Ville Valo: Larger Than Life
Years of hard work have launched Finland’s HIM from a band with a modest cult following in the United States into the mainstream. With some help perhaps from their “Heartagram” logo, HIM has become a household name among hard rock and metal fans. At the band’s stop at the 2006 HFStival in Columbia, Md., frontman Ville Valo spoke to Jason Price of Live-Metal.net about the band's song writing process, the status of the band's next album, the struggles of touring in the United States and more. In the end, Valo squashes the solo career rumors and discovers that all roads lead to Black Sabbath.
Live-Metal: What is the biggest misconception about HIM?
Ville Valo: That we are miserable bastards. A lot of people think that we play really melancholy music, people think that we are really miserable. Actually, you know, I think that it is a very cathartic thing. You get your shit into the music and you can be a happy person outside of it, and eat ice cream and listen to the birds sing! [laughs] And watch Jim Carrey movies.
LM: Are you a big fan of Jim Carrey?
VV: No, I hate him. No, I hate comedies. [laughs]
LM: How do you feel that you have evolved as a band through the years?
VV: It is hard to say how we have evolved because I have known the bass player and the guitar player since I was nine years old. So we have grown up together and we were playing in different bands. When we started out we were kids and now we are getting into our mid-life, our mid-life crisis type of thing happening [laughs]. You know the more you do, the better you get, hopefully!
LM: How did the “Heartagram” logo, so heavily associated with the band, come to be?
VV: Let's see. I am turning 30, so it was like, about nine years and seven months ago when I turned twenty. I always draw things, so I was drawing and waiting for the rest of the guys to come to my apartment with kegs of beer and getting ready to start celebrating me turning into a man, so closer to one, and I just drew it down. I have always loved Led Zeppelin, their four symbols on their fourth album and Rob Zombie and White Zombie's visuals and stuff like that. I always wanted to make a symbol for our band, and then we got it.
LM: You have had a slow build in the United States. As you have toured the U.S. for the past few years, how has touring changed you?
VV: Well to be brutally frank, touring in the States is a pain in the ass every now and then because the travel is really, really heavy, especially on this tour. We just flew in from Seattle, tomorrow we are flying to New Orleans, so it is like zig zag, zig zag, zig zag. The distances are so long compared to Europe. Europe is a lot easier. It is like maybe 200 miles a night. You have a bit more time to hang out and sleep better and stuff like that. This is heavy duty traveling all the time. With Dark Light being the first album properly released here, we have been doing some press for it and it's being played on the radio now, thank God. Of course it has changed the vibe. A lot more people know who we are.
LM: What was the biggest challenge in making Dark Light?
VV: In making an album, there are always a lot of little tiny challenges. On Dark Light, I think that the biggest challenge was to try and sing the background vocals while they were shooting a Playboy video at the same spot where we were recording. It was pretty hard because all we could see was naked ladies running about so it was really hard to concentrate.
LM: Understandably! How long did it take to write the album?
VV: I write constantly, so it may take two months to record and a month to mix it. I write all the time, so maybe four years. I usually write a lot of stuff that is not necessarily ready and we start working on it later on. We are not one of those bands that would go into a pre-production stage and write everything there. A lot of American bands, for example, do it.
LM: What is the typical song-writing process for HIM?
VV: I have a hangover and sit down on my bed, I have an acoustic guitar and start strumming and pretending that I am Neil Young. Then we put on the distortion pedals and we rape the song. That's what we do!
LM: How many songs will you normally write in preparation for an album?
VV: Only the good ones. I hate songwriters that write 100 songs for an album and pick up the 10 best, because it is a fucking waste of time. We try and write the stuff that feels really good and we are sure that we want to record it. So if there are 12 tracks on an album, maybe 14 all together.
LM: After listening to HIM, what do you want people to walk away with?
VV: Walk away with the understanding that all roads lead to Black Sabbath in the realm of rock n' roll.
LM: For those how haven't seen HIM live, how would you describe it?
VV: Umm ... We are like a very miserable version of the Backstreet Boys.
LM: You used to do a cover of the Backstreet Boys.
VV: Back in the day we did, yeah. Actually we played "Larger Than Life" at a couple of festivals. We wanted to piss off some goth fans. It was pretty funny to see guys like that know the chorus and be singing and dancing along to it.
LM: What are some of your favorite songs to play live?
VV: Well that is the good thing about being in this band. It differs from day to day because at some places people prefer some songs and when you are playing live it is supposed to be an interaction thing happening between the crowd and the band. So it keeps on changing everyday. That is the only reason to do it or it would be boring.
LM: Do you get a different energy from playing a small club versus a bigger venue?
VV: Well you know, thank God, we use so many strobe lights and heavy lights that I can't see shit nowadays anyway, so it doesn't really matter. I just see the three first rows.
LM: Your music translates very well acoustically. Any plans for a possible future acoustic release?
VV: No, well, no. Umm. Fucking hell, no. I think that there are so many good acts doing great acoustic stuff now and our forte is doing what we do, so not necessarily. Maybe we will incorporate a bit more of acoustic sections in our music in the future, but no, it would be boring. I hated the "Unplugged" series.
LM: Have you started working on your next album?
VV: Yeah. We have about eight songs that I am working on at the particular moment.
LM: So you have been writing while on the road?
VV: Yeah, I carry my guitar with me, so I try to read and write and do everything as much as possible.
LM: What does the future hold for HIM as a band? I have heard that you have contemplated some solo work in the future.
VV: Well, no, no no. I have a few more Pink Floyd-ish things that I have been writing in the past, but we will probably incorporate that into HIM's music, as well. Because at the end of the day when I start writing a song, it always ends up being on our album.
LM: What do you think about the state of rock music today?
VV: I think that the state of rock music is really good. I think there are a lot of good bands that we have had the pleasure of touring with, like a band from Seattle called Aiden on this tour and they're great. Kill Hannah's new album is really good. The Strokes new album is really good, the latest one. I think that there is a lot of good happening, but people think that rock is dead. But it has never went away.
LM: You guys have been on the road for a while now, and toured relentlessly. How has life on the road affected you and your music?
VV: The more you tour, the more liberating it becomes. You don't think about the technical aspect of it anymore. You just have fun. It is a bit more loose, and the hangovers are worse. That is what it does to you! [laughs]
LM: Any stories from your life on the road that you might want to share?
VV: Plenty, but most of it is very X-rated. [laughs] You know, the normal stuff, just watch Spinal Tap and it has all happened to everybody who has played in a rock band and been touring.
LM: Have you ever had any "Spinal Tap" moments onstage?
VV: We, you know, I am always losing myself. I never do soundchecks, so I never know where the stage is, so I always keep on fucking that up. I always walk in the wrong direction. We've had most of it. We never had the cocoons where our bass player couldn't get out and we never had Stonehenge. The rest is very close. [laughs]
LM: What was the first album that you bought?
VV: The year was '84 or '85 it was Animalize by KISS. I still have the vinyl.
LM: What about the last album you bought?
VV: The She Wants Revenge album.
LM: Aside from that, what else are you listening to?
VV: I am listening to Killing Joke and Kill Hannah and everything that starts with a "Kill." I don't listen to a lot of music. I think that nowadays the best music is books. So I am reading a lot of Chuck Palahniuk. I think that is more inspiring than listening to a lot of rock bands or pop bands or whatever. And Damian Marley.
LM: And finally, when do you think Chinese Democracy will be released?
VV: You know, hopefully never. I haven't heard the songs that leaked onto the Internet, but somebody told me that they were shit. I think that they should either do a reunion or you should call it a day.
LM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
VV: Ummm ... No! [laughs]