Brazilian "Roadie Crew"
"HIM - Melancholic versatility"
Since the late 90's, the world sees the growth of a band from Helsinki, Finland, which gradually gets more and more supporters with the sound intitled "Love Metal", that was based in a Metal and Doom background, adapted to Goth and constantly coalescing elements of New Wave, 80's pop and Hard Rock. All this combined with the romantic-depressive lyrics of vocalist Ville Hermanni Valo, now considered a great icon of this generation's music in general. Precisely with whom we had the opportunity to talk to on a Finnish summer day and address issues such as the heavier sound of their latest album, Venus Doom, the DVD Digital Versatile Doom, the ten years of Razorblade Romance and, of course, the next studio album, to come out next year. With a lot of sense of humor, the singer/songwriter was blunt in his answers and revealed a lot of informations that will certainly be of great value to the fans.
The album Venus Doom, released in 2007, was a lot heavier and reminds the listeners of the band's past. Did that have a good repercussion among the fans?
V: Venus Doom is the kind of album that happens in many band's careers. For the first time, the critics said nice things about our music; they've always hated us! (laughs) Ans people loved us... But this time people didn't buy as many albums and the critics loved it! (laughs) It was something that needed to be done. Musically, that album was more Progressive and Doom, very much influenced by Black Sabbath, and didn't have many radio-friendly tracks. But that's in the past. It was released in 2007 and we started working on it a year before, so for the band it's old. The album was good live, songs like Passion's Killing Floor, The Kiss Of Dawn and Sleepwalking Past Hope were really well received. But at the end of the day, the press liked it and the fans not so much. I think that we proved to a lot of people that we're not just a "Pop-Gothic" band, even "metalheads" liked the album. Our previous albums are heavy, you know, but people don't know our carreer, our past. When I started I was singing in a Carcass cover band! In HIM we have the most different influences and they all forge our sound.
But this acceptance is something that varies depending on the market, isn't it?
V: There are different ways to look at it. There are countries where we sell more albums and there are countries where we have the best audiences. The cool thing about this band is the fact that... I'll give you an example. Last time we played in Warsaw, Poland, we played sold out gigs to four thousand people and the audience was mainly of girls under eighteen - we didn't get it! (laughs) But then we went to Germany and there were "metalheads" with their fists in the air, and the next gig was, again, something completely different. That's cool, we never know what to expect from the audience and even record sales. So, with our type of music you can't tell something beforehand or make an album for a specific type of audience. Personally, I don't care if we sell more or less on one place or the other. I like Dinosaur Jr. and they never sold many albums, but I'm also a fan of Satyricon. Well, I don't think quantity equals quality. The best selling album isn't always the best.
That variety in every gig is interesting, and proves the uniqueness of HIM, that appeals to Metal fans, Goth fans and even Pop. But I assume the heaviness of Venus Doom didn't attract many of the Pop fans...
V: I don't think so, but I don't talk to people about that! (laughs) Something like: "Did you hear the album? What did you think?" (laughs) I think we always fluctuate between something accessible and something not so much, and Venus Doom was in one of the extremes, but we enjoyed making it and it was the way we wanted it to sound. A new album is always a reflection of the previous one, and the new one, the one we're working on now, has three and a half minute songs, very fast. It's a lot more dynamic and it contrasts with the slow, heavy mood of Venus Doom. And I think we could never create songs like that if we hadn't done things like Sleepwalking Past Hope or The Kiss Of Dawn, something slow, Doom and even a little Stoner. I like Kyuss the same way I like Depeche Mode; Kind Diamond the same way I like Impaled Nazarene. So, for me there is no such thing as trying only one thing, limiting myself. Music is open and people should do what they want with it instead of putting barriers and restricting things to genres.
Last year you released the DVD Digital Versatile Doom, that was the first complete live record of the band. Why did you choose to shoot it in Los Angeles (US) instead of Helsinki or somewhere else in Europe?
V: We wanted it to be professional. Not that I'm dissing the Finnish professionals, but the thing is, they're not ready yet, they haven't done this sort of thing. Here what they do is record orchestras for TV, which is very different from shooting a rock band, and everything that revolves around finalizing it. And another problem would be to find places that are big enough... Playing clubs is nice, but it's hard to bring all the cameras and equipment. And in big arenas you miss out on things because there's too much room, not so intimate. We wanted somewhere in the US or in England, one of those old theaters full of ornaments. That would make things more visually exciting and the Orpheum Theater was a good choice. People have more things to look at than or faces! (laughs)
You shot a lot of live things before working on a full DVD. Was it different?
V: We hated it, it was too much pressure for the show to be good. You may think not, but having forty people in front of you with cameras gives you more butterflies than usual, the fear of the "red light"! (laughs) I was always thinking: "Fuck, they're shooting". We played in San Francisco on the eve of the two night shooting in Los Angeles. That show was so great we were unsatisfied with the ones that were shot. It's always like that... Look what happened to Led Zeppelin when they made The Song Remains The Same. They said they hated the gigs, but they had the opportunity to have the cameras then, and that's what happened. For us, youngsters, it was the only thing that allowed us to have contact with the band at the time, and through that we created an image of what was Led Zeppelin on stage. Or we had to find some black and white shots of them playing on some Dutch TV show! (laughs) I think, in the end, these live recordings define the image people have of the band. That place was too big for us, we prefer to play in smaller venues. But, still, people should buy the DVD! (laughs)
The band started to get more attention in the US and England with Love Metal and And Love Said No. But with the previous ones you built a big reputation in Finland and Europe in general, where you became mainstream. How do you compare those situations?
V: We're still not mainstream in the US. In 2001, after DSBH was released we played our biggest concert at the time in Europe, that was sold out, in a German arena. The next day we flew to Dudley, England... The record company didn't want us to tour in the UK. We were well known in Germany and in other places in Europe but nobody gave a damn in England. The thing was that we made a lot of money with those German gigs and spent it all touring England, even with the record company being against it. But we wanted to do it for personal satisfaction - after all, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest are from Birmingham! (laughs) I think there were about a hundred and fifty people on that Dudley gig. Even though that was a long time ago, that's the reality we live in, we've never reached the ponit of success that makes us known anywhere in the world. Some countries love us, some don't give a damn. On one hand, it's good for the band, because it keeps us grounded.
Creates a more solid environment to absorb the success...
V: Yeah. I think the band would've split up years ago if we had become successful overnight, it kills young people's minds. It's good that our success is coming slowly. The difference is the amount of money in your bank account. If you have a song that's being played on the radio a lot, at the end of the year, when the paychecks come, there's good money coming in. And, also, while the band tours, they're already thinking about the next album. There's no reason to keep looking at the past, it's like thinking about an ex-girlfriend - or comparing her to the current one. That's the worst thing to do. And you can't even say it out loud, it would ruin it (laughs).
And how important was Bam Margera's support for the development of the band in the US?
V: Essential. It was a combination of many factors, starting with the internet. I've heard many stories of people sending MP3s of our songs and even German soldiers that, at the time we grew a lot there, showed our cds to American people. That was going on and then Bam started liking the band and putting our music in things he released and radio shows he was in. But with that we also lost fans, people who didn't like Bam and Jackass or thought that our music has nothing to do with it. The coolest thing about it is that we became great friends - we hung out together in England a couple weeks ago! It's funny that you meet someone from Pennsylvania, that is pretty far from here, and you're able to see them every now and then to talk about life and, occasionally, count on them to direct some of your videos. It's fabulous, I'm very happy about it.
An album that's very special to your fans is Razorblade Romance, because it contains a chemistry that was fundamental to pave the way to the Love Metal style. What is your opinion about that album now, ten years later?
V: Looking back, I think it was essential to make that album at that time, but I wouldn't again. RR was the first HIM album that a lot of people heard and it ended up becoming the most important to them. For example, Iron Maiden's Somewhere In Time is their most important album to me, because it was the first gig I went to in my life, on the Somewhere On Tour. That album brings back special memories, even with Aces High being my favorite song of theirs - I like one a lot more than, for example, The Loneliness Of The Long Runner. I think RR introduced us to a lot of people, it was the first album we recorded with a foreign producer and the first we recorded outside of Finland. We weren't under any pressure of record companies or anything like that, we had great expectations of ourselves. Everything went well, but there were also a lot of technical problems... So a miracle happened and the track Join Me In Death got a lot of airplay and everything changed.
RR has the second and most popular version on the cover you did for Chris Isaak's Wicked Game - actually, third if you count the 666 Ways To Love EP. A lot of people first met the band through one of them. How deep is the relationship between the band and that track?
V: I think we owe Chris Isaak our eternal gratitude, because it was through that song that we were able to find our sound. It was one of the first songs we played together as a band. We were looking for the right mixture between heaviness and more melodic elements. At that time, the songs we wrote were much more complex and with no real direction. That simple song, Wicked Game, showed us a path that was to be followed - and I hope it made Chris a few extra bucks! (laughs) I think it's a good burden, because we can't not play that song at a gig. I discovered Wicked Game watching the movie "Wild At Heart", because I'm a big David Lynch fan and then I took it to the rehearsal room. The funny thing is that Linde, our guitar player, played it kind of wrong at the time, and I sang the lyrics wrong, too for three years! (laughs) There weren't any websites with the lyrics at that time.
The band did a lot of covers throughout the years. Do you consider the possibility of one day releasing a cover album?
V: I don't think so. I think that bands record cover albums when they need to fullfill the record contract and then leave! (laughs) So that makes these type of releases less respected, but we see it as something that happens between studio albums. If we did it in a more serious way it could be interesting, but nowadays with all the illegal downloads happening, releasing something with other people's music would be harmful for the band. We'd have to tour for it and the money that would come from radio play would be small, because they're not our songs. For example, I get about 1 Euro for every song of mine that plays on the radio, and that's pretty much all I live on. I think Dave Gahan and Martin Gore have a lot more money to support Depeche Mode than I do, so that's the reason why we didn't record Enjoy The Silence. It's expensive to make an album, you spend over a hundred thousand dollars on a good producer, not to mention the costs of the studio. You have to consider that nowadays a lot of people download your album, that cost more than three hundred thousand dollars to be made - and you worked on it for twelve hours a day, six days a week for two years. It's funny because people expect us to act like rockstars, but we can't afford that! (laughs) Buy the album so we'll have the means to do so! (laughs)
Now, back to the new album. At the beginning of June it was said that the album would be called Screamworks: Love In Theory And Practice, would be produced by Matt Squire and released in February. Is that the final title?
V: I think so. I like it, with the word "works", that gives the impression of a big project. It's like "Dreamworks": they sell dreams, a way of escapism through entertainment. We gave it a bit more of a Goth edge to it! (laughs) And I like the word "scream", because there are two types of scream, the ones of excitement and the ones of pain, and it's hard to tell the difference. If you hear your neighbor screaming you don't know if he's having sex or if he's hurt - well, that also depends on the point of view! (laughs) But, anyway, that's the title, I like long expressions. Originally it was just "Love In Theory And Practice", but we already had Love Metal and I didn't want two albums starting with "Love", 'cause it would be confusing. "Screamworks" is an easy word to remember.
You mentioned that the songs are shorter and more direct. With which of the previous albums would you draw a parallel to this new one?
V: Well, if I would describe it through our songs, I think it'd be something like Right Here In My Arms with the energy of Buried Alive By Love and the The Funeral Of Hearts atmosphere. The album is very melancholic and melodic, but also fast and direct. But the material is not done yet. We've done demos for the songs and, putting aside the "I think it'll be the best album we've ever made" or "I'm really proud of it so far", of course we're proud. We've been working hard and we want to prove to ourselves and to a lot of people that we can be big, good and respected, and more.
The band will be in studio for the next few months, with no gigs. You know there are a lot of fans in Brazil that have been waiting to see you for years. Will they have to wait much longer?
V: We've been talking about that possibility for the past six years, but unfortunately it hasn't happened yet. People may think that we've been busy because we prioritize other parts of the world, but I ask you not to think that way. Think that we consider Brazil so important that we want to rehearse a lot and be in our best shape to play there. So we had to go around the world before, so the band would be strong enough to make a huge impact in Brazil. I want this to happen as soon as possible!
The five best albums according to Ville Valo:
Carcass - Symphonies of Sickness
Godflesh - Streetcleaner
Electric Wizards- Witchcult Today
Impaled Nazarene - Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz
Black Sabbath - All of them
Translated by mariana-lico for valo_daily