The PV Q&A: HIM's Ville Valo on Music as Meditation, Pulling Together for Tears on Tape, and Excellent Mascara

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PureVolume had the opportunity to speak with HIM's Ville Valo just prior to the's band announcement that their North American tour is canceled—Valo has been diagnosed with severe asthma with presumptive pneumonia.

HIM's manager, Seppo Vesterinen has released the following statement to Blabbermouth regarding the tour cancelation: "Ville has asthma and he got a pretty serious attack in the backstage at House of Blues [in West Hollywood] on Friday and there was no way to perform. We got a doctor to the hotel at midnight and he diagnosed signs of pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics. The situation wasn't better on Saturday and we had to decide to cancel these dates to give him time for proper treatment and rest. He's being treated by the best doctors in LA and we hope to continue the summer and fall as planned. Also, he's been under a lot of stress for months recording the new album, artwork and promo for three different labels. Before Ville is fine, we can't make any definite plans for re-scheduling these May dates. Ville and all of us feel really sorry for the fans who have bought tickets months ago and traveled long distances from Brazil, Canada and elsewhere."

BY Tom Lanham

A few weeks ago, HIM bandleader Ville Valo sat in his Helsinki apartment and breathed a long sigh of well-earned relief. He’d just finished examining white-label pressings of his group’s new album, Tears on Tape, and he was finally, at long last, satisfied.

“I was spending many evenings listening to the vinyl and making sure that the fades were working and that everything was sounding the way it should, because there are so many technical aspects that can go wrong,” says the singer, who also carefully monitored every aspect of the music’s uploading to iTunes. “Usually, record companies don’t think about stuff like that, so it has to be the artist to make sure that it all works okay. And it’s okay. So these are the last little steps of the journey that’s been taking the last three years.”

He’s not kidding. HIM proceedings came to a tragic halt over a year ago when drummer Gas (Mika Karppinen) sustained nerve-damaging injury to his hand, putting not only the completion of Tears on Tape in doubt, but the future of the group, as well. Eventually, Gas recovered, and Valo and company soldiered on with Wagnerian anthems like “Unleash the Red,” “All Lips go Blue” (which you can stream above), and “Drawn & Quartered”—some of their most melodic, hook-spiked material in ages. But not before some serious soul-searching went down ...

PureVolume: You’ve said you’ve had some big moments of emotional revelation recently. Such as ... ?
Ville Valo: Well, most of the stuff is obviously personal. But musically speaking, we had a lot of trouble getting this album together because our drummer got ill—his hands got all messed up and he wasn’t able to play for eight months, and we needed to wait. We realized, as a band, that we can’t get anybody else to fill his shoes.
Def Leppard waited through a similar, although much more tragic, situation. You always had to respect them for that.
I know. Indeed. That’s actually one thing I quoted many a time when having meetings with the lads in the band. I said, "You might have problems with your hands, but you actually have them!"

So that was like the icebreaker a couple of times. But it took us eight months to wait until Gas was good, and we weren’t sure if we were gonna make an album, or if the band would continue to exist. So it made everybody sit back and reflect on how much the band means to each individual.

And it’s one of those things that bands—especially rock bands—never have the time to do, because you’re always so busy. There’s always the new tour, the new album, the new whatever. But this time around, it kind of forced us to think a bit and re-evaluate what the whole thing means to us and just how important it is. And obviously, doing all that reflective meditation or whatever you wanna call it, we realized that it is really important, and that made us wait and then really go forward with the new album. So it was sort of an existential crisis.

Left to your own thoughtful devices, do you go out or stay home alone?
Well, it depends on the situation. I’m kind of an on and off guy. If I go out, I go out, and I rarely end up back home. And if I’m staying home, I’m usually just turning into a hermit. So I think it’s important to do both, and I’ve never been good at balancing. I’m one of those guys that, if I end up opening up one beer bottle, it never ends. But then I’ve had a lot of support: I’ve been sharing my home with a female for the past year or so, and that’s a lovely change. There are other things to do now as well as just ruminate and be terribly depressed and be all "Woe is me!"
PV: "Female"? You talk about her like she’s some sort of zoo specimen.
Ha! Well, I think the term "girlfriend" sounds so tacky. So maybe I can use the good old-fashioned way and just say that I’m going steady with somebody. And I’m still trying to figure it all out. But it’s been good.

And in the past year and a half, there’s been a lot of positive stuff happen in my personal life. So that’s helped me get through all that stress with the band. But in the end, music is very important to me, and it’s what I’ve been doing all my life. So I’m really happy that we were actually able to pull ourselves together and create an album like this, that we can be proud of. Girlfriends or not.
When you’re alone with your thoughts, how does an average day go? Do you meditate?
Well, I think that my meditation is music. Usually when I get really frustrated with whatever it may be, I’ll just pick up the nearest acoustic guitar and start strumming away. That’s my way of coping, and my way of getting my head out of the everyday gray world, so to speak.

And I’ve been collecting all sorts of vintage recording equipment over the years, so I’m always just making little demos for myself. And that’s the way I get through many a sleepless night. I think a certain amount of self-editing never harms anybody, otherwise I’d be running out of stories immediately. But I think I’m pretty much an open book, and I lay all my cards on the table, in a way. And I’m happy about that. When we started playing music—even though we grew up with bands like Kiss and Alice Cooper, who had alter egos going on—we just wanted to be ourselves, sort of like, "Take it or leave it." So I think that makes it way easier: We don’t have to pretend to be anything else other than what we are. We have good days and bad days and everything in between, and that makes it easier to speak the truth—you don’t have to figure out who you are today.
Even with just the title Tears on Tape, though, your legion of female fans might be thinking the same thing: that Ville Valo actually cried. Cried for them!
Oh, Lord! I never thought of it in those terms! Not at all ...
But you can’t cry—your mascara would run!
That’s true! But the mascara brands are getting better and better by the day, so you can shed a few tears of joy on occasion. But the whole title for the album came about from the song, which starts with church bells tolling. And it’s about the intro for Black Sabbath’s first album, and more about a general hats-off to our idols. It’s about the tears that everybody from Elvis Presley to Black Sabbath to whomever shed on tape, and the musical milestones that made me want to do what I do, made the band want to do what they do, and kind of got us all together. That’s what Tears on Tape means to me.

And there’s always a whiff of decadence to your material. You’ve never been afraid to walk right up to the abyss and stare in.
Well, the good thing about the abyss is that everyone creates one for themselves, and then it’s your own call: How deep down you want to look into it and see if it looks back. So I think it’s more about just mirroring yourself—accepting the bad and the good and everything in between within one another. So the abyss could just be a plain old mirror.
Ever climb too deep into your own?
Hmm ... no. I think the whole journey so far has been so psychedelic that I wouldn’t change a moment. When I was 16 and we formed the band, I would have never thought that it would take us this far, that I would get to meet all the people I’ve met and see all these different sides of human nature.

When we began this conversation, I said when our drummer had trouble with his hands, with the nerve damage and all that—and by the way, he’s A-OK now, everything’s going well—I think that was the first time I was actually able to sit down and reflect on what the hell just happened in the past 18, 19 years. And I guess I’m pretty much proud of 90 percent of it. It’s impossible not to make mistakes. But in essence, making mistakes is very necessary for one to get to know himself or herself better. And to grow as a human being.

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