Interview & photo: Nerissa Alison
HIM: Unequivocal or Misunderstood Romantics?
Dark light illuminates an empty stage as a full venue awaits another memorable moment with HIM. Previously, all those present had the chance to warm up with the power given off by Paradise Lost, a band which has given so much to the world of metal and keep on surprising time after time. From Unreachable to Beyond Redemption, there I stood, in a privileged position, next to several other photographers, all ready to reflect an entire gig through the first three songs.
Although the venue was completely packed, you could feel the electricity and positive vibe among the audience, a feeling not usually found in the songs and lyrics sung by HIM, such as, I’ve been burning in water and drowning in flames, just to prove you wrong and scare you away. Love is a flame that can’t be tamed, and though we are its willing prey, we are not the ones to blame. A prey she was for the cruelty of love, while its serpent inside crawled straight towards her heart, the coldest kiss love ceased to exist. Among so many more.
Unexpectedly, that moment in darkness was broken by a sudden burst of applause and emotion. Camera in hand, we got prepared to shoot as many images as time would allow, because each and every member of HIM had hit the stage to give it all in another one of their memorable concerts.
In 1991, in the cold heart of Helsinki, Finland, three friends, Ville, Migé, and Linde, got together to create HIM, His Infernal Majesty, a name that does not quite fit them. Even though at times their music is dark and heavy, they combine this with soft, beautiful melodies, all to underline the lyrics, full of pain but, even in their darkest moments, you always find a glimpse of hope. Modern day Romantics swimming in the depths of feeling.
To better appreciate HIM it helps to understand the creative head behind the band, in this case vocalist and songwriter Ville Valo. It was a pleasure to have the chance to interview this intriguing music personality, to discover that his songs really reflect who he is, an honest, thoughtful, and witty person, whose charm goes beyond his music as you can find out for yourself in the following interview.
VENIA: OK, let’s start. Tell me a little bit about the creative process behind all the songs HIM composes.
VILLE: Aaaahhh. Well, you know, back in the day when I was about thirteen I kind of fell in love for the first time and didn’t end up very good. I had a hard time to cope with the fact, I didn’t know how to handle it or how to talk about it, but since I had been playing music I found out that the best way for me to cope with my emotions was to write a song. So ever since that particular break down I’ve been doing that and it’s me, an acoustic guitar and a sad moment, and hopefully through the music the sadness goes into the music and leaves me for the time being.
VENIA: I think it does, I think the sadness goes into the music or at least it feels like that.
VILLE: Not all the time. Let’s say that music is like a mirror, you can see yourself from an angle, you can’t see otherwise, you can see yourself from behind or from upstairs or downstairs or whatever. It just gives you a new angle and through the new angle it’s like musical therapy, more or less, we are able to cope, maybe understand the situation we are in a bit better, and hopefully maybe live to see another day. Well, that’s how music’s been for me, you know. So that’s how they all start. Then we go to the rehearsal place with the guys and I try bits and pieces and if everybody feels good about them, then we just start working on them, putting some flesh around the bones.
VENIA: So you are a big part of the music?
VILLE: Well, let’s just say we are a band and we’ve known each other since we were kids. The riffs, the melodies, the lyrics and basic song structures are mine, but then everybody’s way of playing them obviously does effect how the songs turn out to be, because they start usually from a very acoustic skeleton.
VENIA: How would you describe your musical evolution?
VILLE: Uhm. Is there any? I don’t know. People tend to wear different kinds of clothes, occasionally, they don’t’ want to wear the same pair of sneakers all the time. And I guess the same goes with music. You change yourself out of boredom and out of all the influence that is around you. You see TV, and you see magazines, you meet people, you dislike people and you like people, and that’s an influence. You see Johnny Depp wearing cool hats and you’ve got to get one. That’s how it is. The same is with music, you hear a nice track and it makes your heart beat faster or slower or whatever, and if it just feels right then you steal that little tiny bit for yourself to try to emulate the same feeling. So I don’t know what’s an evolution, it’s just, uhm, I don’t know what it is, linear, is there a progression? Because the essence of what we do musically is pretty much the same, just trying to be honest and heartfelt and I do love melancholic, sentimental music, you know, that’s the essence of it all. You know, you just go with the flow and hope for the best, more or less, meaning that it’s not so premeditated.
VENIA: OK, let’s specifically look at this last album, many of the “hardcore” HIM fans think you have sold out to the record companies.
VILLE: With Venus Doom? (I nod.) Well, that’s weird because I got that from Dark Light, ‘because Dark Light is so much more straightforward and poppy. Venus Doom has like Sleepwalker, Past Hope. That’s weird. I thought quite the opposite because most people, who loved that first album, love the new one and hate the ones before. So.
VENIA: OK, this is what I would like to know.
VILLE: Yes, sure.
VENIA: In my opinion, and I always explain this to people who feel they know all about you and HIM, I think in your evolution as a person in the past recent years you have been well, down and out. Do you think you need, like some artists do, to be in a more depressed state of mood to maybe write music that touches people more deeply?
VILLE: Uhm. Well. It’s a kind of funny thing in a way when you are talking about, let’s say, people who think they know me, they don’t know shit about what kind of emotional state I’ve been writing a couple of songs. You know, it’s funny, I’ve been discussing about some particular songs before and it’s just funny that they think that something they feel is very heartbroken, very deep, is quite the opposite for me and is quite the opposite for them. So, its weird how emotions translate, they normally don’t.
VENIA: (After a coffee interruption when Ville asks if he can smoke in the conference room and being told no.) Are you ever going to stop (smoking)?
VILLE: Yeah, sure, but not because the government tells me so.
VENIA: Oh, no, I’m just saying because of you.
VILLE: Well, yeah.
VENIA: Long live Ville Valo to create lots and lots of good songs.
VILLE: To be able to sale out more and more years! (We both laugh.)
VENIA: Returning to the subject, I feel that it’s more your personality that influences the songs than anything else people would like to think.
VILLE: Well, I don’t know. You maybe have to pick a particular couple of tracks and we could start dissecting them, if you know what I’m saying.
VENIA: Yeah, that we will do in a moment. I have a couple more questions first. How does it feel to be touring with Paradise Lost?
VILLE: Oh, it’s fun! We supported them back in the day, you know, they gave us the opportunity. They were available and so we just asked if they wanted to hop along. They are a very highly influential band, at least for me, not for the rest of the guys in the band, they’ve never been fans, but, I was a fan of Lost Paradise and then Gothic and then when they turned into this more like Metallica thing, with Draconian Times, that wasn’t my cup of tea. But then I fell in love with them again with One Second and I still loved Host, I loved bits and pieces of Believe in Nothing, and there are good things in Symbol of Life. They’ve made so many different kinds of albums, they are like the heavy metal Depeche Mode in a way. They are one of the few bands you can really, really love an album and hate the other. And that’s great to have such diversity in their creative album. We are really happy to have them, they are great fellows. It’s great to not to have to put your ipod on full blast before a gig, you get good music right before you go on stage with them playing. They’ve got a great soundtrack for a drink of water and smoke a cigarette and sorting out the sad list (for a concert).
VENIA: The US, you guys are doing real well right now back there, how does it feel? What has it done for HIM as a band?
VILLE: Well, we were able to expand our territory a bit which is nice to be able to taste the doughnuts overseas, you know, it’s the same as we are flying after this tour down to Australia. So it’s nice. We’ve been there once before, but it’s just, uhm, exhausting, yet really exciting, ’cause it means it takes a lot more of your time to tour and a lot less time to see your family, less time to hang out with your friends. Out of last year I was probably seven, eight months out of home, that’s a long time, like a businessman type of schedule, a lot and a lot of traveling and not necessarily so much playing. You get used to bits and pieces, but it can be overwhelmingly boring at times. But the US is great, it’s fun, you know, I love the US culture. It’s a young, underage country, at the same time it’s got a weird history, as opposed to, I’m short on history, but you can see in Europe that people are more routine in their countries, and there they are more mixed, everybody’s got something different in their blood and they’re very proud of their heritage and if you find a building more than a hundred years old, that is considered ancient. It’s just great!
VENIA: Let’s get to a couple of songs before we end this interview. Let’s start with A Funeral of Hearts. Tell me about that song.
VILLE: What do you want to know?
VENIA: Why? Why is Love a funeral of hearts, an ode to cruelty, where angels cry blood and flowers of doom grow?
VILLE: Well.. Flowers of evil, that’s Shawl Bald there, we’ve lettered them all. Uhm. Oh, well, it’s just my way of celebrating that love is one of the only overwhelming emotions that kicks God in the nuts, you know, it’s more powerful than politics or religion and it touches everybody. It’s a very savage beast, but yet, everybody wants to be in love, and the more the better, and it leaves a lot of ghosts and your heart turns into a graveyard easily and it’s not a competition, but, I’ve got a fairly good amount of mausoleums in my heart, and I’m very proud of them, I’ve been able to share a lot of beautiful moments and also ugly moments with people. But that is one of the songs that does not have a particular tale behind it.
VENIA: If there was one song that you would say represents you or you would want people to remember you for, which one would it be?
VILLE: Well, I’d probably have to say the one I’m working on now since I don’t consider myself as being ready as a person, you know, I’m finding a lot of new things out. I’m thirty-one, I’ve been single for a year, it’s terrible. I haven’t gone out.
VENIA: I can’t understand that.
VILLE: Well, there is traveling all the time and I can tell you that long distance relationships don’t work. It’s fucking disastrous always. But, uhm. I’m hoping that the thoughts I’ve been trying to put into the songs I’ve written so far are going to be crystallized more and more by each and every song I’m going to write starting tomorrow.
VENIA: So you are better each day?
VILLE: Not better, but I gain more knowledge, bit by bit, so I guess that I, since each and every song in a way is like a page of a sonic diary or whatever, there is no reason for me to be ashamed of what I’ve done in the past or, you know, what I’ve done and I’m not necessarily super proud about it but you’ve got to make a couple of mistakes to learn to make new ones.
VENIA: Yes, you need to learn to fall to stand up again.
VILLE: Well, that’s the easy part. But the hard part is to be panicking since you do know you are going to fall again. So, there is not one particular track I would be more proud of than the other. I like Salt in Our Wounds, it’s one of my favorites, that’s like a lot in Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights should have been a fucking solo album, all the songs started very acoustically and it’s a lot more singer, songwriter driven album than the previous one.
VENIA: That’s a beautiful one.
VILLE: I like the lyrics. I like the vibe.
VENIA: I could sit here with you for hours and analyze your lyrics with you.
VILLE: Well, it’s always a funny thing, a song or book that has been analyzed now, will be analyzed differently tomorrow. So, it’s not necessarily a waste of time, it’s just that. Emotions are not linear, they don’t go from point A to point B, they don’t start and they don’t end. They just are. And that is how music is for me as well, and depending on the situation and the mood, they do extend their arms in different directions, I guess.
(As I’m picking up my things, Ville continues to speak amicably about song interpretation, at this point I turn the recorder back on. In this “conversation” I mention Pretending.)
VILLE: And then people don’t know that you are laughing, that is the funny thing about it.
VENIA: And Pretending you would consider that?
VILLE: Yeah, it’s very personal. And it started from a very personal moment, so even though the song is a very straightforward, very poppy and direct, you know, it’s very indirect the underlying meaning behind it, so it’s fairly funny how people see it.
So with those final words for thought, the interview concluded and yet, my feeling was there was so much more to talk about with Ville Valo, the man, the romantic and the creative mind behind HIM, so, let him weep you this poem as heaven’s gates close. And paint you his soul scarred and alone.