As the heartthrob leader of HIM, Ville Valo defined gothic metal for a generation of rock fans. But when setting out on his epic adventures in the dark romantic arts, it turns out the Finnish frontman learned from the best, getting his start playing Type O Negative covers sets.
"One of the first gigs we ever played was for a local promoter who was a mate of mine," Ville tells us. "He put this weird covers evening together with all these other bands and I think it was Apocalyptica’s first gig too, they were called Jailhouse Band at that point.
"We had a few of our own songs already, but decided to play Type O Negative [songs] instead. Apocalyptica played Metallica, obviously! Another band played Rage Against The Machine and another Danzig – it was a covers night. We did it twice and it sounded pretty decent actually and taught us to steal the best parts of Type O."
Self-depreciation aside, it clearly worked as HIM became one of the genre's most iconic groups in subsequent years. Ville would reprise his love for New York's goth metal kings when he was invited onstage to sing with the Roadrunner United project in 2005, jumping on vocals for a cover of Type O classic Black No. 1.
Of course, that does beg the question of whether the goth icons ever crossed paths. So when we caught up with Ville recently to talk his new project, we put that question to him.
"I did meet Peter Steele a couple of times, but we never became friends," he responds. "He’s such a massive fella in every sense of the word, so imposing when he was standing over you. It was at one of the first festival gigs we played in Germany, so I was really new to everything and I remember sitting in the catering area not coming up with the courage to say anything."
Type O Negative weren't the only goth-inclined band that Ville credits with helping shape HIM's sound, either.
"We toured with The Mission and I got to meet some of the original guys from the Sisters Of Mercy. They were telling us old war stories, and it’s crazy to think that was back in 2001 – over 20 years ago. I’ve met a few of my idols along the way – I met Slash and Ozzy briefly. They’re true professionals and icons, they’re the nicest people. I still go ask for autographs if I’m a fan.”
While all the talk of goth is par for the course for Valo, he also expressed a lot of love for the world of extreme metal.
"I’ve got an interesting history when it comes to music," he says. "I played jazz when I was 13/14 and got into all these alternative bands like Jane’s Addiction, Mr. Bungle and Primus, then through that into death metal and grindcore. All of that stuff is important, but doesn’t actually show up in my music. It’s the attitude of having it undiluted and real. Like black metal, it’s uncompromising at its best.”
Ville hasn't been able to explore his extreme metal affiliations too often across his career (his team-up with Cradle Of Filth on 2006's The Byronic Man being a notable exception), but he reveals fond memories of joining up with HIM drummer Gas Lipstick on the latter's short-lived extreme metal supergroup To Separate The Flesh From The Bones.
“I grew up with bands like Napalm Death. One of the first bands I sung in was a grunty thing – we covered early Carcass songs. I really love Carcass, that’s exactly the kind of thing I look for in extreme music. It was really nice, I ended up singing with Jeff Walker and Lee Dorrian on a grindcore project which had Gas Lipstick from HIM called To Separate The Flesh From The Bones. It was amazing doing grindcore, singing on the same mic with those guys.
We got wasted and Bill Steer was there too. We worked together on [Jeff Walker Und Die Fluffers] too, which was something Jeff did later on. I played bass with Die Fluffers. But yeah, To Separate The Flesh From The Bones, I love that sort of stuff – I grew up with it - early Deicide, Left Hand Path by Entombed type stuff."
So there you have it, Ville Valo - the goth metal icon with secret extreme metal dreams.