Dark Messiah or False Prophet?
When I wasn't drinking, I used to drink 20 cups of coffee a day. You didn't know that I used to not drink? Well, when I was about 13-years-old, I got drunk for the first time at a friend's party. I drank wine and stole whatever I could from my dad's cabinet. Everyone has that one drink they can no longer drink, and mine's gin- it just makes me want to puke cos I got so drunk on it that one time.
My dad used to drink the occasional whiskey, and my parents have told me that once when I was a very young – maybe 2 or 3-years-old- I was in the bath and my parents were hanging out chatting. I looked up and asked what he was drinking, and he said “This isn’t for kids”. So obviously I said I wanted to taste it. Thinking that it would put me off forever, they let me have a sip. Apparently I drained the glass in one go and absolutely liked it. That was the start of my downfall.
So I’m sitting here with a beer, and I honestly can’t wait for this holiday to end so I can start working again- it keeps me in better shape. It’s good to concentrate on something constantly? So when I don’t, I end up not doing anything at all. I wake up and watch a movie, maybe cook a little bit, drink a couple of cups of coffee, two cans of Redbull, smoke like a chimney and just hang out with friends. I’ve been away from Europe for such a long time – four months- doing the “Dark Light” record that it was weird when I came back here. For the first two days, I started drinking at eight o’clock in the morning because of the time difference (LA is 11 hours behind Finland – world time ed) which was really weird. But one of the good things about being in a rock band is that things like that don’t really matter. It’s like when we tour. We usually play about 5 gigs on a row and then have a day off. So the night of the 5th show is always the party night, which is effectively our Friday. But then we have a lack of Sunday ‘cos we start playing gigs again. And our Sunday could be on a Wednesday so it totally fucks us up. When we have a day off our bodies get all jittery at about stage time- it’s not only in regular jobs that your body gets used to a routine – so to distract ourselves we tend to drink a few beers. The downtown jitters are a large part of why lots of people get drawn into doing drugs whilst they’re on the road, just to fill time.
And, of course, on holiday I smoke a lot too. I think it’s pretty weird that I’ve become so well known for smoking. I don’t know why that is when lots of other people also smoke – but then I guess a lot of people don’t smoke on stage. But now it’s just something I’m used to doing when I’m up there. Not as something to learn on, or as a gimmick, but to better my performance.
I’ve had a few concerned parents complain about my smoking, but they can fuck off. I grew up watching Humphrey Bogart films and stuff like that, and cigarettes were always very important in those films for their symbolic value…er, whatever that may have been. They made people look cool, and those people were usually the bad guys too. Smoking also smells good.., and kissing is better when you smoke. Don’t believe what they say, it’s all bullshit. I don’t worry that it’s doing me damage, ‘cos loads of other things are too. My lungs are still ok though and my pecker still works fine so I don’t have any problems. My doctor says that smoking isn’t good for my voice, but I consider it quite the contrary because it roughens it up. I’ve not got a bland voice, but it’s too sweet. Basically what I’m doing is the equivalent of people switching string on their guitar to give themselves a heavier sound. My instrument are my vocal chords, so if I want to rough them up to sing a ballad, I’ll smoke a cigarette or sink a little Jack Daniel’s to make the baritone a bit deeper. So, I’m using my instrument, and it’s all analogue which is pretty good. Look at Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits or mark Lanegan, they couldn’t have sounded like that without smoking 60 Marllboros a day. It’s very important, but you have to know when to stop if it’s going to become damaging, what with my asthma and everything. But the asthma and smoking is where I get that intake of breath noise while I’m singing. So that’s part of my sound too. Those things didn’t consciously become part of my sound, but I’ve always noticed it and I’ve always loved grumpy male voices. I’ve got a pretty low voice so it’s not good if it’s too plain or boy choiry.
On the new album there’s a song called “drunk on Shadows” and I sound like a drunken sailor on it and that’s the whole idea. Especially nowadays with all the studio gadgets, ‘cos it’s easy to kill the performance which is something we try to avoid.
With the new album we didn’t care how the songs would come across live, because that restricts the writing and recording process – you can always work out later how to do it live. That’s what I like about Sabbath, in that they were unsophisticated live but on a record they sounded huge.
You’ve also got two more senses when watching bands – the smell and the visual aspect of the show. It’s a fine line though. I like that we’re not using backing tracks for anything live, ‘cos even though it sounds really good, it’s also super-restrictive. I like it when shit happens on stage, that’s rock’n’roll. It’s supposed to be chaotic, and unexpected things are meant to happen. That’s how Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and the Doors were. You’ve got to fuck up, you’ve got to find your limits – what’s too little and what’s too much. You have to go over the top every now and again and not thinking about it consciously.
Writing stuff down to say in-between songs, that’s blasphemy. Bands that do that are pissing all over rock’n’roll. Bands using backing tapes, saying the same jokes, having stylists and make-up artists backstage – I just don’t get it. Rock’n’roll is supposed to be dirty, coincidental, weird and different. Hopefully that’s how we play.
Shit gigs are as important as good gigs, but I was fucking embarrassed after NY gig when I got too drunk and all the tabloids there ran headlines like “Ville Valo Fucked Up NY Show” in big fucking letters. But then I just had to laugh about it.
The pressure was huge at that show, especially after being away from home for so long. But you have to learn your limits and you only do that by making mistakes. Unfortunately, that’s the only gig of ours that people have been talking about.
The New York Times carried a horrible review, that said we were the shittest band ever, and how dare we to fly across the Atlantic to just drink our heads of. But the other people loved it. Dave Windorf from Monster Magnet told me that it was the most rock’n’roll show he’d seen in ages, so there’s always opposites. I don’t want us to become this one trick pony though, when I get drunk and fuck up every night. But every now and again the Baudelaire living in me gets a little crazy.
I didn’t plan to go out there drunk and fuck up, I just fell over. I was in such a drunken stupor that I was getting into it. I went down on my back and sang from there. It’s a Jim Morrison trick but I enjoyed it, and the band were just laughing at me as they played. I know now that I can’t party ‘till 6 am the night before the show, and then start the day with hair of the dog and think, that I can make it. Especially now our sets are longer, and we’re playing new countries where we have to prove ourselves every night. But it’s good to fuck up, so that next time I’m getting close to it I can see it coming and pull back.
I’m going to ask Mige about it. Mige, how did you feel about my NY performance?
“Oh that gig. I’ve experienced that sort of thing before from playing under the influence myself, and I guess it kind of took my breath away a bit. But I didn’t see why everyone made such a big deal out of it. Of course you were really over the top, but it’s a part of the natural development of a rock band to have these incident. It would be pretty boring and predictable if we were a tea-drinking band. But that incident got great headlines, so I think it was a milestone for us.”
If you’d have fucked up like I did?
“I’d have been fired!” Nah it would have been cool. I would just have been like, “What the fuck’s going on?!” Actually you did it in Italy.
“When somebody passed a joint? I didn’t realise what kind of joint it was, so I lit it up and it was so strong that I took a few drags and it all went dark. For the last couple of songs I had no idea.” And then we went backstage and passed out straight away.
“I didn’t get fired then though, so I guess if I’d have done it in NY it would’ve been fine too. If people want to go and see something perfect then they can watch a ballet. I’m sure no one’s drunk there. Rock’s about being unpredictable as I said – not that I’m encouraging you to do it again.”
“The best gig I saw”, adds Gas, who appears to have finally woken up, “was that [Finnish] punk band Plastic Tears when the singer fired the drummer and guitar player on stage. That was funny!”
You did get fired once on stage actually Mige. “Cos I took over on bass.”
“Oh yeah you did alright too. That’s a secret that you’ve managed to keep our of the press all this time though, that you’re good on bass.”
I think I only did it the once though in the 90’s, somewhere in Finland. I only lasted two and a half minutes.
There’s been a lot of stuff in English speaking press about HIM being “my” band and the others just being paid musicians, but we are a band of brothers on a single musical course.
When we write songs, I go in with a riff and a melody in my head and we work from there. We discuss what we should do, and by the time everyone’s smiling, we know we’re getting there.
How do you feel about the fact I’m writing most of the stuff? I ask Gas and Mige. I know you Gas are a really strong songwriter, but this has always been the way with us.
“I’m not sure if I could write a HIM song”, says Gas. “And I’ve always liked your work from day one [ok, I paid him to say that]. I was a fan of the first album so I don’t think I should go there and try to mix shit up.”
So you don’t write for the sake of it. Just to be a part of our band?
“Yeah”, he says.
Do you feel you shouldn’t collaborate? I ask Mige.
“I feel like I do collaborate”, he says. "But the problem with you and me is that you’re really quick and I’m really slow. So you have many ideas, but it takes me a long time to absorb ideas. So for the last 15 years I’ve been pretty busy with the ideas that you have had anyway”.
Maybe I’ll get a little slower…
“Yeah maybe, when death comes. But I don’t consider it a problem and I don’t think you do either”.
Have there been times I’ve made decisions that the band didn’t like? What about it guys? Apart from you Gas- you didn’t like Deep Shadows…
“The only thing I didn’t like on that album was the production”, says Gas. “Cos I thought it was too poppy. I think it could’ve been mixed in a different way.”
That situation wasn’t good though ‘cos you came into the band after we’d worked on those songs for a long time. And to hear you talk shit about our songs wasn’t nice. We had a big fight about it and then sorted it out.
“Yeah we did”.
I guess it’s obvious we’re cool about it though cos we are all here sitting in the same bar.
I’m not here to write songs to please you though, but to please me first, I say to Gas and Mige. And hopefully you’ll like them and we can find a way to play them that we can all put our hearts and souls into. It’s like I make a skeleton, and then we all put the organs and muscles and see what we’ve created. Especially on “Dark Light”, the arrangements had such an impact on the riffs and the ideas.
“I’m more interested in taking ideas further than coming up with them though”, says Mige. “I’m not comfortable telling people what to do really”.
So we’re all looking forward and I think “Dark Light” is a fantastic album and we had a great time doing it. But records are never done, because you re-do them every night on stage. Things and moods change. I want to get back on the road, not tomorrow, but I’m happy it’s going to happen soon and that’s great for me mentally ‘cos we’ve not been on the road for a long time. Right now, the stars are aligned with the mood of the band. We’re in the best position ever. To have 5 people thinking as 1 is something rare, you can’t buy it with monet, or achieve it with girlfriends, rest or whatever. Well, maybe it’s 4 people thinking as one. Gas is somewhere else entirely.
We are in a head space where we are smiling to each other on stage. We’re having a great time. I think that that kind of positive energy though playing gloomy songs is cool, ‘cos it’s something very few people do. And the longer we’re together, the better it gets. Now, it’s a lot more about the songwriting and the stream of collective consciousness, and less about the technical aspect of playing, which I find really liberating. So I’m looking forward to the next tour. Hopefully nothing bad is going to happen and everyone will still have their heads together because the vibe is really great right now. Saying that, if it all goes to shit tomorrow, our album doesn’t sell and we end up playing to 200 people a night again, I’d be cool with that. ‘Cos I like playing the barfly as much as playing Hammersmith Apollo. It would be a disappointment, but you’ve got to be able to go down, to appreciate the shit, to come back up. The shit is more important than the good.
This is even truer now because this new album is very important for us as far as America goes. But if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t. That said, I have an itch somewhere inside my brain that makes me very confident that this album will do something big for us. We’ll just have to wait and see…
THE PUBLIC’S PERCEPTION VS. THE TRUTH : 5 things the public think about Ville Valo, that aren’t quite true…
Valo is a millionaire.
“I’ve not yet become a millionaire although I would be if we still had Finnish Marks, ‘cos you get 6 of those for every Euro. Ever since my first publishing money I’ve put it all back into my music. My luxury is to buy a new guitar that inspires me to write more music, and then maybe those new songs will get me another guitar, or into a place where I feel comfortable to write new stuff. New surroundings make me much more creative.
Valo is a control freak.
"I guess people looking in on my world might view me as a control freak, but I’m only a controlling person when it comes to music, and then only every now and again. I’ve also learnt to let go of control occasionally, because it’s important to be able to let go but still be able to see what’s going on in front of your eyes. To decipher the chaos".
Valo being in love will ruin HIM’s songs.
"Will being in love with my sweetheart affect my lyrical approach as my old lyrics were based on heartbreak? No. It’s also now very heartbreaking going on tour, and I can’t stop myself from falling in love just to make my band like it was. It would also be ridiculous of me to claim that I was single just to get the aura of a rock’n’roll hedonist. I am still a sexual deviant, just in a proper relationship".
Valo will move to LA if HIM become big.
"The reason I love Finland is that no one really cares, even if we get to the size of Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’ll get asked to sign an autograph every now and again, or have odd chats with people, but that’s really nice. But I guess we’ll see what happens, if we have a record that sells something huge like 150 million albums then of course it will change things, but Helsinki always keeps my head together, and I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else right now".
Valo will never play Download again.
!I was quite happy playing at Download, even though people threw stuff at us. And I thought I dodged well. We practice for that, by having our girlfriend throw plates at us. But rowdy crowds throwing stuff is at least one way of them showing their appreciation, ‘cos at least they noticed us. It’s always good if people don’t like us, and I think we handled the situation well. We didn’t run off with out tails between our legs back to mama after the gig, or cut our set short".
SATAN LIVES HERE NO LONGER
Apparently, we all got it wrong. The number of the beast was never 666. Gulp!
“A fragment from the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament, dating to the 3rd century, has been discovered to give the more mundane 616 as the mark of the Antichrist”, explains Valo. “Now I find this very interesting. We’ve already changed “Your Sweet 666” every time we do it live. We want to be biblically right, so it’s got to be 616 from now on. It’ll be interesting to see what – or indeed if- it’s going to affect other bands too, especially black metal bands. Here’s a few things to illustrate my point, but there’s many others.”
“6,1,6, the number of the beeeeeeeeaaast!”
"If he was still alive, he’d have to identify with the Great Beast 616".
“If you’re 5,5,5/ Then I’m 6,1,6.”
CRADLE OF FILTH
“Fraternally Your 616”
“Receive the mark from Styx/ The symbol is 616”