INTERVIEW | DEMONA LAUREN for Vampyre magazine
It had been five long years since Ville Valo and his crew had last seen each other, and two years after his first solo adventure. A perfect opportunity to discuss these last years with him during an exclusive interview. In 2020, the former HIM front-man released an EP titled Gothica Fennica Vol. 1 which clearly sounded like the legendary band. The disc only included three tracks: ‘Salute the Sanguine’, ‘'Run Away From the Sun’ and ‘Saturnine Saturnalia’. Still, it was already enough for the followers of his former group and had them craving more. It was in 2022 that he decided to come out of his shell with ‘Loveletting’, from his first album under the name VV. Elegantly called Neon Noir, this album will be released in early 2023. If no release date has yet been revealed, we at least know his plans for next year: a world tour that will bring him through both Europe and the United States. If you were expecting a heavy sound like HIM, you might be surprised by ‘Loveletting’. If you missed the uniqueness of the Infernal Ville Valo, you will undoubtedly be charmed by this poetic new statement. Ville Valo has not revealed everything yet…
† Nice to hear from you after your post-HIM hiatus, Ville. What state of mind are you in right now?
The squeaky hinges of my casket have been re-lubed. Thanks for having me! Zen-like impatience sums up the mood pretty well.
† No one expected you to come back to the fore so quickly. Did your health situation have an impact? You had quite a bit of time to prepare all this, right?
I had to do quite a bit of soul-searching after HIM disbanded before diving in to the deep-end with VV in late 2019, and finishing the album a month or so ago. Been a busy bee in slo-mo.
† What was your first and main motivation behind this musical project? Did you want to carry out projects meant for HIM but which ended up not being used? Or was it an urge that came after that?
I've been strumming and humming since I was a kid, it's what keeps me afloat, so there really wasn't an alternative but to bang my head against the wall, once again.
† Next year will be your first tour without the band. I mean... 26 years is hard to erase. Do you feel uneasy about finding yourself in front of your audience as a solo artist?
Life without challenges isn't life at all, and I like to be kept on my toes. Next year will be a butterflies-in-the-tummy situation I'm sure.
† Did you ever regret your decision about HIM? I’m quite sure the other members never really came back to you to talk about it either, but still.
No regrets whatsoever! It was a colourful journey that I'm glad I was a part of. The decision to call it quits was a collective one after we felt the spark wasn't quite there anymore.
† You didn't want to see the group sink into oblivion. You wanted to go to the top and die up there. That makes HIM a heroic band, doesn't it?
Well, the top we were on wasn't of the highest mountain, but it was ours, and still windy as fuck.
† Something struck me about the content of your lyrics when you allude to the Finns. You often have quite resigned verbiage when you talk about your people. You are slow, you let things drag on too long before acting (as in the case of HIM), etc.
The only person bragging suits is Andy McCoy of Hanoi Rocks, he's made it an art form along the way. I like to take my time with words and melodies, and everything else really. I'm like a snail with attitude.
† Let's go back to your album. Apparently, your album contains some tracks that sound like HIM. Is it something that you had planned, or something you tried to avoid?
Running away from yourself is quite a futile hobby I've found. It’s much better to make peace with who you are, and try to learn from your mistakes. I'm not sure if the album sounds like HIM, but I'm quite certain it sounds like me.
† This album is definitely yours! You’re known as the mastermind behind the love-metal genre. Do you consider it a proper thing or is it only a kind of expression for the media?
It was our tribute to 'Black Metal' by Venom, and a tenderly-raised middle finger to the overly masculine realm of hard rock. I felt a little bit of sensitivity and sensuality on the side was needed.
† Why the name “Neon Noir” for your album?
It's not a “new black” I'm going for, but a dazzling one.
† For your first solo album, you decided to work with Tim Palmer. He worked for so many big names, Pearl Jam, Tin Machine, Tears for Fears, and Ozzy Osbourne. What convinced you that he would be the right man for this comeback album?
I first met Tim 20 years ago at the sessions for Love Metal, and he's been involved in most HIM recordings ever since. He's a sweetheart and understands my musical perversions like no other, so I was delighted that he said “Yes”, when I asked him to co-produce and mix Neon Noir.
† It’s definitely been a while… Without dropping spoilers, what are the main differences between the artist you were in HIM and the one you are now, both from a purely-musical point of view and also as a man/artist?
Working solo gives me the opportunity to really hone in on the most minuscule details of record-making without boring anybody to death, and the result, for better or worse, is a very undiluted version of who I am, musically speaking of course.
† Years ago, you ended the game with HIM mainly due to a lack of ambition from your peers, right? Do you have a secret goal you want to conquer with your new career?
The gravedigging was a collaborative effort and I'm glad we haven't resorted to musical necrophilia. Surviving 2023 is my goal number one, but if that doesn't pan out I just have to live with it.
† While I’m on it.. We know Mige (Mikko Paananen, HIM bassist,) and you have always been close. Can we expect to see him again on your solo projects?
Mige is a spirit-level of a man, keeping us more or less on the straight and narrow at times of great distress for all those years. If he ever wants to get back to psychedelic-babysitting, my doors of perception are open wide. He's a great bass player too!
† He is! No one could deny it. The HIM-years were damn tumultuous. Kinda “the good, the bad and the ugly”. Is it not that chaos that made this spark around the band?
Life can be quite tumultuous, you really don't have to be in a band to experience the highest-highs and the lowest-lows. We just had a different soundtrack to the proceedings, that's all.
† People say that geniuses are all a little chaotic after all. Isn't chaos genius itself?
Genius is like fame, we all get 15 minutes of it. By all accounts I should have a few nanoseconds left of both.
† By the way, how was the writing of your solo-album? How is the writing of each album usually going for you? Does the catharsis of the music make you plunge into a moody, or depressive state? Or, on the contrary, does it free you from your impulses?
It's a sonic adaptation of Jackson Pollock’s technique, quite a manic, messy and emotional experience with not a lot of sleep or anything else besides music, music, music. Not unlike a black hole with riffs.
† The Jackson Pollock technique… You already sounded like a maze to people. It’s just getting worse. I have a question about ‘Loveletting’ and its MV. Why this game of seduction with sheep? It can't just be for aesthetics, can it?
In my neck of the woods, the black sheep is a symbol for the outsider, the one that doesn't, “fit the flock”, so to speak, and I felt the rather feverish and surreal imagery paints the song beautifully for all of us who, at times, feel like we don't belong.
† In any case, you have remained faithful to your inspirations. It's quite dark, quite depressive. We haven't lost the Infernal Vampire. Does Neon Noir follow a particular theme, or is it just your own diary?
I'm just trying to find my way in this life, and for whatever reason I've ended up on this trek with a guitar in my hand. Sad songs are the prettiest and have the most impact on me, so I never really had a choice.
† “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” According to Edgar Allan Poe, writing is one of the most powerful forms of communication. Who do you write for? Which mind are you trying to impress? Others? Or your own?
It's a game of survival-with-words to me. Nothing more. Nothing less. I wonder what dear Edgar would say about today's methods of communication?
† Honestly? I don’t know.
Ta, Lauren! It’s been an absolute pleasure.
† The pleasure is mine. See ya in a couple of months on stage, Ville.
© Demona Lauren