Ville Valo: "There’s no time for a hangover in the music business these days"

Ville Valo standing in front of a hedge
(Image credit: Juha Mustonen)

If Ville Valo’s debut solo album Neon Noir was a movie, the poster for it would read: ‘The King Of Goth Returns To Reclaim His Throne’. But Valo is having none of it.

“I wouldn’t say I’m the King Of Goth,” he says. “Crown Prince, maybe. Or Clown Prince.”

Still, fans of HIM will find much to love about Neon Noir, released under the name VV. It taps into the same dark vein of romanticism, placing its creator squarely back in the spotlight five years after the Finns took their final bow.

“It’s good to hide in the shadows for a wee bit,”says Ville. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”


After HIM split, the first thing you did was record a Finnish-language album with the veteran MOR/rock’n’roll band Agents. Why was that? 

After twenty-five years with HIM I needed to cleanse my palate. The chance to do a record like that was really important on an emotional level, because that was the music my parents were listening to when I was born. In fact, one of the tracks we did was supposedly the song that my dad put on when I was crying as a baby. It was my sonic way of thanking my parents. And musically it was nice because I wasn’t hiding behind a wall of noisy guitars. 

What brought you back to rock’s front lines? 

Well, I just thought enough is enough. Before we even started, we said there was going to be one tour and one album, and that was it. There’s a beauty in that. It wasn’t left hanging – like HIM. 

You’re still using the HIM ‘heartagram’ as your logo. Good to see you making a break with your past there. 

[Laughing] Oh, come on… No, there’s a continuation. I didn’t want to do that thing where people start their solo career and completely denounce their past. Musically, this has so many things in common with HIM. If you like what that band did, you’re going to like this. The icing is different, but the cake is pretty much the same. 

What was on the VV ‘mood board’ while you were making Neon Noir? 

My comfort zone is still somewhere between Black Sabbath and Depeche Mode, but as I wasn’t relying on the talents of the other guys in HIM this time it was maybe more Depeche Mode than Black Sabbath. But I was also able to indulge my fondness for things like the Cocteau Twins and The Chameleons. [Laughs] So the eighties, basically.

You recorded this album completely solo during the pandemic. Where was your head at throughout it all? 

Like a lot of people, I got super-depressed. I lost my faith in everything. I got these whiffs of the past – it felt like Chernobyl in the eighties, when there was a sense that there might not be a tomorrow. And I have pretty severe asthma, so the idea of covid was kind of scary. My only focus was working on music. That was my lifeline during that time. 

I was quite desperate, and I’m sure you can hear that vibe on the album. But that also makes it special for me – looking back, I enjoyed being in my own head. It was a weird time and a test of patience. And it was quite endearing seeing how people used that time to suddenly start procreating. 

Did you miss having other people around to argue with? 

With HIM, I’d known the guitar player and the bass player since I was twelve or thirteen; we grew up together. So I missed the camaraderie we had. I missed the brainstorming, and also the stuff you do between working on music – the moments where you’re just hanging out with each other and talking shit. 

Were you ever tempted to call up any of the HIM guys and say: “Hey, why don’t you just drop by the studio for a jam?” 

No, not at all. There were a few reasons why HIM stopped, but the main one is that we just lost the spark. It didn’t feel right. You can’t play rock’n’roll for money. Well, you can, but I’m just not there yet. 

On the plus side, fewer people means you have to share less of the money. 

You say that, but I haven’t sold a single record yet, so there might not be any money at all.

The music industry has changed a lot since HIM split. Has your record label got you doing wacky stunts, like miming to seventies disco music on a skateboard for the TikTok clicks?

I’ve never even looked at TikTok. I’m not one for social media. Just the thought of it makes me go mental. I’m one of those guys who can’t even work out an emoji. I just eggplant away.

You lived the rock’n’roll lifestyle to the full for a good few years, then it stopped working for you. Where are you at with that stuff these days? 

I haven’t been partying or smoking cigarettes or doing any drugs for six or seven years. You can be a professional drunk or a professional musician, and music is closer to my heart than lager. I had fascinating times, and I’m glad I went overboard. If I hadn’t I’d still be half a musician and half an alcoholic. And there’s no time for a hangover in the music business these days. There’s no time to fuck things up. 

You begin your solo tour in Helsinki in January. These will be the first proper rock gigs you’ve done since HIM split. Are you looking forward to it? 

It’s not daunting, but being on stage is still hard for me at times. The left-hand side of my brain is trying to remember the lyrics, and the right hand side of the brain is trying to remember to emote. It’s confusing for me. But I’m getting better at it. 

Is HIM a closed book? 

Never say never. I’d love to play music with those guys in the future. They’re great musicians and lovely fellows. But not now. Like I say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Neon Noir is out now via Heartagram Records.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.