HIM's Ville Valo is everything a rock star should be, reckons James Jam. He travels to Italy and meets the man himself, as well as thousands of fans who agree.
"I want to see the moulds", says HIM singer VV, wagging his finger and raising his beer to his lips. "It's important to me that it's the right shape. I want it to be a quality product. I'm thinking latex".
We're sat in a Milan hotel bar, a nd V is flanked by representatives from the band's US based merchandise company. they're laden with two suitcases stuffed to the brim with Heartagram adorned samples, multiple ring binders of intricately sketched designs for V to peruse, critique and approve. HIM apparel is big business, a nd the merchandise folk inform Hammer that only rock titans Led Zeppelin shift more garb for them than the Finnish love metallers. These are positions they expect to reverse as this year becomes the next. To add to this big business, they're adding an even bigger business - sex. In this case, as V himself puts it - "a big fucking HIM dildo"
"I think it would be a big seller for us", says the nice lady from the merchandise company.
"Jane's Addiction tried to launch a love aid set, but it never took off", adds the nice man from the merchandise company. "But with HIM I think it just might work."
Will it be modelled on your knob, Ville?
The singer cackles at the use of the word knob.
"Man", he says, as if this were the most natural thing in the world, "why not?"
Today HIM have a day off segued into their schedule of Italian live dates and promotional commitments. Earlier Hammer took a stroll through the city to be greeted with the sight of V gracing the cover of nigh on every music and lifestyle magazine in the racks, while in and around the perimeters of the hotel, hordes of pasty faced HIM acolytes mill around waiting to catch sight of their heroes. The arrival of HIM in Milan is a big splash, and heavy anticipation surrounds the band's appearance tomorrow night at the city's Alcatraz venue. V is recognised some 20 times in the frist hour we spend in his company, before drummer Gas, gitarist Linde and keyboard player Burton (bassist Mige is in bed with an upset stomach - "I shit my bed", he tells us later) join us to embark on a quest to find a bar that servse draught ale.
He's on his 5th beer.
It is 6 p.m.
You're lucky to have VV. Really you are. In a metal scene filled with say - nothing dullards and oafish trolls, the HIM singer casts a lone shadow. He's charming (every single female member of the band's entourage we meet seems besotted with him ina way that defies any conventional employer/ employee relationship), he's courteous (he lends Hammer his beloved suede pocketed pullover for the entirety of our stay in Milan after expressing horror that we've been too stupid to pack a coat), he's funny (his anecdotes regarding showbiz chum-cum-champion Jackass chump Bam Margera are hilarious in the same way palm over your eyes footage of dogs running into patio windows are funny). What's more, interview time with the singer is an absolute treat, a bout of verbal sparring and mischievous word play. He's a glamorous contradiction. He describes himself as something approaching a hippy - "Like [Pink Floyd's] David Gilmour without the money", - while also telling us that he's due a court appearance for beating up his next door neighbour. Valo epitomises what a rock star should be. Charming, funny, opinionated, smart. Especially after a beer.
It's 8 p.m.
V is on his 9th.
"I've quit drugs", he slurs, dragging Hammer into the corner of the Irish bar we've found. "So should everybody. They're bad for me. They've stopped being enhancing. They fuck around with your serotonin levels and they make you something that you weren't in the womb." He takes a swig of his beer with a conviction that leaves us unsure whether he's being serious or not.
"We are what we are", he continues, on the sheerest of tangents.
"There aren't any misconceptions of what HIM are. There is only bad humour and bad writing". He chuckles and glares. "I am what I am". So, for that matter, is Popeye. But in the case of VV, we disagree. There are many preconceptions about this man.
There are those who say HIM's astronomical success is largely down to the fact that he's a pretty boy.And a pretty boy who will shed his shirt at the flicker of a camera lens at that. Then there are those who'd say his pouting, kohl-framed eyes, his toned, skinart-peppered torso, and his free flowing Samsonesque locks can be attributed to the succession of (mostly female) teens buying his bands' records by the bucket load.
Would you say you were a vain person, Ville?
"I'm not vain", he snorts. "I'm determined. I don't want to go out if I have a bit of snot hanging from my nose or a big pimple on my forehead. I just like looking good, that's all." He smiles. "I've been under so much stress recently, so much work and all that, that i don't think my pecker will ever work again. It's as limp as Fred Durst. What I'm here for is to make some music, and we're doing pretty well at doing just that."
But do you think you'd sell as many records as you do if you weren't the attractive man you undoubtedly are?
"I've never thought I'm handsome", he states. "I'm like a frog waiting to be kissed. But my daddy is a fucking verbal acrobat and I've definitely inherited that. Talking is fantastic."
Bravo. You've skirted around the question there.
Ville raises his pint glass and smiles.
"What was the question again?"
That if you were ugly, and fat, do you think you'd be as populat as you are?
The singer thinks, for an age. "Ask me again in 3 years. That might be the trend then." He laughs. He points at Hammer's threadbare scalp. "You might have your chance then"..
Why do you think your band is so polpular?
"Because we're honest in what we do. We've been touring all around the world for the last 10 years. In England I remember playing the Fleece And Firkin [in Bristol] in front of 30 people and no one cared. Except for us that is - we always cared. We're school friends who stuck at it, and that's what has led us to this point".
That doesn't wash. There are loads and loads of bands that tour constantly. Some more than you. That can't just be it. People get your logo tattoed on their skin? Why do you think they make that investment?
Ville pouts. " I don't think anyone is as iconic as I am right now. We give people something to think about."
Have another read of that statement. And you don't think you're vain?!
"But people don't see me in my underwears, sat on the end of my bed, playing acoustic guitar, writing a song," he says, in his own defence. "What's important is the melody. That the song I write gets someone's ears. That's not vain."
You've avoided the question again.
Ville raises his hands to his face in mock horror. He lets out a faux shriek.
"You're bullying me!"
And on we go. We put it to Ville that we think HIM are so popular because they give people something to believe in. Bands shouldn't look like your mates. Bands should look glamorous, and clever, and -yes, even - iconic. They should be distructions from reality, something to hang your hopes on and take you away from the drudge for as long as you want them to. Bands should delute the very notion of the norm. Ville is many things, but he's far from being teh norm. The frontman smiles a wry smile. "Everyone in the band has something to offer. It's just I've got the voice. I do interviews because I'm intelligent and have something to say. Gas doesn't do the interviews because all he talks about is ice-hokey. Other bands don't have the spiritual and moralistic talents that we have. I wanted to be in a band because I have the same passion that Frodo had in Lord of the Rings. I want to put that ring somewhere. I want to create a body of work. I want to create a great body of work. I want to do things right." The singer pauses. "You're still being hard on me!" He points to the cardigan adorning Hammer's frame. He laughs. "I want that back please.."
To many people, HIM is VV. Outside of yourself, the members of HIM are pretty anonymous...
"No, they're not," says Ville, "This couldn't happen without them."
But what would happen if one of them left?
"Don't say that."
But what if?
"I'd er..I'd er..I'd audition for Cradle of Filth".
He pauses, theatrically.
"I'l say it again. this couldn't happen without them. We're friends. We're all on the same mission". He smirks. "Have you seen us live? We're fucking great."
You obviously have a lot of belief in HIM. Do you think you're the best band in the world?
The singer snaps immidiately. "No. We're not as good as Black Sabbath".
Do you think you're a good band?
Do you think you're a great band?
Ville pauses. He chuckles. "We're getting there".
With that we leave the world's most iconic man to stagger off to the bar, to harass Hammer photographer Naki for a go of his camera, and to dismiss the very existence of Avenged Sevenfold with a tut and a shake of the head. It is 1 a.m. We've lost count of how many drinks VV has had. We amble back to the hotel and meet many, many people on the short walk back who'd passionately argue that HIM are a great band.
We'll meet many more tomorrow.
"Our tour manager believes in numerology," says bass player Burton ( ) as we hop aboard their people carrier taking the band from hotel to venue. "We have to go on stage on a number ending in an eight. Tonight we're going on stage at 9.08 p.m."
What happens if you need the toilet en ruote to the stage and miss you cue? Do you have to wait another 10 min?
"Yup,' says Ville. "But Linde takes with him a plastic cup to pee in it, in case that happens."
How long have you been doing this number thing?
"About a year," says Burton. "They're definitely better shows now than they were before."
What other pre-gig rituals do you have?
"Gas counts to 66," says Ville, "it's the number of his favorite [ice] hokey player [recently retired Pittsburgh Penguins centre Mario Lemieux]. I just drink and smoke. As much as I can."
Gas, sat next to Ville in the back of the van, says nothing. His eyes looks like a typewriter stuttering across a blank page. Are you nervous, Gas?
The people carrier turns the corner and all we can see is bootleg merchandise manned by Milano traders and thousands of fans, all wearing images of Ville on their chest, all perusing the wares ("Man, the merch people will be pissed off," laughs Ville. "This is Italy. The laws against this sort of thing are different here"). Rows and rows of stalls stretch half a mile up the road from the venue in all directions - dildos conspicuous by their absence - and as the van pulls towards Alcatraz's entrance, we see fans, young and old, swarn all over the people carrier like bees returning to their hive. The five members of HIM smile, utterly assured as their trajectory surges towards the summit of planet rock. "This is something, huh?" smiles Burton. For a moment, Hammer feels like we've hitched a ride with the Beatles.
HIM hit Alcatraz at 9.08 pm on the dot. Moments before hitting the stage, Linde takes a plastic cup out from his pocket, unzips his flies, and fills it full of piss. Then the stage door opens and Alcatraz goes fucking ballistic. HIM play for two hours. We'd say whether we thought they were any good or not, but frankly, we couldn't make out much above the screaming. There's a moment upon coming offstage where Ville looks at Hammer with a smirk that suggests he's a man who knows exactly who he is." I told you we were good," he says, ambling off to press flesh with an ever-growing throng of gathering fans.
We'd have to agree.
As he said previuosly, "he is what he is."