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'It Has To Feel Like An Adventure': Ville Valo On Life After HIM And His Solo Debut 'Neon Noir'

Tuesday, 10 January 2023 Written by Maddy Howell

Photo: Juha Mustonen

All good things must come to an end. At Helsinki’s storied rock club Tavastia in 2017, Finnish love-metal pioneers HIM took their final bow at their traditional New Year’s Eve hometown show, sealing their fate with a bloody kiss as their fans celebrated a quarter of a century filled with peculiar shadows and majestic darkness.

When vocalist Ville Valo woke on New Year’s Day he stared at a blank slate— for the first time in 25 years he was no longer the frontman of a rock band. “I wasn't sure how I would feel afterwards, whether I'd be a completely new person, or whether it would feel like I'd lost a limb,” he reflects from his Helsinki home. “I was surprised to wake up feeling this great sense of relief.”

When Ville and his bandmates closed HIM’s casket, they knew that it was time to put their life’s work to rest. They also knew they’d built something to be proud of, with eight era-defining studio releases and more than 10 million records sold sitting alongside a Grammy nomination and the adoration of a generation of metal fans who yearned for more vulnerability and sentimentality in their scene. It felt right, but that sort of legacy takes some shaking. 

Left to ponder the future in HIM’s wake, in 2019 Ville joined forces with legendary Finnish band Agents to pay tribute to the late singer-songwriter Rauli ‘Badding’ Somerjoki. Going back to his roots, and remembering his father playing those records to soothe him as a baby, sparked inspiration for a new era of individual creativity, which was demonstrated on his 2020 solo EP, ‘Gothica Fennica Vol. 1’.

“The EP came out the same week that the lockdown started. I didn't know what to do but after a long zombified Netflix session I tried to focus on something else besides the pandemic and the news surrounding it,” Ville remembers. “HIM was a special kind of marriage, and I didn't know whether I'd have it in me to continue in the realm of music after it was done. I didn't know what to expect, socially and artistically speaking, so it came as a surprise. I knew that I didn't want to form a band, but I wasn't sure whether I was able to pull it off by myself. I didn't speculate much further; it was more about going with the flow.”

As the world adjusted to its new reality, and the music industry was put on pause, the future became more uncertain than ever before. With record companies wary of taking on new clients in an increasingly unpredictable market, Ville flicked through his record collection at home. Drawn to the visionary minds of his heroes Prince and Lenny Kravitz, he marvelled at their music and, with the gift of time on his side, he set his sights on a bold mission.

“I decided to play, record, and produce a whole album by myself, and it took a while because I didn't have the slightest idea of how to do it,” he laughs. “I had to go back to the age-old questions of ‘Who am I?’, ‘What am I doing here?’, and ‘Why do I feel like I don't belong?’ Working on music, it's got to be a struggle, it's got to be dramatic, and it's got to be larger than life.

“That's very important to me because I'm a ‘gothic drama king’ or whatever you want to call it. That's my shtick, and that's my little world where I feel comfortable and happy. This is the continuation of a lot of stuff that I've gone through before, but hopefully it's dressed up in a nice, early ‘80s new wave dressing.”

Witnessing his peers utilising the space created by the pandemic to explore new creative avenues, Ville holed up in his home studio and strummed guitars until the pieces of his debut solo album ‘Neon Noir’ came together. Marrying deeply familiar mascara-smeared post-punk melancholy with brooding Black Sabbath-esque darkness, it’s a reminder that you can take the man out of the band, but you sure as hell can’t take the band out of the man. 

“A lot of musicians tend to play their instruments and not the song, but as a songwriter, I went the other way around. I didn't know how to play the instrument well, but I always played the song,” he nods. “When I'm writing or doing anything creative, it has to feel like an adventure. You have to feel a bit uncertain, and you have to have butterflies on occasion. If it doesn't hurt, it doesn't mean a thing. Each and every song feels like a swan song, and it feels like a new beginning at the same time. Each song that you're working on gives you an excuse to live another day, and I think it's always been like that.”

Chasing the same dream he had as a child in the ‘80s listening to Nik Kershaw through blaring headphones, on ‘Neon Noir’ Ville is peeling back the layers to discover just who he is without the scarlet mantle of HIM. The answer? Well, as it turns out, that’s been with him for much longer than he realised.

“I found my identity many moons ago, and I find it so endearing that the music I’m making now shares so much lineage with HIM,” Ville finishes. “Music has the tendency of time travelling, and there are songs I wrote back in 1996 that still feel new each time I play them. I lost myself in the bubble of HIM and didn't realise until many years later that here I am. It's about respecting the past, but it’s more about transformation. I'm on my way somewhere, I don't know where at the moment, but I don't really have to know. I’m following the music and see where it leads me.”

Ville Valo’s ‘Neon Noir’ is out January 13 on Heartagram Records.

Ville Valo Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri March 10 2023 - BRISTOL O2 Academy Bristol
Sat March 11 2023 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Mon March 13 2023 - GLASGOW Garage
Tue March 14 2023 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz
Wed March 15 2023 - LONDON O2 Forum

Compare & Buy Ville Valo Tickets at Stereoboard.com.


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