Despite spending the bulk of their career existing like the red-headed stepchild of the rock and metal worlds, HIM have managed to grow up into well adjusted adults. Frontman Ville Valo tells Tom Hersey why they used to get teased in the playground.
As Ville – a charming and articulate raconteur if there ever was one – sees it, two words damned HIM to be forever stuck between two worlds, and it was all initially a joke. Those words, 'love metal'. A genre the band applied to their sound with tongue firmly pressed in cheek in the '90s. “It was to test the sense of humour of metalheads, and rock fans,” the HIM singer says, laughing in reflection. “Some people take it all too seriously. They should sit down for a while and have a cup of tea and unwind.”
Ville is unapologetic about deciding that HIM should be the first, and quite possibly only 'love metal' band. They even went as far as to rub their silly little genre tag in the face of all those who taunted them when they released their breakthrough fourth album Love Metal. The way the singer sees it, it's a ridiculous tag, but it's no more a ridiculous than anything else used to describe a subgenre of music.
“Take your work seriously, but don't take yourself seriously. There was this whole thing when we started out where people couldn't figure out what box to put us in, where we fit in the scene… But I grew up with Venom, who more or less invented black metal, and Motörhead and the early stages of speed metal. These are all kind of ridiculous terms for music really, so we wanted our own little ridiculous term. Something that meant we could say we were something else as opposed to saying we were a goth band or a metal band or whatever. Because we have a lot of influences from all over the place.”
By Ville's best estimation, those influences – which see HIM take goth-rock and throw in some glammy proto-punk swagger and the odd full-blown, face-melter of a metal riff to still create something you could hum along to – are a product of their Finnish roots. Back there, it wasn't about being cool or liking the 'right' bands. No, back in Finland it was all about finding whatever you could to get your rocks off in the middle of an eight-month long winter.
“Where we come from, we're allowed to listen to whatever we want to. In Scandinavia we can do what we want. Because I can love Depeche Mode as much as I love Cradle of Filth and I don't have any problems loving both of those bands. And I don't think it takes away from me or those bands for doing so.
“In America though, people seem to be really tied in to the subgenres, if it's not within their subgenre, they can't like it. And for me it just feels like it's still the '80s over there, like the old tape-trading times. Like if you didn't like Twisted Sister or Mötley Crüe you were a loser. And I just don't understand that. To me, music is music; a good melody is a good melody no matter how it's being presented. Sure, I'm not a fan of sunshine-pop dance music, but wherever there's melancholy, or a sad or sentimental core within the music then it doesn't really matter what kind of genre it is – it could be country and western or black metal. You should find what you like in every single genre, if you even need to think about genres anymore.”
For Ville, the joy of music has always been what exists between all of those arbitrary genre labels. For him, and for HIM, music has always been a way to connect with the sense of melancholy that has served the band incredibly well over their career. “What makes music really special for me is bridging those gaps. Finding out what leads me from Christian Death to Depeche Mode to Johnny Cash. It's the dark heart within the music, that dark spark there, and then people just dress the music up in a way that suits their surroundings.”
It's been the band's refusal to pay credence to the outward appearance of their own music and instead focus on the 'love metal' at it's heart, that has made life harder than it should have been for a band as talented as HIM. But Ville's not bitter about anything. The way he sees it, things are working out pretty damn well for HIM. “I'm still honoured and flattered that us, a bunch of not very good-looking guys, get to travel the world. We've never really fit in – a lot of metalheads think we're way too poppy and a lot of pop fans think we're way too heavy – but we've still been able to do this for more than 20 years.”