Ville Valo drinks like a pig when Close-up meets him. He is grey as ash in the face and his whole body is shaking?
Or maybe not?
The decadent lifestyle has finally caught up with the great rock-romantic. In his most open-hearted interview ever, HIM? vocalist tells us why he spent 49.000 dollars on getting back on his feet.
Ville Valo looked like a total mess the last time we met, on New Year? Day in Helsinki . The dutiful singer had hosted the festival Helldone and was struggling to stay awake. He wanted to sleep but found himself swigging beer with an inquisitive Swedish journalist put together the cover article to Close-Up #89.
Tired but hopeful he said:
- I actually feel really excited about 2007. Last year was tough, this is going to be good.
The 11th of July, the day before HIM opens for Metallica in Stockholm he says:
- It's been a very interesting year. For sure.
The 30-year old vocalist? flight from Oslo is delayed and I have had two hours to drink two beers on a terrace at the Maria square in Stockholm . Ville is sitting at a table near the bar and in front of him he has ? cup of coffee?! It wouldn? be remarkable if it wasn? for the fact that he has, for the dozen times I have met him he has been holding a beer in his hand, no matter the time of the day.
- I don't drink. Let's go up to my room and I'l tell you what happened.
When we arrive he offers me any choice of alcoholic beverage from the mini bar and takes a bottle of water for himself. The conversation I was expecting to be about ?enus Doom?that is released September 19th takes a different turn. To say the least.
- I drank so much shit and puked blood. I couldn? sleep for more than two hours in a row without drinking four Stella Artois . I was unbelievably stressed out after the album was done. When the mixing was done I thought I would get some time off. But no. There were listening sessions, meetings, meetings, meetings?I kept drinking more and more. When I then went to a doctor in Los Angeles she said that I would get a failure if I didn? go to the E.R. or a rehabilitation centre. So I went to a rehab centre in Malibu . I was there for 28 days.
When was this?
- I have been sober for seven and a half weeks, including those 28 days. I came out about two weeks ago ?I think?! It feels like it? been forever because so much has happened. We were so rock??oll that we had video-meetings with the record company while I was in rehab, which was cool. It was a placed called Promises, it was more towards the fancy sort.
Do the name sound familiar? Promise has been all over the press for the last six month after Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan have been treated there (without any noticeable result). Among many other celebrities that made Promises more popular than Betty Ford are Charlie Sheen, Ben Affleck, Selma Blair, Tim Allen, Christian Slater and Diana Ross. Looking at www.promises.com you can compare it to a luxurious resort of the kind that stays a dream to a normal worker.
How much did it cost?
- 49.000 dollars for a month, Ville laughs. I didn't get any discount. But it was worth it.
Is it deductible?
- I don't now. We are trying to find that out because it is so much money. I hope my company can pay it. I don? have that much money myself and in that case I will have to take a loan.
You must have that kind of money yourself?
- No no, not in my bank account. My company has money. I have money for expenses like Dimmu Borgir's last album, he smiles. It was good to go there. There wasn't any other option because I am bad at saying no. By that I don? mean to alcohol and drugs but to work. There were more and more shit, more meetings every day and I kept drinking more and was stressing myself.
- I hadn't eaten or drinking anything for f week and a half, after almost a two year booze. Or a booze?lmost always drinking I would say. A couple of pints every day four to eight more like six to ten. It wasn't for me but I couldn? stop on my own because I had no medicines. At the rehab centre they gave me Libirium for four to five days and some sleeping pills. After that I felt pretty good.
What effect did Libirium have?
- I got rid of the shaking. I was shaking like a leaf, it was really bad. Obviously you shake a lot after drinking socially for many years and then drinking heavily and just give it up like that, he says and snaps his fingers.
When you were at the doctor and she gave you the alternatives E.R. or rehab's style?
- She explained that my calium level in my blood was so low that it was pretty serious, Ville interrupts me before I have time to rephrase the question. I told her I don't have time. I have to give interviews which was true. I checked my blood status and she was very concerned. Then I told myself I wanted to admit myself to rehab I don't have time to rest If I am in Los Angeles or Helsinki there is no way I can lock the door, turn off my cell and do nothing because there is always something happening in the world of music. It's either an extremely important interview or an extremely important decision that has to be made.
- It took brick walls, 49.000 dollars and a cell phone taken away from me to make me stay at the same place for the first time in 15 years. I met a lot of wonderful people with different backgrounds. It was nice just to read and I got a tan in Malibu . Not bad. However, after the first two weeks I got bored. So next tome I will settle with etox of course after a etox he says as a reference to the latest album of Turbonegro which is lying on a dresser in the room.
Before you saw the doctor, did you ever consider rehab?
- I had thought about it for more than a year but there were songs to be written and an album to be recorded. Usually you find yourself with a sense of emptiness when a record is made. You spend so much time as well as physical and emotional energy on working with the songs, getting everything done, taking care of details around which studio to use, where the shit should be mixed and whos going to do the album covers.
- When all this is over you are completely empty inside. It's like having a laxative IV there is nothing left inside you. That is usually the worst moment. When you have thing to do you stretch your limits and can go out party a lot. I drank a bottle of red wine to be able to get out of bed. It is sick, but I couldn? stop because I had to work.
Promises use the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous with instructions on how to get well, step by step. Several of these steps refer to god and a higher power. That really doesn't feel like Ville Valo.
- You were given a survey where you where suppose to answer the question: - What effect did the treatment have on your spirituality?? My answer: Nothing, because I am a full-blown Scandinavian, pagan-worshipping Satanist rocker.
How did they react at Promises?
- They never got back to me... This was when I checked out. Nice people though. The staff was amazing and they told amazing stories. It was a very supportive atmosphere. They said it's one of the least AA-based programs. According to what I have heard it is softer in Europe , but over there the meetings take place in churches. It is not too Christian but I still don't like to visit the church. I don't believe there is a higher power that leads you away from alcohol. If you are that week? was even thinking of quitting smoking. When I chose to leave the alcohol behind I might as well stop everything I am addicted to.
- It is about the power of will. If I can't handle the booze I shouldn't be f*cking drinking. It took a long time until I realized that. I could handle it for long, longer than most people. But when the shit hit the fan, it poured shit!
Did you get up in front of a lot of people and say: Hi, my name is Ville and I am an alcoholic?
- Yes, I laughed and said. I am a f*cking drunk!? They have a prayer that you are suppose to take part in: God, grab me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change blab la bla? Instead I said: Ozzy, grab me the serenity's or Black Sabbath, grab me the serenity?
- I don't know what it's like in Sweden but in Finland we have this worker-pride. You work your way through the problems. For me it is about pride, that I shouldn't mess up the amazing position I have reached from playing music from the age of seven-eight. I don't want to ruin that because I like a beverage with the colour of piss. My only vice now is water, cigarettes and coffee. But I feel good. I like being sober. My plan is to be sober until September next year to be able to do all the promotion and touring for the new album. I sleep better and I sing better.
- We have laughed about it being a good career move for me to be doing all the promotion sober. Then when I start writing again I start drinking and we make room for admitting me in rehab in the budget for the next record. That will be the cycle from now on!
That sounds like a strange thing coming from someone just out of rehab. Don't you have to stay sober for the rest of your life?
- No. A lot of people just go to the rehab centre for detox and then go straight to a bar. I don? want to do that because I don? want to disappoint the band, the record company, my parents, Seppo or anyone else. It is nice to be able to spend time with people sober, I have no problem with that. I like taking things too far - doing that with the drinking has made even the thought of beer making me feel sick. I had gotten really swollen, my face was grey, was constantly shaking and having panic attacks. I self-medicated with alcohol when I really should have stopped. But there was no time because I had to work all the time.
- I had agoraphobia and was scared of stepping out of the door and being on public places. It was really bad and was because of the bad hung overs. I confused the hung overs for depression and got depressed from all the drinking. It made my serotonin and sugar levels low, which affects your general condition.
- It was a good experience. I have a new hole in my belt. Not because of the weight loss but because I am gained one experience. I say as a joke that I love anthropological experiments and I myself am the guinea pig.
You don't see yourself as an alcoholic?
- Hell no! I don't believe, as they teach it, that alcoholism is a disease - it is a way of life. We are Scandinavians and we drink. I have had a hell of a fun time but reached a point where the fun turned into a nightmare. It didn't last. It isn't nice when you have to have six pints of beer and then AFTER that get out of bed still hung over , because you drank so much. I was testing my limits, not consciously but unconsciously. But I had to take a break.
- If I felt like drinking I would do it right now. It is about feeling proud of your work. I didn't want to ruin the whole band thing. It was the music that got me the ridiculous amounts of beer. I didn't become a musician because I wanted alcohol but because I love Black Sabbath. Rather sober and boring than ruining everything because of drinking.
His gets darker and flashes.
- I can't f*cking stand all the wining from Alcoholic Anonymous or old rockers that have been abused as children! Everyone is so god damn negative. Whether you have been abused it's up to the individual themselves. There are many drug addicts and alcoholics who?e never been used, that are from rich families and have had a blast. It happens to all types of people but you have to turn it into something positive. I have 15 years of incredible f*cking parties behind me, which is more the many people have during their whole life time? I look forward to more, but this time remember more of it. We will see what happens. I don't want to make a pact with myself. It's like jerking off.
Do you go to AA-meetings?
- No, to me it's a question of pride. If I can't handle this on my own I am screwed. I have to take a piss?
The deluxe room at Benny from ABBA’s hotel doesn’t just have a fine view over the Mariatorget, a big window also allows you to keep track of what is going on in the bathroom while you are in the living room. Kinky stuff. From the toilet Ville explains the sounds of a waterfall to be due to his copious consumption of water, coffee and Red Bull.
After he has gotten comfortable in the sofa again he picks up the conversation where he left it.
- At the rehab centre everyone had their own counsellor whom they met with one-on-one. What she considered to be my main issue is that I’m awfully bad at saying “no”, to work and stuff like that. I said “I would like to have a day off; that would be nice”, and she said “ask for it”. It was fucking hard; it took me five minutes before I was able to do it. I often get the feeling that I’m letting people down cos there are always things you can do to improve the band’s possibilities of success.
So you are taking on too much; that was obvious at New Year’s when you tried way too hard to do what everyone wanted you to do.
- It worked fine the last couple of years but I hit the wall in that aspect. It was a good experience; I wouldn’t change anything about it. It’s good to shit blood, it’s good to puke blood, it’s good to see how far you can push yourself physically. I have no problem with that and now I’m sitting here drinking dirty water.
A few hours before meeting up with him I watched a recorded interview on Youtube done by the German magazine Sonic Seducer in LA on the 20th of May, just before the singer went to Promises. A girl had written a comment to his blabbering, hardly coherent presence: “I don’t think this is really Ville Valo. It can’t be. How awful, even the things he said… don’t let this be Ville Valo.”
- I was hungover, had drunk perhaps a six-pack and had ten interviews to do. I just wanted to sleep. I should have said “I’m sick, leave me alone”. But it’s hard to say “no, I can’t do this”, when people have come there from all corners of the world and have spent a lot of money. It’s a problem when you can’t say “no, I can’t do this” and I’m the only one there from the band. In the end it was a learning experience. I believe you have the right to make mistakes; that’s the only way to learn. That was why I wanted to go to rehab. I was one of the few people who was there voluntarily. I wanted to go there ‘cos I knew my work and my art was suffering .
When you were there alone…
- Among a lot of other people, - Ville quickly adds.
…did you then reflect on what had happened in the past and on the future?
- I don’t give a fuck about those things! The positive overshadows the negative. I don’t think anybody’s lives are easy. Mediocre boredom or the dull grey of everyday life is worse than animalistic partying cos it kills your soul. My brain is still working pretty well.
Ville lights another of numerous cigarettes; this time almost in spite. Had he been a Disney character smoke would have been coming from his ears.
- Something I thought a lot about in rehab was the smoking ban. You are no longer allowed to smoke at the pub and I stopped drinking at the same time as the ban was introduced in Finland. It’s being introduced everywhere now which is sick. The only reason I don’t stop smoking is because I have a punk kid living in me. I despise the fact that someone tells me “you can’t smoke”. Some fat, frigid bitch started the whole thing because she hadn’t been properly fucked for 30 years! I don’t understand why you can’t have a fag in a place where everyone, including the bartender, wants to smoke. You don’t have to go there if you don’t want to. I understand why restaurants where people are eating should be smoke-free. The funny thing is that in some countries you are allowed to smoke hash. What message does that send to the youth? That it’s okay to smoke weed, crack and grass but not cigarettes? And at the same time the state is making billions on cigarette taxes. It’s weird.
Two days back home in Helsinki was all it amounted to between the LA stay and the Metallica shows. Ville came back to a house practically turned upside-down. The proof of many long parties was evident everywhere. The beer bottles in the fridge he took to HIM’s rehearsal studio but the expensive bottles of cognac he got for his thirtieth birthday where left untouched.
- If people come by to visit they can have a glass of cognac with their coffee. Besides my willpower is being tested, he emphasizes. When I got out of rehab I asked the staff at Sunset Marquis to remove all alcoholic beverages from my mini-bar. But now I feel that if I’m so fucking weak I need to wake up in the middle of the night and feel depressed… there is no reason for me to feel that depressed. If the alcohol controls me to such a degree that I need to open a crazily expensive mini-bottle of vodka in order to get happy then I have failed. You know how they say that you should never go back to the old environment when you get out of rehab. But I instinctively thought “to hell with that! I work in bars; that’s what I do”. I hang out with bands and everyone drinks or whatever the fuck they do. Everywhere in the world there are drugs but people can do exactly as they please – I don’t care.
You are the first person I talk to who come straight out of rehab with that attitude. Normally they are all converted, newly saved and God knows what.
- There are so many different kinds of addiction or weakness for something. If it makes them feel better then that’s good. If I stop smoking people can smoke their asses off around me. I don’t care; it’s their bodies and their choices. I love drinking, it’s fucking fun, but my physique can’t handle it right now.
By the way, how did the rest of the band find out you were in rehab? Did you call them?
- No, Seppo did. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. They took my cell phone. There were visiting hours during the weekends but the first two weeks I didn’t want anyone to come. I just wanted to sober up and not be some upsetting Ozzy Osbourne figure that has a bad day. I wanted to be on my own and sort out my thoughts first. And besides that I wanted to prove to the other guys that I could actually function on the outside. I had been out for a couple of weeks and worked on the album cover without drinking or doing stupid things before I met them. Better to be able to provide the physical evidence than talk bullshit.
Ville excuses himself with a laugh to go get a cup of coffee from the vendor machine in the corridor. When he’s back again he continues before he has even sat back down in the sofa:
- I told Seppo: “Tell everyone what has happened.” I would rather meet them face to face than talk with a bad phone connection and a ten hour time difference when I’m at a place like this. What the heck would they be thinking? What would my parents be thinking? It was great that the decision was made. I told them what had happened and they were all very supportive. He who waits shall be rewarded.
Did you try and introduce a lot of precautions?
- No, on the contrary Seppo did start with a lot of stuff like that but I told him “fuck no!” Mige (bass) hardly drinks at all, Burton (keyboard) and Linde (guitar) sometimes drink while Gas (drummer) gets hammered once a week. We have discussed the upcoming tour. What we might do is to have a band bus and a crew bus but that it will a bit more calm on the band bus. You are allowed to drink as much as you like but just not have big parties and blow the speakers with Slayer at 3 am. Seppo will be going with us to a lot of the concerts and he must be able to sit there and work and talk on the phone. But we will be smoking and drinking will be allowed everywhere. No rules; that makes me blush and feel like a handicapped. That’s something I don’t consider myself as being, not when it comes to booze at least, maybe handicapped in other ways…
That’s completely different from for instance Metallica where no alcohol is allowed near James Hetfield.
- The thing is that we don’t know how bad it was for him. It’s hard to know how it was for Scott (Weiland) from Velvet Revolver or Anthony Kiedis from red Hot Chili Peppers, how far they took things. We are not inside their heads. Everyone is talking about his/her drug abuse. If you open a rock magazine this decennium, especially the last two years, there are loads of artists who open up and whine about their childhood. I suppose that is a nice topic but I have always thought that rock’n’roll should be about appraisal. It has happened that you have had problems but deal with them! Problems are there to be solved, not to be lived with. It’s like walking around with a sprained ankle as a constant reminder of your accident.
Ville makes fun of himself and declares that he was stupid enough to get in a situation where he was faced with the choice between heart attack or rehab but sufficiently smart to choose rehab in stead of a heart attack. Then he looks back.
- When we started the band in 1997 I was on antabuse. I didn’t drink that much at the time but I stopped. When you are touring there are never-ending parties and it’s easier to kill the boredom if you drink. And we Scandinavians can drink. I’m not complaining cos I have had so much fucking fun. I still do. I just ordered a new guitar that will be waiting for me when I get back to Helsinki in two days’ time. I’m gonna start playing music and see how it feels. My hands are no longer shaking so I can play acoustic much better. It’s kinda like starting something new.
Has anyone, like your parents, tried to make you go to a rehab centre?
- No, cos I have worked too hard. When the record was done I was a wreck. We did three gigs in England that were crap. We hadn’t toured for a year and I was so fucking nervous before the shows because I have a tendency to forget the lyrics. What I then did was to drink to calm my nerves and I was drunk on stage – again. Then I forget even more lyrics and I almost panic and worry that I will forget the next line. I think Barbra Streisand had the same problem. She didn’t perform live for twenty years after having messed up a song and I don’t think she was on anything at that time. You just end up in a bad circle and you think “am I gonna forget the next lien too?” The third gig in England was really good. The first one was terrible for me personally and the second was better than the first but still really useless. In such a case it’s easy, or at least it is for me, to try to calm your nerves with booze. I should have done the opposite but there was no time. If your daily consumption consists of eight pints you can’t just quit like that, you need to go through withdrawal.
Many legendary singers vary in performance, to say the least. That Ozzy now is a winged crow is widely known like the fact that James Hetfield most often is nothing but a shadow of his old self. Even George Michael openly talked about his voice problem recently and admitted that now he can no longer hit the high notes that he previously didn’t even have to make an effort to hit exactly.
Ville Valo, considerably younger than these veterans, has also had to tolerate a lot of critique of his live singing.
- The voice changes, it’s a strange muscle. I can’t do the King Diamond screams anymore, Ville states. Then on the other hand I can sing higher tones in a hoarse voice and reach even deeper tones. The voice is changed by life itself no matter if you drink or smoke. But I wouldn’t mind sounding like Mark Lanegan in a few years’ time. I love deep, rough and characteristic vocalists. How much you tour also plays a role. Now we are tuning down half a tone live which makes everything a little deeper and I’m not balancing on the edge but have that eleventh Spinal Tap step as a marginal. It seems to work well, especially with the new material, but it’s hard to say since we haven’t toured. Normally you practise and the voice sounds good and that lasts for the first three concerts. Then it gets weaker before it again gets stronger after ten gigs. It is changed and gets thicker and more powerful. Take someone like Rob Halford – he can’t sing some of their older songs. Many of the great singers haven’t taken singing lessons so they have presumably ruined their vocal cords. But through that they have also achieved a certain style as opposed to classically trained singers.
Until the 3rd of September HIM will be in the US to finish the Project Revolution tour together with Linkin Park and My Chemical Romance, among others. When the Swedish fans will get the chance to hear the tones from the sober Ville Valo is yet to be known (as not so many seem to have been at Stockholm Stadion). He himself hopes to be able to do a proper Scandinavian tour next year, the first since 2002. It depends on how things go for HIM’s sixth studio album; how big the demand will be primarily in the US.
“Venus Doom” was recorded at the Finnvox studios in Helsinki. Co-producer was Hiili Hiilesmaa, Finland’s foremost hardrock producer who worked with the quintet already on the debut EP “666 ways to love: Prologue” and the following full-length “Greatest Lovesongs vol. 666”. He even corrected the sound on “Love Metal” which was produced by Tim Palmer. This guy also handled “Dark Light” and has had the main responsibility for the new album.
- You can’t call this a rehab album cos I did most of it drunk. Or more accurately I tried to cure the hangover so I ought to call this album a “restore” album. I don’t know why but for some reason “Venus Doom” gives me the vibe from Jane’s Addiction’s “Ritual de lo Habitual”. That work is colourful, a lot is happening and you can hear the influence here and there but it’s still hard to categorize it.
With HIM’s cup full this is a marvellous product with a different sound.
- We have already done straight four-minute tracks so many times with different kinds of productions. It feels more natural to do something more organic and dirty but still have a great production so it doesn’t sound like an Ulver-record.
Earlier this winter you used My Bloody Valentine as a reference. There isn’t a lot of that in the album.
- No. “Bleed Well” was one of the first songs I wrote and originally it had a different character: really heavy guitars but a very kind, soft song. But then the other songs started influencing it which made it change. The enthusiasm of the band causes the songs to go in a certain direction and “bring with them” other songs which are then changed. That’s what happened.
“Bleed well”, the only track on the album that is so personal that Ville doesn’t want to talk about it more specifically, is a solo tracks that was recorded in LA while the mixing was going on.
- I wrote the song at home and tried to arrange it for HIM as a band but it was only mediocre. Instead I recorded it myself in my Chateau Marmont bungalow and later on I added the voice. Tim Palmer played acoustic guitar. You can hear cars driving along Sunset Avenue and a chair scraping across the floor. Black Sabbath had the acoustic instrumental track “Fluff” on “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” and Led Zeppelin had some folk music thing on their third album. I figured that an acoustic interlude would make an already varied and dynamic album even more colourful. Many would expect an acoustic intro followed by a loud guitar riff but I like that “nothing” happens.
Killing Joke’s “Pandemonium”, “Master of puppets”, early Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Type O Negative are emphasized as sources of inspiration. It’s more surprising that Ville in a MTV interview a few months ago said that “Machine Head and Mastodon had just done their best work” in a way that implied that there were musical resemblances with these groups.
- That was not what I meant, he points out. Those were some of the things I was listening to at that specific time even if you can’t hear it on the album. But they have inspired me just as much as Buddy Wailer’s “Blackheart Man”. Just because I’m listening to Darkthrone’s “A blaze in the northern sky” right now that doesn’t mean the next album will be black metal. But it’s an influence, just like everything else I listen to. I met the guys of Mastodon two years ago. I love Mastodon; not so much for the music as much as for the attitude the band has brought into that genre. Those guys have toured their asses off, are wonderful people, are mean live and do something differently. Same thing with Machine Head who dropped in popularity but then came back and is now referred to as an icon band. There is something youthful in their group that I don’t see in many hard constellations.
Before you went to rehab you were asked if “Venus Doom” might scare off the young mainstream audience in the US that got into you with the softer “Dark Light”. Your answer was short and precise: “Fuck ‘em!” How would you answer that question now that you are sober?
- Fuck ‘em! When we practise we fart, think of Black Sabbath sounding riffs and giggle like school girl at the possibility of being able to make the music sound even more like Black Sabbath. It’s about having fun with the music and the creativity. It would be horrible if we considered it work. That everyone is smiling and laughing in the rehearsal studio is all that matters; everyone else can go to hell. Of course we hope to continue the success and we are not trying to scare anybody away but we wouldn’t be here if we started thinking about what people wanted to hear. We don’t know what they wanna hear. Hopefully something good that will surprise them positively and maybe makes them forget the world for a moment.
The spirit of Black Sabbath is flowing over the song “Love in cold blood”. The opening guitar riff manages to catch the very essence of Tommy Ionni’s sounds during the Ronnie James Dio era.
- It was one of the first riffs I wrote for the record and I had Cathedral’s “Hopkins (the witchfinder general)” in mind. Originally we planned on having Lee (Dorian) add some of his “whoaaaa, whoaaaa” screams but that never happened. It’s cool that you think it sounds like Black Sabbath. Personally I don’t because of the drums. I listen more to the sound as en entity rather than to just one thing.
“Like a film trailer”, that’s how the title track has been described. It was among the last songs written for the album and as it took form HIM wanted it to contain all the different aspects of the album.
“Venus Doom” even borrows the sound of a fountain orgasm from a porn film. Try and hear it if you can…
- The fountain orgasm comes right before the first refrain in the right speaker while I scream in the left one. It sounded too scanky at normal speed so we slowed it down. Without the visual images it sounded like a bloody fountain.
And the lyrics are – roll of drums – a loving explanation of love. Same thing goes for the next track “Love in Cold Blood”.
- It’s about how love turns humans into animals. The emotional chaos turns you as much into an animal as possible is and you are almost walking on all four – which maybe you are as well, depending on your preferences!
You have said that “lyrically it’s an album about how I lost a relationship and managed to get it back in order to next lose my mind and get it back again.”
- I was probably bullshitting, he says and laughs. To me it’s more of a “pick me up from the floor” album. Using the music as crutches so you can walk. Tedious things controlled me to a certain extent. Through the music I could let go of them and appreciate them when they were on paper and in the music. Sometimes it’s hard to look yourself in the mirror. You know what I mean.
Sure, I normally wake up and think “Oh Christ, another bad hair day!”
- On an existential level life can sometimes be tough and depressing. Even if you have no reason to be depressed its’ looming over you like a cloud. Every person has different ways to deal with it but I make my living from it so I don’t want to get rid of the clouds completely. I keep the clouds under control. It has been an action-packed year, even on the relationship side of things, seeing as I’m no longer with Jonna. You can hear the melancholic desperation on the album; at times it’s really “doomy and gloomy”.
So a lot of the album is about the relationship between you and Jonna or what?
- Not all of it. It’s more about me than about that relationship specifically. And then it’s also a combination of different things I have heard. Things that people are thinking that they ought not to be thinking. Self-therapy in a way. I wouldn’t say that any specific song is dedicated to her… maybe “Cyanide Sun”. I normally don’t write lyrics about anyone in particular.
Ville Valo and Jonna Nygren broke off their engagement in the spring of 2006 but continued seeing each other as a couple. When we met at New Year’s he described it as a rollercoaster relationship.
When the album was written you and Jonna were an on and off couple. Did you think at the time that you would make it through the storm?
- Of course. My drinking perhaps got in the way a little bit. I worked too much and didn’t give her enough time. And then there were a lot of other things that I can’t talk about because they are personal. I have hidden a lot of it in the lyrics in a way that allows me to interpret them without even the other guys in the band being able to. That’s my way of handling things. An important lesson that the stay in Malibu taught me to understand is the year-old saying “You have to help yourself before you can help others”. It’s right and is right for me for the time being. I want to be able to take care of my band, hang out with the other guys and feel proud of what we have achieved so far and what we are going to achieve in the future. If I had focused on partying, writing lyrics, do shows, and have a relationship every single one of these things would have been neglected. I need to limit myself to a few things and the music is something that I had even before I had any relationships of any kind. I dare not risk losing or compromising the music because of my fucking love life, partying or my fascination for books. Music is the only thing I‘m fairly good at, why mess with that?
“Passion’s Killing Floor” was the first sample from “Venus Doom” and it was introduced on the “Transformers” soundtrack. The chorus, without lyrics, was written already in 1998 and the main riff in 2001. Ville has previously said that HIM don’t mess around with forty-something tracks for an album and that the song ideas that don’t instantly feel sharp are ditched.
Is it unusual that you pick up something so old again?
- Yes and no. I don’t record riffs on tape and go back to them. The brain is a funny thing cos it will remember things that are almost ten years old. All of a sudden it hits you “fuck, I’ve got that thing I thought of ages ago, maybe it will fit in here?” In “Passion’s Killing Floor” there are a couple of amazing bits of lyric: “My heart’s a graveyard baby / And to evil we make love on our passion’s killing floor.” People are most cruel to those they love the most. It’s very natural to many, why I don’t know. There are so many expectations to you in the world that you can’t act like a madman or an animal but in a relationship you are practically allowed to act like that and release some of the pressure.
But in your line of business you can act like a beast and it’s considered completely okay.
- Yes, but you still try to maintain some sort of dignity. In close relationships and with close friends I’m probably at my meanest. Many are like that because you are allowed to explode, spew out negativity and shed a few tears when you are with the people who know you the best. It can easily happen that this is the first thing you do to make the relationship deteriorate if it turns out this is all you do and never anything positive.
The first single “Kiss of Dawn”, which subscribers to Close-Up can listen to at this edition’s Soundcheck CD, differentiates from the rest of the songs by being dedicated to one certain person.
- When we recorded “Dark Light” in LA I hung out with a young, up-and-coming musician. We had loads of fun together and became good friends. One night while we were touring – it might have been a promotion trip – I got a call that he had killed himself. I felt so bad, was sad and frustrated. One of his mates did a picture of him in Photoshop where he has angel’s wings, a guitar around his neck and a smoke in his mouth. He liked HIM’s music and at the bottom some of our lyrics are written. It’s framed and on the window sill in my house. I was sitting there playing acoustic guitar and looking at the picture. I thought that he would love it if I wrote him a tribute. It’s a tribute to the fun times we had together more than it’s about me being angry and frustrated about what he did. At the end of the day it was his decision. He was a young, tormented artist.
It’s easy to see the connection to “Song or Suicide”.
- The folk singer Julee Sill, who died from an overdose in 1979, was dating someone and had a tough relationship which obviously reminded me of my own. She said that it was either “song or suicide”, which meant that she was forced to either write a song about her life and this situation or kill herself. I thought that sounded amazing and besides the abbreviation is SOS. It was very suiting for the mood of the album and for my own mood: “I heal my wounds with grief / And dream of you and weep myself alive.” From an existential perspective it’s good to feel bad in order to actually understand that you are alive.
October last autumn Ville Valo spent two and a half weeks in Finnish Lapland. He didn’t really get to work as much as he had hoped but still he returned home with “Cyanide Sun” and “Sleepwalking Past Hope”. These songs have a melancholic tone that drives the album even further into the deep.
- How honest can you be without losing the humorous side? You have to be able to laugh at yourself even when you are crying. That’s how I view life. It could always be worse. Halfway through “Sleepwalking Past Hope” there is a Dario Argento-ish horror part when I’m singing really low: “I gave up long ago”. I think that’s the best bit of lyric on the entire album. What else can you say? “Painting love with crimson flow / Ran out of blood and hope so I paint you no more.” It’s cunning and childish, but true.
“Crimson” (a fresh and cold red colour with hints of blue) is a word you like to use.
- You are thinking about “Behind the Crimson Door”. I have used the word three times in sixty songs, that’s not a lot.
“Crimson” is not “love” or “he” or “she”.
- It sounds good and it’s a nice colour.
Were you a fan of Crimson Glory (which I in 1989, cough, referred to as the future of metal)?
- Eh… No! It hit me that Sentenced has done an album called “Crimson” and I thought “I ought to use that”. Many lyrics are about love and relationships but I like that this goes a step further: “I gave up the whole idea of love long ago/ Because I ran out of blood and hope”. It’s like ditching love which I have done for the first time on a very long time. I can’t fucking deal with relationships! I will fall in love again some day – which certainly happens every day when I sit alone in my hotel room! After having sung about haunted love on six albums it’s nice to take a break in some sense.
“Sleepwalking Past Hope” is the sharpest and most diabolic HIM has done so far in their career. The almost ten minutes long journey is depressing but very “riffy” and contains a nice Kirk Hammett guitar figure as well as a surprising bass solo. Musical is the word.
- It’s a good stepping stone for something new. I like that we put it in the middle of the album and not towards the end as most bands would have done with this type of song, Ville says. This is the first record we have made that I consider to be an “album”. I didn’t know that when we started but when everything was mixed and I listened to it from beginning to end it all sounded good. The album has a nice flow, something we haven’t succeeded in earlier even though we have thought so. The songs complement each other. After a long, more demanding track like “Sleepwalking Past Hope” we have “Dead Lover’s Lane” that is a more straightforward rock song. It’s just as meaningful and deep as “Sleepwalking Past Hope” but is also a fine complement.
With “Dead Lover’s Lane” Ville chooses to look at the future.
- If you allow what you have lost to keep you prisoner then the energy you need to move on can easily be sucked out of you. Many people hold on to what they have lost, even me from time to time. It’s good to learn from your mistakes but many people are afraid to try something new because they failed with their last attempt.
“666 kroner” it says on a receipt that Ville with childish joy pulls out. The price for yesterday’s diabolical record purchase in a hard-rock shop in Oslo was 666 Norwegian kroner. For that amount of money he got the Swedish black metal band Abruptum’s ambient swan song “Casus Lucifer”, Darkthrone’s “A Blaze in the Northern Sky”, the re-release of Napalm Death’s grindcore classic “Scum” and Dimmu Borgir’s “In Sorte Diaboli”.
- The cover looks mean but I haven’t listened to the album yet, he says about Dimmu Borgir’s latest piece of work. I didn’t like “Spiritual Black Dimensions”, something happened there and then. But “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant” was epoch-making to me. That and Cradle of Filth’s “Dusk and Her Embrace” I still listen to often.
Most touring musicians these days are dragging with them laptops, are constantly online and eat music out of mp3-players. Ville Valo doesn’t own a computer and iPod is a foreign word. In stead he has CDs scattered around him and on a table is another pile of discs: Broken Social Scene’s singer Feist’s critically acclaimed “The Reminder”, melancholic Interpol’s “Our Love to Admire” (“Don’t know what I think about that one yet, liked the old album “Antics” a lot”), Bleeding Through’s “The Truth”, two versions of Turbonegro’s “Retox” (“Some said the album sucks but I find that hard to believe. I love everything they have done, more or less”), And Dead Can Dance singer Lisa Gerard’s second solo album “The Silver Tree”.
Being the book worm he is a number of books are also lying around the room. About the book “Plato and Platypus walk into a bar: Understanding philosophy through jokes” he says “It’s quite good”, only to read the words on the back cover and exclaim: “Ew, the book is stinking bad! I only bought it because it seemed weird and hard to understand.”
Pulitzer price winner Kenneth Silverman’s biography “Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Neverending Remembrance“ gets a better review, like Silvia Plath’s cult novel “The Bell Jar”.
- The woman in the book goes crazy. Two weeks after the book was published Plath committed suicide.
Ville recommends any work by Augusten Burroughs the most. After having read “Dry” and “Running with Scissors” (which was made into a film last year) he has now dived into the collection of essays “Magical Thinking”.
- Burroughs is a homosexual writer whose artist mom was very sick, mentally. She left him in her psychiatrist’s apartment so he could grow up there. The psychiatrist and his family were also crazy and that’s where he grew up. Later on he ended up in New York’s advertisement business and became an alcoholic and a drug addict. He writes about his experiences very honestly and with humour. It’s cool, insane and crazy all at once. He always writes about himself and it’s hard to tell what is the truth and what is made-up but he writes to well that I can’t complain.
The conversation has been going on for almost four hours and it’s past midnight. Before I leave I take a peak in Ville Valo’s passport.
- It’s taken in a Turkish shop in Berlin in 2005.
Jesus! With shaved sides, the hair tightly pulled back and downy moustache he looks like the stereotypical German neo-Nazi.
- I look really weird, the picture looks nothing like me. Maybe I’m a neo-Nazi; I just haven’t discovered that side of myself yet, he jokes.
Then the singer yawns and I think about the New Year’s resolution he didn’t want to make because he knew he’d break it: To be a good boy and go to bed early.
- Now I keep track of what time it is and figure out how long I need to sleep in order for the voice to be good the next day.
This, boys and girls, was something you never thought you’d hear from the great rock romantic Ville Valo…