Shauna O'Donnell recently had a chat with HIM frontman Ville Valo regarding the band's upcoming tour and album.
Thanks for talking with me today.
Ville: A pleasure indeed.
On April 30th you will release your eighth album titled Tears on Tape via Razor & Tie Records. Congratulations!!
Ville: Well, thank you.
With this being your eighth record, I would assume you have experimented a lot over the years. I read that you decided to go back to your roots with this new record and write songs that resembled the earlier records. Why did you feel that now was the time to do that?
Ville: Maybe it was because we ran out of ideas. (Laughs) We are huge fans of Black Sabbath, Type O Negative and all of those kinds of bands that made us want to do what we do. I think that is what going back to the roots might have meant, as opposed to us listening to our previous albums.
You heard that Black Sabbath is putting out a new record right?
Ville: Yes, it is called 13. It will be great for us because we will have more stuff to steal from. (Laughs) I haven’t heard a single thing about it yet. It’s a funny thing, our guitar player Linde has been hanging out with Tony Iommi for a long time, so Sabbath is in the family so to speak. I’m a big fan and that band is one of the biggest influences of what we do. It should be for anyone who wants to pick up a guitar and play.
It was recorded in your home country with long-time producer Hiili Hiilesmaa and mixed by long time-band associate, Tim Palmer. What was it about these two that made you feel they were the right guys for the job?
Ville: They were cheap. We have used that popular dynamic duo in the past and Hiili has produced our band from the very beginning. He did the first demos back in the 90’s and he is an important character when it comes to creating the sound of HIM. It is the sound of Hiili and HIM, so he is an important guy and he is a good friend. He is great with guitars and that 70’s sort of vibe, so we knew with this material and the stuff that we had been working on that he would be a perfect match. On top of that, we met Tim Palmer in 2003 or 2002. He mixed an album called Love Metal. That popular record was produced by Hiili and mixed by him, so it was that same sort of combo. They are both these laboratory rats in a way that they are not afraid to experiment and try stuff that a lot of people wouldn’t really do. They are definitely a big part of the family.
Did Hiili co-write songs on the record?
Ville: No, he is like a sonic architect. It’s like I do the paintings and he is great at framing them. One of the reasons we went back to record in Helsinki was that we saved on shipping costs because we utilized a lot of our own gear. It is more exciting for us sonically. The album before called Screamworks was recorded in Los Angeles and it meant that we had to rent, ship and sort everything out. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this time around it felt more “homey” in a good way. We were in a studio that we know really well and we didn’t have to figure out what was happening because we knew that place so well that it felt like playing in our own backyard. I think the cool thing about recording this record is when a rock band goes into the studio, you do your pre-production and then you record what they call scratch tracks. So you record the songs and then you start overdubbing them. Then the drummer goes in and plays the actual part. This time we wanted to have everything available at all times, so that in one day we were able to do a bit of vocals, a bit of keyboards, a bit of drums and this and that. There was an experimental nature going on. It enabled us to be like kids in a candy store more or less. It was interesting at least for me.
Do you have a big guitar collection?
Ville: No, I only have three guitars, but they are super big. (Laughs) It's just bits and bobs that I have collected over the years. I’m not a collector per say. It’s just like esoteric equipment from the years gone by. Let’s just say that if someone were to break into my house, they wouldn't make a big buck off of it. It’s more like stuff that has been haunting me personally and stuff that helped me create the vision for the band so to speak.
I always wonder if artists keep the first guitar they ever had.
Ville: I do have my first bass guitar, because I started with bass when I was a kid. My parents bought me a Gibson SG copy from some Taiwanese company back in the early or mid 80’s. I’m that sort of fellow where I keep everything until my girlfriend says "You really need to get rid of that." You know how girls are.
Yep, I happen to be one.
Ville: For me it goes either or, I like neat, but then again when it comes to music I like chaos. It is stuff that is important to me because it is a big part of the history of the band. Over the years it keeps on piling up.
When it comes to writing do you usually write the lyrics first or the music?
Ville: Usually it is the music. I’ve always considered music to be when you feel a certain thing, but cannot put it into words. I’ll pick up an acoustic guitar and start humming. The tough part is trying to find the lyrical equivalent.
Your drummer was having some issues with his wrists. How is he doing?
Ville: Well wrist wise he is fine. Everyone was super scared because it took a long time for him to heal up. It was a combination of repetitive strain injury and a tennis elbow type of thing. At the same time the doctor found out that he had some nerve damage in his palms and up his arms as well. A lot of shit hit the fan at the same time. It was obviously stressful for him because he has been playing music about forty years and he has never had any physical trouble before. It was a bad time for him and at the same time for the band because we didn’t know what was going to happen next. We didn’t know if we were going to be the same band or what was going to happen next. As you know the show must go on. I’m really glad that we did wait it out. I think because of all the philosophical dilemmas that we went through, we came back stronger. Everybody felt that we rejuvenated when it came to performing music. When we went back to the rehearsal space our drummer was back to normal so to speak. It was such a relief for everybody that I truly believe you can hear it in the music as well.
I'm glad he is doing better. I know a lot of drummers who have shoulder problems.
Ville: Yeah and a lot of back problems as well because of their posture. Rock n rollers tend to slouch. Nobody is a yogi at least when it comes to rock n roll. I think that a lot of stuff behind the sound of incredibly talented players is the fact that they do stuff wrong.
The album's artwork, created by Daniel P. Carter is so creative. You can tell that a lot of thought went into creating it.
Ville: Well we have to blame Daniel for it. I love everything pseudo occult, I love symbolism and visuals that make your mind run free or let your imagination run wild. Let’s say if there were to be a message, it is not handed to you on a silver platter. You have to work your way through it and figure it out. At the same time it is free for interpretation as opposed to there being one explanation for it all. That is how I like visual art. I was hoping for the best. I told him to go with the flow and we will see what he comes up with because he wasn’t our slave. It was more about us being friends and him creating beautiful artwork. I’m super happy because it is organic. You should see the original pieces that I have back home.
I love to see bands put a lot of effort into the things that they do.
Ville: When they started releasing commercial MP3’s the first thing the record label started doing was they started cutting down the amount of pages in booklets. I was telling everybody “Isn’t that the exact opposite of what you should be doing?” If you consider that the actual physical album is sort of dying out then that is exactly the time that you should spend a lot of time working on making something that actually feels like something. These days it is nice to give the few people who actually walk into the record store something to hold in their hands.
Exactly, there are bands that still put out vinyl records and people are buying them even if they do not have a record player. It is a piece of art.
Ville: I do enjoy the fact that nowadays you have the download coupons with the vinyl. That’s great, but the absolute fact is that vinyl sounds better than MP3’s. It just does. I really dig vinyl. I’m really into getting a reel to reel player for myself. I’ve never had one, so I was thinking of that. You have to put some effort into it because you have to turn the sides and actually do something as opposed to clicking a virtual button on your Iphone. That’s what is good about digital media as well, the fact that you can carry 12,000 songs with you wherever you go. It is amazing.
I was talking to someone the other day about 8 tracks. The kids today don’t even know what that is.
Ville: Well they don’t. I think 8 tracks were huge in America, but I don’t think it was ever super big in Europe. My dad used to have an 8 track in his old American car. I think he had a checker, like an old New York taxi cab. I still have some Emmylou Harris on 8 track, but I don’t have the player anymore.
There are some show dates listed and most are sold out. Will you be adding more dates? Will a nationwide U.S. tour be booked?
Ville: This short trek within the next few weeks is just going to be more about us saying Hi to the people who have been loyal and who know what our band is doing. It is a way for us to let people know that there is an album coming out. That is the kind of idea, so we are not adding dates to that. I think it is amazing that all the gigs sold out. It is pretty amazing for a band to come from such a far away country to still be interesting enough for the locals. We will do some festivals in Europe and then in early autumn we will start touring proper. I’m still waiting to see how it is going to pan out as far as where we are going to start. Are we going to start in Europe or will we start from the States? We don’t know what is going to happen, but the good thing is that we will be touring.