Valo has usually been private about his romantic life, but it is clear that he is working things out on the latest HIM platter, the music’s dark tones often coated by his tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. On the track “Scared To Death” he sings coyly, “I’m not afraid to say that I love you…any more than I used to be.” Then there is his amorous ode to “Katherine Wheel” (which is kind of akin to writing a ballad for an iron maiden), not to mention titles like “Shatter Me With Hope” and “The Foreboding Sense Of Impending Happiness.” He may be in touch with his inner goth, but he is aware that even within his tragic-romantic milieu he can go over-the-top.
“There are a lot of scary things about being happy,” Valo counters. “It’s ridiculously funny how I’ve been turning into a bit of a hermit myself and living a solitary life working on the [new album] tracks. All of a sudden you grow up, and especially being sober, you’re so sensitive to everything around you, and you just don’t want to fuck up. You have a sense of something beautiful, like a beautiful flower in bloom, but you’re not sure what to do with it. It is so beautiful as it is that you’re not sure whether you want it to blossom and then at some point wither away and die. You’re not sure which part you want to witness, or do you have to do it all? Or don’t you? It’s more like a junior high philosophical question.”
The singer’s abstinence from alcohol, which began around June of 2007, has been a journey that has opened his eyes to many things, but it has also been enlightening in less obvious ways than people might expect. He says he has not any touched drugs or booze. That’s been the easy part. “Then again, I keep on saying, when people ask me how I feel about it—me being sober and being in a rock band and playing bars and clubs and all that—with a clear head you see clearer how fucked up a lot of things are,” he reveals. “That’s how it is. Nothing changes. You just see the evil in the world in a bit more detail because it’s not so blurry. But it doesn’t change for the better.”
That sounds like a rather grim metaphysical assessment, but Valo learned things about himself during his odyssey of sobriety. Indeed that interior analysis also offers illumination into the recurring themes of love, loss, pleasure and pain that run rampant throughout his entire body of work. “I’m exactly the same as I was when I was 14,” the frontman concludes. “I’m interested in the same things and easily adjust into my own world full of music and weird movies and all that. I was just having a discussion about it with my mother a couple of months ago, and she said that getting old is about your body getting old, not your mind. Your mind and your thoughts are exactly the same as they ever were. You learn bits and bobs from mistakes. You know not to put your fingers into an electrical socket, but you always find a new variation of it, more or less, and you make new mistakes and hopefully learn from them. And especially not to carry a burden of your past mistakes just for the sake that you’re able to pass them on. People say that they come with baggage or that somebody is carrying a cross, but a lot of people tend to, especially in relationships, just pass the cross on. ‘Won’t you carry my shit for a while so I can relax?’ And I don’t think that that’s fair. But then again, everything is fair in love and in war, as they say.”
Sometimes that war is being waged inside oneself. During Screamworks’ opening track, the deceptively upbeat, chugging “In Venere Veritas,” Valo proclaims “there are wounds that are not meant to heal.” This statement is made in reference to what he sees as a tendency by many people to sweep bad memories underneath the rug to try to forget about them. “I ended up in a situation where you just can’t avoid them,” he adds. “You can’t just forget that stuff, so I’d rather take them as lessons learned. I consider life, more or less, being a series of mistakes, and you learn from the old ones so you won’t make the same mistakes again. But then you open yourself up to new mistakes. It’s all about fucking up.”
In the end it seems that the singer is as entranced by the mysteries of love as he is in trying to fathom its complexities. One song which addresses that very theme is “Love The Hardest Way,” which includes the phrase “Baudelaire in Braille,” referring to the famous 19th century French poet’s work, whose literary oeuvre was considered both romantic and scandalous back in his time.
“For me it is a nice phrase,” says Valo. “It’s similar to the first line of the song, which goes, ‘love’s the devil counting teardrops in the rain to the sound of a chalkboard symphony played with nails.’ The point being that it doesn’t make any sense, and it’s very complex. It’s very poetic and lofty. Baudelaire was this debauched yet very entrancing, mesmerizing character, and his work does encompass all these different aspects of that personality, maybe exaggerated. For me, love is like Baudelaire in Braille. It’s a mathematical equation that I don’t know the answer for and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know the answer for.”
Screamworks: Love In Theory And Practice is available now. Catch HIM on May 7 at Irving Plaza in NYC. For more info, heartagram.com.