In late October, I had the absolute pleasure of seeing one of my favourites bands of all time, HIM, play live at Rock City in Nottingham! What’s even better than that, is that days before the gig I spoke to frontman Ville Valo on the phone to catch up and see how life as the vocalist for one of Finlands biggest exports is in 2013. He is one if the most down to earth, and humble men I’ve ever spoken to and that’s before you even consider that he’s an icon. So here it is, when Mojo20 met Ville Valo…
Stuart: 2013 has been a massive year for HIM, with the release of ‘Tears on Tape’ and now another big international tour. How are you finding this year and has the album received the attention or recognition you were expecting?
Ville: Well you know, I think it’s been a long old journey. The Album came out late April and we’ve been more or less touring ever since, and we’ve been doing the festivals in the summer time with Download. We started the tour properly in America in late August, and now we’re getting pretty close to playing fifty gigs with the new album. So it’s kind of depending on the city or the country how people are taking the new songs in, because it’s one of those things for a band, the actual test of seeing how the new material works at different gigs, and you know, it seems to be going down quite well, people do know the lyrics and seem to smile and shake their hips and sing along. So far we’ve been pretty fucking lucky
Stuart: (Laughs) Well I found this with the new album, pretty much every track took one or two listens and I could sing my way through the album.
Ville: Oh cool. It’s an ongoing journey, and there’s a lot of new things, like we’ve signed to a sub label of Cooking vinyl in the UK called Doublecross records or whatever, I think it’s nonexistent anymore so we’re tied to Cooking vinyl, and then Universal is taking care of most of the world, and then in North America we have a label called Razor & Tie, so we have plenty of record companies to talk to, so it kind of trebles the time. Triple the amount of E-mails. You know, it’s not a pain in the butt, it’s a new experience for us too, so it’s a learning curve. We’re probably going to be touring early next year as well, and hopefully do some of the festivals next summer so I can see the tour for ‘Tears on tape’ being over probably August next year. We’re just concentrating on the incentive to just play live and then afterwards start working in new material and see what happens with that. But the album charted really well in many a country but I don’t know about the actual sales.
Stuart: Well it’s a great album, and of course ‘Tears on Tape’ is HIM’s eighth studio album now, and since your debut LP in 1997, how would you describe HIM’s sound now compared to when you started?
Ville: Well we have a better idea of how studios work, and we only have these vague ideas of how we want to sound with the band, and we’ve been lucky to have the same producer on Tears on Tape, Love Metal and our first album Greatest Love Songs Volume 666, so he’s helped to us to apply the solid identity of the band and after, he helped us produce and mix Razorblade romance, so when a band takes their first baby steps into a new recording studio it’s a bit of a gamble, but we were super lucky, and now we know a bit more, so when we have an idea for a song we do have an idea of how to produce it or how to mix it or whether it’s going to be really heavy, or whether it’s going to be something a bit more mellow or psychedelic or something in between. So it’s just taking little baby steps, you know, at the end I think there is a certain identity we have with the band, a certain sound where it doesn’t matter who the producer is it’ll still sound like HIM.
Stuart: Yeah, I always thought ‘Venus Doom’ seemed to have a bit of a gritty, heavier edge to it and then ’ Screamworks’ had a synthier tone to it and was a bit more electronic, whereas ‘Tears on Tape’ seems to have gone back to basics. They’re all great albums, but’ Tears on Tape’ seems to have gone back and is more or less a culmination of every evolution of HIM in a way.
Ville: Yeah, well my favourite album of them all was Love Metal, mainly for the production, you know, the vibe. It sounded contemporary when it came out and it had a lot of hats off to stuff that was going on in the 70’s, like it had a lot of Sabbathy moments, and it had a lot incorporated in it to keep it gritty but without going down that retro road.
Stuart: Yeah I’ve seen interviews with you before where you’re promoting an album, and you’ve mentioned a few times, and I’m sure this was the case with Love metal especially, that it’s almost a sort of collaboration of all those classic bands like Black Sabbath, The Stooges and Led Zeppelin and it becomes all of that encased into one album, you’ve taken elements of each and created one album. But with twenty-one years behind you now as a band, you’re becoming one of those classic bands, how does it feel to be up there with those names?
Ville: We’re not classic, we’re just old…
Stuart: (Laughs) well I’d certainly consider it as classic.
Ville: Nah, we’ve had the chance of meeting a few young musicians and so forth, that have said that we’ve been a great influence and still continue to be, so that’s pretty amazing. When you’re a musician yourself in a band you live in a sort of bubble and it’s very hard to have the time to look back at what’s been going on the past 20 years before you’re always pushing forwards so that makes a hell of a difference. It’s something real and very surreal, you know, it’s about half the life I’ve lived on this planet. So it’s kind of weird and quirky and sort of scary at the same time so you know, I’m still happy that we’re still having fun, with the lads, and we’re still excited to create a new album. But it’s not automatic, you know, a lot of bands just blow up and it’s not particularly their fault so I’m glad we’ve been able to stick together for, I don’t know what reason, for such a long time.
Stuart: You hear about a lot of bands that have been together for such a long time, and as you say they can burn out and fall out, but I’ve never heard of any of that within HIM. I’ve never heard of any rifts between any of you. Is that something that ever happens?
Ville: Yeah, I think there have been a few but the fact we met up when we were in our pre teens, like ten or eleven years old, so we’ve more or less grown up together and the bands been a big part of it, but I think whether you’re even brothers or something of course you’re going to have fights and you’re going to come to blows, and that’s normal. But I think what makes the difference is that we sort it out later. Sometimes problems come about when people have got their own plans, and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the band, they might be going through big changes in their lives and relationships and what not, and when you have to be on tour at the same time, trying to sort out that sort of stuff, and keep your heart in shape, and keep your head in shape at the same time can be very frustrating. It’s probably the same with a travelling businessman you know, people who have to be away for a while, and it’s one of those things where we enjoy what we do but we want to be happy, and we miss being back home. There’s a fine line, like a razors edge.
Stuart: Being out on the road as much as you just said, between you and the other guys, do you get the chance to pick up much new music, and what things do you find yourself listening to whilst travelling?
Ville: Well, I think the theme for this tour has been the support act, Caspian. They’re really, really good. You should check them out when we play Rock City. We were pleasantly surprised because it was a bit of a gamble with them because I’d never really heard of them, and I’d heard their music was instrumental, they don’t have any vocals. It’s kind of full strung, alt, I don’t know what you call it. It’s like Sigur Ros, meeting heavy metal, so it’s really epic and kind of dark but they have an electronic element in there with the guitars, but it’s not a heavy band per say, but it’s very interesting and it’s going down super, super well with the audience. They’ve set up the mood for us each and every night, which is rare, so we’ve been listening to that even before our own gigs in the dressing rooms each and every night, which is the main thing. Otherwise we’d end up with the same old, listening to crappy Finnish pop from the 70’s, or some black metal band. As long as the tongues firmly in cheek then we’ll listen to it.
Stuart: Some of your inspirations have been mentioned before, such as Neil Young, Black Sabbath and Depeche mode. These three in particular have all released new material in the past couple of years. Are these still people you listen to, and have you kept up with their new releases and stayed interested?
Ville: Well, yes some of it. I haven’t actually managed to keep up as much with Neil Young because he just keeps releasing so much stuff. Some of it’s very experimental and he’s great at doing what he does but with Neil Young out of the forty plus albums he’s released, he’s always classic to me personally. The same with Depeche, I have heard the new album, only a few times but funnily enough they actually mixed the new album in the same studio we were mixing Tears on tape. They were working next door basically so I heard some of the new stuff they released but it was all hush-hush and nobody was really actually able to listen to it, so I was just trying to sneak my way in and listen to a couple of beats. I’ve heard they’re playing Helsinki in December so I’m hoping to see them as I haven’t seen them in so many years. Same with Sabbath, Sabbath are playing in Helsinki in November.
Stuart: You seem to be a band that’s always busy, and even when HIM aren’t producing new material or touring, you seem to jump straight onto collaborating. The list of people you’ve worked with is unbelievable. Are there any particular favourites from your previous collaborations?
Ville: Well, one of the things I wish would have happened was when I did something with Cradle of Filth, and I wasn’t able to fly out to the studio where they were working on the album I sang on. I was talking about it but just didn’t have the time. So I ended up doing that stuff back at home. Usually it’s been there where the magic happens. In Helsinki with a lot of Finnish bands you just buy a case of beer and go hang in the studio with fifteen friends while the bands working. So it keeps on changing, I’m happy that people ask me to participate, like the stuff I did with Bloodhound gang back in the day and stuff. It’s one of those things, I’d rather do one thing than fifteen things, I think that’s very important and we haven’t had much time off with the band so I don’t have the time, like we’re in talks about collaborating but it remains to be seen because it takes a lot of energy. Relaxations important and I like to listen to music so I like to get back home
Stuart: Well that’s it; you have to take time to stay interested in music to create it yourself
Ville: That’s true, definitely. Also take time off to make music because if you torture yourself to write music then it’ll become stale and turn into your enemy.
Stuart: One stand out point of ‘Tears on tape’ is you getting behind the guitar and getting more musically involved. Why is now the right time for that, what inspired the move?
Ville: Well I did play acoustic guitar back in 2001 and when we were touring Deep shadows and brilliant highlights, and to answer your question I’m a shit player but I’m getting a little better, and it’s visually excited and it’s something new. You give something new sonically and visually for the whole band and for me it’s fun, it doesn’t have to be any more. Songs like ‘All lips go blue’ and ‘Into the night’ just benefit from it as well as doing ‘Join me (in death)’. The original album version had acoustic guitar on it and it just gives it that little shimmer. It’s also down to the fact, as you mentioned we’ve released eight albums and there are certain songs that we have to play each and every night, so it’s nice to come at it from a new angle, so it’s like the icing on the cake so to speak.
Stuart: It must be quite hard putting the set list together now with such a back catalogue and the crowds always going to want certain songs.
Ville: At the end of the day, the set should have a sense of drama; they’re not just songs back to back they have to make sense and kind of join each other. Like the set we’re playing now, it’s got some really good songs and of course there’s a lot of songs missing but what it is now seems to be working really well. It’s certainly rocking and up tempo, and a bit quirky.
Stuart: Through some of your earlier albums, especially ‘Greatest love songs’, there’s a few covers on there such as ‘Wicked game’ and ‘Don’t fear the reaper’, and then you later moved on and did Solitary man. What are your favourite covers to perform live?
Ville: Well we haven’t played nearly all of them. There’s many, many we’ve recorded and many we played live when we started like we did ‘Enjoy the Silence’ by Depeche Mode, and we did some Black Sabbath for a long, long time. So, we keep on changing, it’s like ‘Wicked game’ seems like a HIM song, even though it’s by Chris Issak it was one of the first songs we got some radio airplay with back home and it’s become such a big part of us and our history, that’s why it’s one of the songs we play every time. That’s a nice one. But sometimes we do songs by Motorhead and occasionally we do some Napalm death, but that’s over in like five seconds.
Stuart: So, you’ve probably been asked this before and I’m sure it’s an incredibly tough one to answer. But would you be able to pick your own, favourite HIM song?
Ville: Well there’s so many reasons for a song to be my favourite, whether it’s in terms of production or you know. One of the new songs, the title track off the new album is one of my favourites. It’s got a really cool vibe and it really seems to connect with people and it always connects with me somehow on an emotional level whenever I hear it or play it. But out of all the tracks, ‘When Love And Death Embrace’ from the first album. It’s one that just has something in it, I like to call it magic. I don’t know why, it just has this odd mood and just transports me somewhere else, and that’s something that I haven’t been able to copy. It’s just something that happens and it’s out of your hands. You have these skeletal ideas for a song, and then it’s on a certain level, and then you have to produce and mix and master it and that’s a long process which evoke those very surreal emotions or it doesn’t. That’s one of the reasons I do music, because it’s not a mathematical process, you don’t come to the same conclusion with the same variables. It just keeps on changing which keeps it interesting, so on that basis ‘When Love And Death Embrace’ is one of them.
Ville Valo was speaking to Mojo20’s Stuart Green (@mojo20_music)