It’s been a little under five years since Ville Valo laid goth metal icons HIM to rest, just over two since we last heard from him with the release of his debut VV EP. Now the crown prince of Love Metal is back with the promise of a new album, Neon Noir, and a string-flourishing, sheep-seducing new single called Loveletting. Hammer caught up with Ville to get the full story behind his solo career
Here we are then, Ville Valo finally back with new music! How are you feeling?
I’m shocked, after all the work I’ve done for the past two and a half years. When the shit hit the pan with the pandemic I just locked myself in my home studio and recorded the album, so I haven’t seen the sunlight too much. Which I guess is fine, as it fits the genre…
So is that where you’ve been this decade so far, locked away recording?
Yeah it’s been a weird couple of years, for everyone really. In the lowest moments over the past few years that’s been some comfort, knowing everybody is experiencing the same things. The main philosophical question I’ve been asking is, is there a reason to engage with the world right now? I think it’s a good idea to get away from it all, for a while. I needed to take time out to create something that felt unique to me and out in the open. I have a sofa in the studio so whenever I get super depressed I’d have the Churchill power nap. It was very centred around music and not a whole lot else. It was an interesting session, but it’ll take me a few years to fully unpack – I was basically doing 14 hours a day for two years.
There’s a great line in the VV bio about howling with the black dog, rather than barking at each other – do you find the record helped you work some of that out?
Music always needs to be cathartic. A lot of people have a lot of passion in their hobbies, things outside their work. But work is my passion, its my lifeline and keeps me afloat. It’s been really depressing; I’m a sensitive fella and I really thought by late 2020 everybody seemed down, particularly if you worked in music because there were no shows so all the musicians, the lighting technicians, road crews had no idea if they’d ever get to work again.
I’m not sure I’d say that made the album better, but it definitely gave me a kick up the butt to get out of that funk one way or another. You have to choose between the noose and the guitar, and for me the guitar has always been the better choice – especially in the long term.
The upcoming VV debut is your first solo album – did you play everything yourself?
I did everything on it, except for the mixing and mastering. It was mixed by Tim Palmer, who has done a lot of stuff in every imaginable genre, from Pearl Jam to Ozzy Osbourne to Sepultura to U2 and Tears For Fears. It was mastered at Sterling Sound in Nashville, but everything else I performed and engineered by myself.
It was quite the journey, but I could literally hear the fruit of my labour every day and could focus on the details as much as I wanted to. I didn’t have to think about the scheduling for different people, dealing with diaper changing sessions. It’s very undiluted, though whether that’s a good or bad thing is up for debate!
When did you properly decide you wanted to jump back in with a solo career?
I still don’t know what this ‘career’ is. To me, it feels really surreal because I thought the whole thing has to start with a song, with the music I like to eventually put the album together. Now I’m trying to recruit a band and decide on what songs we’ll play, try to figure out the production for how it will look and sound. It’s still just ideas, right until we actually do it. I never made a decision like ‘I’m going to go solo’, but during the pandemic there was no way to put together a band so that fuelled the idea of working alone. Literally solo.
It seemed like you weren’t massively interested in music for a while after HIM split. Did you ever think about not coming back to music?
I wasn’t too interested in the HIM thing, but for pretty obvious reasons everybody was also pretty worn out by the end of that tour. It was also interesting not to know how we’d feel spiritually about the change – it’s easy to make the announcement ‘oh, HIM are splitting up’ but I was worried because I’d been playing with those guys since I was 14 years old. I wasn’t sure if it would feel like losing a limb.
I talked to Mige [Mikko Paananen, HIM bassist] after the last gig and we both just felt so relieved that it worked out so great, on so many levels. I needed to take a little breather. I did an album with this local band that do pop music in Finnish [Agents] and we did an album in Finland and toured it in 2019, that was what I needed to clean myself after the process because I was singing to a very different audience. Trying not to curse as much! I’ve been trying to figure it out by doing various little things, but at the same time the new stuff definitely does sound like HIM. But I did write most of the songs, so… I’m to blame for that.
It's a continuous journey from HIM for me. A lot of people when they move on to solo projects want to distance themselves from the past, burn bridges and start their solo career. It’s different for me. VV is me building a bridge between HIM and the future. That’s what Neon Noir is. I wrote organically, because I don’t think you should decide before you’ve even picked up the guitar how something should sound. It’s not good for any creative work.
What or who was the inspiration behind the single Loveletting?
It was probably the black dog, depression. We’re all aware of that Murphy’s Law where things go pear shaped all the time and with the pandemic and personal stuff, not knowing where to go next, as well as not knowing where we belong, it created this feeling that went beyond depression, like a cosmic feeling of not belonging. That’s the stuff I try to put into the music and Loveletting can be read in many ways, it’s a double-edged sword. It’s very dream-like – you get those feverish dreams, where you’re not sure what is real and what isn’t. It’s not a new concept, but we Finns are pretty slow.
That video: how much fun was it seducing a sheep?
Ha ha ha! It was great. We thought about more traditional animals like gothic owls or bats. The director suggested a black sheep and I loved it – it was an opportunity to do something a bit weird, but also very endearing. Usually music videos aren’t fun to shoot, so trying to make them different always makes it special. So to me, that will always be ‘the sheep video’. The black sheep is the universal symbol of the outsider, for the people who don’t belong. I love animals too – I’d never met a black sheep in real life. I like the video because once I’d seen it, I was like ‘wait, what the fuck?’ which is the best reaction you can get to a video these days.
How representative of the sound of the album is Loveletting?
Loveletting is one of the more mellow songs. I’ve always been shit with picking singles – I’m always wrong, so I let the label choose that and everybody was smiling when they heard it the first time, so they suggested it. I’m hoping the next one will be a lot more rock’n’roll, harder hitting. The album is pretty varied – like Love Metal by HIM, it gets Sabbathy at times, but it goes more proggy with more soundscapes in between. Loveletting has a bit of Anathema in it – it reminds me of their stuff, very heartfelt, emotional and melancholic. Pretty and dirty at the same time.
What floats your boat musically these days?
“Not too much. Deafheaven’s latest album was pretty weird. Infinite Granite doesn’t have much metal in, but its great because its very moody. Also Anna Calvi. I got into the British band Wild Beasts, but only after they’d split up. It doesn’t show in what I do musically, but I like a lot of music that goes left of centre. There’s a few indie bands I’ve been listening to, and Twin Tribes from the States. They’re a duo who basically rip off everything that’s been done in the past, but they do it beautifully. They’ve got some great stuff and I’ve been forcing myself to get back into the goth scene because I think the future is there.”
There seems to be a decent goth revival right now with bands like Unto Others, Grave Pleasures and Tribulation all creating waves
“Absolutely. It’s not all just Sisters Of Mercy style goth, either. There are bands pulling from the post-punk stuff from before it actually went goth. I think it’s a good time for all that stuff. I’ve been interested in black metal again, but it’s a messy business. It’s like classical music – it’s so hard to find the really good albums because there are so many.”
How much of the solo album is recorded?
It’s totally recorded now. One of the reasons its done so early is because of delays with the vinyl plants – it takes eight months to get vinyl out these days, but I don’t really know why. Plus I like to be early and have long deadlines as I’ve got to get a band together. I’m sure it’ll be fine and dandy, but there’ll be a load of rehearsals to be done and I’m one of those people who needs to rehearse shit tonnes. It’s going to be a weird year, but I’m determined not to stain the memory of the HIM songs.
Are all the songs on the album brand new or are there any HIM holdovers?
Some of the ideas, like the verses from Loveletting were actually from 2014/2015. I always have bits and bobs that take a while to find their place. It’s gonna be interesting when we go to the rehearsal studio and start working on how these new songs and HIM songs will fit in the set – that’s a really important part of working out this identity.
Can you give us some song titles, or lyrical themes?
Not yet. I know the details of the songs obviously, but there’s a whole plan for it all. I’ll do the strumming and humming. I can give you one title – its called Echolocate Your Love. I think it’s a fantastic title and the idea is that there are times when you need to close your eyes to see better.
Have you had any big bucks offers to reunite HIM yet? And would he do it if there was enough money on the table?
That’s a multi-tentacled question! When we decided to call it quits with HIM, we never said it wouldn’t mean we’d never jam together again. It’s all about timing and the timing isn’t right, right now. We had a good run and were wise enough to end it before we got to each other’s throats. It worked out good in retrospect, but for a lot of bands it doesn’t so I don’t want to stress that element out too much. It’s a fine balance and I’d rather not mess it up because it left a sweet taste in everyone’s mouth.
But then again, there’s the part B of the question! I don’t really care too much about the monetary side of it. If there was a good reason, I’d be much more interested – whether that’s a festival, a tour or whatever else. I’ve been in touch with Mige a lot, but not so much the others. He’s been a spiritual producer for the album, coming over to my house and hearing the mixes, not necessarily offering advice but nodding his head approvingly. We’re still close and maybe one day we can share a stage again.
Last year marked 30 years since the formation of HIM – how do you feel about the band’s legacy these days?
I’ve been surprised about the youth getting into all the early 00s metal bands. It’s cool seeing Heartagram t-shirts alongside Type O Negative and Paradise Lost shirts – we’re in good company. Nothing’s new under the sun, so everything comes back at some point. Hopefully it happens while I’m on tour! But when you’re in a band you don’t worry about that, you’re lost in the moment thinking about where the next slice of pizza is coming from, or where the closest toilet is.
I don’t think I’ve had enough time to sit back and reflect on what went wrong and what went right. As human beings, we’re all going to make mistakes and with VV I’m hoping to make a bunch of new mistakes. Hopefully not repeating the previous ones!
Do you think there is more love in metal now than when you first started out?
Not my kind! Back in the days of yore, its weird thinking of bands like Linkin Park and Evanescence who felt way too poppy. They were very mainstream and you’d think ‘I’m not sure this is the real deal’, but they’re like Burzum compared to some of the shit these days. There’s a lot you get now with loads of electronica and the songs are super edited, with a dash of guitars. I’m not sure what they want to achieve with that, like you want people to headbang every now and again. I’m not happy with where things are going like that, which is why I’ve gravitated more towards weirder bands.
But then, that’s mistaking love for commerce. If there’s any heartfelt sentiment going on in the realm of hard rock, that’s always a positive. It doesn’t have to be romantic love, just something you’re truly passionate about.
VV’s debut Neon Noir is due early 2023
Ville Valo VV tour dates 2023
Jan 13: Helsinki Tavastia, Finland
Feb 14: Warsaw Proxima, Poland
Feb 15: Krakow Kwadrat, Poland
Feb 16: Prague Lucerna Music Bar, Czech Republic
Feb 17: Berlin Huxley's, Germany
Feb 18: Hamburg Fabrik, Germany
Feb 20: Amsterdam Paradiso, Netherlands
Feb 21: Frankfurt Batschkapp, Germany
Feb 22: Zurich Komplex, Switzerland
Feb 24: Barcelona Razzmatazz, Spain
Feb 25: Madrid La Riviera, Spain
Feb 26: Lisbon Cineteatro Capitolio, Portugal
Feb 27: Porto Hard Club, Portugal
Mar 02: Milan Alcatraz, Italy
Mar 03: Munich Backstage Werk, Germany
Mar 04: Budapest Barba Negra, Hungary
Mar 05: Vienna Arena, Austria
Mar 07: Esch-sur-Alzette Rockhal, Luxemburg
Mar 08: Cologne LMH, Germany
Mar 09: Paris Le Trabendo, France
Mar 10: Bristol O2 Academy, UK
Mar 11: Nottingham Rock City, UK
Mar 13: Glasgow Garage, UK
Mar 14: Manchester O2 Ritz, UK
Mar 15: London O2 Forum Kentish Town, UK
Apr 01: Philadelphia Theatre of the Living Arts, PA
Apr 02: Boston Big Night Live, MA
Apr 04: Pittsburgh Roxian Theater, PA
Apr 05: Cleveland House of Blues, OH
Apr 06: Detroit St. Andrews Hall, MI
Apr 08: Cincinnati Bogarts, OH
Apr 09: Chicago House of Blues, IL
Apr 11: Minneapolis Varsity Theater, MN
Apr 13: Denver Summit Music Hall, CO
Apr 14: Salt Lake City The Depot, UT
Apr 16: Sacramento Ace of Spades, CA
Apr 17: San Francisco The Fillmore, CA
Apr 18: Los Angeles Belasco, CA
Apr 21: Las Vegas House of Blues, NV
Apr 22: San Diego House of Blues, CA
Apr 23: Phoenix Van Buren, AZ
Apr 25: Dallas House of Blues, TX
Apr 26: San Antonio Aztec Theater, TX
Apr 27: Houston House of Blues, TX
Apr 28: New Orleans House of Blues, LA
Apr 30: Orlando House of Blues, FL
May 01: Ft. Lauderdale Revolution. FL
May 03: Atlanta Buckhead Theatre, GA
May 04: Nashville Brooklyn Bowl, TN
May 05: Charlotte Underground, NC
May 07: Silver Spring The Fillmore, MD
May 08: New York Irving Plaza, NY