Crying out for a little romance in your life? Then lie down and relax, becouse HIM frontman Ville Valo is here to spread some sexual healing.
PEOPLE CAN'T help but stare when Ville Valo walks past They don't know who Ville Valo is, but they know he must be someone for he oozes the sort of insouciant cool thai only the staggeringly confident and achingly hip can pull off To walk alongside Valo through the hateful tourist trap that is London's Leicester Square on a chilly spring evening is to know how it must feel to be invisible, for passers-by are blinkered and focused as their puzzled, questioning eyes lock on the Finn's chiseled features, searching for dues as to his identity. They'll search in vain, for in this country, Ville Valo is a nobody, albeit a decidedly handsome nobody.
In mainland Europe, though, things are different. In mainland Europe, Ville Valo is a bona fide 'face'. As the frontman of gothic metallers HIM, the 26-year-old is rarely off MTV, and a bankable cover star of both teen glossies and metal rags. This month, his band's new album 'Love Metal' will top the charts in at least three European countries, most likely Germany, Austria and Finland, In the UK that same album. him's fourth, entered the charts at number 55, hardly comparable, but an encouraging result nonetheless for a band who have hardly been greeted with open arms in this country - indeed, one early Kerrang! review memorably described the Finns as "plodding along like a nocturnal donkey wearing fake fangs and a cape",
"My hopes are that this album will sell more than Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' and then I'll be able to buy Neverland and live in an oxygen tent with Bubbles' he deadpans. "But I suspect that's not going to happen. And I've just got to live with that somehow."
WE'RE SITTING in a North London bar, and Ville Valo is puffing on what is possibly the 30th or 40th of the 100 cigarettes he'll get through on any given day, When he laughingly insists that these cancer sticks are an essential part of who he is - "They make me sound more husky and sexy," he smiles "If I quit I'd sing like a f**king choir boy" - it's dear that his bone dry wit hasn't been blunted one iota by the raging hangover he's nursing following a night out at the UK premiere of 'Jackass: The Movie'. Valo says he's not a fan of such swish occasions, but he'd been invited along by 'Jackass' star Bam Margera and it seemed rude to refuse, particularly since Margera is one of his best friends (and also incidentally the director of the video for HIM's current single 'Buried Alive By Love'), Anyway, he got to drink for free and see The Darkness for the first time, so it was all good.
There's every chance that right now you might already have decided you hate Ville Valo, with his celebrity buddies and rock star lifestyle and smouldering good looks. But he's also a laid-back, witty - this is a man who cites the "Blood Of Christ" as his favourite drink - and immensely personable character. Besides, anyone who'll snigger when called a sex symbol and rasp out a couple of lines from Marduk's black metal anthem 'Jesus Christ.. Sodomized' in a trendy Camden watering hole is alright by us. Oh, and sorry girls, he's taken.
If you must point a finger, blame Gene Simmons, for - as with Trent Reznor, Kurt Cobain and just about every US rock musician who hit puberty in the 1970s - it was the sight of Kiss' expansively tongued stack-heeled lothario who put the ides of this whole rock 'n' roll malarkey into Ville Valo's head 14 years ago. Up until young Valo spotted the God Of Thunder in a rock magazine, he was a normal well-adjusled kid .. or at least as well adjusted as any kid who grew up in Helsinki as the scion of sex shop owning parents can be.
"I remember the first time I found a dildo in my house I was like, 'What the f **k is this?'," he smiles. "And so my dad sat me down and told me he owned a sex shop and said, 'Don't worry about it and just come and visit one day'. When I was 18 I used to go down there and make copies of all the porn tapes. That way I had more money to spend on cigarettes and alcohol."
When the music bug bit young Valo, it bit hard. Every day he'd rehearse with a different band - Monday might mean singing with a grindcore band, Tuesday meant playing bass in a reggae band - but all along he dreamt of assembling a heavy, melodic and theatrical band in the image of his heroes Black Sabbath, Kiss and Iron Maiden. When that band came together in 1995, his fellow Finns took one look at their name- His Infernal Majesty - and assumed, not unreasonably, that Valo was fronting a satanic black metal band. Around the time that the band had to halt a gig because of a pitched battle between "pen-gum mask wearing" black metal fans and Bible-wielding religious zealots, His Infernal Majesty became HIM, the world's first, and only, 'love metal' band.
"There's too many bands singing about hate and politics and religion and That's what I didn't want to do with my musk," he explains. "I hate all that happy shiny people bullshit and I always wanted to be in a black metal band, but when I heard Dimmu Borgir's 'Enthrone Darkness Triumphant' I knew there was no point. Anyway, love and sex is at the core of everything. I know I'll never figure love out, but I can keep trying."
It hasn't all been plain sailing a couple of years ago, HIM were unwittingly dragged into European tabloid newspapers when a cassette of their 1999 album 'Razorblade Romance' was found in the Walkman of a German teenager who'd committed suicide, and it was claimed that the hapless teen had been driven to his fate after listening to 'Join Me In Death', a fatalistic tale of immortality-seeking lovers. The story soon died down, but it left a bitter taste which lingers still for the young singer.
"No-one kills himself over a song," he mutters. "I'm not a psychologist and I'm not qualified to heal people's problems. I just want to make music."
WHEN VILLE Valo talks of his band's career he does so with humility and no small amount of realism. When he says that 'Love Metal' will be a Number One album in his homeland he does so without arrogance or false modesty, as both 2001's 'Deep Shadows And Brilliant Highlights' and 1999's 'Razorblade Romance' hit the top spot in Finland But while HIM (completed by guitarist Linde, bassist Mige, keyboardist Burton and drummer Gas) may have sold two million albums worldwide - 10 of them to Kelly Osbourne, who snapped up copies to distribute among her mates, some of who now sport tattoos of HIM's trademark 'heartagram' symbol on their teenage flesh - but they've yet to secure a recording deal in the US or Japan, two 'territories' every rock band dreams of conquering. Ville Valo doesn't mind, indeed, he says he likes the fact that his band "can play for 100 people in Glasgow one day and then 8,000 people in Berlin the next". When HIM comes to an end, he says he'd like to go to college to study theology or mathematics ('solving a maths problem gives you the same sense of achievement as writing a good song" he reckons}, but right now he sees his band as having a very simple mission.
"Most European rock musk sucks," he shrugs. "We're just trying to fight back and prove that some Scandinavians can be good at what they do. But if you only have the money to buy one album right now get Black Sabbath's 'Black Sabbath'. You can get around to our album another time."
The Shape Of Finns To Come: a rough guide to him...
BLACK SABBATH + CELEBRITY FRIENDS + CIGARETTES x LOVE = HIM
Words: Paul Brannigan,
Photo: Paul Harries