Alexi Laiho: “I do it for the music and the love of playing. End of f**king story.”

Alexi Laiho
(Image credit: Terhi Ylimäinen)

Back in 2008, Alexi Laiho and his band Children Of Bodom were in the vanguard of a wave of European metal that had exploded across the UK and America a few years ago. The man nicknamed ‘Wild Child’  was a rubber-stamped guitar hero, feted by the lkes of Kerry King and Kirk Hammett. But he had his demons too, which culminated in a failed suicide attempt in the late 90s. When Metal Hammer sat down to interview him for our regular My Life Story feature, we found a someone who was finally embracing his status as a figurehead of metal’s new generation. In the wake of the sad news of his death, we’re republishing the interview in full…

Metal Hammer line break

Where and when were you born?

“I was born in a suburb of Helsinki called Espoo on April 8, 1979. Yeah, I hit fuckin’ 31 this April. For me, it doesn’t mean shit. Everyone freaks out about turning 30, but I don’t care.”

Did you grow up in a musical environment?
“Definitely. Every member of my family played a musical instrument. My dad played the piano and organ, my mom played flute and sang in a choir, and my sister played the piano as well. My parents are still singing in choirs all over fuckin’ Finland.”

What attracted you to heavy metal?
“My older sister got me into it. When I was seven years old she played me her Guns N’Roses, Twisted Sister, Mötley Crüe and Skid Row tapes. Everything about it was so fuckin’ attractive: how they played, the sound of the guitar, the way the guys looked. They were dangerous. I was so fuckin’ drawn into it. And I still am.”

Is it true that your father taught you to drive when you were 10 years old?
“It’s true, yeah. He taught me in his fuckin’ Alfa Romeo three-litre V6, which is not too shabby for a first fuckin’ car! One of my passions is cars, along with music and skateboarding. What are my dream cars? Well, that’s the coolest fuckin’ thing – I’ve actually got ’em. When I was a kid I used to watch Knight Rider and my first dream car was a Pontiac Trans-Am. It was the coolest thing ever. I got a Trans Am GTA a couple of years ago. It’s fuckin’ awesome, dude! Then I saw The Blues Brothers and I loved the fuckin’ 1974 Dodge Monaco that they were driving. It has a 7.3 litre engine! As a joke in an interview one time, I said that I wanted one, and that if anyone had that car, they should sell it to me. Then this guy contacted me via our record label and fuckin’ sold me one!”

Alexi Laiho

(Image credit: Frank Hoensch/Redferns)

It took a few years for Children Of Bodom to become successful. Was it tough at times?

“Yes, it was a lot of hard work – but it’s all fuckin’ worth it. We got sort of popular in Europe and Japan after two albums, but in the UK and the USA and the rest of the world it was really hard. But we always had this drive to go forward, so we worked hard in those places. I’m really happy with the fact that shit is starting to happen.”

Was there a specific point when you realised that Children Of Bodom was a success?
“For me, it was when I realised that I didn’t have to have a job, which happened after Hatebreeder in 1999. The best job that I had before that was in construction: it was a lot of hard work, but good money. The worst job I ever had was in telemarketing, which is the worst goddamn job in the whole fuckin’ world. I had to go in there at 10am on a Saturday and wake people up with a phone call, saying, ‘Do you want to buy a dictionary?’ I felt so bad for these people. It’s a fuckin’ horrible job and I do not recommend it to anybody!”

How did you get your ‘Wild Child” nickname? And when are you going to grow out of it?
“Ha ha ha! You know what, dude, I got that nickname way before we started the band – but I’m thinking, it’s pretty fuckin’ lame that I’m in my 30s and still calling myself ‘Wild Child’. I think it’s time to let it go, but then again, I know that in my heart I’m always gonna be a wild child, no matter what.”

You had your guitars stolen in 2002. Did you ever find out who did it?

“Yes, my two Jackson guitars were stolen. I never found out who did it. I wish I did. Let me put it this way, dude: I’m not a violent person and I never start a fight, but if I ever found that motherfucker, I would break his fuckin’ arms in a fraction of a second, whoever the fuck he was. Those guitars were my fuckin’ life. They meant so much to me that it was ridiculous.”

This isn't an easy subject to discuss, but you attempted suicide in the late 1990s. Did it take a long time before you were in a better place mentally?

“Yes, I was a little fucked in the head. It took a little while. I decided one day that I never wanted to feel like that ever again. People around me were telling me that I should do something about this. But the way I work is that if people tell me ‘You gotta do this, you gotta do that’, I’m gonna do the opposite. It was a decision that I made by myself, that I wanted to feel better. It took a couple of years, but I got over it, you know. To this day, I’m still fighting… but I don’t dwell on depression any more, and anger and shit like that. I’m all right.”

Did you have therapy?
“Yes, I did. I was committed [detained in a secure hospital unit] a couple of times, and they told me, ‘Look, either you’re gonna see a psychiatrist or you’re gonna stay here for a long time’. The first time I saw the psychiatrist, I hated her and I thought she was a fuckin’ bitch, and I ended up in the hospital again. It took a while, but I saw this woman again, and she turned out pretty cool. She helped me get through some stuff. I didn’t even know what the hell was going on in my head. I’m not a fuckin’ psychiatrist, but the one thing I can tell you is that when you feel that way, the one thing you don’t want is for other people to tell you what to do. You actually want them to listen. That’s all. It’s not that fuckin’ difficult, seriously.”

You and Kerry King of Slayer appeared in an interview on the Unholy Alliance DVD, and you seemed a little overawed…
“You know, when you’re opening up for Slayer, you absolutely know who the big boys are, even if you’re lucky enough not to get ‘Slayered’ off stage. We only got Slayered a couple of nights. It was Slayer, Lamb Of God and Mastodon… and us, going out there with our bubblegum rock, ha ha ha! I thought they were gonna fuckin’ kill us out there, but actually it didn’t happen so much. The fans were really cool. Anyway, there comes a point when you just have to say, ‘Fuck you, motherfuckers – this is what we do!’ It was a challenge, and I love a fuckin’ challenge. That’s really what keeps me going. Don’t worry about whether people are gonna hate you or love you: just get your fuckin’ ass up there and rock.”

Tell us a bit about your other band, Kylähullut.

“The punk band? That was just a joke from the get-go. I was at home and I thought that I could either spend my time off sitting on my PlayStation or playing punk rock with my best friends and getting fucked up. Out of these two options, I thought I’d go and play punk rock! It’s not a serious thing, we just do it for ourselves.” 

You’ve said that your hangovers are sometimes so bad that you need a tranquiliser in order to face the press. When does the pain of a hangover outweight the pleasure of getting drunk?
“Well, it’s a funny thing. Alcohol is something that makes me fuckin’ happy. It’s one of my best friends. As a matter of fact, you can compare alcohol to a woman: she can make you feel so goddamn high, or she can make you so miserable that it’s far beyond everything.”

You are known as one of the world’s most accomplished metal guitarists. Did you know that Kirk Hammett of Metallica has said some highly complimentaryy things about your playing?
“That’s what I heard. It was amazing. That stuff is really flattering and rewarding, but then again I don’t want to dwell on it for too long, because it’s just going to fuck with your head. I don’t do this shit for the awards or for the compliments – I do it for the music and for the love of playing. End of fuckin’ story.” 

Published in Metal Hammer #208

Joel McIver

Joel McIver is a British author. The best-known of his 25 books to date is the bestselling Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica, first published in 2004 and appearing in nine languages since then. McIver's other works include biographies of Black Sabbath, Slayer, Ice Cube and Queens Of The Stone Age. His writing also appears in newspapers and magazines such as The Guardian, Metal Hammer, Classic Rock and Rolling Stone, and he is a regular guest on music-related BBC and commercial radio.