HIM's Ville Valo on Bam Margera and The "Tears" of His Favorite Artists
Finnish rock band HIM is known for causing a lot of weird controversy. First, a lot of people get angsty when it comes time to define their sound--the band has been categorized as everything from slow alt-rock to melodic metal to gothic metal. But they've been around since 1991, and they're the only Finnish rock band to achieve a gold record in the United States. The band members--frontman Ville Valo, guitarist Mikko "Linde" Lindstrom, bassist have an interesting array of influences, including The Stooges, KISS, Black Sabbath and Neil Young.
The band's eight studio albums span fast and heavy to mournful and rainy-day-friendly; the fifth album, 2005's Dark Light, was the band's breakthrough album in the U.S, partially because Bam Margera from the show "Jackass" loved the band so much you couldn't go one episode of his show without seeing HIM's signature heartagram symbol painted on his wall. This past May at the Golden Gods Awards, HIM even won the 'Most Dedicated Fans' award.
Front man Ville Valo is also known for a lot of things, too. He's an interesting person to speak with, weaving back and forth between existential topics, the media in Finland, and his favorite U.S. food cities. Up On The Sun talked with Valo about the problem with touring the U.S., why he hates writing on the road, and how vintage gear makes you perform in a certain way.
HIM's latest album, Tears on Tape, was released in April 2013. For the album, Valo mined inspiration from doo-wop of the '50s and '60s, examining personal relationships and the history of his favorite musicians. Or, as Valo puts it, "It's a love letter to the musicians I love."
How does Tears on Tape differ from your other albums, in terms of the concept behind it, or different techniques utilized?
I could write a novel about it. It's little tiny changes here and there, like putting together a big puzzle. It took a long time for us to get it going on.
I think the main difference with this album is that the music extremes we usually have are kind of more mellow here. On previous albums we maybe had a really fast aggressive song, and that would be followed by something more mellow. But this album we had the idea to have both those extremes closer sound-wise and song-wise. But pretty straight in your face, organic, dirty--moreso than the previous one. Also more relaxed and more fun.
You've said the album represents "the tears from your favorite artists." I know you're inspired by artists like Elvis and King Diamond. I'd love to hear name off some of the artists that match with some of the songs?
We have learned reference points after being musicians for such a long time, and when we mention them, it seems no one gets where it's coming from. Like the midsection for the song "Hearts at War" came originally from an old satirical black metal song. So that comes from little bits like a puzzle. They are just reference points for us.
And then the guitar for "All Lips Go Blue" that was influenced by the English band Cathedral. In terms of inspiration, there was a lot of folk music inspiration. And Chris Whitley? I love his album called Dirt Floor, which is just guitar and nothing more. Simple, but super powerful. Mood-wise, that's something I was really into. I started writing them very bare-boned, and once the main ideas were clear enough for me, that's when we started adding more rock and roll from our idols.
The songs in themselves aren't really complex. They are metalhead-y and straightforward, in essence, if you strip the production off. But it's nice to have ear-candy, with the effects, the keyboards, and atmospheric stuff. I love being involved in recording and producing albums. I think it's fascinating. Like being an old kid in a candy store. Playful seriousness, if that makes any sense.
I don't think any band should ever think about how a song is going to work live. Recorded music is a different art itself. We sort it out one way or the other.
Is someone had never heard of HIM, what album would you hand them to hear first that represented you guys?
You should probably ask somebody else. I have all the reasons why I like each one. And it's always really personal. Musically, the last one would be a good one. Then Love Metal from 2003. That was the first album we really had the idea of our sound. Once again, as you know, when you hear a song from an artist for the first time, it's not necessarily the best song you hear... but that first impact is so important that you'll always remember that song and it will be something special for you.
So for a lot of people, in our case, that was the album called Razorblade Romance. From the year 2000. It was big in Europe. For people in UK it was Love Metal. And people in the US it was Dark Light. I'm happy there are people that still dig what we do.