Interview with Ville Valo from Finnish Love Metal Band HIM
Written by Alison “MetalBabe” Cohen
Being a die-hard HIM fan, it was truly an honor to be able to speak with their founder and frontman Ville Valo. We had an extremely enlightened phone conversation about his views on how his music affects his fans, how different cultures relate to HIM’s music, his songwriting process, and the differences between writing and singing in the English and Finnish languages.
* HIM was currently in Los Angeles in support of the U.S. leg of the Love Metal Archives Tour, and we spoke the day before HIM was to play The Wiltern.
Metal Babe: Hi Ville, I am so honored to be able to interview you today. I am a huge fan and it means the world to me to have this opportunity.
Ville: Come on, we’re not done yet. (BOTH LAUGH.)
Metal Babe: How does it feel knowing that you, your words, and your music have touched so many millions of people’s hearts, to see fans night after night singing along to the words that you have written, and knowing that so many people have HIM and Heartagram tattoos?
Ville: What a question to start with… (LAUGHS) I think, things like that… Usually an artist or a musician doesn’t usually think about. You just go forwards. A lot of times,
strength in music comes from the insecurities you put out. A lot of times performers are pretty shy, and they transform when they sing a song or play an instrument. It doesn’t have any rhyme or reason. That’s the bubble in which I live. I don’t follow the social media, or try to figure out… Read all the reviews or whatever. If there’s a good review we’ll probably hear about it, and if there’s a really bad one, we’ll hear about it too. The incredible wealth of information is just, you know, overwhelming… The amount of it… So, I just basically… Long story short, I just try to concentrate on what’s in front of me. You know, sing the show, try to be in good shape, and write a good song.
Metal Babe: And speaking of… That was my next question, what is your songwriting process and what inspires you lyrically?
Ville: I have a feeling or an emotion that I can’t describe in words. So, the only way I can put that feeling out is if I have melody. It’s really primal. When I have that emotion down, as a piece of music, then I’ll just try to find the verbal equivalence at least to, not f*ck up the mood, so to speak. So, that’s also the reason, a lot of times, that they’re obscure or surreal. It’s tough. It’s tough to explain yourself in words anyway, to a friend, or whomever. You know, if you’re talking about really, really important stuff, and really emotional stuff, and the stuff that is at everybody’s core. That’s the stuff that’s so hard to verbalize. And that’s probably why I do music. I’m able to explain this world to myself better via music.. Music is like a mirror.
Metal Babe: Yeah. That makes sense. After you have the melody, how do you decide if you are going to write in Finnish or in English?
Ville: I grew up listening to American music. Me and Migé, the bass player, were talking about it many, many moons ago. English was always the language for rock n’ roll. English has a twang to it, unlike any other language. The Finnish language is really exotic, and it’s is really rough… With the rolling ‘r’s’ and so forth. It’s tough to find something beautiful in such a hard sounding language. I adore a few Finnish writers, and singer/songwriters, and stuff like that too. It can be done. I haven’t been able to do so. That’s the reason probably why I started writing stuff in English. It’s like a challenge. And then, again, it’s like… You know, when you’re not messing about with your own language, you kind of see the forest for the trees. You can see the language at a different angle than a person who speaks it every day, or who has been brought up in the language, because the nuances are different. At times it’s better, at times it’s worse, it doesn’t really matter. Same with authors, or same with translations… Let’s say some translation of Kafka, or whatever. It’s very different. Just the thought process of people who have been living in different culture.
Metal Babe: I have heard you do some cover songs in Finnish and it’s always fun to recognize the melody and try and figure out the words.
Ville: I’ve only sung a few (Finnish) songs, and it’s been a long time since I’ve done anything (in Finnish). There’s one new song that one of my friends… It’s his first solo album. Teho (Majamäen) is his name. I think it’s now released. I sang one track. It’s an old poem about Lucifer we found from the early 1900’s. A Finnish poet, and kind of like an oddball, who wrote it. I thought that it’d fit so beautifully to the music. I didn’t rip it off; I just sang the poem as it is in the song. So that’s my latest adventure into Finnish and music.
Metal Babe: That’s really neat. How do you choose what cover songs you want to record?
Ville: I don’t think we have recorded, or played, any kind of new cover songs in a while. It’s an age-old thing. “Wicked Game” is one of the songs that taught us about our capabilities as musicians and it gave us the sound of HIM. The movie, ‘Wild At Heart,’ by David Lynch… That song is in the film, and they gave it a lot of radio airplay, I think in the early 90’s. I just got this idea to make a brilliant hard hitting version of that song. He (Chris Isaak) did it in like fifteen minutes or something and never stopped, never turned back to look. So it’s one of those things… It’s called the magic of music.
Metal Babe: Yesterday I was just listening to “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” that’s what gave me the question. What made you cover that song and who was the female vocalist?
Ville: The female vocalist (Sanna-June Hyde) was Linde the guitar player’s girlfriend. She was my old childhood friend. I asked her to come up into the studio because we didn’t know any other girls that could sing. (LAUGHS) She did a great job. I grew up with horror movies, same as Migé and Linde as well, and John Carpenter’s “Halloween” is quite the life changer. Like fifteen minutes into the movie Jamie Lee Curtis is smoking a joint in the car and on the radio is “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” That’s the first time I heard the song. So it seems that a lot of times the cover songs have to do movies and other stuff. It’s not just us picking up music, it’s more seeing the songs in the right time, right place.
Metal Babe: You’ve probably played for most of the world at this point. How does it vary playing for audiences in the United States compared to Finland and throughout Europe?
Ville: Well, you know it’s funny that a lot of people in the States consider all of the States being alike in audiences. This country is so massive. The audience response is very different from state to state. So in that sense, it’s very similar to Europe. You can drive three hundred miles and the reception will be horrific, but in a very different way. In some countries people sing along to the songs super loud. In some countries, they’re really aggressive and bang their heads. In some countries they are very quiet and respectful and yet listen to the music. Valid ways of enjoying music… But it seems that different cultures have different ways of appreciating it. So it seems here in the States as well. Some places are wilder. Some places are a bit more quiet. I’m not just talking about the amount of bodies. I’m talking about the vibe of the audience. People are a bit more distant… I wouldn’t say that there would be one best, or one worst. There’s so many different variables, I would say. Such as, what day of the week we are playing. Is the band in a good shape or not? What time of the year it is. People are always wild once the weekend comes. It works miraculously in all the countries. Whenever it’s Friday, the show is going to be a good one.
Metal Babe: Definitely. With eight albums worth of material, not to mention the cover songs and rarities, how do you choose which songs to play live?
Ville: There’s songs that we cannot not play. There’s songs that we have to play because they are very important history-wise and identity-wise. Songs like “Join Me In Death,” or “Wicked Game,” or “Buried Alive By Love.” Songs that are tough to throw out of sets. I usually think in terms of being a fan. I think like back in the day when I saw Type O Negative in 1996, what was the thing I loved about them, and what was the thing I didn’t like about them too much. That’s how we try to build our sets too. It’s not about us jerking off musically. It’s about a communal experience. It’s about an experience that’s interactive. It’s not just a bunch of musicians playing to whomever. It’s about the venue, it’s about the sound of the venue, how the lights look, how the people are feeling, how the band is feeling. Everything interacts with each other and that’s what makes it special each and every night. The same song could be very different emotionally, and its impact can be very different on consecutive nights because of those things. Because of the audience, because of the band, or whatever it could be. That’s also what makes music interesting. It’s not repetitious to a fault, you know.
Metal Babe: The ‘Lashes to Ashes, Lust to Dust’ Box Set sounds amazing, and it will give fans a chance to choose from a variety of options. For anyone who doesn’t know about the box set, can you tell them about it?
Ville: Well, there’s too many things… The fastest way would be just to login to The End Records (http://theendrecords.com/) and check it out. Our first four albums were never released in the States, we never had a label here who would have pushed them, and our first introduction to the States proper was ‘Dark Light,’ when we signed to Sire Records. We had the opportunity about two years ago to get our rights back to the old material when it comes to the United States. So we thought, let’s put them out, and let’s put them out in a cool way that they would be like high-tech, flashy, cool, good sounding vinyl editions and whatnot, with all the bells and whistles. That’s basically what we aimed to do. I hope that we succeeded. So the idea is that there is basically a vinyl box set with the first four albums with the regular sleeves, and with our first EP ‘666 Ways to Love,’ that was only released in Finland back in ’96 on CD and only 500 copies of it were made, or something. So it’s the first time it is being released on vinyl. And then it’s got a USB stick with tons of extra stuff. I was scrounging through my old archives and I found about 40 songs that had never been released before. There’s the vinyls, they include download codes. The vinyls are colored, they’re gatefold sleeves, and so forth. And then there’s CD’s, and then there’s downloads, and whatnot. There’s many versions of the albums. Just get the ones that look the best.
Metal Babe: It’s great to have something tangible that people hand hold in their hands. Hopefully that is a huge success.
Ville: Alright. Excellent. We’re very excited about the whole thing too.
I’m hoping that it is gonna pay off in the end. The vinyl thing is really nice. We’ve never had the vinyl of those old albums back in Europe. In the late ‘90’s, that wasn’t vinyl time yet, so it was very far and few between. So this was the first time we could actually get the vinyl in our hands. When we started out as a rock band, you know. Vinyl was how you consider yourself successful.
Metal Babe: And you’re there, so that’s great!
Ville: Well finally… (LAUGHS.) Only took 22 years or so.
Metal Babe: Do you have any idea at this point what fans can expect from your next album?
Ville: I’ve got ideas, but usually my ideas get transformed so many times before the album’s actually done that it’s impossible for me to say what it’s all going to be about. It’s going to be pretty melancholy and heart hitting. So, once we get back home from this little tour, we’re going to relax for a wee bit, I’m going to pick up the guitar and start working on the songs proper. When I have enough of that stuff I’m going to take it to the rehearsal place and we’ll start working on it. It’s impossible to say how long it takes… Two, three months to get an album done. And sometimes it takes a year. So, just depending on the mood at the time and how challenging the songwriting process will be. I don’t know when it’s going to be out, but it will be out as soon as it’s good enough.
Metal Babe: Last thing for you… Are there any final words that you would like to say to your fans?
Ville: Not much more than a big thank you, and so forth. It’s really quite a year and a half since “Tears on Tape” was released. A lot of ups and a lot of downs. And it’s been good. You know, thanks for being there and being a symbolic shoulder to cry on.
Metal Babe: Thank you so much for your time today Ville, and I can’t wait to see you play tomorrow night.
Ville: Wow. Wonderful. See you at The Wiltern.