His Infernal Majesty. HIM. The first I became aware of this intriguingly named band was seeing them advertised in the back pages of Kerrang! magazine. They were advertising some UK dates and it must have been around the year 2000. Razorblade Romance had just been released there as their debut (actually their second album) and on listening to a friend’s import copy shortly thereafter my interest grew. Actually, I became a fan.

Before too long HIM’s success would spread around the globe through a series of albums and tours and they would even make it to Australia. And here we are twenty four years later with a new album, Neon Noir.

Only this time instead of HIM, we have frontman/songwriter and driving force Ville Valo’s first solo project, the simply titled VV.

So, Ville, what happened? “Well, we lost our drummer, Gas (Lipstick), early 2013, and then the band wasn’t in the best of places. We thought about it for a long time and got ourselves a new drummer, Cosmo was his name, and he really brought some new found energy to the band but it wasn’t enough. I think we were all a bit worn out. With all the touring and recording and all that stuff I thought personally we’d lost the spark, there wasn’t that youthful, celebratory feeling when going to rehearsals – it felt a bit like a chore. And when it starts to feel like a chore, when it’s not a chore, then you should really think about it. We had many, many in depth chats. Especially me and Mige (Mikko Paananen), the bass player of HIM, – who is one of my oldest friends – we met when we were twelve or so. It had run its course. But it took a while to get there and we decided to do sort of a last hurrah, a final tour in 2017, and it went incredibly well and really left a good taste in everybody’s mouths. I think there was a bit of bitterness but there was also a sweetness so it balanced it out.”

You just knew then? “Well, I guess so, but it’s the first time it’s happened to me and it was very weird. Also, me, Mige and Linde (Mikko Viljami Lindström, guitarist), we’ve known each other since we were twelve, thirteen years old, so we literally grew up together while playing and recording, and rehearsing music. So, I was really scared how it might feel all of a sudden waking up one morning without the band because it still is a big part of my identity.”

How was the transition for you? “Last year was super busy, so it’s being away a few years, you know, and at the end of the day we split up the old band, HIM, in 2017, and then we had the pandemic. I was working on the album (Neon Noir) for quite a while – I started working on it in 2019 in the autumn, so it’s been quite a long trek to get this far. And last year was great proof that for whatever reason it seems some of my music still seems to resonate with people and it’s been more than one can really wish for or hope for because… you can never tell! It’s always a bit of a roulette situation, you know? And I’ve been doing this professionally since I was maybe eighteen or nineteen years old. So, it’s been quite a while. So yeah… it’s been weird. Not that I would have been sitting down and reflecting upon the last years you know, that’s something I don’t think anybody in their right mind should do (smiles).”

Well, yes, I can assure you your music still resonates. “It’s an acquired taste (laughs)”.

How different did it feel for you writing and recording Neon Noir as a solo artist after so many albums working with the same people within a group environment? Did it feel like it was all on your shoulders now? “Well, thankfully enough it’s all on my shoulders, I really like the situation where I’ll paint myself into a corner and if I go wrong, it’s all my fault. I love the responsibility. With HIM a lot of the creative work was very similar to what it’s been now with Neon Noir since I used to write ninety nine per cent of the songs and they all started in a similar fashion, me with an acoustic guitar or a synthesizer or whatever, and then I brought the half-finished ideas to the rest of the band. Now, this time around, the thing that I miss the most is the camaraderie, the friendship and the sort of… (pauses) I can get pretty picky and detail oriented and super focused pretty easily when I’m working on music and in those cases it’s good to have somebody who’s cracking a joke. That’s the sort of chemistry I miss because it’s very tough to brainstorm all by yourself you know, in front of a mirror (smiles). I think because I had the opportunity to work with HIM for so many years this is something that is really a breath of fresh air because it is so different that finally I don’t have to wake up every morning and check on a calendar to see when it’s OK (to work), when a member has to do a baby-sitting week or whatever-(smiling). Not that I’m blaming families or children for the downfall of HIM. But it makes certain things much simpler.”

You enjoy the challenge. “And also, it’s a good challenge, yes, what it’s been for me, to see if I can pull it off and really see firsthand what the results are, and that’s what we’re doing while touring. You can see which songs work the best. It’s a funny old thing touring; the whole dynamic of building the set list. It was simple though because there’s only myself to pick the setlist and also because there’s quite a few songs you can not skip. And half the set is HIM because you know this is a very sort of… ‘morph into a butterfly’ transitional moment, or whatever you wanna call it. I’m still learning. There’s a lot of new aspects to something I’ve done most of my life.”

So, who played on the new album then? “I played everything by myself. No musicians! That was the pandemic thing as well, because you couldn’t really meet up with people. And I started recording what I thought would be the demos for the album – the first songs which were Run Away from The Sun, Saturnine Saturnalia and Salute the Sanguine. Those were the first songs I wrote and I sort of wanted to show myself whether I could pull off a decent tune. I didn’t even think about recording (an album). And then the demos turned into the album versions and through that I sort of realised that maybe I should go down the route of (smiles) Andrew Eldritch and Prince and Stevie Wonder to a certain extent – an undiluted sort of one-track mind vision of the whole operation.”

That’s certainly a true solo album. “Yes, I think Tim Palmer, who mixed the album added one tambourine, so it’s ninety nine point ninety nine per cent solo! And then the mastering was done by a fellow called Justin Shturtz at Sterling Sound Nashville, and these two people are people we’ve worked many many a time with. Especially Tim who’s also credited as a co-producer. He helped me out, most times verbally. Just telling me when he felt a song sounded finished or maybe I should add an embellishment, but it was really simple and I was left to my own devices. More or less.”

Is VV something you’ll continue with or is it a bridge between HIM and something else? “To be honest with you, I have no idea. I’m still sort of like in the eye of the storm, or whatever you want to call it regarding the last hurrah for the Neon Noir tour. It’s ending in London on, I think, May 10 at the Albert Hall. It’s a really beautiful venue so a nice finish to the whole cycle that has been Neon Noir. It’s psychologically an important step to finishing this tour and seeing what’s left to be done. I love music and I’d love to continue. The touring’s been going really well, the album’s been… people have been enjoying the album quite a bit so I don’t see why not continue VV. But there’s no plans. I don’t have twenty five songs in my back pocket ready to go, so… I’ll have to start from scratch and that’s what I love about music. So, when I started with the VV thing I thought ‘this is a clean slate’, I can do whatever I want and I found it quite endearing that I found myself very close to the sound of HIM, because that’s the stuff that came instinctually, you know, from the gut and not premeditated.”

You are what you are. “I don’t think there will be a black metal album or a reggae album or anything like that happening.” (Both laugh)

Well, you are the distinctive voice of HIM. And on the voice thing, with all the touring you’ve done and still do, and from what I’ve heard the tours were pretty, shall we say, excessive in the past, how do you deal with night after night of performing, the physical aspect, keeping the voice in shape? “On this particular trek I’ve loved it. I had some trouble with HIM back in the day and most of it was probably self induced, it was alcohol and cigarettes and all that stuff that make it a bit tougher. I’m behaving myself these days, you know, when it comes to intoxicants, and it makes touring way simpler. I’m asthmatic – have been since I was six years old, so cigarettes never did wonders for that – it adds a certain depth to the voice but in the long term it doesn’t really work out that well, so… it’s great now to be on tour because you never have to wonder about anything – the only thing I’m concentrating on is the gig. So, I sleep, I wake up, I prepare my clothes and get them ready for the show. It’s sort of like a racehorse with the blinkers on vibe and I love it. Similar to making the album, I take it as a challenge. In HIM we never toured immensely, we’d do like three week stretches and then we’d take a little break.”

Was that for any particular reason? “Partially due to the fact that people were starting families and we were trying to sort of navigate through that maze while being in a band. Now I don’t have to do that. And the current band with the musicians and crew are great, everybody is super professional about it all, which is nice.”

So smooth sailing? “There’s always some drama, it’s not always tops…” It wouldn’t be rock n roll then though, would it? “True!”

You mentioned people were starting families earlier, so is there a Ms Valo now? Any little Villes? (Both laugh) “Well, yes, I’ve shared my life with the same lady (rolls eyes), I wonder if that’s the right term…

It’s fine. “Her name’s Christel. We’ve lived together for more than seven years already, but we’re not planning on kids or anything like that so that’s the breadth of the family at the moment. And I live pretty close to my parents as well and I’ve got a little brother so that’s my immediate family.”

It can be pretty hard to start a family and maintain a touring /recording career though. “Yes, and it’s probably due to the fact that I’ve been travelling quite a bit for music and I was hoping I wouldn’t turn out to be one of those fathers who’s never around. I do love children but… I needed to take care of myself first.”

Absolutely. “You can’t smell of rock ‘n’ roll every day you come home!”

Did you hit the USA on this tour? “We’ve toured North America twice already… the album came out already a year ago and it was the first solo trek and there was a lot of promoters who weren’t super interested because they might have known HIM but they weren’t sure how this was gonna turn out. And then it was post-pandemic, so there was a lot of bands touring at the same time. This whole project it’s not only about the album, per se, it’s also about, if you wanna call it, rebranding, in a way to sort of, like, convince people that it’s still worthy of gigs and that it makes sense. So, that’s one of the reasons why it’s taken a long time to fly over (to tour). In spring time, we went to North America by ourselves and played a club tour; it went great, and then we did a second one with Black Veil Brides in September where we did a lot of those, not so fancifully called, secondary markets.”

The in between cities. “Yeah, you know, not the main media cities. And it was great, places like Boise, Idaho that I’d never been to before, and a lot of times those places are the real country in a way.”

Seeing the real America. “Yeah, kinda. So… I found it great.”

Just North America? “No, we went to South America as well, played about thirty festivals. Then we did a European tour, which we’re gonna continue now because we didn’t have the time to tour Scandinavia, or even Finland, which is quite weird. So, there’s quite a few places to go to before we end the whole thing in London.”

You’ve played some great shows over a long period of time – Metallica for example, at Wembley Stadium. Thinking back, what would be a highlight, or an amusing lowlight, if not that one? Something that made you stop and think: ‘wow I’ve made it’ or ‘yikes!’? “Regarding the Metallica gigs, the Spinal Tap bittersweetness of it all was when we supported them on some stadium gigs in Europe and the UK and I remember we played, I think it was Stockholm, and we played a stadium there, and of course it was filled with crazed Metallica fans and our intro tape started rolling and we walked onto the stage only to realise that there were no instruments…”

Yikes! “Yes. What had happened was that our guitar tech had his wristwatch in the wrong time zone…” (both laugh) “Yeah, he was eating – thought it was his lunch hour, and nobody else in the crew had checked that thing out.”

No way. “Yes! So, we walked onto the stage (indicates a full circle round trip) and walked right back off! (laughs) It took a second try and then we were able to pull that gig off. A lot of times there is that sort of… mess up at the same time as a great moment, the big gigs… it was quite funny.”

Definitely one of your best memories and one of the funniest too. “Yeah, sometimes it can be both.”

This tour? “I’ve really had a good time on this tour. Not so much about the venues, but again, maybe post pandemic it seems people are enjoying live music more. They’re smiling more, they’re singing along more. There seems to be this elevated feel to it and of course since it is a transaction of spiritual energy it affects the band and it becomes something special.”

It’s great that you can feel that with the new thing. “Of course, there’s many reasons for that. Maybe for myself to feel like that, you know, the fact that it is a new chapter and so forth. It’s not so much about one single thing.”

Perhaps during the pandemic, when everyone realised, they could no longer have or do the things they’d taken for granted, once the doors were open again attitudes changed? Enjoy what you have now because you never know when it may be taken away? “It could very well be. I feel from the perspective of the bands and especially the crews. When the pandemic hit, bands could still write songs but the technical crews, the lighting designers, the front of house people, the stage techs, they couldn’t do anything, so their world really came crumbling down so that now adds something extra. And the overall vibe of the clubs, just being happy about the fact that they can… pour some beer.”

And in less than a month you’ll be here in Australia again. And this will be your second visit to Australia, correct? “Yes. We’ve played there once. And shows are a good reason to fly over and make new friends. The last time we did some sideshows around the Soundwave festivals.”

One last thing then, what’s something about Ville Valo in 2024 we don’t know? “What’s normal to me is probably weird to most people. My latest hobby is working on electronics. So, you can find me with a soldering iron, sucking in all the fumes… that’s what I’m doing. I’ve got my little studio and I need to fix stuff constantly.”

Like…what? “I’m fixing some preamplifier Eqs at the moment, stuff from the seventies. Living where we are we don’t have a lot of technicians so if there’s something I can’t deal with, I need to send it abroad. So, I’ve learned and I’ve got myself an LED magnifying glass and I’m so super happy about it, I can finally see what I’m doing. But a lot of my life revolves around music, so there’s nothing too surprising: I wake up usually with a guitar in my hand more or less and that’s what my days are all about. So, I’ve never really had the time for any hobbies or anything drastically different. It’s music.”

VV arrive later this month for the following dates, supported by Dark Water:

Wed, March 13: Powerstation, Auckland
Fri, March 15: Northcote Theatre, Melbourne
Sat, March 16: The Metro, Sydney
Sun, March 17: The Tivoli, Brisbane