"I just came out of the bath and my smell is exquisite," says Finnish rocker Ville Valo, lead singer of the band HIM, a tone of mock arrogance in his voice. "Remember to mention that," he says, cracking up with laughter during a phone interview. "It's very important."
Apparently this is a rock star who doesn't take himself all that seriously, which is refreshing because at first glance HIM seems to be a rather precious lot.
For one thing, Valo describes their music as "love metal," and indeed that label fits the bill for this band. There's a certain heart-on-sleeve sensitivity in much of HIM's music that is not often found within the world of heavy metal, where power and aggression reign supreme.
"One of the first songs this band ever did was a Chris Isaak's Wicked Game," says the tattoed singer with the jet-black hair. "We did this weird, distorted version of it that we still play. . . . It's a very melancholy love song and we put it through a metal grinder, so to speak, so it sounded logical to call it love metal ...."
To him, it's all in fun. "You know, there's black metal and speed metal and so many kinds of metal, and we do have our tongues firmly in our cheeks, so we wanted to inject a bit of dark humour into the realm of super serious rock 'n' roll."
Such classifications also serve a purpose when it comes to effectively marketing a band, and Valo knows it well. He's more in tune than most of his hard rock peers about what it takes to make a metal band click, right down to the all-important symbolism and iconography. That's clear looking at HIM's trademarked symbol, the heartagram, a combination of a heart and a pentagram, found in the band's CD booklets and their stage sets.
Valo is proud to report that that symbol is tattooed on the bodies of HIM fans around the world. Not bad for a band that started life back in the early '90s as a cover band from Finland, playing songs by such artists as Black Sabbath, Depeche Mode, Kiss and Danzig. The singer was also inspired by the Finnish glam metal band Hanoi Rocks, who had a brief brush with international success in the '80s.
Taking a cue from Black Sabbath, in that they wanted to go with a "spooky, gloomy name," Valo and the band's co-founders, guitarist Linde Lindstrom and bassist Mige Paananen, initially called the band His Infernal Majesty. Later, when that name led to people mistakenly lumping them into the Norwegian black metal scene, they shortened their name to HIM. "It's easy to remember and it's pronounced the same way in most languages."
Of HIM's latest disc, Venus Doom, the band's sixth, Valo says he wanted the recording to sound like a cross between My Bloody Valentine and Metallica.
"I'm a big fan of those really dirty wall-of-sound guitars you hear in My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and some of the Neil Young stuff," he says. "You always have ideas about how something is going to sound, but it never happens that way. That's the cool thing about music, you're always surprised by the end result."