If you were anywhere near goth culture in the late ’90s, HIM frontman Ville Valo was an omnipresent, unavoidable icon. Cigarette in hand and distinctive heartagram tattoos on show, the Finnish musician charmed a generation of rock fans with his distinctive vocals and on-stage charisma. Decades later, he hasn’t changed a bit.
NME meets Valo at a studio in King’s Cross to discuss his first ever solo album ‘Neon Noir’, a project fully written, recorded and produced by the 46-year-old that is set to be released under the moniker VV. “It’s actually a relief in a way that it’s all my fault… it makes it way more simple,” he explains of its solitary nature. “It’s the unadulterated, no compromise whatsoever in it [that’s a relief]”. Self-described as a “teary mascara marathon between Robert Smith and Ozzy Osbourne”, ‘Neon Noir’ is a bold collection of songs that regularly nod back to Valo’s time fronting HIM while also developing into a deeper, more vulnerable offering.
Discussing ‘Neon Noir’ for the latest instalment in NME’s In Conversation series, Valo goes deep on the creation of the record, the lyrics that go “straight for the jugular” and the sage advice that Osbourne gave him. Here’s what we learned.
‘Neon Noir’ embraces darker moments
The debut VV record was written during the pandemic, a period of time that Valo says now “hit me pretty hard, emotionally speaking”. Discussing his headspace while creating the record, Valo says: “I wouldn’t call it clinical depression. I come from a country [Finland] that has a peculiar history with people being rather morose… it’s probably due to the winters being very dark. The sun doesn’t come up at all during the middle of winter, and they are very long.” Adding that Finnish people “have this innate sort of manic depressive behaviour”, Valo also cites the impact of the country’s contrasting summers: “The sun doesn’t go down at all in the middle of the summer, and people go wavy-bonkers.”
Bringing it back to the new album, which he recently described as a “step-by-step guide on how to stay alive”, Ville explains: “That’s the kind of stuff I like: I like the darker aspects. Happy music makes me sad and sad music makes me happy. It’s always worked that way. Don’t ask me why, but I’m not the only one.”
Lyrically speaking, Valo’s going “straight for the jugular”
Ville Valo has always been a cryptic lyricist. During his time with HIM, he drew on Charles Bukowski, Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allen Poe in his songwriting, but the new record veers away from his previously nuanced approach to writing lyrics.
“I’m going straight for the jugular,” Valo tells NME when describing the lyrical direction of his new music. “It’s very, very direct. But obviously there’ll be a lot of weird combinations…Hopefully they evoke memories or ideas. There’s this weird juxtaposition of things that seemingly don’t go together and I’m trying to forcefully marry them. Hopefully, via that, [I’ll] make a concoction that has never been heard before.”
He once got some sage advice from Ozzy Osbourne
Influences on the new album range from The Cure‘s Robert Smith (on the swooning epic ballad ‘Saturnine Saturnalia’) through to Black Sabbath on the record’s rip-roaring title track. But has Valo ever met either of the idols who inspired the record?
“I got to meet Ozzy once, it was pretty cool,” he replies. “The only thing I remember is him telling me that if you can’t get the first row going [during a gig], show them your tits: he said that move really works.” Has Valo ever put that into practice? “Every time I go to test it on stage, I just get super-nervous… But I should, that’s a good idea. On the setlist of the next tour I’ll write, ‘Remember Ozzy’s wisdom’.”
It’s all about the bass
He may have already hung out with the likes of Ozzy, but there’s still some rock idols Valo would love to meet: “Back to Black Sabbath, I’ve never had the chance to meet Geezer Butler, the bass player. And bass was my first instrument.”
Riffing further on some of his favourite four-string legends, Valo adds: “I’ve never had the chance to meet Steve Harris from Iron Maiden, [who’s] one of the reasons I started playing bass. [I’ve] never met Gene Simmons, who is also a bass player. So ‘it’s all about the bass’, as Ozzy used to say.” There’s still time, Ville.
‘Neon Noir’ is dedicated to Valo’s partner
Hunkering down in Finland with his partner during lockdown to make ‘Neon Noir’, Valo admits to “testing her patience during the pandemic”.
Having had to juggle the writing, recording and production of the album with managing the emotional weight of the pandemic, Valo says that the album is “dedicated” to his girlfriend for helping him through that tough period. He then adds with a laugh: “That’s not enough, but it’s a start.”
VV’s new album ‘Neon Noir’ is out on January 13 via Heartagram Records