Interview with Ville Valo by Erin Broadley
For Ville Valo, life as a musician is very surreal, or very "Dali-esque" as he might say, and he's not referring to the painter's infamous mustache. In some ways Valo is still waiting for the day when he wakes up and finds out it's all been a giant LSD experiment in the Finnish military, where institutional illusions of grandeur and dreamlike oddities smash artistic ambition through the looking glass of fame, personal casualties be damned. "Itís like 'Alice in Wonderland'," he says. "Because there are so many unexpected things happening all the time...surrealism actually exists in your everyday life...youíre there 'in the looking glass' so to speak."
At 30-years-old, the singer has spent half his life in the limelight, fronting a handful of local bands in Helsinki, Finland before forming HIM in the early '90s and almost instantly being hurled towards star status in Europe and soon after, worldwide. It's a surreal succession of events that began with Valo as a teenager working in his father's sex shop, to now fronting one of the most popular rock bands around. His has been a life where time seems to run backward, then forward, faces come, go and change shape, and record labels push and pull in a laissez-faire game of chess where a hit single is king and the artist merely a pawn. "It is a little weird," Valo adds. "But that's life, isn't it?"
The wounded romantic turned rock surrealist endures it all with a wink and a healthy laugh, of course. With six studio albums, numerous hit singles and a devout fan base, the musicians in HIM are not want for false accolade or sympathy. For the band, it's a life filled with adventure and all the humor one could imagine. Completed by bassist Mige, guitarist Linde, drummer Gas and keyboardist Burton, the band dubbed it's Sabbath-meets-Depeche Mode sound as "Love Metal" long ago, though HIM's newest album, Venus Doom (Sire/Warner), ventures away from the band's pop sensibilities and leans more towards its Scandinavian melancholia roots. It's an album Valo wrote while holed up in a cabin in Lapland, far away from the hustle of the city and even further away from the pains of a troubled relationship, a friend's suicide and the throws of alcohol abuse that would later land him in rehab.
Sober now for months, Ville Valo took some time after browsing antique sofas to chat with SuicideGirls. In between fits of tongue-in-cheek laughter we somehow managed to talk about the new album, sobriety, and his mission in life, which is, fittingly, to have his own definition of love in Webster's Dictionary.
Erin Broadley: Hello. How are you?
Ville Valo: Hello there. Iím doing fairly okay, thanks for asking. Iíve had three Red Bulls and eight cups of coffee. Iím like a Duracell [Energizer] Bunny, just hopping around the house.
EB: Hopping around, beating your drum.
VV: Just short of being beamed up by UFOs.
EB: What was that Michael Jackson movie where he morphs into a bunny?
VV: Moonwalker. [Laughs] I donít know what that was.
EB:[Laughs] Some horrible thing with a claymation bunny.
VV: Well, Michael Jackson is one of those characters that you hope your brain will be like a hard drive you can just defragment and, like, erase the files you donít want to have in there.
EB: Right, right. Heís had some memorable moments.
VV: Indeed. But you know, R. Kelly is taking care of that now.
EB: Oh man, have you seen the Trapped in the Closet DVD?
VV: Not the new one, but the first one. Bits and pieces. To be honest with you, it was so psychologically demanding I wasnít able to watch the whole thing through.
EB: Itís pretty intense, [laughs] thereís a lot of hidden meaning in all its layers.
VV: Yeah, itís very, very deep, [laughs] very deep soaked in urine. Thereís nothing wrong with taking a leak but at times people do, you know, take their leaks in places that are not appropriate.
EB: Yeah, just donít pee on the wrong person.
VV: Thatís very well put.EB: Alright, well, on that note, how are things going so far with the release of the new record?
VV:[Laughs] Everything seems to be going well. The bandís happy and we canít wait to get back on tour. I had a really shitty last year and itís been kind of tough on me. I went to fucking rehab and shit. I had nearly both of my feet in the grave. You know, Iím not the only one and Iím not so self-centered that Iíd be sitting in a corner cursing God, ďWhy me? Why me?Ē Itís just that I found myself in a funny position like R. Kelly [laughs] butÖ
EB:[Laughs] But you handled it a little differently.
VV:[Laughs] Very differently. I had my meltdown, but I kept all the liquids inside of me. But everything is fine, itís all good.
EB: So things have kind of balanced out for you?
VV: Well, everything is kind of new and kind of weird. I had a long-term relationship, we were engaged and we broke up. We were recording the album at the same time and me battling with the boozeÖa lot of shit hitting the fan in all directions, at the same time. A lot of it was caused by myself, nobody else. I just didnít have the time to decompress and have quality time with myself [laughs].
EB: Right, light some candles and have ďme timeĒ [laughs].
VV: Oh my God, I hate that term ďme timeĒ. I love the fact that I had somebody say, ďIím really sorry I have to get going because Iím missing myself.Ē It sounds corny. It sounds like a sailor sitting on his hands just to make them numb just to be able to jerk off. But yeah, things are looking pretty good. Itís kind of cool after a year of traveling to be able to be home for a week and a half and actually buy that toilet paper and do laundry and do the dishes.
EB: Right. Do the normal, day-to-day things.
VV: You can do even normal things in a very abnormal way. So itís always a challenge and itís always an adventure if you make it one.
EB: Well, being in bands since you were a teenager, your whole development of what normal life is has definitely been a different challenge than for the average person.
VV: Itís different, itís not better, itís not worse. Itís a lot of traveling. Iím really glad that Iím blessed with the opportunity of traveling and having this way of life, spending all this time with my band mates who I grew up with. Thatís a luxury a lot of bands donít have.
EB: Youíve said before that writing albums can be really disastrous, emotionally. How do you pull yourself up and stay grounded after making a record? Itís a very intense way to live and it can be very manic. No wonder it destroys so many young artists, both personally and in their relationships with other people.
VV: Well, you know, Iím not a quitter. So when you wake up and youíre walking out and itís raining and feels like R. Kelly sitting on top of a cloud and peeing on youÖ
VV:When you feel miserable and all that, you feel vengeful. I do feel that life is a challenge. It is a pain in the ass and if youíre fucked up it makes it easier. Iím not fucked up anymore so I feel very challenged about everything now.
EB: Alcohol is an amazing filter.
VV:Yeah it is. It kind of happened with me not thinking about it. Thereís just a tremendous amount of partying available. When youíre touring in a band thereís always a cause for celebrating after a good gig, or if you fucked up a gig thereís always a reason to get shit-faced because you feel bad about it. Thereís always a reason, so it was perfect for me to be in a position where I was shitting and vomiting blood. But now Iíve gone through that and now even thinking about a pint of beer makes me feel nauseous. I had to walk that line. I went to the doctors and they said I had to go to the ER. I said, ďNo I canít because Iíve got to do a couple of interviewsĒ [laughs]. So I was that, before I got the blood tests and everything back.
EB: Literally, the press was becoming the death of you, you canít do that.
VV: Fuck no, man. I tried.
EB: If you throw up after this interview Iím going to be really, really upset.
VV:[Laughs] Fair enough, fair enough. They said Iíve got either Iíve got to stop drinking and calm myself down or itís going to be heart failure next. You know, itís a lonely life being sober, missing all my bar friends and everything, here on my own playing acoustic guitar, playing forlorn love songs, trying to pray to the Devil to get myself a new loved one to write some songs for. Unfortunately for me, I wasnít able to drink or party in moderation. My last bender lasted more than two years, getting fucked up every single day. Itís not healthy but obviously itís a way of life. You get a different social scene and you care about different things, based on the idea that youíre not happy with yourself or youíre not feeling comfortable with yourself so you just want to numb the pain by using something whether itís legal or illegal. I just had vengeance in me and was pointing my middle finger up toward the cloud where R. Kelly was pissing on top of me [laughs].
EB:[Laughs] Take that, R. Kelly!
VV:Thatís the reason why I turned out to be a proper Scandinavian satanist. [Laughs] Yeah, but everybodyís got to find their own way. Iím still getting used to it. Itís the first time in years that Iíve been actually alone in a house.
EB: With yourself and your ďme timeĒ.
VV: Yeah, with the ďme timeĒ. Itís ďme and my guitar timeĒ.
EB: Exactly, which is be a more satisfying relationship than most, probably.
VV: Well, they never stay in tune and theyíre fucking downright bastards.
EB: Well, at least you donít have to kick them out of the house the next day.
VV:Yeah, you donít have to saw your own arm off when you wake up in the morning.
EB: One thing weíve talked about before is that itís really hard for you to separate fantasy from reality in music, mainly because you live your life in the music that you write. That seems like something that could trigger the emotional fallout that happens when you write a record.
VV: It is emotionally devastating but thatís how I like it. Letís say itís good to be a white boy dancing badly on the razorís edge, if you know what Iím saying. You know, itís not necessarily the white boy thing. Iím just a shitty dancer thatís all. Just the fact that Iím not purposefully trying to find myself in tough situations, but the world in itself it is a pretty tough place. Turn on the TV and watch the news. I just canít do that anymore. It just makes me so sad.
EB: You said recently in another interview that life as a musician is a very [Salvador] Dali-esque experience.
VV: Yeah, I donít know. Iím living my life the best way I can and I donít know the perception of the band or me as a person outside of myself. Itís not like Iím sitting up in the morning, sitting in a fucking Gothic chair.
EB: Or having midgets bring you morning tea.
VV: Yeah, with trays of cocaine on the top of their heads.
EB: Oh God. Rise and shine.
VV: Yeah, oh my God, ooh, I donít even want to think about that.
EB: Yeah, letís not. Because we donít want to throw up, right?
VV: Why not? They have phone sex, why canít you have phone vomiting sessions?
EB: We could, we could throw up in tandem over the phone. Itíll be really romantic [laughs].
VV: Exactly. Purge on beautifully, my dear [laughs]. But, you know, at the end of the day you are one with your art and everybodyís an artist. Everybodyís a piece of art. Everybodyís got a story to tell. Everybody tells it in different ways, some people tell it the way they walk, some people tell it the way they talk or the way they smile. Youíve just got to have some imagination. [Being a musician] is surreal and it is very surprising that you never know whatís around the corner. Itís weird because phone calls happen, all of a sudden an album is on the charts, and all of a sudden youíve got to fly tomorrow somewhere to meet somebody, like, letís say a video director whose videos you watched since you were a teen. Things like that, itís very surreal so in that sense it is an adventure. Itís like Alice in Wonderland because there are so many unexpected things happening all the time. The surrealism actually exists in your everyday life. So youíre there 'in the looking glass' so to speak. It is a little weird. But thatís life, isnít it. It can make you feel like, ďWhoa, what the hell is going on right now?Ē But itís also really beautiful. Itís more of a laugh when youíre sober. Thereís a great comedy in me coming out one day. I wish that it would be like The Truman Show, there would be somebody secretly recording.
EB: All of a sudden you wake up and you find out that the whole thing has been this big experiment. They tap you on the shoulder and say, ďAndÖ scene. Thatís a wrap, guysĒ Youíre like, ďWhat?Ē
VV: Iíd fucking love it. Itíd be so fun. Iím waiting for that to happen. With the surrealism in everyday life, thatís something that actually could happen.
EB: Exactly, well, if that ever does happen to youÖ
VV: I will call and let you know.
EB: Let me know. I didnít sign any release forms.
EB:[Laughs] Well, your music definitely has a wickedly humorous side to it as well. Would you mind telling me how humor plays a factor in your music? A lot of people would consider it really emotional and melancholy.
VV: There is humor in melancholy as well, you know. Itís like existential humor. Itís funny that single individuals and billions of people are sitting alone in a chair and all sad about the fact that he or she lost a relationship or whatever. Itís a weird thing. Weíre like fucking ants, building up our own den and house, to do what? To live there and maybe procreate someday? I am a miserable bastard in the most positive sense of that term. So letís say the stuff Iím writing about at times is so demanding that humor is the only thing that helps me through the day and night, and the mornings with the ridiculous amounts of coffee I drink. We were talking about the surreal, the Dali-esqueness of life being in a rock band or my life in general. You know itís just nice that it is like a cluster fuck that you canít separate the humor from the sadness. And I donít want to. Itís nice to find yourself laughing at the wrong spot.
EB: You told me once that the best way to express emotions is through music and not through lyrics. Thatís something I find really interesting because a lot of your fans really connect with the particular words you use in your lyrics and the emotions they convey.
VV: What Iím trying to do, my mission in life is to get thirty different definitions of love into Websterís Dictionary. Thatís my mission in life. [Definitions] that really, really do explain the emotion. To be able to verbally explain how people really do feel. Thatís what I do and thatís my new challenge. My first challenge was to be able to express myself through music and now Iíve learned it and Iím really happy with it because it makes me more of a whole person. That would be an interesting thing to do in life, to concentrate on emotion so much and to be able to verbalize it so well that it would make the dictionary.
EB: That would be nice.
VV: At the end of the day I just want to be happy.