HIM Frontman On Debut Solo Album: 'This Attention Is A Bit Weird’

12 January 2023 | 3:57 pm | Mary Varvaris
Originally Appeared In

The HIM frontman and solo artist discusses his debut solo album, muses about legacy, and the song that changed the trajectory of his life.

(Pic by Juha Mustonen)

Ville Valo was content with not making music for a while after the band he sang in, the gothic rock heroes HIM, disbanded in 2017. As you can see from the headline, being back in the spotlight is something the vocalist hasn’t gotten used to yet. “It feels quite familiar, but the butterflies are here again,” he shares from his home studio. Valo’s studio is beautiful – he's darkened the room, so the purple-coloured lights look cooler.

“This is the place where I recorded and produced Neon Noir. This is my home studio that I built right after we disbanded, with the thought that I need to put money where my mouth is and try to concentrate and see if I can come up with the goods. It took me a while, but here I am. When I'm not sure about the album, at least we have cool colours,” he laughs.

The album Valo is talking about, Neon Noir, is his first solo album after embarking on a solo career in 2020. In March of that year, he surprise-released the EP, Gothica Fennica Vol. 1 – two of its three tracks charted in his native Finland. The singer releases solo music as VV.

As the singer of HIM, Valo was a huge part of what made the band one of the most commercially successful Finnish bands of all time. With his rich baritone voice, mysterious aesthetic, and it factor, Metal Hammer labelled him one of the few “rockstars” of the 2000s. The publication wrote, “HIM were like no other band. They had a special something, but more importantly, they had a special someone. Ville shone like a star with his blend of Mick Jagger posturing and Brandon Lee's dark charms in The Crow.” That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone – is Valo okay with it?

“I think that I'm still in the bubble, so I don't understand,” the Razorblade Kiss singer starts. “My brain doesn't compute that sort of equation. But I've heard people mention legacy, and may have said the word legendary… I’ve now met a few journalists and DJs who were in their teens when they listened to the HIM stuff, which is quite extraordinary.

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“It's funny how music can travel, and how universal it is, and how much time travelling there is in music, because it's always the same, it doesn't change, but yet it brings generations together, or it can,” Valo continues. “I'm pretty proud of what we achieved with HIM, and especially how we ended the whole thing as we were fairly amicable. There were no big fights or anything – just a whiff of sadness, of course, but it wasn't like the horror stories I'd heard from a lot of other bands. I think that starting the band from being schoolmates and ending it in a civilised fashion were the best things about HIM.

“Maybe, I'm afraid to look back. I feel that when you start looking back, you can start living in the past really easily. I think it's wiser to go forward… I tried to reflect in maybe 2010 or whatever, and it never did me any good.” Valo is open and introspective, two essential qualities attached to Neon Noir.

Since Valo grew up with the guys in HIM, he was unsure how big of a part to play that camaraderie would hold when he decided to record new music. “It took me a while to figure out that the best way to figure out where you want to go, artistically speaking, is to pick up the guitar, start strumming and humming again, and see where it takes you. And that's what I started doing properly in the autumn of 2019.”

The first songs Valo wrote from the album were Run Away From The Sun – a hopeful, swelling number that’s about as far from the gothic rock he's known for as you can get – followed by Salute The Sanguine and Saturnine Saturnalia. 

Salute The Sanguine recalls symphonic elements of power metal popularised by fellow Fins Nightwish, but with his familiar voice grounding audiences. The latter, meanwhile, is dark and broody and likely the closest you’ll get to a song on the album sounding like HIM. Neon Noir is packed with synths, keyboards, loud electric guitars, and a rhythm section that entrances listeners from the get-go.

The idea behind Valo releasing the Gothica Fennica Vol. 1 EP was to test the waters, the singer admits. “I had to see if people were still interested in the kind of music I could offer them and check out the interest of record labels. Once the lockdowns started, there was no answer; there was no light at the end of the tunnel for quite a while.”

So, Valo began working on music completely solo, as during the pandemic, it would have been ridiculously complicated to try to get anybody else on board. Besides: he could play every instrument featured on the album, anyway. Anything he didn’t know, he’d teach himself. The bass guitar was Valo’s first instrument that he learned to play, following in the footsteps of his heroes, Gene Simmons from KISS and Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris. He also knew how to play the drums – he had all the basics he needed.

“With the help of modern technology of Pro Tools, I was able to record myself quite easily,” Valo says with a smile. “It took a long time to build confidence, but then again, it was very educational, in both a musical and even spiritual sense, to be one-on-one with music with no filters in between.”

The COVID-19 pandemic added sadness and uncertainty, which you can hear on the album. “I've always been a sucker for melancholy music and melancholic melodies. So that's a given,” Valo laughs – you don’t say?! “With this album, I was able to bring in more of my 80s influence in the music.

“I grew up with all A-ha and all the pop stuff, especially early Depeche Mode and Erasure,” he shares. “But then again, I love Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Sisters Of Mercy, and The Chameleons, and I adore the Cocteau Twins. So, the ethereal guitars were the new thing for me, sound-wise, on this album. And, of course, the sound and the feel affect the lyrics and lyrics affect everything.”

About the gorgeous Echolocate Your Love, Valo described it as “a teary mascara marathon between Robert Smith and Ozzy, with a dash of hope,” an explanation that I love. The singer chuckles and explains, “The unique individuality and recognisable music they make draws me to them. They've never strayed away from who they are. They're not full of themselves.”

He adds, “Perry Farrell, Lemmy Kilmister, people like that only need to be heard for a second, and you can instantly tell who they are. That's very special. I just found that that, you know, thinking about Robert Smith and Ozzy in the same sentence creates an image, at least in my head, that is very close to where I want to be. My comfort zone feels like it's somewhere between Black Sabbath and Depeche Mode because they both have sensitive music, but the sensitivity and the sensibilities are quite different.”

Of course, when I’m talking to the singer of HIM, I can’t not ask about the band’s stunning Wicked Game cover – one of my favourite covers of all time. “I'm super glad that Chris Isaak made such a beautiful song,” Valo states. “It helped us to find our own sort of niche and helped us to find the combination between the hard-hitting, the sweet and the melancholy.

"I think we did that before Marilyn Manson did Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)... that [Wicked Game cover] was one of the reasons why we got signed in the first place," he says, as the head of the label thought that HIM sounded like a fully-formed band, Valo shares. In a way, covering an old song changed his life. "That was such a great way to be invited into the realm of music as new artists, so it worked out very well. I'm ever so grateful to Chris Isaak, and hopefully, we didn't butcher the song too badly.

“When I saw Twin Peaks and heard the theme by Angelo Badalamenti for the first time, I got sucked into the world of David Lynch,” he continues. “I went to the cinema and saw [the David Lynch film] Wild At Heart, which has Wicked Game on the soundtrack. I remember going to the library, borrowing the vinyl from the library, and recording it on my cassette boombox. I haven’t met Chris Isaak, but I’ve heard that he didn’t feel like we put a stain on his beautiful song, which is good. He's happy about the version we made,” Valo says before adding with a laugh, “And I'm sure that his bank account is even happier.”

Neon Noir is out tomorrow via Heartagram Records, distributed by UMG/Spinefarm. Pre-save the album here. Ville Valo is also doing his best to bring his live show to Australia, so stay tuned.