Interview with Ville Valo of HIM: Shattered By Hope

HIM frontman Ville Valo sounds a little overwhelmed when he gets on the phone from Finland. He has been juggling press, mixes for special releases and preparations for a world tour that will start in Australia in late February, head to the UK, then arrive in the U.S. in late March. But things are not so rough—the group has had a bit of a break, having not toured since 2008 nor released a new studio album since 2007’s heavy and somber Venus Doom, an album which was influenced by Black Sabbath. While it did not match the gold sales level of its predecessor—everyone’s album sales keep falling in general—it continued the group’s artistic evolution and took them into new territory.

The new HIM album, Screamworks: Love In Theory And Practice, is the group’s seventh studio release and offers a nice contrast to its predecessor—an energetic manifesto of hard rock aggression and pop melody, combining ‘80s-style synths and crunchy guitars, with Valo crooning, screaming, even chanting over the infectious mix. For those who thought that this five-piece band might be running low on new ways to explore the dark and tragic side of love, this album offers a strong rebuff to that notion. The tunes are shorter and punchier (13 tracks spread over 45 minutes), and even the ballads rock more than on their earlier releases.

The singer reports that making the new HIM album was a similar experience to creating the band’s fifth album, Dark Light, which was released in 2005 and made them stars in America. In both instances, he wrote the music in Helsinki during the winter, when the country is “pretty dark and melancholy,” then flew to L.A. to record it. “It gives it a nice yin and yang effect,” Valo explains of this bicontinental process, adding that the producer this time was Matt Squires, who has worked with Panic! At The Disco, Boys Like Girls and Taking Back Sunday. “I wanted to have that big, American drum sound on the album, and keeping the synths really synthy as opposed to copying real instruments—as in piano, strings or whatever—keeping it like Depeche Mode, Duran Duran and kind of ‘80s in that sense. Matt and I were both born in ‘76, so we more or less grew up listening to the same sort of stuff. The unholy trinity for us was Depeche Mode, The Cult and Guns ‘N Roses.”

Even within the brooding nature of Screamworks, one cannot help but notice that, for all of its moody mystique, the music sounds somewhat brighter, even a bit hopeful. Ultimately it sounds like someone is in love.

“You know, I was on that verge for awhile, working on the album,” confesses Valo. “It’s probably not the only thing that affected the mood. This is the first album I worked on being fully sober. I’ve never written songs while being messed up, but I was not going over to the pub after a long day of rehearsals. This time I went back home and started working on Pro Tools, so basically I spent at least double the amount of time just working on it than I have on any album we’ve done. I spent a lot of energy on this one.”

Getting back to that love thing for a moment—was the crooning frontman in love during the making of the album, and is he still? “Let’s just say I didn’t believe—not necessarily that I would’ve lost hope—but I wasn’t caring too much about the possibility of meeting somebody that all of a sudden would make my jaw drop down to the floor,” he admits. “Then it happened, and it was a fantastic thing. But my quirky sense of living has made it such that I basically wrote more about it on the album than I ever talked about it with her. Hopefully it’s an ongoing thing, to be honest with you, but it’s easier said than done. I travel so much. I’ve said that I want to be in balance myself and have this mental or spiritual equilibrium to be able to offer somebody something rather than just take. A lot of people, when they have relationships or find themselves in a relationship, are there just to take stuff. They never give anything. I’d rather have a good vibe going on and then have some new adventures. Let’s say I’m working it out.”