METAL HAMMER, 2003
Finland's biggest export since pony trekking, glam-tinged goth metallers HIM are huge in Europe and intend to break the UK this year. No business like snowbusiness: Martin Carlsson. Ice ice baby: Michael Johanssson.
"I always wanted to experience a see-through Jesus. Now I did. I saw through
Ville Valo has taken command of the Snow Castle in Kemi, Finland, a hotel carved out out ice, replete with ice statues of biblical characters. For the past three hours, the HIM vocalist has been posing for pictures inside this man-made glacier. Built entirely of snow, the Snow Castle has been a major tourist attractions for the past eight years. Kemi is a quaint little town located on the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia in Lapland in northern Finland. Here you can explore the exotic winter landscape in a side drawn by huskies or take a trip on Sampo, the world's only tourist icebreaker.
The original plan was to bring Ville to the world-famous ice hotel in Jukkasj?rvi in Sweden, where the legendary Absolut vodka commercial with Naomi Cambell was shot. Things don't always work out as planned and the cherubic-faced singer was deemed persona not grata - because of his Satanic beliefs!
"I've never believed in God. I'm a Pagan, I was never baptized. I 'm truly the evil one and follow in the footsteps of King Diamond rather than P.O.D." he jokes. "We have been accused of being Satanist, but that was a while back. When we started out we were called His Infernal Majesty We wanted that sort of corny satanic name in the vein of Black Sabbath. I actually nicked it from a Deicide song 'The Sacrificial Suicide' from their first album. I used to be a big fan of Deicide, Carcass and Napalm Death. I love death and black metal."
The Snow Chapel, located inside the massive castle, Ecumenical, meaning it welcomes followers of any religion - even misunderstood 'Satanists'. As Ville takes the role of a minister in the pulpit, the chapel is filled with the sound of Gregorian monks covering the likes of Phil Collins' 'The Air Tonight', Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway To Heaven' and Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here'. In between bursts of laughter, he screams 'blasphemy!' Ironically, last year some German Gregorian monks covered HIM's 'Join Me', a smash hit in its own right topping the national singles chart in Germany.
'I wasn't really sure whether to cry or laugh. When I heard it I definitely laughed, it was a very sentimental version. It was nice to have religiously atmospheric monks singing 'Join Me In Death', because it was considered a very unhealthy song for teenagers in Finland and Germany. A couple of people blamed me for a suicide someone committed over here saying that 'Join Me' is an invitation to kill yourself. What I was trying to do was sort of rip-off 'Don't Fear The Reaper' by Blue ?yster Cult making a rock track of Romeo And Juliet.'
At the Snow Castle's restaurant, you can feast on local specialties such as saut?ed reindeer with mashed potatoes, pickled cucumber and loganberries, then order Lappish baked cheese with cream with cream and cloudberries for desert. Seeing that we're freezing our asses off, the Hammer crew settle for Stroh rum and hot chocolate, while Ville sooths his throat with Finlandia vodka mixed with hot water. The notion of sleeping at the Mammat Snow Hotel is not appealing since the temperature indoors is a measly minus five degrees Celsius. Brrrr. That doesn't stop wealthy tourists from all over the globe following the clothing recommendations 'for a good night's sleep': a ski cap or hat, socks and a long overall.
Only for fools or vain men desperate to impress a women.
As we leave the Snow Castle and return to the comfort of a hotel built of solid concrete, Ville quips:
"When I'm alone at my place, it'll be cool to talk to myself about the fact that I've just been photographed in front of an icy Jesus. It's a nice story for myself, a turn-on."
HIM is Finland's biggest rock export ever, selling two million copies of their
four albums to date in mainland Europe alone. '00's monumental 'Razorblade Romance'
can be found in a whopping 700,000 German homes. As far as the UK goes, well,
HIM are nothing. Upon its release, said record sold 194 copies in Ireland. 12
months later the count wasЕ 198! "There are loads of bands from America
who are big over there and don't wanna start over in Europe. There's one grungy
band with an album called 'Human Clay' that I've heard bad stories about. I
don't know if they're true, but they're doing so well back home that they don't
wanna bother coming over [True, it's Creed - Ed]. That's quite the opposite
with us. I wanna fight and it's so cool to play huge halls in Germany and then
play Nottingham Rock City downstairs. Last time there were 15 people and maybe
some dogs. But it'd asses were kissed by everyone in the entire world. The UK
is a cool place and it's important for me personally in a way, because the whole
reason we started this band is Black Sabbath. It was beautiful playing in Birmingham
for the first time last year. A sentimental value."
The group's fifth full-length disc 'Love Metal' could turn things around for them. Less polished than its predecessor, '01's 'Deep Shadows And Brilliant Highlights', it opts for a more adventurous approach blending fuzzy Queens Of The Stone Age - style guitars with the Finn's patented melodic goth rock.
"'Love Metal' - what a contradiction," says Ville of the topical matters. "We wanna bring love forth. Compared to Satan, politics and swords and dragons, love is a tougher thing. It's a lot more violent, physically and psychologically. I've never understood what's bad talking about love. There's loads of bad things about love, it's the reason why there are wars, you know the love for Gods. It's all about love, it's where it all starts, obsessive love towards lots of little things. I'm writing about the essence of things and the rest and just writing about bullshit. "
"Singing about love doesn't mean we must be a soft and mushy teeny pop band. It's not about that. I know that I'm simple and obvious when it comes to writing lyrics, but what's wrong about that? After Mercyful Fate's 'Black Funeral' or Black Sabbath 'Black Sabbath' there's no way of writing about Satan any more. There are so many good albums about fucking and doing drugs, but there aren't many good hard rock albums dealing with the subject of love on a level of some intelligence. I'm not saying we're a thinking man's band. We all know men think with their dicks, but my dick's different! "
"Let's not get into that! There'll be a time."
As a matter of fact, a German lifestyle magazine approached the frontman about posing in the nude. Finns are not known for their sense of humor, but Ville Valo (whose surname means 'light') is funny as hell. The proposition was declined, but as he smirks: "We're trying to do really big festival gigs so that I can make some money and do a proper penis enlargement in Estonia to be able to be on the centerfold of Playgirl like Pete Steele! I'm not ready for it yet, but after surgery it's gonna be fine."
Having spent three days in Finland with Ville, it's obvious that he's not just a regular celebrity. In a country where high-profile rock artists are as exotic as reindeers in England, Ville Valo is viewed as an icon. Where ever we go - bars, airports, walking the streets - he's approached by tons of people of all ages. But the idol finds time for everyone.
"Loads of people in my situation start getting paranoid: "Oh, my god, is that person looking at me because I'm whomever? Who the fuck cares? Everybody watches everybody, people are nice to look at. I haven't had any problems with that. Why? I've got high moral standards and I'm pretty good at separating right form wrong. Life's been treating me good. If somebody's got a problem because I'm being me they can fuck off. I'm not a good fighter, but I know heavy - duty boys that can always help me out."
Only once have things taken an ugly turn, when his face was plastered all over a national Finnish tabloid.
"The fucking headline said: "Ville Valo - I tried to commit suicide". I didn't. We were completely fucking wasted on tour in German and I was hanging outside a balcony on the tenth floor of a hotel. That's not trying to commit suicide, that's being a drunken idiot. My daddy and my mama didn't like the story, that's the only sad part of it."
Truth be told, HIM's main man (the other members don't like to appear in public and don't contribute to the songwriting) is not the healthiest of men. The 26 years-old is the true definition of a chain - smoker, rarely seen without a fag in his mouth.
"I've got a death wish, definitely," he admits. ""Some journalists have blamed us of being a gothic rock band, so I thought that I'm gonna have black lungs as well! Being in a really silly condition to be part of that sill way of life. But I'm not wearing black any more and I've been trying to cut down on cigarettes as well. I'm a nervous person and a psychologist and me have been talking about the fact that for men, having a cigarette is the same sort of sensation as your mama breastfeeding you."
"I feel that by smoking cigarettes I'm close to my mama all the time." Figure into the equation that Ville is an asthmatic and always carries his cortisone spray everywhere he goes."
How can you physically get away with smoking this much, being an asthmatic?
"I must be miracle. I'm the one exception which makes the rules. It's good for the vocal sound. My idol is Mark Lanegan, so I try to achieve that sound by doing whatever: drink loads of whiskey and smoke loads of cigarettes. Not really, it's just a habit I've had since I was a kid. For me it's better than smoking weed, it's not as bad for the lungs."
"At one point I was smoking four packs a day, but then I ended up being hospitalized for several weeks. Funny, different coloured tubes were going into my body in various weird locations. So I had to cut down a bit. It's been okay so far, I'm still young and I used to do loads of judo and skateboarding when I was a kid. I'm not in good health, but I look better than I am."
For breakfast, the vocalist will have a pint of large or two with ice cubes ("I like my large ice-cold and the ice cubes make the bubbles go away so I don't burp that much"), lunch is not part of his vocabulary and at best he'll have a late - night meal, more often than not consisting of a cold microwave pizza.
"I'm not eating and I'm drinking a lot. I think some people are built for it. Lemmy is built: fro speed and I'm still young and trying to figure out if I'm built for bad booze, cigarettes and all that. What the heck, I should be able to enjoy the fruits of our labour."
Paradoxically, Ville refers to himself as 'Prozac happy', even though he's never been on antidepressants. "The doctor said I should take it, because I've been physically sick for a long time. I've had loads of flu and infections in my lungs and when we did 'Love Metal'. I felt dizzy for months. I thought I had a fucking brain tumour, but the doctor said I'm over-stressed and burned out, I drink too much and smoke too much and I'm a bad boy. He said the only way to go is to have some pills that stabilize your mind and I said "fuck that!" that would just restrict myself. I'm happier being the lunatic I am rather than a boring twat. "
Last year, Ville's girlfriend of five years moved out of their apartment in
Helsinki, the capitol of Finland. The perpetual romantic doesn't know how to
define their relationship. He's not single, because his heart belongs to this
woman, nor is he in a steady relationship.
"I love her, but she's not ready, willing and able to wait for me," he sighs. "I'm not talking about sexual things, I'm talking about me being on tour a lot. She's never understood the fact that I'm very bad with buying roses or Valentine's day cards. For me it's a lot easier writing a song, but she's not really happy because all of our songs are miserable. I can understand her completely."
Do you separate love and sex?
"Not yet. I've never had casual sex, ever. I've always been dating the girls I've done physical things with. I like knowing the person and them knowing me. Especially now, it wouldn't be a nice thing if somebody would consider sleeping with me because I'm in a rock band. That's not for me I've always been monogamous. The reason why I smoke so many cigarettes is because I wanna get so band erections that I by mistake don't any groupies on tour!"