Whether itís the songs about vampires, requiems, and dark seduction, or the intriguing exterior of frontman Ville Valo, the Finnish band HIM has easily won over fans across the world. After over a decade of perfecting its blend of rock (often times bordering on the gothic genre), the quintet is finally seeing those results in a more tangible manner Ė namely record sales.
The 2005 album Dark Light reached Gold status in the U.S., a feat that no other Finnish band has accomplished. HIMís latest album Venus Doom also marked the groupís highest debut on the Billboard charts at #12, but for Valo all of the numbers and sales are secondary. The music itself has been a cathartic means to get through day-to-day life.
The therapeutic aspect played a massive role in Valoís life following the recording of Venus Doom. Earlier this summer the vocalist checked himself into rehab after enduring one of his most challenging years personally. According to Valo, the experience was exactly what he needed in order to go forward with the long year ahead, which will include a steady touring schedule. When Valo talked with UG writer Amy Kelly recently, he discussed his battle with the bottle and how music has once again played a major role in his recovery.
UG: The new album Venus Doom just hit # 12 on the Billboard Charts and now youíre about to take off on a tour. I can imagine that life has been rather hectic for you these days.
Ville: I just pulled in from Spain, still doing a bit of promotion over here in Europe. Now finally, Iím going to have a luxurious 2 weeks off. Itís the first 2 weeks off when I can spend that 2 weeks at my own place here in Helsinki.
UG: Are you used to that lifestyle by now?
Ville: Yeah, but give me a call in like 3 days and Iím going to be complaining! You always want what you canít have at that moment. But my house is a fucking shithole. I just need to get the vacuum cleaner out of the closet and do some normal stuff. So Iím kind of like anxiously waiting for that, to get my handís dirty.
UG: I read that Venus Doom was partially inspired by Danteís Inferno. Is that true?
Ville: Not necessarily. I had been reading Danteís Inferno, yes. I do know that his layers consist of 9 layers, 9 circles, or whatever you want to call it. We have the 9th Circle being one of our fan clubs over in the States. So I know bits and pieces about Dante. I had all the music written before, and then I all of the sudden realized that we do have 9 songs on the album. So I was just laughing at it, calling it the 9 layers of our personal life.
UG: Are you the primary songwriter in the band?
Ville: The only one. Itís a cross Iím delighted to bear, letís put it that way. I used to write some songs with my guitar player, but nothing happened after that. He was more intrigued by hanging out with girls or whatever. All of the responsibility was mine from that moment on. Itís fairly natural for me to write that stuff. Whenever shit is hitting the fan in my personal life, there is always a new story, a new song that needs to be written.
Iím kind of slow. I wrote the chorus for the song ďPassionís Killing FloorĒ maybe 10 years ago. Itís taken this long to actually get it arranged to a song that actually has been recorded and now is released. So I do tend to write bits and pieces all the time. Some of them just take ages. Same with ďCyanide Sun,Ē the last song on the album. That took maybe 5 years to finish.
UG: Does it always start off with a lyrical idea?
Ville: Itís kind of different each and every time. Thatís the delightful thing about music, and I donít want that to change. Itís not mathematical at all. You never know when and how and why inspiration is going to hit you, and that makes it very exciting, at least for me. Iíll run a bath and something will happen, and Iíll put it down on my recorder and start working on the idea. And as I told you, sometimes it just takes ages to find the right pieces of the puzzle so to speak.
UG: The 10-minute track ďSleepwalking Past HopeĒ is a song that sticks with a lot of people because of the multiple musical styles it touches upon. Considering other songs have taken you up to 10 years to write, was ďSleepwalking Past HopeĒ another lengthy undertaking?
Ville: It took about 16 months. Itís one of those songs that just couldnít finish itself. When we were at the rehearsal place, we kept on working on the ideas and jamming the ideas. We had the basic structure of the song, but it just kept on expanding and expanding. It just didnít want to end. When youíre arranging songs and putting all the little, tiny pieces together, itís good to go with the flow and just go where the song leads you. That was one of the tracks that lasted 10 minutes, but it didnít take a long time to actually write. It was more natural.
You have a bit of old school Metallica in the guitar solo and the bass part. The breakdown thing Ė Iím a big fan of Dario Argento, the Italian horror movie director Ė so thereís a horror movie vibe in there. Otherwise, I was just trying to rip off Black Sabbath. It doesnít sound like Janeís Addiction, but Janeís Addiction has pretty long and intricate songs on their Ritual de lo Habitual. I was a super-big fan, and thatís one of my favorite albums of all time. So that was the inspiration for me. I just like songs that have a lot of changes in them and go through all the different emotions. Everything cannot happen in 3 minutes. Weíre not that generic as a rock band. Itís going to be great to play live.
UG: Itís interesting to hear you mention all of those very different influences. When you were first learning music, were there a few particular artists that stood out to you?
Ville: Thereís way too many to mention, but Iím Finnish and was born in Helsinki, Finland, so I grew up with my parents listening to The Rolling Stones. Then on the other hand, a lot of Finnish traditional folk music, which is really kind of sad and melancholy. I grew up with that kind of stuff. That obviously has affected the way I write songs. I still listen to some of the old school Finnish stuff from the 40s and 50s.
Iíve been listening to so many different kinds of stuff. When I was a skateboarder, I was into Bad Brains, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Dinosaur Jr., Lemonheads, and all that stuff. At one point I had dreadlocks and I was smoking a lot of pot, and I was just listening to reggae. I still listen to a lot of roots reggae. Itís as they say in Art Of War, that itís good to know your enemies. So itís good to listen to all kinds of music! Itís always healthy to know about all kinds of stuff.
When I started playing music when I was about 13 or 14, I had about 7 bands going on at the same time. I was doing singing in a grindcore band on Tuesdays, doing reggae on Wednesday, and stuff like that. I don't consider that different genres of music. Music is freedom to me, so I like the fact that Iíve been able to suck in as much information as I have from all kinds of stuff.
Black Sabbath is probably the main influence. They kind of gave us hope. They came from a tiny, little industrial city somewhere near Birmingham. They werenít particularly good looking and they didnít play music that the rest of the bands were playing at that moment. So they kind of like gave us hope that maybe this weird band coming from Finland with weird, peculiar characters in the band can do something weird and one day can become successful.
UG: Youíre the only Finnish band to hit Gold status in the United States. Thatís a huge accomplishment.
Ville: For the next band, whoever they might be, itís just going to be a sloppy second! Iím proud of that. My parents are proud of that. Iím 30 now and Iíve been playing music since I was maybe 7 or 8 years old. So itís taken a long time to get this far, but no regrets. We had been rehearsing, touring, and recording albums in Europe for about 10 years before we started touring in the States. So we were in fairly good shape before when we came over there.
UG: You mentioned that you started playing music at 7 years old. What was your first instrument?
Ville: I started playing bass because Iím a big fan of KISS. So Gene Simmons was my favorite and so was Steve Harris from Iron Maiden. I love that heavy stuff, so I wanted to be a rock and roller. Thatís the good thing about this band. We started playing music so early that we didnít know shit about drugs or girls or fast cars or money. We just loved music. Especially back in the 80s and a lot of the hair metal bands, they said they started playing music because they wanted to score chicks. Weíve always been able to score chicks whenever necessary! Most of the guys in the band are happily married and all that, and a couple of them have kids. Itís fun to play music together.
Iím really happy for the fact that Iíve known everybody at least 15 years. I grew up with most of the guys in the band. There is not a lot of ego-tripping in the very negative sense. Weíre just good friends, and thatís what it takes. Oh, my God, it would be terrible to live on the same bus for fucking months and months every year and not even know each other. That would be terrible.
UG: In Venus Doomís liner notes, it states that you recorded the all-acoustic ďSong Or SuicideĒ at the Chateau Marmont.
Ville: Yeah, on Sunset Strip where John Belushi died. They have nice bungalows and little tiny cottages. Theyíre very cozy. I wanted to stay over there just for the vibe during the mixing of the album, but then I wanted to add that little interlude just to make it more interesting. Back in the day, you had long songs and short songs and fast songs and slow songs and acoustic songs, everything on one album. The variety is what Iím proud of when it comes to Venus Doom.
UG: Was that Linde accompanying you on the guitar?
Ville: No, that was just me playing the acoustic. So it was basically just one take. Yeah, itís kind of sweet. I like to do something really singer-songwriter-y. The whole ďSong Or SuicideĒ title came from a folk singer from the 70s called Judee Sill, who did ďJesus Was a Cross MakerĒ and some other minor hits. She said in an interview that at one point she was having such a bad relationship with somebody that she had to either write a song about it or kill herself. It was either song or suicide for her. Thatís what music is to me as well. Itís my way of coping with the world, coping with the good things and the bad things. Usually, itís especially the bad things because itís very cathartic to write a song. Itís like writing a diary. You see your inner thoughts on a piece of paper, and that helps you to reflect upon yourself through that. I do that with music, and Iím still alive and very happy.
UG: How often does that happen, where youíll just pick up an acoustic and a song comes out in the course of a few minutes?
Ville: Iíd say not too often. Iím sorry to say! Iíd love that it would be easier. I guess itís a process that it takes. Itís like solving your own problems, and you canít solve them in a day or in an hour. Some songs take years to solve. Some songs take weeks. Thatís just my method with coping with the urban matter.
Itís a fairly lucrative process! Itís good fun. Weíve been able to see the world and meet a lot of people and make a lot of good friends around all over the place. You see a lot of things that somebody who would be working from 9 to 5 in one job in one country would never be able to see. So Iím glad for all the experiences, and itís not over yet. Hopefully weíll make it even more exciting.
UG: I understand that a few months ago you went through rehab. Is that true?
Ville: Yeah, I was a mess when the album was done. On a personal level, I had a really bad year last year. It could be that I got so much shit out of my body by writing the stuff on the album, which is good. But it was fucking alcohol and I was just burnt out because I hadnít really had a vacation in about 10 years. I needed time off. So I had been just working, working, working, and killing the mental pain with a bottle of beer. All of the sudden you find out that one bottle is not enough, so I ended up drinking a fucking case of beer and a couple Jack Daniels. I couldnít leave, I couldnít do anything. I knew I had to stop.
There were so many things to do, so much planned, and so much to do with the record company. I just gave our manager a call to see if he could help me out. I wanted to go somewhere Iím not allowed to have my cell phone on, where I can just be away from the outside world for a bit because I know I canít do it myself. So thatís the reason why I went in. I havenít touched a bottle in more than 4 months now. So weíre doing good, and I can sleep a lot better. I sleep like a baby now.
UG: Thatís fantastic that youíve overcome your addiction so quickly. Youíve got many loyal fans that are very relieved to hear youíre doing well.
Ville: I donít know about that. Iím blushing. You know, itís something I had to do for myself. One long-lasting relationship was going downhill big-time, and then writing, producing, and rehearsing an album at the same time. I was doing press at the same time, then helping others with problems of their own. I was doing a lot of multi-tasking. I was doing so many things at the same time that, you know, I couldnít stop. Iím fairly boring now! Iím fine with that.
UG: Have you done any writing since you left rehab?
Ville: Not a lot because weíve been doing so much press for Venus Doom. Now Iím kind of like waiting for the tour to start, with the first leg of the tour starting mid-October. I carry my Gibson guitar around. Iíve got a lot of ideas for maybe 7, 8 tracks, but nothing is done yet. I want to see what the reaction is when we play.
UG: Do you use one particular acoustic to write with?
Ville: Iíve got a few. Iíve got a couple of really old ones and then one I travel with because Iím afraid that they might get broken, carrying them rough-handedly. We tend to travel a lot, so I have a few ones that Iím not so attached to. I have one waiting for me in America. My tour manager is taking care of my guitar back at his place. Iíve got a few. Iím always playing Gibson acoustics. Iíve got a few different things, but Iím not like a collector.
UG: After all youíve been through in the past year, how are you feeling now that Venus Doom has been completed?
Ville: Iím kind of like anxiously waiting to turn 31, to celebrate my birthday for the first time in 15 years sober. Itís almost New Yearís. Over the holidays I get to see my mom and dad. I havenít seen them in a while. Itís a good feeling at this point in the moment because everybody is so proud of the album in the band. Everybody loves it. So weíre getting antsy to get back on tour. So itís good to have these 2 weeks off to recharge the battery, do laundry, do lazy things, and just start sweating it all out.
You never know what might happen tomorrow, so Iím hoping that this tour is going to go well. Hopefully next year weíre going to go over to South America for the first time. We played Mexico a few times, but weíll go to Brazil and Argentina and places like that. That might be exciting. Itíll be good to see what happens with the album.