Interview: Ville Valo (Finland) on album Neon Noir and his upcoming Australian tour; “There’s something about the way the sun looks over yonder that is very different from other parts of the world.”

Ahead of his upcoming Australian tour, Finland’s own Dark Lord of love metal, Ville Valo, aka VV, recently took time to chat with us about his album Neon Noir. We talked about the transition from lead singer of HIM to solo artist, and the process of creating his debut solo album, including playing every instrument and all the vocals, and self-producing during a pandemic lockdown.

Congratulations on the album.  I think it’s stunning, and one of the most beautiful albums  I’ve ever heard, plus it’s full of tracks that are unskippable for me, which is a rare thing. 

Lovely.  Lovely.  Well,  that’s what I was shooting for, for obvious reasons, but yeah, I feel a connection to the album as well, because I didn’t have to, for the first time in my career, I didn’t have to compromise one inch, you know, I was able to work on it by myself and spend as little or as much time as I wanted to on the nitty gritty and that made it very special.  It was like a long sort of surreal psychedelic meditation session, putting the whole thing together. I was really diving deep into record making and music making, and for an old fellow like myself, it’s very rejuvenating and invigorating to be able to find new aspects and new perspectives into the thing that I love the most and the thing that I’ve been working on for the past 30 or so years.  So I’m happy how it turned out and I think for me personally it’s a great new beginning, you know,  it has a lot of similarities.  This particular zebra cannot change its stripes and I’m fine with that. I’m fine if there’s sort of a signature sound of sorts and you know, a lot of people try to find a musical or artistic identity and I can’t escape it so I’m alright with it. 

I think it’s a good place to be, you don’t want to be pigeonholed I think, which must be limiting I would imagine.

Very true, as you know as artists we always complain about something so that’s part and parcel.

How long did the whole process take you from writing the songs to getting them onto tape,  as it were?   

I started with my previous band HIM.  We played its last gig on the New Year’s Eve 2017 /2018.  It took a while, I did a project here in Finland, I sang songs in sort of 50s, and 60s style, Finnish local old classic tracks with a local classic band, which was a full 180 from the rock world, which I think I needed to do at that particular time just to try to avoid the same old same old and falling into a routine.  And while doing that, for the better part of 2018 and 2019, I started slowly working on some new ideas.  In 2019 the first song I started recording, because I’d never recorded anything by myself and I ended up doing most of the stuff by myself, so there were a lot of firsts on this one.  So the first one was “Run Away from the Sun”.  I thought it was just a demo or just a little musical sketch for perhaps a band I might be putting together or so forth, but then, to me,  it sounded really good.

I’ve always been partial to Prince, Andrew Eldritch, and the sort of benevolent dictators in the realm of popular culture – Lenny Kravitz and so forth.  I really just wanted to try out to see if there’s sort of like singular vision or being the racehorse, the artistic racehorse with the blinkers on, you know, if it gives it a new angle as opposed to having a band because I’d just been in a band for 25 years.

So I started working on that in 2019 around September and then put a first EP out with three songs on the same week when the lockdown started. Of course, I didn’t know that the lockdowns would start because you have to upload the tracks these days a bit earlier and it’s not a given the date when it’s all going to pop out and so forth, but that’s how it started and then I think my way out of the black hole that was the pandemic was to work on music, and music has always been my crutch and my sort of helping hand when I’m in need of one, so as opposed to just fully one hundred percent turning into a Netflix zombie, I had rock and roll to save me once again and that’s what I ended up doing.

It took a while, and then also the whole record business, just having meetings became really hard and when trying to work with a record label and figure out the first steps with a new part of a new chapter of a career, it’s important to meet people face to face and sort of brainstorm and so forth, you know, and it’s hard via Zoom.  So all those things took a while and that’s the reason why the album came out only in January last year.  Also, the reason was that I wanted to have a physical release.  I wanted to have a vinyl and due to the pandemic, I think the queues for vinyl pressing plants here in Europe were eight months or so.

It was a long journey, a long, weird and winding one, but a good one.  The pandemic also gave me time to work on those little details and the fact that I’m not the greatest player, so it gave me time to work with the little parts.

You’re saying you’re not the greatest player, but as I was listening to the album, which I’ve done now many times, I kept reminding myself that everything I was hearing was you. It’s not usual to listen to an album that’s so rich and it all be coming from one individual, on every instrument and vocals. There’s been profound moments that I’ve had a few times listening to the album and recognising this is one person’s creation, if you know what I mean?  That this was a  solo album in the truest sense of the word, I  guess. 

Yeah, I took it a bit too literally, it seems (laughs).  I think it was also about rising to a challenge or creating a challenge for myself because it so easily happens that one starts to repeat themselves and then in the realm of music, it’s a thing I’m scared of…my favourite hobby is to paint myself into a corner.  You know, it’s just that’s where I find myself,  I find myself more comfortable when I’m having the butterflies and when I’m sort of like on my toes a bit.  There’s a sense of this impending, not necessarily doom, but you’re on the precipice of a possible failure and I think that that’s exciting as well.  I’m glad that you hear that stuff.  I’ve got exquisite taste, but how to get there, that’s another matter!

I’m going to age myself here by saying this, but I was a teenager in the 80s and my very first band was the New Romantic era with Duran Duran.  They were my first love affair, I guess, and that started all the love of music for me and bass guitar and things like that.  I hear a similarity.  I don’t know whether it’s there or not for you.  As an example, Zener Solitaire, it reminds me of Secret Oktober by Duran Duran.  It’s got the same sort of edgy, slightly threatening beauty. I also hear a -ha in a whole bunch of your songs.  I don’t know if that has anything to do with your taste either, but there’s a lot of stuff that reconnects me with my teenage years.  Maybe that’s why it’s such a connection, but I don’t know how intentional it is for you with your influences.

A  lot of times it’s very,  you know, it’s because that connects me with my past and it connects me with the things I care about the most.  The ’80s, all that stuff you mentioned, that was the first time I got introduced to the world of music, maybe by Thriller, and then too I love a-ha, I love Morten Harket’s voice and the sense of uplifting melancholy, which I’ve always loved.  Actually, it’s a very 80s thing, it’s very New Romantic like, but I also like the more guitar-oriented bands as well such as The Chameleons, and I like the Killing Joke stuff, the synth stuff they did like mid-80s and this is stuff I grew up with, and I’m still trying to, musically speaking, find the sort of balance with my Depeche Mode influence, and with the Black Sabbath influence.

At times I like music to be hard-hitting physically, that really shakes your bell bottoms but makes them flap, you know, from the sound pressure.  Yet at the same time, I like music to be sensitive and a bit kooky, and be over the top.  That was a cool thing about the ’80s, you know, Culture Club and Adam and the Ants and, one of my favourites was Nik Kershaw.  Only a few songs though, but he was massive and the songs like The Riddle, the lyrics are very similar to Duran Duran.  They’re very surreal, they’re very weird and to me, music at its best is a three-and-a-half minute world.  It really takes you, it gives you a new perspective on life in general for that moment.  It’s also, it’s about escapism, but it’s also about escapism toward maybe your inner core as a person because it doesn’t matter how old or young or what kind of a person you are, you’re a delicate flower when you listen to music.  Music you love, you know, it opens up something.  And you become… a bit more childlike, maybe, than you do without music.  So, yeah, I definitely hear that stuff and those are very important influences on me musically.

That’s the stuff that the rest of the guys in HIM didn’t like that much.  They were more Metalheads.  So I guess that especially the new-wavy guitar bits and bobs, that’s very Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy Division and whatnot. I love the haphazard, kooky, dark naivety – if that’s a combo?  There’s something very fragile and sincere, and at the same time it has this semi-debauched bohemian fantastical sort of mysterious poetic vibe to it, and I love that combo.  Then you throw in a bit of  Charles Bukowski and you’re quite there!

 You’re touring very soon, in March, coming to us after up to 10 years of being away.  At times during the pandemic, to me, touring looked like it was something that was going to become extinct almost, you know, so we’re very happy to have you coming down.  You’ve been touring for a while with this album.  Do you have a favourite song on the album to play live? 

No, I think the cool thing about touring with a new band and with the debut album, with the new music and so forth is that we’re doing the HIM tracks back to back, so we’re playing half and half.  So there are a lot of old songs as well, and what to me sounds and feels really cool is how the songs play off each other.  There can be songs like “Rip Out the Wings of a Butterfly” and then we will play “Heartful of Ghosts” and then it’s something completely different from the past once again, and that sort of journey to me, musically speaking and emotionally speaking, is very new and it feels like the past, the present, and the future combined in a tiny package with a velvet ribbon, I guess, but there’s something really pretty about the combo and then the fact that I’m not trying to.. there’s a lot of people who start their solo careers and they want to denounce their past, you know, but that’s not something I want to do,  I wrote most of the HIM songs and I sang all the songs, so for obvious reasons, there will be musical similarities with the new stuff and not trying to change that at all.  So this is for me, it’s kind of moth to a butterfly, sort of transitional period, which for me, it feels great ’cause I’m trying to find myself and it still feels fresh.

You know, I demanded that we’re able to travel over to Australia and New Zealand as well.  It’s not something that was recommended to me, but I said that I want to because I was hoping that when the album comes out the touring would feel like a complete world tour, and it doesn’t feel like one if we don’t fly over.  I’m super excited, knock on wood that everybody’s healthy and everything will, you know, no new quick pandemic is happening around the corner, but yeah, it’s amazing.  I’ve always loved visiting Australia.  We did the Soundwave Festival a couple of times and so forth.  I’ve always had a blast.  There’s something about the way the sun looks over yonder that is very different from other parts of the world.  Something very particular to the Australian sun.

Don’t miss your chance to have your bell bottoms shaken under the Australian sun with VV! Dates as follows:

Wednesday 13th March – Powerstation, Auckland
Friday 15th March – Northcote Theatre, Melbourne
Saturday 16th March – The Metro, Sydney
Sunday 17th March – The Tivoli, Brisbane

Tickets available here

Header image credit: Jonas Brandt