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In The Flesh

Hello My Name is Ville Valo • Live Recap: House of Blues • Chicago

| March 30, 2023

Ville Valo (photo by Joonas Brandt)

The last time Ville Valo performed at Chicago’s House of Blues he was reaching the end of a lengthy chapter in his life. HIM, the band he fronted for 25 years, was calling it quits. It was the last time they’d be on that stage together; a stage Valo wasn’t sure he’d ever return to. Six years later, he’s preparing to return to the House of Blues to start the next chapter of his life. Valo is back with his debut solo album Neon Noir and ready to break melancholy hearts once again. Though he’s out on his own, it doesn’t mean he’s completely left HIM behind.

Before his big return to the House of Blues stage, Valo sat down with Illinois Entertainer to talk about the end of HIM, embarking on this new journey alone, and how HIM will always be a part of his life.

Illinois Entertainer: We last sat down to chat back in 2013 for the release of Tears on Tape. Obviously, a lot has changed since then with the disbanding of HIM and now your debut solo album.

Ville Valo: Yeah, a lot of things have changed along the way. It’s been ten years since then. I’ve been positively surprised that people still remember HIM and the old me as well. It’s not something you can take for granted, you know. There’s a lot of new things people want to do. People want to listen to different sorts of stuff. I’m quite shocked about the whole thing. We played the first shows in Helsinki just a few weeks ago, and they went really well. That was [one of] the biggest factors of stress because you can’t really tell how it’s gonna be. It doesn’t really matter if you rehearse or how many times you want to change the song order in the setlist. It becomes real after you’ve done it. So, I’m really happy the set went down great. The audience seemed to love it. I was zigzagging between the old and new. It’s not like new songs and then a bunch of HIM songs. It’s 50/50, back-to-back. It’s weird times. Weird and exciting times all in all.

IE: What’s it been like performing those songs without the other HIM guys?

VV: I’ve only done it a few times. It felt really weird. [Tavastia] where we performed was the club where HIM played their last gig. So, I’m hopping on that same stage and singing some of the same songs with a fresh bunch. Then again there were actually a lot of familiar faces in the audience. [Mikko Paananen] Mige the bass player of HIM was in the audience. He was throwing the horns and really going for it. I think it was weird for a lot of my mates because they thought that it was HIM. They knew it wasn’t, but it was hard for them to separate or realize it was a new thing. It’s quite endearing. It’s not a negative at all. A lot of weird emotions and the fact that I haven’t done any harder-hitting stuff in English since HIM disbanded. It was kind of like riding a bike, but I think I rode my bikes before electrical ones were invented (laughs).

IE: That’s so cool of Mige to show his support. Have you been in touch with the other HIM guys?

VV: Mige is the only guy I’ve been in touch with. We were friends before HIM. We met in school when we were about eight years old. We’ve been talking to each other, and he was sort of a guru producer for the album as well. Every three or four months he’d come over to my place to check that I hadn’t completely lost it. We’d listen to some music and talk about life in general as you do with good friends. But the rest of the guys, no. I think we saw each other enough, so we needed a bit of a breather. It was an intense 25 years. [Guitarist Mikko Lindström] Linde is playing in a band of Samm Yaffa’s, a guy that played with Hanoi Rocks – they do this sort of punky thing. And [keyboardist Janne Puurtinen] Burton is playing with them too. [Jukka “Kosmo” Kröger], the last drummer who played with HIM for about three years, has several projects. He’s a great drummer. And [Mika Karppinen] Gas who played with HIM the longest, I haven’t spoken to him in like ten years. He left the band in a sort of fashion where it was a bit of a shock. All of a sudden, he wanted to leave, and we didn’t know what to do about it.

It’s funny, you never get good at breaking up, and I think you shouldn’t. But what you can try to do is be honest and try not to play games. That’s what you usually end up doing when you’re young because you don’t know how to deal with it all and you make stupid mistakes. Hopefully, you learn from them and get a bit wiser. Wise enough to make new mistakes. But no, I haven’t been in touch with the guys at all, which is quite surprising. I emailed Linde a couple of times. Then I’ve been in touch with Mige. And I get to see Antto [Melasniemi] quite a bit; he was the original keyboard player. I’ve also traveled with him a bit on the later tours, so he’s one of my close friends. He’s the guy who played the stuff on Greatest Lovesongs Vol 666. He’s an OG, as they say. Now I’m starting to wax nostalgic. Thinking about phone calls I made with someone 17 years ago!

IE: That’s the trappings of nostalgia! It’s easy to fall down that rabbit hole.

VV: That’s a rabbit hole you should keep to yourself. It’s not for public consumption, that’s for sure (laughs)! But being on a precipice of something new is a transition. It feels like one leg is in the casket of HIM and the other one is going somewhere else. It’s an interesting place to be. I’m glad it’s a transition as opposed to trying to burn all the bridges like a lot of people do after a band splits up. They tend to denounce everything they’ve done in the past and try to reinvent themselves. I think David Bowie was the only person who could do that with integrity. Stick to your guns, and I think it makes all the sense in the world.

IE: It’s so refreshing to see you still embracing HIM because it was a huge part of your life, and it’s what many people associate you with. Lots of people, me included, still find so much joy in the band even though HIM hasn’t released new music in six years. That’s why when Gothicia Fennica dropped it was a huge deal. It was a massive surprise to fans, especially right at the start of the pandemic. At that point, did you know it would lead to a full-length album down the line or were you just testing the waters?

VV: What else is there? I was hoping there would be a space for me in music. When we disbanded, I wasn’t sure how much of my songwriting or how much of my musical identity or personal identity had to do with HIM. So, that was quite daunting when we knew it was gonna end. I didn’t know how it was gonna feel to be without the band because they had been there forever. When we played the last gig, I felt relieved. It’s great that we were able to pull it off where we weren’t at each other’s throats, at least not all the time. It was more sweet than bitter. It’s quite special. Not a lot of bands get to end that way. I thought that was a cool thing. But afterward, I really didn’t have any plans. I think plan b’s are for suckers anyway. I’m very monogamous when it comes to bands. So, when I was working with HIM it was the only thing I did. I did Agents in the interim doing sort of a palate cleansing, doing a musical 180. But at that time, it was my one and only thing because I’m strumming and humming a bit at home to see if there are any ideas.

I didn’t really start planning on anything, and I kind of didn’t [plan] at all with Neon Noir. I didn’t know if I could play all the instruments. I didn’t know if I could engineer and record all that stuff by myself, so the first EP was me demoing and seeing how far my wings could take me, my flappy bat wings. They took me deep into the dungeons where the bats rest. I didn’t know whether I had an album in me, if I had a song in me if people were interested. That was the reason to put out the EP. I really dug the songs and we just independently put it out. I was the guy who pushed the button when it uploaded into CD Baby or whatever. It was do-it-yourself, which I really enjoyed. I thought it was only fair – I don’t like it when musicians do that sort of car salesmanship. When you go into meetings and tell them I have this album in me that’s gonna blow everybody’s minds before you’ve actually done anything. So, I thought the fair way was to get something out, see how people reacted, and I wasn’t completely bonkers. People did like it and a few record companies got really interested. Me and my manager Antti [Eriksson] planned all this stuff together. It took a long time to get music to a record company, especially during the pandemic because nobody would meet face to face. It’s hard to forge a working relationship when you can’t really sit down over a cup of coffee. That’s an important part. Miraculously, I was able to pull it off.

IE: Once the EP was out there and people responded to it really well, when did you start working on the record?

VV: I got the album done about a year ago. It was mastered, and then I worked on the cover art and started rehearsing with the band. We had to do it like that partially because of the pandemic. The ever-growing need for vinyl meant production days were weird where you had to book a vinyl plant eight months in advance to be able to get your album out. I didn’t want to go out and tour if I’m only ones and zeros. The album is the thing; that’s the real proof. Everything else is like vaporware. Like Tears on Tape, it vanished from all streaming media maybe half a year ago due to some licensing things. Nothing to do with the band. It was weird for me because it’s an important album and a big part of my life, and all of a sudden, it’s just gone. I tried to get it back. I was trying to figure out who to talk to. It’s more complicated than that. In that sense, I think physical albums, like physical books, are important. Something to hold on to on a bad day.

IE: Definitely. This is why I advocate for physical media all the time because while streaming is convenient, you never know when your favorite album is going to disappear for whatever reason, but if you own it on CD or vinyl, no one can take that away from you.

VV: If you don’t scratch it and if you have a CD player, yeah. It’s quite interesting because I’m a firm believer that one of these days the internet will go down, full stop. When I was working on something I sent stuff to be mixed by Tim Palmer, an Englishman who lives in Austin, Texas. He mixed Neon Noir and Love Metal for HIM. Ever since then, he’s produced a few things along the way, and we’ve become friends. I was sending material to be mixed, and that was on the day when the UK government system went down which surprisingly meant that file-sharing platforms, like WeTransfer went down. It was quite weird because all of a sudden you couldn’t do anything. I didn’t lose anything, but you lose time. There’s so many things we take for granted, especially these days with the internet. We swear and curse like sailors when it doesn’t work in that very instant. So, it’s a good reminder to have a few CDs or vinyl here and there or a couple of books. We should have enough of the survivalist in us.

IE: What was it like working on the Neon Noir songs essentially on your own and just being in the studio without the other HIM guys and getting their input?

VV: I thought it was great. 99% of the time when working with HIM I got the skeletal structure of a song together by myself; I do that work at home. Then I take the ideas to the rehearsal space, and we start to flesh it out. This time around because I didn’t have that I started recording. I didn’t have to show the ideas to anybody. I was able to start recording at that very instant when the inspiration hit me. It was a weird situation and every interesting and great lesson learned. I was sort of producing, engineering, and writing the songs at the same time which made it kind of intoxicating. It was very meditative. I was really lost in the woods, which I thought was great because it was such a pure state since there was no noise. There was no communication with any other human beings. There was no communication with the record label because this album came out on Heartagram records. It was purely art for art’s sake, and I thought it was a nice experience. I’m not sure how different it sounds compared to the stuff I’ve been involved in in the past. I don’t really know if it matters, but the process matters to me. The way it was done was very special. I never felt as intimate with music as I’ve felt with this one. Because I was there when it was born. Each and every song I did one by one. I started from nothing. No sound. No ideas. Nothing. I picked up a guitar and then maybe after a month, I’d hear that song blasting on the speakers. Maybe even if I was quick enough it was mixed by Tim at that point. It was quite cool to create something out of thin air in a month’s time. That was a really special experience. I’ve never had that before because being in a band there’s the camaraderie and there’s the who’s gonna get the coffee and cracking jokes and all that stuff. This time around it was solitary, but I was able to get down to the nitty-gritty and live with the music and be very intimate with it.

IE: Sounds like it was a rewarding experience. Is it something you’d like to do again in the future?

VV: I’m not sure if it’s something I want to do next time around. No idea. We’ll see what happens with this album now that we’re gonna start touring with the band. But it is a thing I’m very happy I went through. I showed myself I was able to pull it off. It feels quite special having a gatefold, double vinyl in my hands. It felt epic. That’s the right word for that feeling. Over the moon. It’s good stuff. It’s not like it would be better or worse regarding HIM stuff. It shouldn’t be compared. I learned all the tricks of the trade from the rest of the guys regarding how to play instruments and how to record them and stuff. I’ve had great teachers and all those lessons I learned I used for recording Neon Noir.

IE: When you were gearing up to release Neon Noir and weeks leading up to the album, were you nervous at all about being out on your own or fan response, or were you all in?

VV: I think there was this sense of calm because I knew that I’d already shit the pants, you know. That sort of thing that nothing else can be done. Right at Christmas time, I got the first vinyl in print, so I knew the thing looked right and sounded good, which surprisingly takes a lot of time to make sure it turns out the way you want it. After that, it felt surreal. It still feels surreal after all that’s done because the pandemic made all of us more or less agoraphobic. Everybody went into this weird black hole of solitude, so getting out there and having new music and still having a whiff of HIM about it is quite a special feeling. I’m proud of the album. There’s quite a few people close to me as well who have said nice things about it. It seems to resonate. It has a sense of tenderness about it even though it’s a rock album. It’s not aggressive. It has this sort of flow to it and a sense of adventure. It goes into weird places at times. I think an album should be like that.

Appearing April 9 and 10 at House of Blues, Chicago.

-Ashley Perez Hollingsworth

 

Ville Valo

House of Blues

Chicago

April 9, 2023

By Ashley Perez

Ville Valo last graced the House of Blues stage in 2017 to bid adieu. HIM, the band he fronted for 25 years, was calling it quits. But it wasn’t goodbye forever. Six years later, he returned to the venue, under the moniker of VV, for a two-night stint in support of his debut solo album Neon Noir. The night was a celebration of Valo’s new music and his former band, who loomed large across the evening.

The 18-song setlist alternated between cuts from his new record (“Salute the Sanguine,” “Foreverlost,” “Run Away From the Sun”) and HIM favorites (“Buried Alive By Love,” “Poison Girl,” “Funeral of Hearts,” and “When Love and Death Embrace”). The new songs received a lot of love and cheers from the crowd, but the HIM sounds are what sent them over the edge. Hearing the opening riffs of “Kiss Of Dawn” and “Rip Out the Wings of a Butterfly” made the crowd erupt with screams, drowning out Valo with their shout singing. And he soaked up every minute. The singer was all smiles throughout the show, clearly having a good time and happy to be back on stage. Still, it would’ve been cool if he threw in one HIM deep cut (maybe “Dark Secret Love”).

Whether belting out HIM tunes or sweetly singing his new material, Valo can still tear it up on stage. His trademark baritone is stronger than ever. He sounds so crisp and clear you’d swear he was lip-synching. But all it takes is a roaring howl to put those thoughts to rest. He had no trouble hitting those sweet highs and the rumbling lows. You also gotta give it up to his touring band: Mikko Virta (Guitar), VV (Vocals), Risto Rikala (Drums), Sampo Sundström (Guitar), and Juho Vehmanen (Bass). Filling in for a beloved band is no easy feat, yet they did a great job. Valo even took a moment to introduce and thank them for their hard work.

The evening came to a close with the doom-laden “Saturnine Saturnalia,” which evoked one more ripping howl from Valo before he gracefully walked off stage as the band wrapped up the seven-minute epic. As the crowd filed out of the venue, they had big grins plastered on their faces, the same grin that radiated from Valo all night, eager for the journey ahead and proud of the past he left behind.

 

 

 

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