Interview – HIM’s Ville Valo

Interview – HIM’s Ville Valo

Looking back at the early 2000s era of Rock and Metal, few artists stick out as decade defining. In the more mainstream world, you had the likes of Slipknot, Nickelback, and Linkin Park… but if you were looking for something a little more on the fringes you had H.I.M. Coming out of Finland, H.I.M. emerged onto the international scene in a big way back in 2003 with a sound and style many north of the Atlantic were not too familiar with. A mix of Gothic Rock, romances, and melodic, doomy tones, H.I.M. nestled their way into the hearts of a mass of fans. A massive rise to stardom, their logo was nearly everywhere, and because of all the success, they became the most commercially successful Finnish band ever. 

Impressive, H.I.M. sadly faded out around 2017, however, their leader, Ville Valo, still remains artistically inspired. Yearning to continue along his musical journey, Valo went in a unique direction in 2019 with The Agents, and in 2023 he returns with his brand-new album Neon Noir. Released under the name VV, Vile Valo dug deep to write, perform, and produce the entire album himself. An exciting time for long-time fans, the beloved musician recently sat down to chat about the story of H.I.M., the success, his latest album, plus more. 

Cryptic Rock – Last we spoke with you was back in 2014 when H.I.M. was still active. You have accomplished a great deal through the decades with H.I.M. Continuing on with other projects in recent years, how would you describe your overall musical journey?

Ville Valo – It’s kind of funny because when you form a band, you sort of all form a bubble for which you are in for the whole duration of the band’s career. It’s really weird, because this is the first time ever at least people have told me how big of an influence or deal H.I.M. has been. When you are in a band you don’t realize it. You do realize it by seeing there are people in the audience. You think we might be doing fairly okay, because people actually came to see us. It didn’t hit me then.

I met the guys from H.I.M. in school. I met Mikko “Mige” Paananen and Mikko “Linde” Lindström when I was around nine or ten years old. I’ve known them forever and we have played in several projects before.  However, there comes a time in a boy’s life when he has to decide whether to start studying properly and become like a regular human being, or give it a go and try and go the weirder route. That’s what we wanted to do. Linde and I sat down and said, “Let’s give it one more shot.” That’s how H.I.M. was born, and we were probably around sixteen or seventeen at that time.

We played around with different formations and even used His Infernal Majesty with Mige before. That’s how it all started. I basically have grown up with the band. The band had several shoulders to cry on, there was a lot of camaraderie, and it’s not just about music. We didn’t form the band because we wanted to get chicks, money, or fame… it started way before. We just love music. We never thought there was a chance for a Finnish band making it abroad, anywhere. Black Sabbath were sort of the bearer of that torch. They weren’t the prettiest boys on the block and they came from quite a rough area in Birmingham, England. I thought if they had the chance of actual success, maybe we might just have a slight chance somewhere. That’s the push that got us where we were.

It’s funny, when we started out with H.I.M., the first album was very well received in Finland, the second one was very well received in Europe, and the third one was very well received in the USA. We sort of took baby steps to get from different areas in the world to another. For example, it took many years for people in The States to appreciate us. Bam Margera and Kat Von Dee started talking about us and all of sudden it started spreading like wildfire. We did our first tour in the USA in 2003-04, then with the next album, Dark Light (2005), things started going really well over yonder.

I’m sorry, I’m sounding like this old drunk telling you stories from way back way. It’s kind of a complicated story because it’s the story of my life and my friend’s lives as well. There are so many other things, and H.I.M. was the soundtrack to our lives. It was also the passion and hobby that turned into work as well. It’s a weird combination.

HIM – Greatest Lovesongs Vol. 666 / BMG (1997)

HIM – Razorblade Romance/ BMG (2000)

Cryptic Rock – It makes a lot of sense. It is your life, you grew up in H.I.M. You mentioned the explosion in the US market. That was unbelievable. At the time H.I.M. was sort of an underground band… then all of a sudden H.I.M. merchandise was everywhere. Was that unreal to experience

Ville Valo – Once again, I have to relate back to the bubble we were in. As a band you don’t realize… because our farts still smell the same on the tour bus, stuff doesn’t change. (Laughs) We had experienced a sort of Gothic Beatlemania in Europe with the album Razorblade Romance (2000). In places like Germany, Austria, and Switzerland the album was huge and # 1; we played really big venues, way bigger than we ever played in The States. We knew a bit about what success felt like. For obvious reasons, as I am and the rest of guys are, England and the US are very important; they are like the meccas of Rock-n-Roll music. Playing The Whiskey for the first time, and flying over to Cleveland just to say, “Hello Cleveland,” it was like a pilgrimage for us. It’s not an easy thing to succeed with a band anyway, but to be able to actually tour the world globally was pretty amazing.

 It was wild, but when you are with a band you are not necessarily one step ahead, but you are planning on the next step or working on it. In the mid-90s I spent a lot of time as well so that is where I earned my energy. I was doing a Big Lebowski sort of interruption. (Laughs)

Cryptic Rock – It was certainly a very wild, successful time. You continued to progress with H.I.M. until the last full-length album, Tears on Tape, in 2013. You have remained active beyond H.I.M.; you released an album in 2019 and recently released a brand-new album in 2023. What was the inspiration behind your new album Neon Noir?

Ville Valo – I guess the pandemic made me do it. I had sort of high hopes after H.I.M. disbanded that I would continue working in music one way or another. I felt really spent after the last tour and I didn’t feel like writing music that would be in any way similar in sound or lyrically. I ended up doing this project with this Finnish band called The Agents. I sang in Finnish and it was totally different; vintage-like ‘50s, 60’s Pop music. The band is made of older gentlemen in their 60s. It was a great challenge for me to sing to music that was really quiet, very sensitive, and play to audiences who could care less about Rock. It was a cool challenge, and I was totally out of my comfort zone, which I think is great.

It took about 1.5 years, then I started working on Neon Noir in the Autumn of 2019. I started working on it myself and I ended up recording myself for the album. I played all the instruments, produced it, and I engineered it. I did everything besides mix and master it. The mixing was done by an old colleague of mine, Tim Palmer. He mixed and produced quite a few albums with H.I.M. We knew each other from 2002 when we started mixing Love Metal (2003) for H.I.M. Tim always knew the weird ideology I had between trying to find a sweet spot in between Black Sabbath and Depeche Mode; a sensitivity and sentimentality coming together with the big guitars.

It was really easy for me when I first started working on the first tracks that would become Neon Noir to ask Tim if he thinks it sounds like music. When you are working solo, I mean literally solo, it’s very tough to say when you are done with a song if it actually sounds decent; you can’t see the forest full of trees at all. Tim loved it, he started mixing it right away, and that became the first EP I released in April of 2020.

It was a weird time for all of us. What I think I did to escape all that craziness was get back into music. That is how it works when it comes to music, it has always been my safe haven, security blanket, and a filter between me and the evil world. Music is my way of dealing with stuff, we all have our own ways of doing so, and music has always been there for me. It seemed natural to me to continue working on those songs. While doing that we heard from a lot of people and record labels who really enjoyed the first EP which had “Run Away from the Sun,” “Salute the Sanguine,” and “Saturnine Saturnalia” on it. Of course, that was a big self-confidence boost after working with H.I.M. and then by yourself. I didn’t want it to be shit, I wanted it to be extraordinary.

Being a huge fan of Prince, Lenny Kravitz, and Stevie Wonder, I thought if they had done their stuff completely solo, I would try to do it the same in my own peculiar way. I wanted to see if the sound of the album would become not necessarily better, but special, because it’s very undiluted and from one single point source. There were no filters, there was no record label and nothing between and then Tim Palmer who mixed it. It’s very uncompromising and is probably the first time ever that an album that I’ve been involved with recording sounds exactly like how I wanted it to sound. It sounds very me, and that’s necessarily a good thing, but for me it is a very personal thing. I’m happy it went down the way it did.

It was a great experience. When you have a new day, you start with nothing, there is only silence. Then bit by bit you start building up the puzzle. Then after a couple of weeks you start to see the structure of a song start building itself; it’s quite a magical thing. Especially now, because I didn’t have a band, and I didn’t have to explain what I was looking for or verbally with sounds and such… I was just able to go with the flow. It was great, because I’m not the not best player either; there were a lot of really amateur moments and a lot of really professional moments in other ways. It held a lot of new, fresh things for such an old dog as myself. I highly recommend anyone try it. Nowadays, with Pro Tools, you can record less than perfect environments and make it work.

HIM – Love Metal / BMG (2003)

HIM – Dark Light/ Sire (2005)

Cryptic Rock – It works very well. Listening to this new album, it is on a similar trajectory to H.I.M., but perhaps more experimental. Would you say it is the most experimental work you have done to date?

Ville Valo – I wasn’t trying to. I guess it became how it is now as an album because I didn’t have any delays per se. Working by myself became quite a meditative process. It was quite weird to be sucked into a song so intensely and for such long periods of time. Plus, I did the album in a funny way where I always worked on one song at a time and finished the whole thing, got that finished, and moved onto the next song. For a normal band, that would feel like twelve albums. Normally you record all the drums, bass guitars, and guitars for the entire album; that is usually sort of the red line that makes sense and brings the cohesion. I didn’t have that because I worked on each and every song as an individual object of weirdness.

So, I think that made the album sound a bit odd in places. Then again, I’m a big fan of David Lynch. You need a bit of David Lynch and Blade Runner (1982) in Rock-n-Roll, I think. There is definitely not a lot of it where I come from. Then again, the whole world of modern Rock/Metal music has changed quite a bit; a lot of it is very sanitized, and there is nothing wrong with it, because that’s the way of the world.

I think in music in general what we are looking for is the beauty marks. Those are the things that make us and the songs special. The little out of tune bits and the little things that are not the best of sounds, those are the enduring qualities. It doesn’t have to be lo-fi, but it’s a fine line. I think it’s possibly because I’m so old school that I think in these terms. I like stuff being messy. Maybe because of the messiness you hear in the music, it feels a bit more experimental. There is a shit ton of tape delays and weird 4-track recordings and whatever… I love that. That’s the cool thing about creating music, to get sucked into the world of sound and hoping it will let at some point.

I’m a huge fan of Dub Reggae and Black Metal. I wanted to bring all sorts of stuff in there… no blast beats yet. (Laughs) I won’t use the word experimental; I would use the word playful. I think the album is a bit playful. Also, the difference between this album sound wise is it is quite welcoming, warm, and doesn’t push you away. It’s like a warm hug from a vampire. It’s very inviting; that is how I wanted it and it was a conscious thing. It’s sort of like a Depeche Mode thing where you feel at home when you hear a song. For example, like “Enjoy the Silence.” It’s a beautiful soundscape that is very inviting. I think Rock music can be inviting as well… it doesn’t have to be trying to beat your eardrums to death with every chug of the guitar.

Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. As you say the messiness is endearing; that is a reflection of being human. Would you agree too much perfection in music disconnects you from it?

Ville Valo – Yes, and that’s the problem, now we get into semantics. We are looking for perfect imperfections, aren’t we? That makes music perfect. If you think in terms of perfect tuning or perfect timing; like a metronome… that just gives us a ballpark of where we are timewise. It doesn’t give you the exact right timing for a piece of music. If you are thinking in those terms then it is going to lack all the groove. The term in America is ‘In the pocket,’ when you have stuff sounds great and it doesn’t really make any sense. That is the beauty of music at its best. To do that by myself, that was the hardest thing to accomplish; that is why the pocket is quite empty and full of holes. (Laughs)

The idea of what is perfect… Black Sabbath’s first album is perfect, Iron Maiden’s ‘80s stuff is perfect, Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991) was perfect, Dirt (1992) by Alice in Chains was perfect. Now I’m showing my age, because that is stuff I listened to when I was a teenager. I’ve been listening to more New Wave stuff from the ‘80s; stuff I never listened to when I was younger because I was too young for that back in the day. There is a band from London called Zetra. They are a weird duo, they are very far from perfect, but that is what makes them very endearing. They are sort of a cross between Cocteau Twins and Type o Negative. It is just a synth player and guitar player who wear Black Metal and spikes.

VV – Neon Noir album / Spinefarm Records

Cryptic Rock – That sounds very compelling! Last question for you. You are a very big Horror fan. You enjoy Dario Argento’s films, etc. So, is there anything new or older since we spoke last that you enjoyed?

Ville Valo – Well, I guess Horror movies from modern times is Hereditary (2018). It’s an amazing movie; it’s scary, funny, and a throwback as well… it is very The Omen (1976) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) at times.

I recently watched the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022). I actually dug it, so many hated it, but I thought it was really good. I didn’t expect anything of it and I was pleasantly surprised…  I loved the ending. I recently saw Mandy (2018) for the first time. It’s really psychedelic. I recommend it, it is like Arthouse and I have not watched films of that genre in a long time. It is like a really psychedelic music video turned into a film. It’s extraordinary because it’s so very different. It’s beautiful to look at, but I wouldn’t recommend being stoned while watching it… it’s quite cerebral and messes up your head. 

VV 2023 Tour Dates:
3/31/2023 Philadelphia, PA Theatre of the Living Arts
4/1/2023 Philadelphia, PA Theatre of the Living Arts
4/2/2023 Boston, MA Big Night Live
4/4/2023 Pittsburgh, PA Roxian Theater
4/5/2023 Cleveland, OH House of Blues
4/6/2023 Detroit, MI Saint Andrews Hall
4/8/2023 Cincinnati, OH Bogart’s
4/9/2023 Chicago, IL House of Blues
4/10/2023 Chicago, IL House of Blues
4/11/2023 Minneapolis, MN Varsity Theater
4/13/2023 Denver, CO Summit Music Hall
4/14/2023 Salt Lake City, UT The Depot
4/16/2023 Sacramento, CA Ace of Spades
4/17/2023 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore
4/18/2023 Los Angeles, CA The Belasco
4/19/2023 Los Angeles, CA The Belasco
4/21/2023 Las Vegas, NV House of Blues
4/22/2023 San Diego, CA House of Blues
4/23/2023 Phoenix, AZ The Van Buren
4/25/2023 Dallas, TX House of Blues
4/26/2023 San Antonio, TX Aztec Theatre
4/27/2023 Houston, TX House of Blues
4/28/2023 New Orleans, LA House of Blues
4/30/2023 Orlando, FL House of Blues
5/1/2023 Ft. Lauderdale, FL Revolution Live
5/3/2023 Atlanta, GA Buckhead Theatre
5/4/2023 Nashville, TN Brooklyn Bowl
5/5/2023Charlotte, NC The Underground
5/7/2023 Silver Spring, MD The Fillmore
5/8/2023 New York, NY Irving Plaza
5/9/2023 New York, NY Irving Plaza

For more on Ville Valo: Instagram | Facebook 

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