There’s a lot more to a record than simple notes, lyrics, and sounds. An impactful piece of music always remains wrapped in emotion. Love, hate, sadness, and joy resound at the greatest decibel imaginable. At the end of the day, a song’s feeling will carry on as long as the melody will—and just as loudly. HIM holds that philosophy in the highest regard on its eighth full-length studio album, ‘Tears On Tape’ [Razor & Tie]. The platinum-selling Finnish quintet—Ville Valo (Vocals), “Linde” (Guitars), “Migé” (Bass), “Burton” (Keyboards), and “Gas” (Drums)—finds rapture in divine rock ‘n’ roll hooks, eerie synths, and elegantly cinematic lyrics. You’ll undoubtedly feel each tear they shed.
After touring heavily behind 2010’s ‘Screamworks: Love in Theory and Practice, Chapters 1-13,’ the band began taking its next step musically. However, it wasn’t as easy as these five musicians might’ve hoped it would be. Drummer “Gas” had sustained a repetitive strained injury in his hand, and his doctors weren’t even sure if he would ever play drums again. It left the future of the legendary band in doubt. After waiting eight long months for him to return to action, the band found themselves ready to write the next chapter in the story of HIM.
That next chapter sees Valo and Co. venture into a new territory once again, while upholding the pillars of their patented “Love Metal” of course. They cut the album in their native Finland at Helsinki’s Finnvox Studios, the site of some of their seminal work including their debut ‘Greatest Love Songs Vol. 666’ and 2003’s ‘Love Metal’. In addition, they tapped longtime collaborator Hiili Hiilesmaa for production and Tim Palmer [U2, Ozzy Osbourne, Pearl Jam, Rober Plant] for mixing. The record also boasts paintings from long-time friend BBC Radio’s Daniel P. Carter as cover art. Teaming up with Razor & Tie, they’re marching into their next phase of their career with the powerful tunes that comprise Tears On Tape — an album which will certainly please the band’s truly diehard global fan base that wears the “Heartagram” logo proud. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with HIM frontman Ville Valo to discuss his musical influences, the creation of ‘Tears On Tape,’ the longevity of the band and what the future may hold for them.
It’s great to speak with you again, Ville. It has been a while since our last interview and we are excited to get the word out on the new album. Thanks for taking time out to talk with us today.
It is a pleasure, a pleasure indeed but don’t thank me yet! [laughs]
H.I.M. has been around for many years and developed an amazing fan following. I wanted to go back to the beginning and learn about how music originally came into your life.
My daddy was a taxi driver when I was a kid. He would always take me to school and listen to old school blues a lot, so I grew up listening to Bo Diddley, Ry Cooder and whatnot. There was also old reggae, The Temptations and the Motown stuff as well. Those are really the first things that come to mind when I think of how music came into my life. Then, all of a sudden, I found rock ‘n’ roll. It was the early ‘80s, it was the time of making mix tapes on cassettes. Then I bought my first album, which was “Animalize” by KISS on vinyl. I thought a lot of the band and that Gene Simmons was so incredibly cool that I started playing bass guitar. That is basically what I did when I was 8 or 9 years old. That was how I got into music.
What was it about music that made you pursue it as a career instead of following a different path?
I think it was a series of lucky accidents. When I was about 14, I started playing at pubs already as a bass player. It was around that age I just started to get a bit of money out of it. It was a way of living I just couldn’t change. I didn’t want to change it for the world. I loved it. I played in six or seven bands at the time. I was playing a lot, not getting payed proper or anything like that but I was still living with my parents, so it was fine. After I got finished with school, I guess I was 17 or 18, I was at the point where people start to think about what they will study or what they will become. I realized there was nothing I wanted to do besides music. My parents were really supportive and helped me out with my first rent, instruments, strings and stuff like that and made it way easy for me to actually concentrate on music instead of figuring what I am was doing for my next loaf of bread.
With that said, did you have any idea when you picked up the instrument or even the mic for the first time it would lead you to a successful career?
Well, definitely not. Obviously, there are always high hopes. I think if you want to start off playing in a rock band, you definitely do want to be the first band to play on the moon and so forth. You have to have high hopes. That is required. You have to be a bit of a daydreamer and think everything is possible. For me, it all happened little baby step by little baby step. It has taken us ages to get this far and the journey is still going on, so it is tough to say what would have happened, if certain things wouldn’t have happened. The only thing I know now is that there is so much luck involved in the whole business that it is definitely not about talent. Talent doesn’t hurt but it is not the main thing. Timing, luck and a few decent songs.
You had your fair share of ups and downs along the way. To what do you attribute the longevity of the band?
It is probably the fact we grew up together. I met our bass player when I was 8 or 9 years old and we bonded over bass playing. We were fans of Steve Harris from Iron Maiden and all of that stuff. I have known most of the guys in the band before we had H.I.M. Now, being 36, I have spent more than half of my life in this band and it is such an integral part of who I am as a person that it is not just about music, it is a brotherhood. I think that is the main reason we have been able to sustain and keep it together for such a long time.
Your drummer, Mika “Gas Lipstick” Karppinen, suffered a repetitive stress injury at the end of 2011. From what I read, you said it caused you guys to reevaluate if you would carry on as a band. How close was the band to calling it a day and what made you push through and carry on?
It was quite tough. We started working on the latest album, “Tears On Tape,” about two-and-a-half years ago. It was around that time his hand started acting up and we didn’t know what was going on. We realized we couldn’t rehearse and he went to see a gazillion, bazillion different doctors. They weren’t able to give us a proper prognosis. We had to wait a month at a time to see if there was any positive development there. After about six months or so, every one began to stress out and start freaking out about what would happen with the whole band and if we would be able to continue. Since we have the brotherhood type of vibe in this band, we just wanted to wait it out and be absolutely sure. If Gas wasn’t able to play, we would then have had to figure out what to do next but we didn’t want to give up. I kept on working on songs and demo-ing them back home while he was healing. I think it was late May of last year that he said he was feeling good enough to come back to the rehearsal space and pound some skins proper. That is basically what we did and everything fell into place and was fine. He hasn’t had any trouble since, so triumph through tribulation, I guess.
How did you arrive at the title “Tears On Tape” and what does it mean to you?
I had that song written down for quite some time and it is an ode to our idols, like Black Sabbath and all those bands. It starts with the lyrics “Church bells toll and the thunder rolls around me.” That is basically just me describing the intro for Black Sabbath’s debut album. For me it is about the nostalgic feeling I get from listening to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Cat Stevens, Neil Young and those people who shed their blood, sweat and tears on tape back in the day and created the wonderful masterpieces that inspired us to become part of the world of music. It was these icons that led the way and showed us that you don’t have to be a plumber, you can be a sonic plumber! [laughs]
When you headed into the studio for “Tears On Tape,” what were your expectations? Was there something you all had in mind you wanted to achieve?
We more or less wanted to work with the Finnish producer Hiili Hiilesmaa at a studio called Finnvox where we have worked a gazillion times before. We also wanted to use Tim Palmer as the mix engineer. It was exactly the same team we used when we worked on “Love Metal” back in 2003 and on “Venus Doom” a few years later. With that team we pretty much knew what we were going to get but those two gentlemen really made it easy for us to really get deep into the heart of the process as opposed to having to introduce out macabre sense of humor and our musical perversions. It made the whole process fast, easy and painless. That is the reason we wanted to do it that way. We just wanted to have the album more lively, organic and noisy. We wanted it lively and analog in a way, even though it was digitally recorded and we didn’t want to over-polish it. That is what those two people do really well. They let the music live as opposed to crushing it to death.
What can you tell us about your typical songwriting process? Are you doing anything differently these days as opposed to earlier albums?
I think it is really close to how it was. I just find myself in the position of having something emotional to say but I can’t find the right words and then that is when I pick up a guitar. That is how it has always been. It is self expression or self therapy of sorts! I think it is nice that the process is not repetitive and is not the same old, same old every time around. It can start with a lyric, a melody or with the guitar. That is something that keeps us on our toes, I think. I get the basic core ideas down and then head to the rehearsal place where we flesh it up a bit. We turn the volume up to 11 and see how it flies!
How many songs did you write for the album? Was there anything that didn’t make the cut we might hear in the future?
I have always believed in fairly short albums. I think about 40 to 45 minutes is the perfect length for an album. I have never understood people who write 30 songs and then they pick 10 of them. I think I would rather spend my time working on the good songs! [laughs] It might sound a bit odd but I have always thought there is no reason to work on half-assed ideas. Obviously, at times there might be a riff that doesn’t work. The best thing to do is let that riff be for a while and come back to it at some point. A riff needs to be memorable. I don’t always believe in writing or recording riffs down because if you can’t remember the next day, then they are shit. I think that self-editing is one of the most important things I have learned along the way as opposed to having 15 hours of guitar riffs on a CD or cassette somewhere. Some people work like that and it’s fine. I think, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the result. I write a chorus and the ones that really speak for me and for the band are the ideas that live their own life and we let that be. That being said, we did try a couple of other songs as well that didn’t quite work yet. I am sure that they will. There was one slow number that was really dirty and doomy. We thought that it would slow down the whole feel of the album too much so we will probably save it for later.
Looking back on that entire process, what was the biggest challenge in bringing “Tears On Tape” to life?
There were a gazillion different challenges, which is a good thing I think. If it feels easy, then it is wrong. It has to be this stressful and you have to have many a sleepless night. That is an important part of getting on along together so well. All of it was a painful joy, the whole process.
It sounds like you guys are in a terrific place creatively. Is that a fair statement to make?
Yeah, we are switching the gears up to start playing a few gigs in Europe and then a few in The States come May. Then there are festivals and so forth, followed by a proper worldwide tour in the fall. That is the interesting thing, creatively at least, because all the songs change and mutate into something different when you play live. Also, we can’t decide what songs people will gravitate towards. We have to wait it out until the album is out and see how the vibe is. That is interesting because now we have babied the songs in the studio and at the rehearsal place for such a long time and now they are coming out. It is interesting to see what happens with them and if people get them, hate them or something in between.
You mentioned the upcoming tour, which I know we are really excited about as well. Do you approach touring differently today than in the past or is it still mayhem on the road!?[laughs] I think it is a different kind of mayhem. When we started out as a young band, the tours were really short. That enabled the opportunity of getting fucked up, messing about and all that. I think today we are a bit more responsible but not too responsible. I think there has to be a level when it comes to that thing and it should be balanced.
Looking back at yourself as an artist, how have you evolved through the years and what have you learned about yourself along the way?
I have learned I am a fairly impatient bastard and that hasn’t changed! [laughs] That being said, I think the biggest change has been that I am a bit more patient than I used to be. People are different and you have to respect everyone’s head space. Some people are quick learners and some aren’t but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good at what they do. The whole band, all five guys, are very different characters. I think that is the strength of the band. For example, our keyboard player is a classically trained guy who loves to play chess, so he has a more mathematical mind. Our bass player is more of a psychedelia guy, who goes with the flow and it is all based on feel. There are all sorts of different aspects and angles in the band and it makes the whole creative process much more interesting.
If you could go back in time to where you were just starting out, what is the best piece of advice you would pass along to yourself?
Probably, brush your teeth or something! [laughs] I think there is little room for regret. It is important to make your mistakes but that doesn’t mean you have to make mistakes on purpose. I am pretty happy with everything I have gone through and everything the band has gone through over the years. We have done good stuff and we have done bad stuff and everything in between and that is important, otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. It can’t all be wine, dance and roses or wine, women and song. I think that would be boring. It is good to have those moral hangovers on occasion!
You mentioned the brotherhood you and your bandmates formed. Do you feel you would overstep your bounds by venturing outside with a solo project at some point? Is that something you are even interested in at this point?
Back in the day, I was figuring it would be nice to do something really left of center, psychedelic and folky but, at the end of day, I think most of what I call my musical perversions I can do with the band as it is. I am really happy about that and it is fairly rare. There is really no reason to fuck it all up.
Are there any misconceptions about yourself out there you can dispel?
No. I think, especially now, with the Internet and all, there is so much misinformation flying about everywhere and you can’t correct it all. The more the people talk about the band or myself, the better! It doesn’t really matter whether it is good or bad as long as people are interested.
I have been a fan of H.I.M. for many years and I have to say that “Tears On Tape” is one of your best outings. Is there anything you would like to say to your fans around the world before I let you go?
Obviously, we have to extend our gratitude for all their patience. I think the interesting things are going to start when the album is out. Just hold your breathe for a couple of weeks longer and peep the album to see how you like it. Then we can have another discussion about the details!
Thanks for your time today, Ville. We will spread the word on the album and look forward to seeing you soon!
Cool! Thank you so much! Take care!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.