinavians, and Russians as well, like their music dramatic, thick, and larger than life. Then again there are other countries that are really great at making pop music happen, making stuff that people want to dance to. I am more into banging my head against the wall than shaking my hips.
CrypticRock.com – The melancholy aspects absolutely makes for good art. My last question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and if so what are some of your favorite horror films?
Ville Valo – Well I am a child of the 80’s, born in 1976. I grew up VHS trading. I probably had hundreds of horror films when I was a kid. That was a time when it was impossible to get an original copy of the first Evil Dead (1981) or any of the Dario Argento stuff. During the resurrection of the whole slasher scene, I was there when Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) happened for the first time and all that stuff. Talking about favorites, I’d say Suspiria (1977) by Dario Argento, probably one of my all time favorites. It looks great, feels great, was really odd, left of center, and at the same time really violent. I’m a bit too young for Night Of The Living Dead (1968) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). More or less it was the 80’s stuff that grabbed my attention. Then after Demons (1985) and Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and all that stuff, it was a long period of nothing going on in the genre. Then Dracula (1992) happened with Gary Oldman, obviously that became a big hit all over the world. I still think it’s a great film. Since that it’s been the French horror revolution happening with Frontier (s) (2007), Martyrs (2008) and all those flicks. I still think it’s a colorful genre and there is still no limits and bounds. The only thing I can say is the excessive amount of gore, I think that it’s just boring. Those limits have been tried so many times. To make something psychologically horrifying, all doom and gloom, is worthwhile watching, and that’s the challenge.
CrypticRock.com – I totally agree with you. I myself love Dario Argento’s films and Suspiria is one of my favorite’s as well. I love those Italian horror films. Those are some excellent films.
Ville Valo – Yea I can’t change it but that is probably the first thing that got me and Mika in the band HIM. That got us together and we decided to form HIM. We love Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. We were horror geeks back in the day. I dig Joe Hill, I haven’t read NOS4A2 (Nosferatu)his latest, but I got it. I’m waiting for good books and films in the genre to happen. I’m ready for it.
CrypticRock.com – It seems the genre is ready for a revolution. It seems everything is a remake now. It would be great to see some new ideas or something more original.
Ville Valo – Yes true, some of the remakes aren’t bad, but there is something you watch once and that’s it. They don’t turn out to be a horror bible that you watch or read a million times and that is kind of a shame. I think it’s a vivid genre and there are so many things that can still be done. I’m waiting for someone like Peter Jackson or whomever that could make a good film on any of the HP Lovecraft things. With or without CGI I think that could be pulled off these days in a convincing matter. I grew up with HP so I love that kind of classical horror. It would be nice if Clive Barker would be involved in the remake of Hellraiser. The original was based on a short story or novella. He’s still got the touch so I am sure if he’d stop writing the fantastical stuff and concentrate on blood and gore he could come up with a great film.
CrypticRock.com – Yes I agree and there are talks about a new version of Nightbreed (1990) with extra footage which will be released.
Ville Valo – Yes I heard about it. I heard they shot a lot of material, had trouble with producers back in the day that wanted to make it more commercial, and they left a lot of stuff. That’s interesting and the book is great. There is a lot of stuff that Clive wrote back in the day that would do very well and be current as a film. Then again you have to just keep your ears and eyes open, there might be some surprises, you never can tell who will come up with the next classic.
9/03 Salt Lake City, UT @ Maverick Centre
9/04 Las Vegas, NV @ The Joint
9/08 Abbotsford, BC @ Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Center
9/09 Calgary, AB @ Big 4 Building
9/10 Edmonton, AB @ Rexall Place
9/15 Sacramento, CA @ Aftershock Music Festival
9/16 Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Palladium
9/18 Grand Prairie, TX @ Verizon Theatre @ Grand Prairie
9/19 Houston, TX @ Bayou Music Center
9/21 Gulfport, MS @ Jones Park CPR Fest
9/22 Atlanta, GA @ Tabernacle
9/23 Greensboro, NC @ Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center
9/25 SAYERVILLE, NJ @ Starland Ballroom
9/26 Philadelphia, PA @ Skyline Stage @ The Mann
9/27 Lowell, MA @ Tsongas Center at UMASS Lowell
9/28 Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Waterfront