HIM — "Screamworks is kind of like a David Lynch movie…"
Ville Valo is a child of the '80s.
HIM's latest masterpiece, Screamworks: Love in Theory and Practice, proves that. The record comes to life with searing guitar solos, anthemic choruses and a whole lot of heart. It sees Ville and Co. reaching a crossroads between Guns 'N' Roses' gritty gusto and Depeche Mode's heartbreaking sensitivity. Riffs cut through the heartache like a Razorblade, while Ville croons about the death of a relationship, and in a larger sense, the death of love. Screamworks sees HIM perfecting everything that made their early albums so undeniable and taking all of those elements to another place…This may very well be HIM's Appetite for Destruction…
However, Ville hasn't stopped. At home in Helsinki, he laughs, "I'm working on a shit ton of things. When the release date of an album comes close, there's always a lot of stuff happening at the same time. It's not bad; I've just been a busy bee. It's unfortunate that there are only 24 hours in a day. That can be problematic at times [Laughs]."
During one of those 24 hours, HIM's Ville Valo sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino to talk about blending '80s styles in Screamworks, biting Bukowski's style, trusting in women over wine and becoming the David Lynch of hard rock in this exclusive interview…
Screamworks: Love in Theory and in Practice is definitely your best record.
Oh, wow! [Laughs] That's a compliment, thank you very much. I put a lot of energy into this one and really worked hard on it. It's kind of scary. I'm feeling all giddy and nervous about it. I'm getting butterflies, waiting to see how people will respond to the album. We've done the best we can. We're proud of it obviously, but it'll affect the next couple years of how the band's going to live and how we're going to tour. Obviously, it's important for the album to do well, if possible.
The record feels like one complete vision. Did you go into recording knowing what you wanted from start-to-finish?
To set things down, you've got to go with the flow. I think you've got to follow your gut instinct. To a certain extent, it's good to have certain guidelines and a certain framework when you're working on an album. It usually happens organically when you start working on the first couple tracks and they start getting closer to being ready. All of a sudden, you see the little parts of music forming a bigger piece, and that leads to what will happen next. It's the same thing with production; when you get a few songs done, you know what you need. We had the great opportunity of working with Matt Squire, who was just the guy we needed for this one. I can't complain at all. The process of the album happened under lucky stars, so far. Everything has been going really well. It's been tons of work, but it's been really enjoyable work.
You take such dark subject matter and a dark perspective on love and make it poppy and palatable.
I guess it could be genetics, I don't know [Laughs]. I think that love is catchy, yet it's very dark. At least when it comes to writing music, I've never been huge fan of aggressive music. To me, melody is key. It's a huge factor of each song. I grew up in the '80s, so I grew up listening to Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and a lot of hair metal bands—most of them from L.A. It's a combination of that. I naturally write songs that are very melodic, yet very melancholy. I've always hated the idea of happy songs. When you're extremely happy and content with what you have, that's when you don't work on music. Usually, you pick up a guitar when something's bugging you and you don't know what it is. When it's hard to express an emotion in conversation, that's when I always pick up a guitar, and it's easy for me to convey the emotion through a song. That's how it happens for me. I think what we have happening on this album is a nice balance. When we were working with Matt, we more or less made a conscious decision. The names we kept on dropping were Depeche Mode, The Cult and Guns N' Roses. I wanted the album to have European melancholy happening at the same time that there would be this really straightforward, direct and accessible rock sound. Screamworks is kind of like a David Lynch movie in a way. If you don't know anything about Blue Velvet, you go into a cinema and see the beginning and say, "It starts pretty ordinary." All of a sudden, this weird stuff starts to happen, and you're so mesmerized by the film that at the end you're just blown away. That's the kind of music I like—it takes you on a trip somewhere a bit left of center, but it uses traditional methods to get you there so it's not just, "Art for art's sake."
The David Lynch comparison truly fits because you both explore themes more than anything else.
Obviously, there are always shit tons of comparisons to make. I think that the strength of this particular band is the fact that the sound is very natural. We really haven't been thinking about it too much. In the studio, we're getting excited about it and giddy when a song reminds us of a Bonnie Taylor hit from the '80s. We're like, "Oh Lord, this is so cheesy it's great." There's a sense of childlike joy in creating an album. It's like being a kid in a candy store when you're working in a studio with good equipment and having the opportunity to express yourself exactly the way you want to. My parents listened to a lot of singer-songwriter stuff, so my dad was a big fan of Emmylou Harris. When I was a kid and I didn't know anything about music, that's the stuff I grew up listening to—a lot of melancholy singer-songwriters like J.J. Cale and some country-western stuff. Then again, my dad loved Motown funk and the soul stuff. The music I listen to has always been very varied. Since there are so many different genres of music I really love, I never wanted our band to restrict itself or carve itself into a niche. We didn't want to say, "We're a metal band and we don't do anything else" or "We're a pop band," etc. We just wanted to explore all of the possible avenues to make a song stand out and make it better.
What's the story behind "In Venere Veritas?"
That's one of the first songs that I started working on for the album. It's also one of the songs that didn't change a gazillion times. I used to be a big Charles Bukowski fan. I was such a big Bukowski fan that I became a drunkard myself. I was in a pretty bad place. Obviously, the old Latin phrase "In vino veritas" means, "In wine there is the truth." When I quit drinking, I was laughing about the phrase because "Vino," as in "wine," sounds pretty close to "Venus." I was thinking of the phrase, "In love there is the truth." For me, the point is you can say something pretty mundane, direct and straightforward but when you put it into Latin, you can say nearly everything and it always feels so fucking highbrow [Laughs]. I was laughing at myself because all of sudden it sounded so pretentious and pompous in an entertaining way. I asked the question, "Should we keep the Latin part in the song or is too techie?" It just happened. You write a song, you play it on an acoustic guitar, bring it to the rehearsal space, jam it with the guys and here we are with the album. There are so many tiny pieces of the puzzle and so many things that happen along the way. Given all that, it'd be possible to write a book about each and every song. There are always so many changes and little things going on that even I can't remember all of the stuff that caused the song to be exactly what it is now.
That must keep these songs interesting for you too.
Hopefully! Then again, hopefully it's not too multi-layered that it would be too confusing. I think that's the kind of balance that we're searching for within the band, and I think we got it pretty right this time around with the new album. I love layered albums and albums you can listen to a gazillion times. However, occasionally it takes ages for you to fall in love with an album or understand it if it's too complex. It's a very fine line. We're always dancing on that razor's edge. I think we got it pretty right this time around, so I'm pretty happy and I'm really proud of the album which is kind of weird because normally you're bored with an album when it's done. You've worked on something for such a long time that it's old news, but this one still feels really fresh to me even though it was recorded late last summer.
"The Foreboding Sense of Impending Happiness" stands out. It's got such a clever title and a strangely gorgeous melody.
That was a really simple acoustic piece that I thought would make a nice interlude for the album, being the center of Screamworks. We were starting to record the crunchy guitar tracks and Linde got this weird infection. I'm not sure what happened if a spider bit him or something, but his hand was swelling up so bad that he couldn't play at all. He had to go to the doctor's and get some antibiotics for it. He took a couple of days off from the studio. We couldn't really do anything then anyway because that was when Linde was supposed to be in there. During those few days, Matt and I got to know each other in a more artistic way. We just started playing around with the song. He came up with a couple ideas, and I came up with a couple ideas. We wanted the track to sound '80s, but have a soundtrack-y and ethereal vibe in comparison to what we'd done in the past. When the whole album was done, it just felt natural for the song to be the last one—the oddball track of the record. I love that song too! It's not necessarily that electronic sound. It's not something that I see HIM doing more in the future. It was a successful experiment. I love the cinematic quality the song has. That's the magic of music. Occasionally it happens; occasionally it doesn't. With that one, we had a series of lucky accidents.
Venus Doom had an L.A. vibe because you'd written a lot of there. Is Screamworks tied more to feelings instead of a particular location?
To be honest with you, I don't know. Since I wrote the songs, I don't necessarily think a certain place affects them. I work on a song for such a long time usually that I work on it in a couple places. It's never like one single city or country in the world would inspire me to write a track. It's always a combination of a lot of stuff going on—the music I'm listening to, the influences I have at the moment—everything affects. I like the fact that most of the album was worked on in freezing Helsinki in the middle of the winter where it was all dark and cold. During summer, we flew over to L.A. and it was just such a different mindset and different climate. It was cool to find, let's say, the lighter shades of black.
Where you reading at all while you were writing Screamworks?
I wish I could remember. I've been working on some of the songs for such a long time. I've been a lazy boy most of 2009. I was just so into working on music that I wasn't really able to concentrate on reading. Reading is something I do a lot on tour. Then again, what you read on tour is usually pretty crappy stuff. You need stuff that is fast and easily digestible that you don't lose sleep over [Laughs]. I wasn't studying anything while working on the album or anything like that. I like a literary feel to lyrics in general because at the end it's a fine line. In the lexicon of pop music, words like "baby" are over-used in a way. When you have the word "baby" happening in a phrase where you say something a tad more poetic, it gives depth and reason for it to be there. I like using clich?s a lot. I tend to always over think lyrics and it doesn't necessarily make them better, but it's part of what I really love about music—it's heart work and it's brain work at the same time.
Which authors do you go back to?
I was just thinking that I should re-read all of the Edgar Allan Poe stuff. It's been waiting for me. I haven't really read his stuff since I was in my teens. I started reading some, but I need to be in a certain mood, mode and frame of mind to start really studying somebody. I haven't had the time to really suck it all in. At the end of the day, I haven't read that much that I would say I have favorite authors. I have some books that I like, but there's not a single favorite. Like movies, they work differently depending on what kind of mood you're in. It's the same with music. If you want to go out on a Friday night, you listen to different music than when you're all morose, melancholy and don't want to crawl out of bed. Probably the only band I'd be listening to in both occasions is Black Sabbath. There are a few exceptions [Laughs].