There I was, browsing through the magazines at the station's newsstand without real hope
of finding something interesting, but then...
HIM cover, sampler (not listened to it, yet, but it's calles Live in Hel. and contains Buried Alive By Love and The Funeral of Hearts) and six pages, two of them interview!
"Nobody wanted to speak it out loud, but during the last two years it felt a teensy bit like the one and only Love Metalheads. Nothing was going on, neither live nor online, and the half-hearted projects succeeding “Screamworks –Love in Theory and Practice” better remain unmentioned. That all fears had been baseless was clarified by the band leader himself, announcing a Best Of and a new studio album on facebook. The former is available as of October 26th, for the latter you still have to wait a bit – but just some months, as Yvonne Duchâteau, amongst other things, found out during the extensive interview with Ville Valo."
Seems like the good times are back...
And now, the translation...oh my, how have I become slow at that kind of thing.
Tears Don’t Lie
Granted, it isn’t Chinese Democracy, but three years of silence on the airwaves is a quite a long time in the merry-go-round of musical vanity. The long absence didn’t leave the “Sexiest Frontman”, as he’s voted with increasing regularity on Kerrang! magazine, unaffected and is bad for complexion and business. So it’s not surprising that the gossip factory temporary dished prophecies of an unsung end of the band. There is enough fuel for that rumour: First, the seventh album “Screamworks. Love in Theory and Practice” (2012) isn’t toured anymore, then Ville Valo with “Swrmxs” as well as bass player Migé and guitar player Linde deliver more or less respected solo projects until the iron curtain of silence finally falls – the band’s homepage goes offline and no more news cross the Gulf of Finland. Until a few weeks ago, when the message of a certain Monsieur “V” appears on the band’s facebook page and proclaims that even two releases await the fans in the next months. For one thing a greatest hits compilation on October 26th and for another the new, eighth studio album “Tears on Tape” which is planned to be released in early 2012. Sure thing, we immediately contacted the by now 35-year-old singer to ask about the why, wherefore and forwhy of the past few and coming months!
Rummaging with Ville Valo in the recent past turns out to be a precarious endeavour. Good-humoured and ready to talk, but every so often a bit preoccupied, the idolised frontman detangles the jam tape of his memories: “I don’t know, um, is it two or three years since we played our last show? Well, anyway we took a small break – and when we were about to let it rip once more, our drummer Gas picked up this rare inflammation that forced him to go on hiatus for eight months.” Time for the singer to recharge with everyday life: “I just continued writing songs, because honestly I’m quite damn slow anyway. My regular day starts off with drinking coffee and subsequent guitar strumming. That’s how all our songs come up, you know, acoustic guitar pieces. Well, it was pretty boring, actually.”
After the release of the last album “Screamworks..”, it had been boredom and frustration, too, that lead to the spontaneous discontinuation of the only just-begun US-Tour. Valo backpedals: “It wasn’t boredom, really, it just didn’t feel right. I think it was a kind of burn out thing for me. The work somehow never stopped, there was no real downtime – so I was totally drained before the touring even began. You do book such a tour in advance and you can’t anticipate how you will feel then. At the beginning of the US-Tour, I raised concerns and I wasn’t up to infinitely drag myself with the band from one gig to the next. Ultimately, I want to play gigs that thrill both us and the audience.”
The promotion gig for the new album in spring 2010 at the FZW Dortmund (Sonic Seducer reported) definitely didn’t meet this criteria. The singer literally did not deign to look at the audience once, since he kept his eyes closed when on the microphone, but instead he talked often and much rearwards with the band – bitterly disappointing the starved front row. Ville commented: “Um. I call that concentration. I mean, we aren’t Kiss, but we’re more coming from the Finnish crooner-tradition. There, a singer doesn’t have to put on a show, but just sing as good as possible. Sometimes it’s nice to interact with the audience, but it can also be unnerving, especially in this showcase-situations. I’m already worked up before concerts, all the more when there’s a long lapse of time between them. I’m just not the guy to make funny moves and high-fiving people while always delivering the same lines: `Scream for me…´or like Ozzy with his `Let’s go fucking crazy´. I think you just should open yourself to the music and then go with the flow. So it’s not about entertainer qualities. I don’t see how that would increase or decrease the value of the music you’re playing.”
He’s also not having any of it that the fans’ enthusiasm for the band HIM is significantly fuelled by the enthusiasm for their frontman: “Honestly speaking, I don’t know. Every gig is different, every audience and every mood is different and I think it’s great that way. Otherwise it really would be quite boring and robotic to tour 100 concerts, I’d rather have good and bad days.” – not really commenting on the initial question, are we?
Being internationally desired and idolised, the already a bit quirky bachelor nevertheless describes himself in the last Sonic Seducer interview in 2009 as a loner who’s killing time with long walks and dwells in his tower eating microwave pizza because the obligatory abstinence from cigarette and alcohol took away the fun of parties. Nothing has changed considerably about that: “The days do pass quickly nevertheless, because there’s always an awful lot to take care of, even when the band’s not active at the moment. But apart from that, I simply enjoyed being at home, because all the previous years I never had time to something as a sideline. And now I could just be. You know, eat microwave pizza, listen to music and only newly riding my bike instead of taking a walk – still haven’t gotten a driver’s licence. But of course I also go out and meet friends whenever it suits. But it’s not the most important thing for me, my life isn’t that glamorous anyway. Besides, I think life always is frustrating, too. That’s the exciting thing for me when we release a new album, you know. The work on it, the tour, that’s what I’m living for, what I’m waiting for. I’m fascinated by travelling around the world. But I think it’s also important to have a boring and unexciting time. It feels much better if you go out after a quiet moment and dace on the tables and freak out.”
He’s still doing that?
Ville: “Yeah, sure, table dance! – And concerning the band it also is more exciting and feels more fresh to return after a long break. We’re fit and energised. I love Finland, but now I’m excited about going on tour, yes, in a way I’m somehow even glad about this incident with Gas happened, because it made the band more hungry.”
Bandleader Valo makes an effort to dismiss the band’s long absence as trivial, excusing it solely with Gas’ injury. To keep the façade of normality, it surely would have been reasonable to leave the Heartagram page online, since in the media age, the total shutdown of a band’s website is more than just a clue. The response comes plausible and quick like a shot: “Warner Music maintained and managed the site and it was much too commercial for me: Buy this, buy that, there’s a new t-shirt, buy it..! That’s to poppy for me. When we ended our contract with Warner, we wanted to change everything completely, that’s why we took the site offline until we know how everything will go on. In the future, I want a real band page under the same address: Music, lyrics, videos, kept artistic and true to the music. But at this particular moment, I’ve so many other things to do, so that has to take a back seat for now.”
Ever since Gas has been back to top form, HIM spent the summer working on the new material. True to the good old tradition, they took over the Finnfox Studios where the drum parts are already recorded. “Of course we had very good pre-productions and we’re not Dream Theatre, are we. For us, it’s all about to smash as hard as we can and sweat like pigs while doing so – that was it. So, basically: We’re right at it and we hope that we’ve got the record mixed and wrapped up by December.”
There’s a good chance for that, since both producer Hiili Hiilesmaa (Amorphis, Moonspell, The 69 Eyes) and mixer Tim Palmer (The Cure, Pearl Jam, The Mission) are old comrades and worked on albums like the debut “Greatest Lovesongs Vil. 666” (1997, just Hiili), “Love Metal” (2003, both) and “Dark Light” (just Palmer, 2005). “You don’t need a warming phase. It’s just good to be able to concentrate on your emotion and music and not to be preoccupied by technology and organisation.”
It’s preoccupation welcome only when mixing, for which Tim Palmer who normally resides in Austin, Texas, goes to London: “We’ve never recorded or mixed an album in London, despite me being such a big London fan! I’ve got load of friends over there – that’ll be cool for sure. Just a different environment, a different studio, other equipment and a whole other attitude, I think that it also has some influence on the album. I still think it’s better for all people involved that in time of high concentration, they are away from their families for a while. It really is hard to get in the right mood when you have to think about buying toilet paper and paying bills.”
The new album, its name “Tears on Tape” as well as its corresponding title song are already fixed, will be containing about a dozen of new songs – this is where Valo goes into raptures and draws some quite intriguing comparisons: “Some pieces are a bit more experimental, but nine songs are real rockers, because the pace of the new record will be quite fast – our hardest albums yet. Kind of `Buried Alive By Love´, very melodic, um, maybe like Roy Orbison meets Smashing Pumpkins and Black Sabbath with My Bloody Valentine-guitars, but really hard Sabbath-riffs while the vocals are totally beautiful, not so much screaming than on the last album. And then we’ll build in some crazy psychedelic stuff with a bit of a Monster Magnet-feeling. `Tears on Tape´ is both more straight-forward and less complex than `Screamworks:… ´, it’s all about the right vibe. Sometimes it’s a bit Kyuss-like, but with the soppy lyrics like Orbison, Elvis, Sinatra or Cash. So basically, we’re returning to our old formula: Make the hard parts even harder and the melodic ones even more melodic. It sounds really good and I’m really happy with the stuff. Since we’ve already written everything in unwrought, arranged and recorded it, we can now be spontaneous and get started with playing around with crazy sounds, making things more interesting and completely getting lost in detail – that’s awesome!” However, Ville doesn’t feel too secure, even after the unusually long preparation time, quite on contrary, he laughs bewildered: “No no, I never feel secure in any aspect.“
At any rate, the title “Tears on Tape” seems neither to be fit to mirror Valo’s current euphoria nor the hard rocking course: “Well, basically it’s all about the idea of having captured something moving, deeply felt on a record. And it fits our other titles perfectly – you know, we’re always a bit theatrical, melancholic and somehow dark. We had a good feeling about the title and I don’t want to further intellectualise music.”
At the latest in six months, the latest HIM-tears should also drop on our CD-players. Until then, the challenge now is to find a new label home. “Of course we try to find the best people to represent our interests and music with enthusiasm – it doesn’t necessarily have to be a major label. But too many expectations only get you down at some point. Of course we want that a whole lot of people to like us and that we can successfully tour around the world, but we’ve already had a lot of luck and success in the past so we really can’t complain. It’s all right as long as it’s not all going down the tubes, but we manage to develop the band’s popularity. I don’t know if we could repeat the success of ´Razorblade Romance´ in Germany, but things like that also highly depend on the right timing and the record company.”
As a soft comeback, “XX – Two Decades of Love Metal” is released on October 26th, on the occasion of the admittedly speciously declared 20th band anniversary and of course with the powerful buying incentive of a new cover song. The HIM-version of “Strange World”, a 90s hit by American singer Ké, sounds typically “Razorblade Romance”, which is to say full force back to the roots – a pointer to the new, old line of approach? “Maybe more a pointer to Hiili, he’s just the best producer when it comes to real super-heavy dirty guitars. `Strange World´ does give an idea about where we’re heading to, but `Tears on Tape´ will sound different nevertheless. And it’s only logical that the result of the same people playing their instruments in the same way and me singing along is something that sounds like HIM. That also holds true for the new album: It’s always the rebirth of the same idea.”
Apart from the recent cover version and some new radio edits, the compilation unites nineteen hits from all creative periods on one CD, optionally also on two vinyls. A few singles had be left out since it shouldn’t become a double disc: “Too much’s too much, there’s no point in that”, Ville says. That 20 years of HIM, from a biographical point of view, are also quite too many, the mastermind explains as follows: “Well, you know, that are the early, early days of the band. Back in 1993 we started recording demos that you can’t even find online. 1996 we got signed and our first EP was released the same year. So maybe that year is more likely to be regarded as our official starting point. But the beginning, meaning when Migé and I desperately tried to jumps-start a band, was earlier. Also the name really does date back to that time. Incidentally, when we signed our first contract in 1996, ‘Strange World’ was a massive hit. Ever since, the song has always made it on my iPod. The lyrics and the mood really suit HIM. When we tried an d covered the song, it immediately worked very well. When it sounds good, then it is good, it’s as easy as that.”
For the cover artwork of the greatest hits, the vocalist chose a photo of a fibreglass sculpture by Finnish designer Stefan Lindfors who had also been directing the “The Funeral of Hearts” video. Ville is all in love with the outcome: “It looks so amazing with the different structures and shadows, there’s been no photoshopping on it. I can’t emphasise too often how important the Heartagram-logo is for HIM’s whole band history. There probably won’t ever be a cover without it finding entrance into it somehow. It’s like our Eddy [Mascot of Iron Maiden]. Quite immodestly, I have to say that the Heartagram was one of the best ideas I ever came up with. The message is clear, the recognisability is good and there are still many people who get the sign tattooed which really does make me proud.” By the way, the sculpture was auctioned in London on August 23 for a good cause – the starting price was – well? Exactly! 6666 €.
During the conversation, Ville’s impressive deep voice regularly escapes to small sighs that could also hint to the failure of parallel action because there’s a constant rumbling and rattling in the background as if Ville would be pottering around his tower. In one moment it sounds like dish-washing, the mobile rings and gets silenced, the mail programme announces incoming messages and Ville sighs again. But he obviously enjoys it: the interview and the restless bustling around as if there couldn’t be enough happening at once. On a scale of 1 to 10 for luck and satisfaction, the “Solitary Man” would settle himself anyway above 5: “That’s constantly changing, even during one day. I think, I’m always hovering between six and ten. Ultimately, life isn’t constant, but always changing. So it really would strange and boring if I’d say eight. Quite on contrary, it can even be zero and ten at the same time, for instance when you’re worried and let it get to yourself about recording, but you are happy at the same time that it kicks off.”
Another thing to kick off soon is the preparation for this year’s Helldone Festival in the Tavastia Club in Helsinki. The home game new year festival that HIM had played as main act for many a year, but had discontinued it just like so many other things, takes place in 2012 on four successive concert nights. Ville: “I don’t know for sure if we’ll also play new songs, we’ll see what sounds goof live. Maybe we’ll also get some of the old stuff back on the setlist.” Once more, the Finnish Psychobilly band The Skeppers will join the game, it’s frontman Special K being none less than producer friend Hiili Hiilesmaa. And DJ Jyrki 69 will fire up the location’s Vampire Club: What more could a gothic heart desire? You can dance away quite some Tapes till dawn – but surely, there will be no Tears.
Right, that was it. In my opinion it sounds awesome! Did I mention that I love this whole OMG-we-finally-get-new-news-thing? ;)
Anyway, I'm off to bed now!