For the last 20 years, HIM have been delivering their own brand of love metal to the world – inspiring a legion of fans and heartagram tattoos along the way. With only a couple of short weeks until the latest album, ‘Tears On Tape’ is released, we sat down in the small hours of the morning to chat with frontman Ville Valo about love, death and everything in between.
By Meghan Player
Love or hate them, there is no denying the impact Finnish band HIM have had on the wider music community. Beginning their career by bending the rules and branching out into their own genre of music, the band have stuck to their guns throughout their career – and for the most part, it’s been for the better.
Late last year, the band celebrated 20 years with the release of their second compilation ‘XX: Two Decades of Love Metal‘ – a retrospective look at the bands versatile past. While for fans the collection celebrated how far the band had come and grown, the experience for vocalist Ville Valo appears to have been much more daunting.
“It was pretty painful and rather boring,” he laughs. “You usually just hear the mistakes when you’re in the band, so we were like ‘oh shit, why did we do that back in the day?'”
“The songs that we play on tour keep changing their meaning for every individual in the band,” he continues. “At times I think the naivety is a good thing too – it’s like looking at an old track from a new angle. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. But then there’s those songs that we haven’t played live, some of them sound really odd.”
Despite the bands reluctance and perhaps embarrassment to revisit their past, Valo acknowledges that the album was a celebration of the band’s career, and a testament to their longevity.
“As a block of work, I think the interesting thing is how we’ve managed to stay together for that period of time, which is almost half our lives,” he explains. “It’s pretty extraordinary to still be working on music, and still get excited about it. That’s pretty wild.”
Perhaps a motivation to continue the HIM story and indeed the journey, the band are currently on track to release their eighth studio album, ‘Tears On Tape‘ at the end of the month.
A feast for the ears and soul, the album once again encompasses the bands ‘signature’ – the relationship between love and death – two subjects in which Valo continues to find renewed inspiration.
“Love, in itself, makes the world go round – and it’s the cause of many religious and political debates as well. There’s very few topics to sing about anyway,” the singer explains. “You can sing about drugs, sex, cars, politics and religion – and I think that’s about it. I’d rather pick the most interesting ones. Which is love, the death of love, the sense of longing and the losing and regaining – which can be interpreted as being part of death too. I like a bit of drama. I think that if music and lyrics are too close to everyday, it usually becomes boring. I like stuff to be larger than life.”
Undoubtedly two subjects that have constantly inspired the singer, Valo admits that the ‘consistency’ of the topics has meant his creative process hasn’t dramatically changed over the years.
“Thank god. It’s always been about self-doubt, terrible pressure and many a sleepless night,” he muses. “It’s always a hassle. It always takes its toll, both physically and mentally – and that’s the way it should be. It should be a relief once the album is done. If you look at it as a sense of routine, then it would be a completely negative thing.”
Somewhat a signature of the band, the startling contrasts between melodies have also remained with ‘Tears on Tape‘. Thunderous guitars make way for childlike chimes – brilliant contrasts between light and shade. For a band that has seemingly danced with darkness as the years have passed, it undoubtedly begs the question – just how much deeper and darker can Valo go?
“What a question,” he laughs. “Is there a limit to the darkness? No, I won’t limit my darkness, and thankfully the abyss that I’m looking at isn’t very shallow. It’s more like a balancing act, more or less. I think it’s still important for our band to make music that you can bang your head to or shake your hips to or just have fun – but still try to have a cinematic quality come from that too. It’s trying to combine all of the elements from our idols and rock music in general that we’ve adored since we were kids – trying to put it all together and figure it out. It’s important to take what you do seriously and shed a few tears, with sweat and blood while you’re doing it – but, it’s very important not to take yourself too seriously. You can take the work seriously, but not yourself.”
“At the end of the day, we’re just five blokes who grew up listening to Black Sabbath and that’s that,” he continues. “And, we’ve been tremendously lucky over the years to travel across the world and spread the joyous message of Black Sabbath.”
With the darkness and past in mind, it’s impossible to ignore the bands sound progression with the new album. The blend of acoustic guitars being caught up with the pounding of the electrics is mind-blowing – a sound the band were keen to experiment with this time around.
“I think it’s an ongoing process. It’s nice to consider the studio as a playground or kindergarten or a candy shop. It’s important to be just let loose, like a feral kid. It gives a sense of spontaneity,” he explains. “I think in rock music that’s important, because these days with all the digital recording mediums and stuff, it becomes really sterile. We’re trying to bring some of the looney bin attitude back as much as we can, without destroying everything.”
Be that as it may, the band have not lost any of the profoundly beautiful lyricism that has lasted their entire career – an unmistakable poetry that has continued to inspire the hearts and minds of their fans. Interestingly, despite Valo’s attachment to his lyrics, he remains quite adamant that they have never hit too close to home.
“Not yet,” he laughs. “Lyrically, I very rarely try to be too blunt about anything. For me, [when music is] necessary for my life is actually when I’m lacking the words – like when I have a feeling inside or an existennial problem that I can’t put into words. That’s usually when I come up with melodies and riffs and ideas for music. For me, it’s way more easier to express stuff through music then through lyrics or conversation – it’s sonic therapy of sorts. I try not to be too direct or straightforward with the lyrics – I think that’s too boring and two dimensional. A one-trick pony. You have to leave space for the imagination, especially for the imagination of the band. That enables us to play old songs as well. They’re not so much tied to a specific area of time when the song was conceived, but can be interpreted by ourselves too in different ways.”
While the band itself are yet to sit down and listen to the new album as a whole [“…we’ve been listening to the test pressings of the vinyl and making some final tweaks to the cover artwork, so it’s been like laboratory work…”], Valo acknowledges his attachment to one particular song on the album.
“A lot of the tracks that I think are important for myself are not necessarily important to us for the music but more because of the process,” he explains. “Like there’s a track called ‘All Lips Go Blue‘. This was the first one where we all got together, and was the first one we were able to complete – which in turn opened up the flood gates regarding the rest of the album. We were able to work out the balance between the melancholy and the melodies, the guitar riffs and all that stuff. That was the igniting force.”
Inevitably, the album release will go hand in hand with touring – details of which are currently being worked out as we speak. Whilst I hint at returning to Australia, Valo also doesn’t rule out the possibility of the band heading here in early 2014 as part of Soundwave. One thing is undeniably certain, wherever the road does take the band, ‘Tears On Tape‘ will once again see the band reach their fans across the globe with its release. While Valo is noticeably humble about the impact of the band and it’s music, his ideas on how he would like the album to be received are quite simple.
“If it can give a listener anything out of the ordinary McDonald’s world of pop music, I think that’s a bonus. I don’t think there is a hidden message anywhere. I would hope that at least one out of ten people strip naked and dance in the street,” he laughs.
Many thanks to Ville for taking the time to chat to us. Special thanks to Sarah at Razor & Tie. You can find out more about HIM, upcoming tour dates and ‘Tears On Tape’ at: http://www.facebook.com/theheartagram