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Soundi 1/2010 Ville Valo interview

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"The best way to ruin good music is not to care about the visual side"

On February HIM releases their seventh album. After that, the heavy but romantic band will stay on the road for at least a year. Should we be worried when the band leader Ville Valo tells us that what he enjoys the most is time spent alone at home with his guitar?

The white Christmas is coming. HIMs former keyboardist Antto Melasniemi has called Vs cell phone. Antto is said to like cross-country skiing and V starts wondering whether the call was an invitation to join skiing on the Paloheinä skiing tracks in Helsinki.
The determined leader of HIM is said to be a man of contradictions. Maybe its so because anywhere feels like home for this polite and open-minded man.
I havent heard anyone speak bad about him. There are a lot of other things about V than just an arm tattooed with a long johns-like patterning and a band HIM. It seems like VV can talk eagerly about any subject whatsoever. Even during this interview he talks about optical illusions, psychology of perception, post punk, Jamaican rhythm music, the most popular synthesizers of the 80s and poets who have died young.
A few years ago V ended up in rehab. Nowadays he drinks coke and coffee. He hasnt quit smoking though. During the interview he smokes in chain lighting cigarettes after another with a big yellow gas lighter. The interview takes place at the sauna department in the record label office since its the only place where it is allowed to smoke.
HIMs biggest hit in Europe is still Join Me. During the last years the band has concentrated more on the American market. The album Dark Light sold gold in the US and also the new album Screamworks: Love In Theory And Practise was recorded in LA. The new songs are dense pop songs played rough. The 80s influence in the songs isnt as big as V -dressed in a grey suit jacket and a vest- implys.
HIM has sold around 6 million albums. V isnt ashamed the commercialism of his band in any way. In fact, he could have quit the whole thing if it had made enough money this far.

The cover of the new album is downright disturbing. It makes me physically sick. Was it meant to be like that?

- Oh it makes you feel sick. The meaning was primarily
- Ive had a fixation with optical illusions ever since I was a kid. Theres this guy, Al Seckel, a doctor at the University of California, who has started to publish cheap books that kids can watch. There are classical illusions and visual tricks in those books. Then there are a few Japs who make very disturbing pictures. There are certain shapes and colours that make you think the pic is spinning, even though its not really doing that. Those are the kind of things Im interested in.
- Two pairs of eyes are neurologically interesting, because all the time you see basically similar things and thats why your RAM-memory doesnt constantly count faces. You think that everybody has two eyes, one mouth and one nose. Then when its not like that it is very annoying.
- For example, when there are two pairs of eyes somewhere, your brain cant deal with it normally and instead it tries to find the picture in the middle. That makes your brain go into overdrive and isnt that good for a rock album or what? The brain goes into overdrive just by looking at our album.

Where is the cover picture from?

- Its a picture of this wooden statue that I have found in Germany and that I have at home. Its an old 120 cm long wood sculpture of a nun (Remember how Ville said he wanted to start wood carving as a hobby in an interview at the Ruisrock festival in 2008.). I took a picture of it and photoshopped it a little. My idea was the kind of post punk, Siouxsie & The Banshees -type of poster art. A very rough, several times photoprinted stuff.
- After we had ended up with this cover we went to screen-print it in order to make the colours look more messy. Then we fought with the record label about whether its good or not. We thought it was really good.
- These things are really pondered upon. There were probably three different covers for this album and this is what we ended up with. The feedback has been very good. The digitalpack will have fluorescent colours. I hope it works out well. Its going to look really impressive.

Even though looking at the cover makes me feel dizzy, it definitely will be noticed and remembered.

- Exactly. I think its cool to make a cover that gives you a headache. Its like what they say in America: Its like a car crash. You are not supposed to be looking at it, but you cant turn away. I think this is the same thing.
- With Razorblade Romance I thought lets make the cover pink so that people will notice it. The most heavy rock album covers are black or greyish. I wanted Razorblade Romance to be of a different colour and I think it worked very well.

Is the album cover important or is it just about your own peace of mind?

- I think its always a bonus if the album has cool covers. On the other hand, there are lots of classic albums that have terrible covers. Its not the name of the band or the covers that make good music. Quite many band names are stupid but when the band makes good music you dont think about the name the same way anymore.
- The album covers that have become icons, -like the Velvet Undergrounds banana-cover- are quite often made by real artists. In that sense there has been effort behind the covers.

On the other hand, not all artists have even heard the album before making the cover artwork. For example, Peter Saville chose Joy Diviosions Closer-albums cover without having heard the actual album. Still the cover and the music are related to each other.

- Thats right. If Joy Division had had some kind of Echo& The Bunnymen- type of covers, the music might have also felt a bit lighter.
- Were going to have enough Slavic melancholy in our music but I didnt want the album cover to be so dark this time around. Now that the music is a bit more up-tempo and poppy its nsync with a a lighter cover.
- Some might think the icongraphy is gothic, because there is a nun in the cover. I dont see it that way though. With the cover artist Matt Taylor we named the picture Saint Scream. Its like Saint Of Confusion. The world, love and life are a bit confusing. It often makes you feel that way. I think its an endearing way of thinking about it. You dont have to think about it too philosophically, over- psychologically or through religion.
- There are many artists that arent interested in the cover of their album. I want to be involved in every step. I wont let anything through that I am not satisfied with.
- Its exciting that its not all about just the music but that there is a visual aspect too. There are covers, videos, filming sessions and other things. You learn new all the time. You get to see how professionals work. I guess my nature is to be pretty curios.

You said that the new album is more up-tempo and more poppy. In what other ways could you describe it?

- Its cathartic. Its also more approachable than our previous albums, but still kind of david-lynch-like.
- I think the cover gives a good picture of the album. Its fresh. Its white. Its kind of clean design and the nuns kind of artsy-fartsy.
- I love the cover of Violator (Depeche Modes album). Its really great, simple and works out well. I wanted this to be of the same genre. This is easily approachable but hopefully hard to let go of.

Where does the process of making a new album start?

- It starts when I come home from touring and I realize there is nothing to do. I start playing the guitar. Music takes my thoughts away from everyday life. When you are concentrating on music there are no other things. At some point you just realize that you need it (music).

--I left out a couple of lines where V talks about weird music trips--

- Suddenly you just have songs. When there are enough of those and I am content with them enough to show them to the guys, thats when it all starts again.
- The sound of the band is what it is due to the other band members own ways of playing the instruments. And I cant change my voice too much either.
- I think its positive that a band has a recognisible sound.

--V talks about working with Matt Squire, mostly what we already know--

- There was a thing about Matt being two years younger than Mige. I asked Mige if it was ok. He thought it was very refreshing.

How much has Matt producing the album influenced the songs?

- I cant tell. At least we were really like-minded.
- Many times the producer is like a father figure. Theyre little older and more experienced. Theyve got lots of stories to tell. First I thought can one even be a producer at the age of 33? On the other hand, then you still have eagerness and crave for success.
- Matt was really good with tempos. It was still hard to find the right tempos sometimes. When youre drunk they sound faster and when youre sober, slower.

--talk about the 80s pop music and its influence on the albu--

What drives you more: a will to make something new or a will to be more popular?

- Fucking weird question. Succeeding careerwise makes people think its all about money.
- I think those two arent in contradiction with each other. You can make new -at least new to yourself- music and still go for a bigger audience.
- For a special edition of the album I recorded the whole album alone at my house. Its the kind of creative side that I have just liked to do very much.
- The main album I want to sound American, big, slick and expensive. I want it to sound well-mixed and well-recorded. I dont want to think now this sounds too poppy, I got to do something freaky. Thats a finnish way of working. There are a lot of people here who are afraid to be...something. I dont get it, what is there to be afraid of? Im gladly poppy.

How much does the record label affect decisions concerning HIM?

- They dont affect the album but almost everything else. Its their job.

--V talks about their new A&R-man Craig Aaronson and song downloading
and how it has affected their way of working--

Youve said you quit at the age of 40. Are you still going to hold on to that decision?

- If we get to build our own imperium where we are millionaires. If we have money to quit, I quit tomorrow. Gladly.
- I like more and more making music. I like the creative part that I do at home. The other process I dont like that much. Of course its really interesting but also very wearing for all the band members to get the whole shit into one piece.

Would you like to make a Johnny Cash- type of solo album some day?

-No. I havent been in a prison yet.

You quit drinking a couple of years ago. Do you trust yourself enough to have a few beers sometimes?

- I havent tried. Im not interested in drinking like that. To me drinking means that you get really wasted, mess around at least for four days and try to sleep as little as possible.
- That kind of attitude is more important than enjoying a glass of wine with a meal. Actually, I think that sucks. And no red wine goes with vegetarian food.

Have you ever tried to quit smoking?

- I ended up in a hospital after an asthma attack when I was 16. After that I didnt smoke for three weeks. That much it got to me.
- I have tried to cut down on smoking sometimes. I havent wanted to think about quitting because then I would have nothing. Or at least nothing but a guitar, TV and taxidermy owls.
- A man has a right to destroy his physical shrine. I do it with Marlboro. Allow me to do it.

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