Interview with HIM in Australia
Love metal Finns H.I.M have hit Australia for the first time, touring with their new album Dark Light. Taking time out to meet with FasterLouder, I spoke with charismatic front man Ville Valo and bassist Mige, while the rest of band attempted to relax in the other room. It is hard to communicate the vibe of this interview without impressing on you how much laughter was infused through the whole thing. They laughed with me, with each other at themselves. My Dad’s favourite band fast became one of my favourite interviews of all time.
Not long after arriving - and after introductions are made, pleasantries are exchanged and beverages offered - a loud crash was heard from the bedroom area, sending Ville and Mige running in to see what the commotion was. I followed the hysterical laughter to find drummer Gas, a man-mountain, still laying on the bed he just broke. Ville explains to me through the mirth; “Let’s just say that in this band, the beds don’t break unless you are very fat.” HIM, creators of the genre 'Love Metal', believe in love and don’t do the groupie thing,
“I’m a soppy bastard.” And it is easy to believe as you sit and talk with these gentle, gracious and welcoming Finns who seem too respectful of women and the emotion of love to go in for those kinds of shenanigans as a habit.
We settle in to chat once their gallon of coffee arrived and Ville lit the first of many cigarettes. After discussing my day job, which I found unnerving as I couldn’t understand why these metal men would be interested about rewards programs for internet users (and flattered that they asked genuine questions about it), I turned the conversation as quickly as I could to them, asking about their show the previous night at Sydney’s Luna Park. “Ecstatic, really surprised about it. We’ve been together for more than ten years and this is the first time we were here and we didn’t have any high hopes or high expectations. As so far the gigs have all been selling out and last night was the biggest gig on the Australian tour and we never expected all the people to know all the lyrics to all the songs and to see them doing the jumpy thing was… especially since we hadn’t had a proper release here, this [Dark Light] is the first one, and it was pretty weird that people knew the music from the past.”
H.I.M is developing quite the cult following and many of them seemed to be present at the shows. Starting out ten years ago as a Black Sabbath coverband, H.I.M now comprises Ville and Mige, along with Gas on drums, Linde on guitar and Burton on keyboards, and they've recorded 5 albums to date. Their first album Greatest Lovesongs, Vol. 666 was released in 1998 followed by the nifty titled Razorblade Romance in 2000. Next was Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights in 2001 and then the really tight Love Metal in 2003. There was a greatest hits compilation in 2004 called And Love Said No. They have gone from strength to strength and show no signs of slowing and certainly no sign of the fans growing tired of them. “It is a big cult following, it was 3,000 people and that is a big following for us. It was definitely worthwhile for us to travel all the way across the globe and come all this way to see you guys. We’ll definitely do it again unless they find out about Melbourne.” This sets them off laughing again and no amount of prodding gets the story out of them!
The tour is in support of the first worldwide release for H.I.M, Dark Light and it has been very well received in each of the new territories. “This was the first full release in Australia, but also USA, Canada and Japan. So basically before this, we’ve been touring ten years in Europe and so we have started slowly expanding our territory by pissing over new countries with each and every album and this is our fifth one…” Mige, acting as fact checker asserts, “excluding the compilation,” before Ville continues. “It has been going over really well and we still haven’t released and toured it in the UK yet and that always affects it so things are good, we’re still alive.” Mige solidifies the “going good” standpoint by relaying feedback from their manager; “I spoke to our manager in New York and I asked him how the album was doing and he said ‘It’s doing OK’”. This cracks everyone up! “That’s high praise.”
The album should be doing OK too, it has a really thick and full sound, and is different enough from the previous albums to keep it fresh and interesting but maintains enough of the signature characteristics of HIM to keep the fans happy and attract even more into the fold. “It’s a good question. We want it to have many layers on it.” Ville cuts in with “We wanted it to be sonically textured. A lot of ear-candy. We don’t do anything normally that is premeditated and we go with the flow. We wanted the album to be more up-tempo than the one before and to create songs that would be easy enough for us to play live! We can do about half but we always get over-excited, especially me with my Bee-Gees backing vocals, and unfortunately they all sound a little too raspy to pull it off, but it was a great many thanks to Tim Palmer who we met and mixed our previous albums so now the latest one he produced. He’s an English man living in Los Angeles and he’s been working with David Bowie and Robert Plant and Ozzy Osborne, Pearl Jam and U2, so he’s been doing a lot of pop things and a lot of rougher things and we want to be somewhere in between. I think he was a perfect candidate for it and he’s got a sense of humour too. It helps, oh and he doesn’t spit in the pints.”
The layers seem to allow each member of the band to have a song, or a section of a song where they take the lead on the melody, a chance in the spotlight. “It’s called compromise! If you want a completely rocking album you have to cut the bass!” Exactly, says bass player Mige; “You need to have it at like some low frequency or something.” “We’re getting better.” Ville continues. “We’ve been doing this for years and we’re not doing the same old, same old, for example [like] what AC/DC is doing, but on the other hand we don’t want to change the concept entirely from album to album, so we’re just trying to… we’re talking about certain music or certain movies when we’re doing an album and that sort of comes through.” Mige takes over at this point and talks about the merits of a good studio; “It's good with all these modern things and all these digital things you can do, which is very good because we … are… very limited! You can experiment a bit more and fill in the gaps so to speak.” As Ville is hanging over the side of the couch laughing, Mige defends his stance laughingly with; “I’m just being honest for Christ Sakes!” to which Ville nods his agreement furiously, still laughing.
The name of the album, Dark Light, is the perfect description for a HIM album, and it came about as a reaction, in part, to their time spent recording the album in Los Angeles. “It started off, I read a book called Dark Light by a Norwegian author, I can’t remember her name, very touching story, a historical drama and I’m a soppy bastard so I fell for it and I wrote a song about it and wanted to use the title for the album. It actually fit pretty well with the whole vibe of creating the album as we were recording in a nunnery on top of a hill in Silver Lake just outside LA. It was really peaceful up there and then at night we would drive down to Sunset Strip and get absolutely hammered with Gas, the one who broke the bed - The Bed Breaker as he will now forever be known – used to be Heartbreaker. Anyway there were these two contrasting things happening in a day and it’s up to you to decide which is which, the Dark and the Light. We were there for 3 months, we had never recorded there before and let’s just say 3 months is enough and I’m pretty sure we won’t be doing that again. It was also a hassle because it was our first time with Warners so it was meeting a lot of new people so it was a bit of a drag. Shake hands and take photos with record company executives while you are trying to sing some backing vocals.”
At this point our fact keeper Mige remembers the author of Dark Light: “Benny Jorgensen. It’s been translated it’s…” At this point they break into a whole string of beautiful Finnish words and sounds to help me find the book. I say that my time with Google this afternoon was going to be interesting putting in my interpretation of what they just said and Ville says; “You probably end up on gay porn site. A homage page to Gary Glitter.” Not influenced by Gary Glitter, their website tells of wildly varied influences, I asked Mige and Ville how they pull them together to get the HIM sound, “We grew up with a whole lot of different music, for instance I am a huge reggae fan but you can’t hear that on a HIM album, hopefully in the bass a bit. Our albums come together through conversation, sitting around an introducing music to each other. It is more subtle than saying ‘Now I want to come out with, we want a reggae bass line on our next album. It’s what you like and if I like for instance…” Ville helps him out with the suggestion: ‘Carole King’. “Yes if I like Carole King and he doesn’t then I abuse him.” I asked Mige; “Is he in trouble because ‘He Just Don’t Know What To Do With Himself?” Lame I know, but it was out before I knew it and they found it wildly funny and didn’t throw me out on the spot, so I recovered! “The songs mostly start with me [Ville] playing something on an acoustic guitar so then we get to the rehearsal place and whatever influence we have at that moment is going to reflect through the music and we just keep going around until we get to a situation where everyone seems to like it. We didn’t want to have any restrictions and would rather go with the flow and see where we end up. It kind of works for us.”
So what’s next for HIM? “I think the next album will be more punky, more pace, more edgy. A lot of people say we are better live because it is more adrenaline fuelled and we thought we would try to take some of that raw, edginess and get it into an album if we can… and then fix it with ProTools!” Mige adds, “We’ll just get hammered, go into the studio and then get someone to fix it!” While Ville states, “It’s a while away yet but we’ve been working on a few riffs. Its going to be more riff orientated, a bit more Black Sabbath, a bit more everything, a bit more rock but when the keyboard player gets in there it’s going to sound all gay again!” Mige has made an interesting contribution to the direction of the next album and it is interesting to see if it is going to make it through to the final cut! “The only thing I have added so far was I introduced T.S. Eliot [American poet circa 1920, the man they may have created the word eccentric for] and its going to be commercial suicide – oh yeah! It’s going to be very interesting” Ville laughs and throws some lyrical suggestions into the pot; “Can you imagine it? Lyrically it will be all ‘Tick Tock Ta Ta, Tisk Tisk!’ It’s from Wastelands isn’t it, very eccentric piece that – perfect for us!”
The band has an image of theatre and story around it, from the Heartagram symbol replicated on teenagers across the globe, including most famously (and advantageously) by Bam Margera of Jackass fame, to the liberal use of the numerals 666, resplendent with their own meaning for those numbers. I asked whether it was something that grew out or if it was on purpose, a lesson learned from Ville’s idol Gene Simmons – the most commercial rocker of all time! “Let’s just say we are probably the only Finnish band inspired by the Japanese Butho dancing when it comes to choreography so it is about all things nihilist and all things nasty. It’s the warm up the sumo dancers do, that describes our dance moves. We have great staging people and lighting guys who help us which is fortunate because we weren’t able to get the giant black demon that Ronnie James Dio used in the 80s. He wouldn’t sell them to us, we tried! We try to sweat the alcohol out, do the best we can and say nice things to the audience every now and then and nasty things to the audience every now and then, keep ‘em guessing – beyond good and evil.”
On the subject of good and evil, I point out the mystic or confusion created between the love metal moniker and then the use of 666, what does it all mean? Ville offers an answer that tells it exactly like it is; “Its like the bass player from Spinal Tap's says, the singer is Fire and the guitarist is Ice and that makes him lukewarm water. So that’s what we are. We try to exaggerate to create this mysterious aura that really isn’t, is it?” This aura seems to keep the fans coming back. Although many of the fans are very much teenage, with the exception of my Dad, they are finding that they are fortunate enough to be holding on to their fans and not losing them to the ravages of old age: their 20s! “We’ve seen it already, we can look out at our shows and see familiar faces from our early shows and old guys in the crowd and really young people and everything in between. The punkers, skaters, Goths and metallers... it is the beauty of it. It is part of our educational mission to get people away from the obnoxious grips of the Crazy Frog and the horrible pop and maybe it’s nice to give the kids an opportunity to have a choice. I mean that’s what I was given with Kiss as compared to let’s say Ultravox. Actually they have some cool songs. Ace of Base, they’re dodgy!” say Ville.
Having spent this time chatting openly with these two gentlemen I asked them, what would your fans be most surprised to know about you? After some silent reflection Mige replies, “I think we’ve told everything. We’ve talked about a couple of things that people don’t think are true but they are.” Like what? Ville looks a bit puzzled at this point. “A great many things that we talk about in interviews,” Mige explains. “Oh right, right. The only misconception that I can think about is that people think that we are joking in interviews, we’re not. We exaggerate sometimes and when we are telling the truth they don’t believe us.” Ville offers an explanation; “Fish tales, that’s what they are called. That’s what we do I guess. Some days we are like this [making a gesture like a goldfish with his hands] and the way we tell it we’re like this giant sperm whale.” I asked if there were days were they were saying they were goldfish and they were actually sperm whales, like when they said they needed the ProTools all the time and they answered almost in unison; “We do! See, you thought we were exaggerating, we weren’t we’re that bad! You don’t believe us. Believe everything you hear and you’ll be shocked!”
I guess that’s the example they can use to prove that they are indeed men of their word who will tell you when they are exaggerating and damn nice chaps to boot!
H.I.M's latest album 'Dark Light' is out now through Warner.