Erin Broadley's interview with Ville Valo
18th oktober /2004/
Listening to HIM is like getting hit over the head with a valentine, except on the front of the card, on the cartoon cupid, frontman Ville Valo has drawn devil horns and a dangling cigarette and signed "love, your sweet 666." The valentine wafts faintly of tobacco, not perfume, and on the inside youíre more likely to find a couple drink tickets to the local bar instead of candy hearts. Based in Helsinki, Finland, the band HIMócompleted by bassist Mige, guitarist Linde, drummer Gas and keyboardist Burtonóhas taken rock romanticism, cranked up the volume, added a dash of sardonic humor and created a signature sound that critics have dubbed "love metal." HIMís music is the gloom and doom of Black Sabbath meets the tragic romance of Depeche Mode. Itís the soundtrack to a young romantic crying through vintage eyes and heavy metal sunglasses, wiping his tear stained face on his Iggy Pop and the Stooges t-shirt, smearing his eyeliner. But itís not all that depressing, when the music kicks it kicks hard and there are more than a few songs than can be called upbeat. The music has charisma and the fans know it.
Though relatively new to American listeners, HIM has spent the past eight years courting audiences overseas, and with four albums released and sales reaching a collective 2 million, the group is one of the most successful rock bands in Europe. HIM re-released its album Razorblade Romance (Universal) stateside on October 28 of last year and launched a sold-out supporting club tourótheir first in Americaólater that Fall. The band has since signed a major deal with American label Sire Records, re-released the album Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights (Universal) on September 28 and is gearing up for their second American tour (supported by Auf Der Maur and Monster Magnet) which kicks off November 12 in Worcester, MA and wraps December 4 in Los Angeles.
Prior to signing with Sire, Ville Valo took some time to talk with SuicideGirls about HIMís American experience and the current state of popular music.
Erin Broadley: You recently wrapped up your first tour in America. How did it go? During our
last interview you mentioned that you were looking forward to touring here and wanted to get
beaten up by hillbillies in a redneck baróthe true American experience. Any such luck?
Ville Valo: Unfortunately we just toured the East and West coasts so we didnít run into any rednecks (laughs). We were saved from all the violence. But the tour was excellent. The weather was beautiful most of the time. All the gigs sold out. Loads of kids knew all the lyrics to all the songs, even from albums that havenít been released here yet. It was really a big surprise for us. We thought we were going to have to go back in timeótime travelóand start from scratch.
EB: I heard that some fans were paying upward of 200 dollars for tickets on Ebay.
VV: Did they? Oh for fucks sake. Well, for us, itís always better not to have too many expectations and to just go with the flow because then itís always a big plus no matter what happens. Iím truly happy. The tour was pretty easy but pretty hectic. We had a few days off in Seattle. Nothing weird happened. It was a new culture and new country for us to experience. It was just us walking around and going to Starbucks and getting a cup of coffee. We didnít really do loads of interviews or any PR. We really just wanted to enjoy the first tour and hang out, like we did in most of the countries in Europe on the first tour. It was just nice to be able to party and hang out a bit and not make it too excruciating.
EB: Do you see any particular similarities or differences between the way the music industry
functions here in America as opposed to Europe?
VV: For us, the music industry is a weird situation in the way that now weíre done with the BMG [record] deal in Europe. So weíre free men to be slaves again, so to speak. So weíve been negotiating with labels now and its looking good. Weíre in a wonderful situation that there are loads of American record companies that like what we do. And thatís a lovely thing. So weíre just trying to pick the lesser of the evils.
EB: Do you think achieving success via oneís creative endeavors is harder here? Los Angeles
in particular gets criticized for strangling the creative life out of bands.
VV: Well thatís part of the music business as well. Los Angeles and New York are the big centers of the music industry worldwide so of course it can be hard for newcomers who donít know what to expect from the music business. But we learned loads of lessons back in Europe so we know how the business works, more or less. Weíve released loads of albums. Weíve been working with record labels since 1996. And we never seem to have any problems with it because, like Iíve said to you before, their business is to sell records and weíre just trying to make the record itself. Basically, thatís how it is. Weíre trying to have the band create something beautiful that hopefully one day, 20 years from now, can be picked up by a kid and hopefully have the same effect that Neil Young had on me, or Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. Thatís what weíre aiming at. We hope people understand the amount of emotion we put into our work and that they can hopefully get emotionally attached to what we do as well and then create a situation [by hooking up with a record label] where that music is available to listen to.
EB: Last we talked, you mentioned you were working on some rough versions of new songs.
How is that coming along?
VV: Yeah Iím still writing. Iíve got about 14 tracks now. But weíve been on tour so we havenít had time to get back to a rehearsal place. When we have time off weíre just going to concentrate on rehearsal and see what happens. Itís a complicated thing, especially with our new label situation happening, but weíre in a good situation where weíre not in a hurry to get a new album out.
EB: Being that music is an art form and artists are expected to be able to talk about
their work, cite references and place it within a historical context, do you think it does
the music a disservice when musicians talk about their craft solely in terms of wanting to
"rock out" and donít engage in an actual dialog about it?
VV: Well itís hard to say. Itís like speculating about where the line exists between eroticism and porn.
EB: Thereís a big difference.
VV: Yeah but whereís the line? Itís the same thing because of course, on one hand, there are bands singing about Jacuzzis and fast cars and silicone boobies and drugs. But for me personally music is a different thing, like Neil Young singing about the "Heart of Gold," emotionally speaking. So none of itís bad but itís very hard to say where to draw that line. And I think that you do have to draw that line. Music for me is an emotional thing and it really does make me happy. Itís not a tool for me to get fame or see my face in the papers or anything like that. Itís about the fact that I really do enjoy it. Itís about the only thing in this world that makes me happy. And thatís a big thing and I want to cherish that. Itís magic to me.
EB: When it comes to music scenes and the nature of popular rock these days in New York
and in Los Angeles, this whole raw, revival rock thing is still pretty big. Where do you
see HIM existing in the midst of all that nostalgia?
VV: Iím not thinking about things like that. Most of that New York stuff is shit, like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Strokes, the White Stripes, Jetóeven though the White Stripes and Jet arenít from New Yorkóyou get what I mean, that whole vibe. Theyíre all bringing back a style of music from a different era, like 20 or 30 years ago, but theyíre not mixing it up with anything new. For me personally, I donít like it so much. We [HIM] find ourselves somewhat like a safe haven in some way, a bit outside of it all, like an Alcatraz, if you know what I mean. Itís cool when young people get into Jet and all that stuff but itís a shame when they canít admit all their influences. For example with Jet and that one single thatís like "Lust For Life" [Iggy Pop and the Stooges] straight on. I donít think those people have anything to lose. What theyíre doing is beautiful and theyíre doing it for a reason and they shouldnít be necessarily hiding the reason.
EB: Do you think thereís a problem with musicians being too derivative these days? I mean,
having influences is a given. Youíre going to. No art exists in a vacuum. But do you think it
insults the music when bands donít cite those influences openly?
VV: Well, itís like links on the Internet. Youíve got to have links. So people can hop onto a different world from yours, and then from there a different world and through that world a different world. Then people understand that itís a very complicated, thick cake with millions of layers. And that makes it a lot more interesting. Thatís how is see it. Nobodyís doing anything so interesting these days or that unique that one particular act would be the reason to live or be everything that a person needs in his or her life, musically speaking. Itís the same thing in visual arts.
EB: Yeah, there was a conceptual and minimalist based photography movement spanning from the early 60s to early 80s that dealt with issues of appropriation where photographers began photographing existing photographs or other found images. So in visual arts itís that same thing, everybody has references and links, so to speak. It seems a parallel in music might be song covers.VV: Yeah there are so many different ways of looking at it. Talking about covers, whether visually or sonically, if a particular combination of notes struck a chord in your heart in a way that you want to be a part of it by covering that song, then thereís nothing wrong with it.
EB: Of course not. People adore the covers HIM has done over the years like Chris Issakís
"Wicked Game" and Billy Idolís "Rebel Yell." What music has been able to hold your attention lately?
VV: I havenít really been listening to a lot of stuff. The new Black Sabbath box set, Iíve been listening to that. The solo album by John Frusciante, I love that album. Mark Lannaganís solo stuff. Some electronic stuff. Some dub reggae. Iíve always been a huge reggae fan. I love Johnny Cash but I donít love country music that much. Some genres Iím not a huge fan of but there are always exceptions that break the rules. There are always a few people doing it in a way weird enough to grab my attention.
EB: It seems that ever since the popular rock audience got into Johnny Cash, since he did that
NIN song, it seems to be more acceptable that country is leaking back into the rock genre, at least here.
VV: I think itís the same everywhere, I think it is. The moralistic story about Johnny Cash and the whole Cash revival before his death is that you can be at a decent age and still make it. I found that positive. You donít necessarily have to die at 27 to become a legend.
EB: Definitely not. Are you 27?
VV: Yes (laughs).
EB: Do see yourself at 80 years old in your rocking chair on your porch with your guitar?
VV: Why not? I can see that happening (laughs). Music is the thing that has been there for me since the beginning of my days. But it might be that one day Iím going to wake up and be like, "I donít want to play guitar anymore" and instead be a cop. You never know. I donít want to get away from all the possibilities. There are so many possibilities and different ways of wasting your time.
EB: How do you feel about music being used as a platform for things like political or religious beliefs?
VV: Itís the same with visual arts, you have some really cool, wonderful striking images that make you think and then again you have wonderful striking images that just take you away from the existing world for a second. And I like the latter a bit more. I like it being like a one way ticket out of here. Thatís how I see music at its best. Thatís the way itís worked for me. Thatís the thing about music that makes me happy. Thereís loads of shit happening in this world and I donít want to think about that any more than I have to. Of course Iíve got my own opinions and ideas but I donít think that should overshadow the music. Music, for me personally, is born out of more personal, emotional things rather than political orÖ
EB: More inward as opposed to outward.
VV: Yeah, exactly.
VV: Musicís always been really cathartic. Itís the best drug for me to get away from the everyday pressures just for a second via a good song. So basically, I think music at its best can be everything. It can be totally stupid and very intellectual and emotional at the same time. I donít think all those things shut each other out.
EB: Theyíre not mutually exclusive.
EB: Letís talk some more about the tour. Did touring again for Razorblade Romance feel redundant?
VV: I canít complain. I donít want to complain. It was cool to be there [in America], whatever the reason is. Whether itís a thing we did years ago, it doesnít matter. It was a great start there. There are loads of people who like what we do and weíre happy about it.
EB: Some artists and musicians find it hard to go back and look at their older work because
all they see are the mistakes or all they hear are the things they wish they could have done differently.
VV: Yeah but there was a reason for all those mistakes to be there and all those successes to be there. That music and the lyrical aspects of Razorblade Romance is so personal to me that, now with me being grown up a bit and meeting new people and doing new things, it makes me look at the same things I was writing about back in the day through a different colored lens. Of course it can be a bit weird but I think itís the same for any artist. Hopefully it will be possible to get all our other albums in American shops one day so if people are interested they can hear it but Iím hoping that people are going to be interested in what we are going to do, not just what weíve done. Looking to the future. I mean, weíve been HIM since about 1996 and we always count our previous bands as being the precursers to what weíre doing now soÖ