Finnish Radio Nova
Question: Tell me something about your childhood. Where did you spend it and what kind of time was it?
Ville: I remember the gas station in Oulunkyl?. My dad liked to fix his car, and I was about 3 or 4 or 5 when I was there with him and put nails in the exhaust pipe. My dad turned on the engine, and I was like 15 centimeters from the exhaust pipe, so itís just luck that I donít look like Hellraiserís Pinhead now.
I was born on November 22, 1976 at 8.28 in the morning. I donít remember which hospital it was, but I think we lived on Limingantie in Vallila for a few months, and then we moved to M?kitorpantie in Oulunkyl? where I lived until I was 17 and a half years old. I went to school there. I met Mige when I was like 8 or 9 and Linde during junior high. Just basic stuff. There were a lot of woods there then and great places to play in. We did normal things. We organized our own American football league and glued all kinds of ice hockey guards to our knees. Normal stuff. We lived in an apartment, and we had nice neighbors. We had dogs and a parrot called Jallu who unfortunately passed away a little while ago. I donít know what childhood consists ofóI guess just growing taller and learning new things and noticing that you have hair growing in your armpits.
Question: What is your first memory regarding music?
Ville: Well, itís hard to avoid hearing music. My first memory is that my dad drove a taxi, and he used to drive me to kindergarten and sometimes to school, and he always listened to Tuomari Nurmio and J.J. Cale and Emmylou Harris. Compilations that our familyís friend Jallu Ėwho was an Elvis impersonator and not to be confused with the parrot Ė made for him to listen to at work, a lot of country and western and then Cat Stevens and stuff like that. When my dad was running errands, I used to sit in the car and turn the volume up. My dadís taxi was my first introduction to music. We listened to a lot of music at home, but I just remember some songs like J.J. Caleís Carry On that I just heard on the radio.
Question: So what was life like there in Vallila?
Ville: Well, Vallila was just the first two month, so itís really hard to say what it was like. Probably just changing diapers and shitting. Oulunkyl? Ė itís a suburb in northern Helsinki Ė is a really pretty area and there is quite a lot of nature there. And we had pretty many animals. We hung outside during thunderstorms in the summer and made friends and enemies. Very basic stuff. I went to kindergarten and then to school where I was a kind of not very nice hell raiser and king of the hill type of character, but I was pretty good in everything besides Swedish.
Question: Itís really easy for you to sing in English and you basically speak English as well as you speak Finnish. When you were a kid, was the English language somehow part of your life? Have you learned it through music or something else?
Ville: I have always said that the little English I know I have learned from David Hasselhoff. We watched a lot of Knight Rider. And then BBCís Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett was awesome. Some TV shows. On the other hand, you have to remember that Ė if I considered myself to be a pretty musically talented person Ė language is music, itís chords and rhythms, and itís easy to remember them.
At school I remember that our teacher gave us an assignment to find out what else the word Ďnailí means other than Ďkynsií [finger nail] and the reward was one mark [= about 20 Euro cents]. I remember that I cheated and looked up in the dictionary that it also means Ďnaulaí [the kind of nail that you hammer into a wall]. I got the reward, and then I felt so bad that I went crying to my mother to ask her what I should do because I had cheated. She said I should apologize to the teacher and give her an apple. And so I did that. Then my soul was pure again. I have always been a good boy on the inside.
But you canít avoid English in Finland. We have a great culture in the sense that we donít dub foreign tv shows like in Germany for example where very few people speak really good English. Just because nothing is spoken in the original language. I was just talking with my mom on motherís day about how when I went to see Walt Disney movies in the movie theater when I was little, the mothers used to read the subtitles to their kids. Even Bambi and those movies werenít dubbed in Finnish. Even a lot of childrenís culture was in English, which was both good and bad, but at least you learned the language that way.
Question: What were the artists and bands that you first started listening to and became a fan of?
Ville: My cousin Pia and I were close, and she was a few years older and had her own records. She had Rainbow and Kiss albums and stuff like that. When I had saved enough money to buy my first album, I asked her which band was good, and she told me to buy Kiss. I still have that Animalize album with the text saying that you have seen this on tv. Heavenís on Fire was my introduction to the hedonistic world of rock. But at the same time I was listening to Michael Jacksonís Thriller, Nik Kershawís Riddle and Wouldnít It Be Good, Madonnaís Live to Tell, Taylor Dayneís Tell It to My Heart, and Locomotion. All that 80ís pop. Duran Duran. To the guys my age the video for Girls on Film was the introduction to eroticism.
I discovered a lot of music through television. I had a friend who had the satellite channels, and there was a two-hour rock show every week on Sky Channel and he taped it for me. Thatís how I saw for the first time a lot of videos, WASP and stuff. At the elementary school, some kids liked Motley Crue and others liked Twisted Sister, and kids formed cliques based on who listened to what. Then there was a boy called Anssi who was one of my best friends and with whom I formed one of my first bands, and his older brother had a lot of albums and he was a metalhead, so he had Celtic Frost and Slayerís Reign in Blood when it came out and Metallicaís Master of Puppets. That was my introduction to the metal world. That was after 1985. But itís been a long time, so itís hard to say what happened when. I still like A-Ha and can listen to them and then Black Sabbath. I donít think they shut each other out musically.
Question: Did you think then that music was something you could do yourself? Was this when you decided you wanted to be a musician?
Ville: My cousin Mika saw I was interested in music, so he gave me an old Ibanez guitar. He tuned it for me, and when a string broke, I thought the whole guitar was broken. I didnít realize that you just change the string. We had just seen the Kiss video where Paul Stanley smashes his guitar after a gig, and we thought it was part of rockíníroll. So we went outside and smashed the guitar. Iím still upset I did that, but that was one of the first rock things I did.
It was probably a Christmas Day when there was some pop show on tv, and they played Nik Kershawís Riddle, and I sang along so loudly that I woke up my mother who told me to shut my face already. It was the first time I had sang in a way that I could feel myself getting hypnotized by the singing and being so much taken by the music that even my own mother got annoyed.
Then on third grade I started on a music class and started playing the bass because Gene Simmons and Steve Harris were so cool. I went to some art school too for a while to study drawing, but there wasnít really any time for it. Itís interesting that in Finland a career as a musician isnít much appreciated and kids arenít encouraged to pursue it. Because the fact is that the pay for your first hundred gigs is more or less just a warm handshake and warm beer. Itís really hard to say when it becomes a so-called job. I donít know if it still is my job . Itís meaningful to me, and itís fun to make music and it makes you feel good as simple as it is. Especially to an introverted Finnish man like myself itís a great way express your emotions without getting caught. Itís like being the flasher in the woods in Oulunkyl? except in a sonic form.
Question: So you started jamming with your friends and I guess you started thinking whether this could turn into something real. What age were you when you realized this could be something big?
Ville: It was with Linde sometime around 1994. It was a lot later. It was the time to go to high school and start to actually do something, to study and become a real adult. We both felt that music was so much more important and understood that if you wanted to be a rocker, you couldnít study it in any school. You just had to play gigs and make songs, and thatís when we made the decision.
Linde still lived in Oulunkyl? then, and we sat on his balcony and decided to form a band. It was a summer night around eight oíclock. That was a turning point as far as this band is concerned. We had all played gigs before that though. Mige played at wedding receptions for a while, and I played bass and drums in lots of bands, but that was more of a hobby.
In elementary school, I was in a band called Eloveena Boys, and we played U2 and Eric Claptonís Wonderful Tonight at school dances. I noticed then for the first time that girls like singers and that it had a certain appeal to be the center of attention. Or behind the center of attention, since I was the bassist. It was an interesting phenomenon, and I guess the adrenaline rush was also interesting. You work really hard for something, and you see people smiling in the audience. Thatís a big reward in itself.
Question: So you sat on a balcony and decided to start something big. Was it clear from the beginning who you were going to ask to join the group and what about the name?
Ville: Before that time, me, Mige and Tarvonen (and before him Juippi) had had a band called His Infernal Majesty. We were a kind of a power trio where I played the guitar parts with a six-string bass. It was the first band that I made songs for, and we rehearsed in Migeís motherís basement in Tuusula. We played a gig in Semifinal on New Yearís Eve in 1992. Kyyria played upstairs in Tavastia that night, which is funny because Gas played in Kyyria then. Itís a small world.
That band broke up when Mige left for his military service. I was upset because I didnít want the normal life, so I revived with Linde the idea I had had earlier with Mige. And then Mige came back from the army as a handsome Van Demme-like soldier and we asked him to join. Originally, I was supposed to play bass in HIM. And we just took the same name, I donít know why. A band just has to have a name, and all names suck. Sielun veljet is a pretty good name as is Led Zeppelin, but there arenít very many others. Kiss is pretty good and so is Tik Tak. You just had to have a name, and itís hard to come up with a name because you donít know how the music is going to change and how life is going to change.
One of the first potential names was Black Earth because Black Sabbathís first name was Earth, and it was a combination of those because we were big Black Sabbath fans, but we thought it was a bit too goth and gloomy. We wanted something more simple.
There was a death metal band called Deicide whose singer Glen Benton branded an inverted cross on his forehead. I was a big death metal fan and also a reggae fan. Benton had a song where he sang ďinfernal majestyĒ and then on the first pages of Anton LaVeyís The Satanic Bible the term ďhis infernal majestyĒ is mentioned. But H.I.M. is also used in the reggae circles as an acronym for His Imperial Majesty or Haile Selassie a.k.a. the Butcher of Eritrea who some people with uncombed hair consider a messiah.
His Infernal Majesty was a combination of all that, and I think it still describes us very well. We like so many things that we canít do any of them well, and we try to add everything possible into the mixture musically as well as otherwise. There isnít really a story behind the name; itís just a combination of everything. Mige decided the name by painting the words His Infernal Majesty on his amp. It was his only amp and he didnít have money to buy another one, so that was that. I recommend his method to anyone who is fighting over a bandís name. It worked damn well for us.
Question: So how did you become the singer?
Ville: I was in high school, but I wasnít interested in it, so I skipped a lot, and when my mom and dad left for work, I stayed at home to sing for example Janeís Addictionís Ritual de lo Habitual and Faith No Moreís Angel Dust. I didnít think I had a really good voice, but I was really interested in singing. So I just started to sing. I didnít think I was good enough to be a lead singer, but I thought I could sing backing vocals or something.
Linde and I made a demo where he played the guitar and I sang and played the drums, and we looked for players/singer for the band, but we couldnít find anyone. Mige came back from the army, and I thought we had a good bass player in him, and so I decided to try singing. I had thick hair and I looked okay, so we thought it could work. All the best things happen by accident, there wasnít any master plan. I started to sing, and I sounded like King Diamond. I sang really high in a falsetto, that was the thing then. Then Peter Steele came and now my singing is something between those two extremes. Squealing and growling.
Question: Were you ambitious from the start? Did you think that you were going to do something that hadnít been done before?
Ville: Thatís a fantastic question. I think that there isnít really a simple answer to that becauseÖ Oh my god, I just sounded like a fucking politicianÖ You have to believe in what you do, but you have to understand that youíre not going to create something totally new. So you have to honor your idols and appreciate the work that for example Hanoi Rocks, Waltari, Stratovarius, and Amorphis have done for us by spreading the message of joy of Finnish music in a way that made us realize that we too had a chance of getting some kind of international recognition some day.
But it starts from the little things: getting the band together, making our own songs, getting our first gigÖ And it goes from there one step at a time. I donít believe that you can decide that you want this and that in the next ten years. Small successes. Just an example: we had a really good rehearsal yesterday. We were playing something, and suddenly I had all kinds of things playing in my head. Itís rare that a band knows each other so well that you can compose while playing. Thatís really cool. Everyone keeps playing, and I yell ďplay this chord hereĒ while the music is playing. And Burton blocked the melody and that was that. Those are moments when you forget yourself. I guess it must be very meditative, even though I donít meditate. Itís the magic of music. You just lose yourself in it and forget yourself, and in those moments nothing else matters.
But at the same time you have to set your goals high, just because you canít let yourself take the easy way out. Itís great because we had bands like Sielun veljet and other artists who were so great in every possible way that it would be an insult to our music culture to do that. You had to at least try your best.
Question: Was it easy to start working with guys you had hung out with for many years because you knew and trusted them?
Ville: I donít really have anything to compare it with. I know people who have formed bands that have four or five egoists who just coexist and all have their own agendas and not a collective agenda.
In our band, things just clicked because I was the one that could concentrate in the music full time when we didnít have any money because my mom and dad helped me with my rent. I did that while Mige worked for the Helsinki city park department and Linde worked at his motherís shop selling wicker baskets or something. I could concentrate on the so-called artistic side. And Mige was good at putting amps together and he connected wires and they used to explode during gigs. Someone had a driverís license and was good at driving. Someone was good at organizing. Itís probably the same thing in every firm. Everyone has their own role, and nobody steps on anyoneís toes.
Those are the things you should remember and appreciate every once in a while because itís something you canít buy with money and not something you can calculate in advance. That you have childhood friends that you like and you care about, and you can lose yourself in the music with them and get the bread on the table doing that. Itís such an incredible combination that it makes me believe that there is some kind of magic in the world.
Question: Who supported you in the beginning? Who helped you? You said your parents helped, but who else did when you almost lost faith in yourself?
Ville: We hung out at a bar called Teatro that Migeís older brother helped run, and it became a place to meet people. Jone Nikula [a Finnish rock journalist that became famous as a judge on the Finnish Idol] hung out there and so did Toni Taleva who was like the chief of the Finnish metal scene. He worked at a lot of record stores, and he introduced all the rock and metal stuff to the Finnish youth. Toni is responsible for the success of so many bands that he should have a statue. He gave the first push to so many bands. I worked at Teatro as an elevator boy and a general helper, and because Migeís brother worked there, we got our first gig there. There were maybe a hundred people who hung out there all the time, and we started organizing rock club nights there.
At first nobody came, and then more and more people started to come. And we had our first bigger gig there in 1994 I think. Jailhouse Band, or Apocalyptica as they are now called, played Metallica for the first time in public. His Infernal Majesty played Type O Negative, and there were a few other bands too that played Rage Against the Machine and Danzig. The idea was that young bands would cover famous artists and that would bring in people and the bands would get some attention. Around Eastertime there was always Mount of Olives a Go Go, and there we crucified some guy and played King Diamond. It was an important scene for us, and we got to play our first gigs there and see how everything works. We got a lot of support there. Jone was important. He was the first one who played our demo on the radio. I still have the tape where he introduces us. There were a lot of people who believed in us. It was great that while we were pretty young, we still got to organize parties. Putting lights up and doing things. Learning about the whole construction that is a rock show.
Question: How were the first performances as a band? Was there panic, and what caused doubts and fear?
Ville: What doesnít cause fear?! It was okay. We had a little butterflies in our stomachs, but then we drank a few beers, and everything was okay. We didnít handle the technical aspects all that well. We were just laughing with Linde and Mige the other day about how we didnít have a keyboard in the beginning or an electronic tuner, so they tuned their instruments by ear in the bathroom before a gig with varying results.
In Finland in those days, you couldnít really go on tour unless you were really famous. So there was something happening in Teatro like once every two months that we would manage to get us to play in. So we would have two months to decide what we would do there, and I would think about what I would wear, whether I could find a cool 70ís suit in a second-hand shop to wear and who could come help us with the lights, so we could get some atmosphere in there. I had an ďElvis mikeĒ then, you know that kind of big old-fashioned one that I used because Peter Steele sang into one on the Christian Woman video. I thought it looked cool and it set us apart a little bit from the other bands, but I didnít give a thought to how bad it sounded.
My personal supporter at that time was Suho Superstar, the leader of Jimsonweed. I played at a couple of rehearsals with Jimsonweed, and I hung out a lot with Suho, K?m? and Kinde. Suho taught me to be really stubborn when it comes to believing in your own vision and working for it instead of giving up right away. I wouldnít be here now without Suho. There are many chains of events that happened more or less at the same time that are all partly responsible for us being where we are now. I donít have a great memory, but I do remember the essential: the people who you are eternally grateful to for having had the opportunity to hang out with them and who have taught you a lot of things about music in a larger sense. Suho used to like give me a belt because he thought it would do well for a gig and I still have that belt and it was a good belt for that gig. They are little things like that that are at the same time really big things.
Question: After those first gigs, did people ever come up to you and tell you that you were going to make it big one day? Where there people who could sense that this band was going places and would make Finnish music history one day?
Ville: No, I think it was more the whole Teatro scene. I mean Gas was the first. Gas was the first one to come in front of the stage to shake his head. I mean the first one ever because then the audience always wanted to keep enough space between them and the stage. The closer you could get the people to the stage, the tougher band you were. We got them at like five meters. But Gas was there in the front, and we respected him because he was one of the best drummers around and that way we started to believe in ourselves a little more.
You were talking about whether people would come up to us to say that there was something special in what we did and whether we started to think like that ourselves. Well, itís still not really like that because we have always known thatís thereís something special in it because itís meaningful to us. We like doing it. But every time you get a victory under your belt, youíre already thinking about the next one. You never bask in the sunshine; instead you think about the rainy day and the next challenge. If a show went great, it was over right away, and at two oíclock in the morning we would sit down and think about our next move. I think thatís the only way to get ahead. You donít spend much energy thinking that this is it. That has never been an option for our band because everything can be over in a second.
In the music world, nothing can be too big; you can always sell more records. Itís interesting because nothing is enough. Of course every musician wants to make that one song Ė letís take John Denverís Annieís Song for example Ė one song that is so meaningful that it just touches such a multitude of people. Nowadays when people are put in a million different categories and there are a million different ideologies, itís more difficult to make a song that would touch the whole world without being as phony as a band like Coldplay that has very little edge as nicely as they do play. But theyíre missing a little spice, a little kickÖp>What on earth am I blathering about here?! I must have had some really grand idea, but I just completely lost my train of thought.
Question: Letís talk about your first demo. What kind of situation was it and how did you manage to get a record deal with a cover?
Ville: Well, it wasnít just a cover. If Iím correct, what happened was that we made three demos and after the second one I had a lot of talks with a record label, but something came upówe werenít good enough or we werenít metal enoughÖ Anyway, the stars werenít aligned right, and it didnít work out. So we did another demo that was a little more accessible with Hiili Hiilesmaa who did a lot of demos back then at the Munkkiniemi youth center. Thatís how we met Hiili who we have worked with on a couple of albums later on.
We did the demo with Wicked Game on it, and the next bit ties to everything I told you before. We did the demo, and because Jimsonweed was signed on Kari Hynninenís label Zen Garden, Suho introduced me to Hynninen, and we went to his place to watch sci-fi movies and eat ice cream. I managed to almost accidentally give the demo to Hynninen who gave it directly to Asko Kallonen, so that it didnít have to sit in the same piles as other bandsí demos. Asko Kallonen heard our version of Wicked Game, and since it was a familiar song and our version was a bit different, he assumed that this band was different and interesting.
So he called me one day when I was taking a bath in my apartment on Pietarinkatu. Back then I had a landline, so when the phone rang, I got out of the bath dripping water all over the place. It was Asko, and for a moment I assumed that it was a prank call or something. Back then Asko was known only perhaps in the music industry, he wasnít the star he is now [also Asko Kallonen became famous as a judge on the Finnish Idol]. He called, and we made an appointment. I remember we had a rehearsal that day. It was a beautiful spring day, and it was a magical moment that someone had called me and told me that he would like us to record something for them. Asko took a chance with us, and then we went and recorded our EP Ė the blue one with my momís face on it that you canít really get anywhere anymore. We made it with Hiili, and slowly things started going forward.
Itís interesting because I had hung out with Suho so much, and then Suho introduced me to Hynninen. This is a version that I think is pretty logical, and it could be what actually happened.
Question: So you got to meet Asko and started to work together. How did it feel when the wheels finally started to turn and there was someone who believed in you?
Ville: Well, letís say that I had read so many rock biographies that I assumed everyone was trying to take advantage of us all the time. We were damn careful with all the contracts right from the beginning until many years later when Seppo Vesterinen came and saved us. We had a few people who helped us by reading the contracts and suggesting what we should do about this and that. We were really careful because thereís a record label who invests money in you and you have to like ďcome up with the goodsĒ: you have to show that you are good and trustworthy and that you do good work. There was a lot of pressure, but on the other hand we just tried to pick the best songs and go record them.
Asko was really good to us because heís an old-school a & r executive who believes in letting a band grow. Anssi Kela is a good example. He was always one of Askoís favorites, and it took years and years before he found success with the Nummela album. Itís rare especially these days when they try to squeeze everything out of an artist as soon as possible, which makes sense because you make money fast that way and then you can move on to the next artist. But Asko had a long-term vision for the artists he worked with, and he helped us so that we had the freedom to try things out.
So they played Wicked Game on the radio a little bit, and it was a really good introduction to our music. Then the EP came out, and we told everyoneís mother to go buy five copies. I guess thatís where they all are. I suspect that all the copies that are on eBay are the ones our mothers bought. Thatís how our mamas are making money.
Then we met Tiina Vuorinen from Welldone [Agency & Promotion], and slowly we started to get real gigs that you actually got paid for or at least got gas money, and we got to play outside of Helsinki too. Those are a little obscure times, I donít remember them well. They involve the whole Teatro scene and a lot of gigs and the record coming out. But our orchestra has always been one step ahead, so we were always rehearsing for the record, and at the same time I was listening to October Rust and One Second by Paradise Lost. It was a revolutionary album that was ahead of its time, meaning that it combined a kind of gothic synthpop with heavy guitars. We had parties at Teatro where we danced to these songs and drank a lot of booze. Whatever Tony [Taleva] played, that was the thing, and we sucked influences form it unconsciously or consciously and then worked on them.
We were rehearsing all the time, and thatís how the first album came to be. When Love and Death Embrace was one of the last songs I made for the album, and it was the first time I realized that you can be bare and direct and sensitive without losing the strength and that sensitivity can actually be strong. The world of heavy metal is so weird. Itís so Tom of Finland, so uber-masculine in many ways, and then itís not. Life isnít just ďballs to the wallĒ all the time. Good life is, but unfortunately it doesnít always work out that way.
Question: Itís interesting that you can talk about the world of metal or rock as something that you are a part of, but you can also look at it from the outside. Are you a part of it because of the music, so that if you werenít making music, you would belong to another genre? Have you grown into it?
Ville: Letís say that when puberty hit, I had the pleasure and honor to meet a lot of people who were very intensely into music but all liked different genres. If you are friends with someone, you donít give a fuck if your friend likes Madonna, or is a boy and likes boys, or likes red meat. It doesnít mean that you have to like boys, or eat meat, or like Madonna. You can just enjoy their company. I used to have dreadlocks, and I was a street musician, I played djembe. I have also played jazz and stuff like that and sang in a grindcore band that played Carcass covers. I played drums in a punk band and almost died. We were playing a gig and our singer fell on the light rack, and it dropped on the drums like five centimeters from my head.
Iíve done a lot of different things, and thatís why our band is the way it is because I have never found the right combination that would include all the sensitivity and strength at the same time. Thatís why it isnít possible for us to be in just one genre. Thatís clear if you take a look at the contents of my iPod. I donít think Goldfrappeís A & E is any worse than Cradle of Filthís Gilded Cunt. Letís say that the message and the feeling are pretty different, but there are moods that they both fit.
Question: People got interested in you right away. And the same thing happened abroad as soon as your record came out there. What is your secret? Is it what you said about moving between genres and still being credible?
Ville: You have to remember that we are the only band in the world that has played an acoustic gig with full black metal masks on. And we were being serious. Letís say that we were testing our limits a little bit. Not consciously, but nothing good came out of it.
Speaking about our success abroad, we have sitting next to the wall there the person who is responsible for that, that is Silke Yli-Sirni? who was back then married to Sami Yli-Sirni? from Waltari. Silke happened to be in Finland when we played a New Yearís Eve gig in Lepakko, and Sami and Silke came to celebrate the New Year there. She heard the band and fell in love with it, and we gave her all the tapes and the EP. Silke worked for a German record label then, and she took our tapes there and sang our praises. So the German record label people flew here to see the first gig we played at Tavastia.
That was also the first gig that Seppo Vesterinen saw because we were starting to need help with the legal stuff, we needed someone who could actually help us with the paperwork because there were piles of papers that we understood nothing of. What were our rights as musicians? Did we have to give up the rights to our songs and the actual tapes to someone else for all eternity or could we negotiate about things? The tapes are still very important to me. If I have recorded an album, itís really important to me that I have at least copies of the original tapes. I donít know whyóIím just bad at letting go of things.
So basically the same way I got the demo through Suho to Hynninen who gave it Asko, Sami brought Silke to see the gig, and we gave her the tapes. We didnít think about anything then. It was just ďwow, thank you so fucking muchĒ. She was the first foreigner who had said that we were good. And then a few months passed, we were playing at Tavastia, and we had a real light show and everything, and the executives from the record company were there, and they wanted to license our music in Germany. And then we went there. Greatest Lovesongs Vol. 666 came out in Finland in 1997, and a year late, in the fall of 1998, it came out in Germany, and we played our first tour there. It was at that time when Antto Melasniemi quit the band and concentrated in his successful career as a chef.
Itís so cool that the big things that affect your life so much happen because of such little things. That a wonderful lady like Silke, who has tirelessly helped us for so many years and pushed us forward all the time, happened to see that one gig. You donít have to have a famous manager first or something. Thatís why I love our band: everything happens kind of against the rules. Everything has happened through people, and 90 % of it has also happened through friendships. We have made good friends, and we have worked together with them, and when you think of it like that, Silke is kind of like part of the band in the same way that Seppo Vesterinen is part of the band. You can say that we make the music and we are the ones that play on stage, but what we are to people Ė the whole HIM thing Ė that includes for example everyone who works here in the office. Because without Tara we wouldnít be doing this interview. I think thatís interesting and makes this whole career and this whole lifestyle really interesting. All the people you meet, you never know.
Bam Margera is a good example if you want to talk about things like that. Thereís some random skater who is in some Jackass show that hadnít come out in Europe yet, some MTV show where guys do stupid stuff. He flies from Philadelphia to London with his own money to see our gig and comes knocking on the backstage door and says that Iím Bam. And weíre like okay, now fuck off. We didnít know who he was and it didnít make any difference. We asked him to drink a few beers with us, and suddenly he started talking about us, getting the same tattoos I have, promoting our band in the US, and putting our music on his own tv show. That way Lindeís project Daniel Lioneye and their song The King of Rockín Roll became the theme music for Bamís show Viva La Bam, and as far as I know itís the Finnish song thatís been played the most times abroad ever. Go, Mikko Lindstr?m! These are all coincidences, but I guess it helps that you have good manners.
Question: Of course you are pretty interesting people. You have a magnetism that appeals to people all over. People go crazy over you in Finland and abroad. What is your secret? [after a long silence] This is one of the easy questions, I know.
Ville: Letís say thatÖ How can you say itÖ Okay, you can think of it in one of two ways. You can think that there are some higher powers involved and we are just puppets, but on the other hand, we are really straightforward and unforgiving and honest in our perverseness, and we have never tried to pretend that we are something that we are not. We are what we are, take it or leave it and fuck you [literally: smell shit]. The wind is blowing from here.
Maybe that honesty is whatís essential. None of us has started to play for money or cars or chicks or materialistic reasons but because it makes us feel good when we are feeling bad. I always find a warm home in a song when itís raining outside symbolically as well, and maybe that shows. I hope so. This is one of those things that if itís higher math, I donít want to study that far because I donít want to take away the magic in what we do. I mean this band wouldnít exist without me, but it also wouldnít exist without Mige. This band wouldnít be where it is now without Silke or without Seppo. There are many factors that are as important as the songs. Understanding that helps. I mean, Bill Gates wouldnít be Bill Gates without a few assistants who have helped him along the way. Nothing comes from just one personóitís all about working together and appreciating people who are good at what they do.
Question: Your success has reached incredible proportions. You have sold an unbelievable amount of records abroad compared to what you have sold in Finland. Still Finland has always remained your home, even though you have gotten almost more success abroad than in Finland. What makes you return to Finland?
Ville: The reason why we live here is that people have their wives and kids and parents here and this is our home country. The reason why we have played few gigs here recently is just that the world is such a big place, and we have to go where the iron is hot. Of course since weíve already played all around Finland, itís interesting for us to go play in San Francisco for example.
Letís say that out of the Finnish bands who sing in English, we are perhaps the most Finnish. Maybe thatís why we are respected. We donít sell as many records as Nightwish. Nightwish is damn good at what they do: the pompous, theatrical metal with heavy soundtrack influences. They do it fantastically, but itís much more Walt Disney than Timo K. Mukka. We are a lot more unpolished, we are ugly and beautiful at the same time, and I think that appeals to Finns.
Question: But considering what you just said, itís interesting that you have conquered for example the US which is considered a very different country from Finland and often symbolizes something totally different from what Finns as personalities or characters represent. How did you do that?
Ville: In America, you just have to remember not to show your teeth when you smile unless you have like really white veneers. There the things started through Bam. He talked to his friends, and the word spread in the skate scene. Because I believe that Americans love to find their own bands, it often happens Ė like it used to in Europe Ė that when a band becomes mainstream, they start to suck because they arenít your little secret anymore.
Letís say that in Finnish popular music, men have never been afraid to say that they hurt and they feel bad too, they are sensitive and not perfect, whereas in America itís the chicks that whine in the popular culture. Maybe in bedrooms too, I canít be sure about that. I think admitting we are sensitive is part of our appeal to them because a lot of things are based in materialism there, and itís a relatively new country with a mixed cultural heritage. There are so many different kinds of people there. Thereís something for everybody. You have to remember though that there are like a billion people living there, so we havenít sold that many albums compared to the size of the population.
Itís an ongoing process to find a way to offer something new in those McDonaldís wrappers. They think theyíre getting something familiar, but instead they get a kick at the back of their heads. The idea is to use familiar metaphors but in unfamiliar contexts. That way maybe their brain snaps into a new position, and you make them maybe like something not so usual.
But itís the same thing with England. England is a very difficult country. When we were liked in Germany, we did a big tour there and made a little money. We spent all that money so that we could go on tour in England at our own expense, not breaking even but losing a lot of money. The record company didnít want us there, but we went there because we wanted to play in Birmingham because Black Sabbath is from there. We wanted to play in particular places because we thought it would be good for our mental well-being. We have done a lot of that kind of things. Like some tours in America when we just went to play at Roxy and Whiskey a Go Go. Itís pretty cool to think youíre playing on the same stage as Jim Morrison if you canít find any other positive things about that particular day.
But what I think is interesting in our band and in a lot of other Finnish bands Ė which is why I believe they will be around for a long time Ė is that itís difficult to find an instant success story in Finland. First you show what you can do in Finland and Scandinavia, then maybe in Europe, hopefully in England, and then maybe in America. In a way you have to start all over all the time. We played for 8000 people at a sold-out arena in Germany and the next week for 150 people in a pub in England, and it a) keeps your feet on the ground and b) reminds you why you do it. And then when we got a little success in England, we went to America and played for 200 people once again. It takes a lot of time, but itís a lot of fun, plus you see the fruits of your labor right in front of you.
Question: Whatís most important to you as an artist and to all of you as a band? Is it selling records, doing gigs, traveling, being in Finland? Is it selling gold or platinum?
Ville: Iím tempted to imitate Matti Nyk?nen and say itís pussy. Whatís most important? [long pause] I donít actually know. A gold record is an indication that the record company has managed to promote your work so that even people you wouldnít think would buy it, do buy it. Thatís a whole different thing. And so are the gigs. All the guys in the band like different things. I like the phase we are in now, that is making the new record. We smell like shit at our rehearsal place and laugh and tease each other and drink coffee and eat buns. And something comes out of that. Someone bangs something and someone beats the keys on the keyboard and suddenly it sounds like a song. Creating is the most fun. Itís so incredible how it starts from such a small thing and how big it can become. If you think about Neil Youngís Heart of Gold, for example: he has played that song alone on an acoustic guitar somewhere and thought that it is probably pretty good, and then through the radio and everything else, that song has become a significant part of my life and changed my life and made me happy when Iím sad and a little melancholic at other times. Thatís the power of music. Not that I want to influence anyone on purpose, but if you can give that kind of an experience to someone, thatís fantastic.
Question: Are these the kinds of things that you dream of for the future and what you want to accomplish as a band? Of course you have already caused the kind of visions that you where just talking about with your music and your songs. There must be hundreds of thousands of people who can say the same for your songs, butÖ
Ville: We donít know that for certain, and thatís why we donít believe it, and thatís why we have to keep goingÖ
Question: Oh címon nowÖ So what happens now? Where are you searching for your future kicks?
Ville: [long pause] Well, Iíve made songs for like the past four years that we are rehearsing now, and Iíve spent every last bit of energy in making music and not sitting in a pub, and that has been a bit of a change for me in my attitude towards the new music. We had a damn good rehearsal yesterday and we were supposed to have one today, but Burton has fever. My dream is that we get to make a record thatís really good and thatís it. When the record is done, itís out of our hands. Letís say that a lot of good records were forgotten when the airplanes hit the Twin Towers, meaning that what happens in the world also affects how music is received, so there are a lot of things that donít depend on us. When our music is on a cd or available as an mp3, itís out of our hands, and all we can do is play those songs live.
Letís just hope that some of the songs mean so much to someone that he or she wants us to play in that city and tells enough friends that we have to get this band to play here that we do have to go play there, and that way we get to visit a new place. I donít know if that made senseÖ It would be nice to go play in South America. We have already been to Mexico. And we have only been to Japan once, so it would be nice to go back there. Weíre just trying to find our path to happiness through work, as boring as that sounds.
Question: You have traveled quite a bit, and airplanes and all kinds of tour buses are very familiar to you. What do you do on the tour bus because itís a lot of time you spend there?
Ville: Well, it depends, usually every tour has a theme. On one tour, we watched the program where Timo T.A. Mikkonen [an especially annoying and opinionated ďmedia personalityĒ] interviews Adolf Ehnrooth [a Finnish general and war hero from the 2nd World War] about 200 times Ė Iím not exaggerating here Ė so that we knew the whole thing by heart. Whyóthatís a whole other question. On one tour, we played poker all the time, but Burton kept winning, so it didnít work out. Thatís it. The theme last summer when we did festivals was watching Lord of the Rings in German. Gollum is really funny in German. Linde memorized Gollumís part.
Letís say that when you put five guys in a very small, confined place, of course the stuff you talk about gets a little weird. Itís like taking a case of booze and going to someoneís tiny cabin with three of your best friends for two weeks. The conversation takes its own course and an outsider wouldnít understand anything after the second day.
On the bus you usually sleep, drink coffee, look out the window, and thatís it. Mige usually reads and eats, and Linde just sleeps, he can sleep anywhere anytime. It depends. You have to remember that Europe is really easy because the distances are short, but in America you have really long distances. Itís easily 600 kilometers a day, and that means spending a lot of time in the bus. It changes the mood completely because then youíre living in the bus. But you get used to anything, and the essential thing is the gig. How you get there isnít important. Same thing with planesóas long as youíre getting from place A to place B, itís all right. How you get there doesnít matter.
Question: Are you a boy band?
Ville: Well, letís say where not boys anymore. We are like Mieskuoro Huutajat (Menís Choir the Shouters) type of solution. BoyÖ? Itís hard to say, Iíve said it myself that weíre a boy band just to take the piss. I think that Jackson Five was a boy band and Black Sabbath is a boy band: itís boys that had a band and did what they liked. In that way, yes, but if we think about the traditional meaning Ė a band put together mechanically to maximize profits Ė I think there are much better examples than us even in Finland.
Question: As long as the band has existed, you have been called a beautiful singer. How do you make yourself beautiful, Ville?
Ville: You mean physically beautiful? I see, I see. Iím blushing. How do I make myself beautiful? By thinking about beautiful things and behaving beautifully. I think that inner beauty is reflected on the outside as well. My physical appearance I can only blame on the genes I inherited from my parents. I donít have any secret lotions or any powders made from the horns of reindeer to make my skin shine like Cate Blanchettís in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
I thought you meant that Iím a singer with a beautiful voice. Iím disappointmentóitís always about the looks!
Question: Well the voice is something else too. Your band is interesting in that itís really Finnish but at the same time not at all. Itís what I said before about you being really hard to figure out.
Ville: Yes! Weíre hard to figure out, just like you said. We canít figure ourselves out, thatís the greatest thing. I think that nobody knows anything about us, we included. I play an acoustic guitar at home, and then we go to our rehearsal place and make some songs, and when they feel right, when youíre smiling while trying not to cry, then we are about where we want to be musically. And taking it from there is another thing. [laughs] But the not knowing, itís definitely an essential part of this orchestra. And Iím proud of that because thatís something you canít build. It happens somehow completely organically and in an obscure way.
Question: How many strings does a bass have to have?
Ville: Jaska from KYPCK plays with one string. But one is not much. D.A.D.ís bass player plays with two strings. Two is pretty okay, but I think he uses E and A, while I would prefer B and E. How many stringsÖ? None. As long as the bass exists, you can get a sound out of it somehow, it doesnít have to have any strings.
Question: Which chords describe HIM best?
Ville: Gmaj7. It describes us worst. That much I know. Maybe sus4. ChordsÖ? E major or Cis minor. Iím pretty bad with the structure of chords, Puppe is much better. Puppe has so many names too. I mean Janne Puurtinen, Burton, Puppe, Putte, nowadays Putte Piller whose hit from Michael Jacksonís Thriller is called Piller N?hr (?) that he plans to perform on tv one day. But anywayóanything that has 9ths and 11ths. Those are okay.
Question: Okay. Iím not going to ask you to elaborateÖ What sentence describes you best as a band? If you have to put the whole band in one sentence, what would it be?
Ville: Alea jacta est. [laughs] That describes our band well because it says that the die has been cast and itís a classic Latin saying, itís pretty fatalistic and gloomy in itself and also because I learned it from Asterix. It tells a lot about our band. [interviewer laughs]/p>
Question: Is there something you would like to change about the band or your history? What would it be?
Ville: We have been very unpleasant people, or I was unpleasant when P?tk? left the band and Antto left the band. They were difficult situations because in a way I had never been in a situation where you break up. Itís hard when you have many guys, and they all have their own lives and all work towards the same goal. They were difficult situations, and it would have been nice if I could have handled them better, but on the other hand, you learn things that way, and Iím proud that P?tk? and I can talk and Antto and I are like good friends.
What Iíd like to change is that after every fill Gasís first snare is slow. Stuff like that. And this means that Iíve followed Gas so much that I notice that his every snare is slow after a fill which means that I care and that I really pay a fucking lot of attention to him which means that I would probably be disappointed if he got it right. Itís the beauty spots. You can always complain about things, but it doesnít mean they would be good if they changed. I just hope that everyone keeps their heads together and stays concentrated on the new record. Thatís always what I worry about. That all can stay concentrated until the end, and even if your muscles are burning, you can still keep going and do the record so well that thereís nothing that bugs you. Thatís what I want now, and about what I would want to changeÖ Probably nothing.
Question: Would you like to add something to your history?
Ville: No, I donít want to add anything to our history, I want to add a lot of things to our future of course. Anything positive. That I get to Richard Bransonís island to play the acoustic guitar and talk shit with him and [here he says something I really canít make any sense of]. That could be nice, but if it never happens, it doesnít mean that my life is ruined. Or you never know, but stillÖ You have to keep your eyes and ears open and see what the future brings and not be afraid to jump into any strange ravines. You can usually always find the bottom.
Question: Now that youíre making the new record, who would you like to work with in the future? Do you have anyÖ
Ville: You mean an artist?
Interviewer: It can be an artist or why not a producer.
Ville: Thatís a tough question in the sense that there are a lot of people that I idolize and you donít necessarily want to work with them because you donít want to take away the magic. ProducersÖ? No producer is a perfect producer. Production is what happens between the producer and the band, and if you take a producer like Rick Rubin who has done fantastic work with a lot of bands, it doesnít mean heís going to do fantastic work with us. We have a fantastic relationship with for example John Fryer and Hiili Hiilesmaa and Tim Palmer, and now weíre deciding who to work with on the new record.
But itís a sum of so many parts that itís unnecessary to speculate about it before itís done. Because there are so many things to consider. You have a studio that a billion people work in, a billion wires, time differences, and letís say 16 songs that you have to record before a set deadline. There are so many factors that you canít know whatís going to affect the outcome. Thatís the reason something works and something doesnít. Itís once again the reason why music is made Ė because itís so unpredictable. Itís like an abandoned dog whose past you donít know but who you care about so much.
Question: You have worked and recorded music in Wales and in several places in America, a mansion for example. How about in the future, where are you going to go to look for the best possible sound?
Ville: Our principle has been that we donít make two records in a row in the same place. Itís nice to be in Finland and make a record, but then everyday stuff gets in the way: you have bills to pay and whining girlfriends and kids Ė well, they donít necessarily whine Ė and a lot of things that take your concentration away from the record. But on the other hand, when youíve been on tour for a year and a half, itís wonderful to sleep in your own bed and enjoy the family atmosphere while youíre making music. Itís a two-edged sword.
We did the last record in Finland, so itís probable that weíre going to make the next one in America, and now the prices have come down too and stuff. The dollar is so cheap that itís not terribly expensive to record in America. A lot of people think that we go to America and spend a billion dollars, but itís the same as making the record here. The only difference is that youíre in a different place and the time is different and your phone doesnít ring as much.
And different climates affect the sound of the songs. I have for example a perversion that Anthony B, a singjay from Jamaica, whose latest record Rise Up is like modern root reggae, works fantastically in the dead of winter in Finland. I donít know why. I come back once again to what we talked earlier about the combination of different things when it comes to our band. Itís the same thing when you take a really melancholic song and record it in Los Angeles, and you get a strange magic in it. Itís not necessarily a good thing, but at times it happens that you make a song in Los Angeles and record it in Finland and you get like the best of the both worlds. Thatís good.
Question: Great. What song describes you best? Is it your own song or something totally different?
Ville: I canít pick a song that would describe the whole band but a song that describes me damn well is a song with lyrics written by Hector and sung by Freeman. Itís the Finnish cover of John Denverís Annieís Song, or Kaikuluotain in Finnish. [sings a bit] It describes me really well because itís a crazy combination. It has crazy lyrics, and itís a fantastic song. Itís good. It describes me well personally, but itís just the combination when everyone else likes everything else. I canít say that thereís a song Ė ours or someone elseís Ė that would describe our band, all the aspects that we have. An elementary school bandís rendition of Sibeliusís Finlandia. That could be pretty close to what we are.
Interviewer: Thatís pretty good.
Ville: I donít know if it would be good, but itís the beauty spots, theyíre important. The little cracks in a glass, you usually look at them closer than the glass itself.
Question: Are these the songs that you would take with you on a deserted island?
Ville: That deserted island thing depends of course about what else you have with you. Is it just the deserted island and one stereo? And what kind of stereo is it. Does it have good lower frequencies or is it an iPod?
Interviewer: No, an iPod doesnít fit the picture.
Ville: So itís whatever setup. I donít think I would take any music with me because to me music is often an association to the moment I heard the song, how I heard the song and to some other song. So they are like different pages of the same book, and I would be annoyed just hearing that one song. I have all the songs in my head, so if I had a guitar, I could sing all those songs.
Itís surprising how the associations work when weíre for example rehearsing. Linde recognizes them at once. In one new song, we have found Modern Talking, Black Sabbath, Sielun Veljet, and Allman Brothers. Just a harmony and he knows where itís from. People remember like a B-side from an album from 1973, I think thatís pretty great. I wouldnít take any music with me. I would just listen to the sounds of the ocean. Iím sure thatís better.
Interviewer: I now thank you so much for the interview.
Ville: Thank you. Iím sorry if my babbling has been a little hard to follow at times, but itís complicated to talk about a career that in a way is the total opposite of what the word ícareerí means in a dictionary.
Translation from Finnish - sineresi from valo_daily