Interview: Ville from H.I.M.

In April, Finnish band H.I.M. released their eighth studio album, Tears on Tape. Soon after the band was supposed to embark on a US but had to cancel the dates due to illness. The band is planning on making up those dates in late August so we got to chat with lead single Ville about the cancellations, the make-up dates, the new record, and why he likes vinyl as a format.

You are about to embark on a tour of the US after having to cancel the last one. What happened?
We were supposed to come over in early Spring and play a few of the big cities. As I flew over to Los Angeles, I started getting this terrible cough. I had a doctor come over and he told me that I got pneumonia and because of the pneumonia my asthma was acting up worse. He told me to lie down for about seven or eight days and gave me some super strong antibiotics. So definitely no traveling. It was not the first time in the history of our band but its not nice to have to cancel those gigs so I can’t wait to come back. It’s going to be fun.

With the shows that you’ve done in Europe so far, how have people been reacting to the new songs from Tears on Tape?
Well, we’ve played mostly festivals which is kind of different because we’re playing to people who are not necessarily avid H.I.M. fans. So we try to play a selection of songs from everything we’ve done and we’ve got quite a history–we’ve eight albums out and a couple special collections in-between. I think its always boring when a band plays only new material, so we only play what has been on the radio. The “Into the Night” song works really well here in Finland. We can see what’s really going on when we start a proper club tour when we have a bit more time to play and we get the light show working rather than playing in the sunlight and all that. So I’m waiting on the tour in the States starting late August and starting the European proper tour in late September. That is when we’ll see what really and truly is going on with the album.

Tears on Tape has been reviewed very well so far, why do think the record is connecting with people?
I haven’t had the slightest idea. You should probably ask the people? As a band we’ve always been proud of everything we’ve put out. There’s always a reason for the slight difference in sound of the album’s we put out. This time we got a bit of a hard time getting back together because our drummer had some pretty serious problems with his hands so it took a long time to make the album. I think some of the frustration and then relief comes through in the sound of the album. I think it’s still has one of the best mixes of what we do–the yin and yang. We mix up heavy duty guitars with something a bit more melancholy and melodic. It might sound simple but at least to us it isn’t–we’re still trying.

How does Tears on Tape differ from your previous work?
I think its closest to the stuff we recorded in the early 2000’s when we recorded an album called Love Metal–that’s one of my favorites that we’ve done. I call it “modern retro,” the fact that it sounds like a traditional rock record but still contemporary. It has nods and “hats off” to our favorite bands like Type O Negative and Black Sabbath but it still sounds like what we do. We keep the songs more simple and straight to the point as opposed to the kind of ADD approach that happened in Screamworks. There the songs were more quick and personal and in your face but complex at the same time. Although it felt great record the album, I don’t think it translated to the people so well.

What was the songwriting process like for you, creating Tears on Tape?
Well, its always a pain in the ass. The great thing is while starting to write these songs its a clean slate–an empty canvas–but its always stressful and frustrating to have to pick up a guitar after touring when you don’t have any concrete ideas. But there is a rebirth that happens during that process and that is something that I live for. So I just pick up an acoustic guitar and started strumming away. Once I had a decent amount of ideas, I brought them to the band. We rented a rehearsal space in Helsinki and weeded out the bad ideas and worked on the ones that tickled everyone’s fancy. That process sometimes happens superfast or sometimes you can be stuck on one part of a song for a year–that’s what cool about music is that it is never same ol’, same ol’.

Now because of the long layoff with the drummer’s hand problems, were your ideas more developed when you brought them to the band or did you leave them undeveloped to get input from the band?
Its a bit of a balancing act. When I have a full idea for a song, I’ll sometime demo the song a bit better just to give the dudes an idea of what’s in my head because music is so hard to describe in words. For example, the song “Drawn and Quartered” is roughly the same arrangement wise as the demo I made. But often I try not to overthink or overarrange before the rehearsal space because the chemistry is what makes it bogey as well. So it’s important to have that balance.

What song from the new album are you most looking forward to playing on your upcoming tour?
We’ve played “All Lips Go Blue,” “Tears on Tape,” “Into the Night,” and “Hearts at War” so far. Those have been working really well already. We’re currently trying to plan what should go on the setlists in the autumn and again, I don’t want the sets to be all about new songs. We’re trying to figure out what old stuff people might like that we haven’t played in a while–like we’re probably gonna do a track from Venus Doom called “Passion’s Killing Floor” which we haven’t played since 2006 but people seem to enjoy it. It’s tough to create the drama of the set in a way that feels logical yet refreshing and interesting so its not really about one single song but how the songs work together. So like you play a new song like “Hearts at War” and then follow it with “Wicked Games”–a song we’ve been playing since 96–it all of a sudden changes it’s meaning and it feels different because now we’re looking at the song from a different angle.

So when you begin to develop a set list do you go back and listen to all your previous albums?
Well most simply, there are a few songs we can not not play. Like “Wicked Games,” in Europe “Join Me in Death” and “Wings of a Butterfly” would be stupid to skip and there are a few others. So inevitable there are ten songs we don’t want to skip because they are important to who we are and for the sound of the band and where we come from. We used to try to do shows where we played a bunch of obscure b-sides which is fun idea but suddenly you’re in front of 2000 people and only two know what the music is all about so it doesn’t really make sense. Again, its a balancing act between being an entertainer and an artist.

How about when it comes to songwriting? You said Tears on Tape is similar to Love Metal, would you go back and listen to that album when writing new songs?
We don’t generally when writing the songs but we do when it comes to production. Its funny how I don’t even remember half the stuff we’ve done so I don’t just listen to everything. I pick out one or two songs to get the overall feel of an album, of what made it special sound-wise and tempo-wise and guitar distortion-wise and pick the best ideas and try to push them further. At least so far we’ve never all of a sudden wanted to do a reggae album, so I think the band has a strong identity and we’re proud of it. There’s no reason to change the core or the essence of who we are as a band.

I know you previously mentioned Black Sabbath and Type-O-Negative, do you go back and listen to your influences when writing or recording a new album?
Occasionally, yeah sure. We tend to listen to that stuff on the tour bus because its the only thing we can agree on. Also, Sabbath was part of our youth so its not about one particular guitar tone or a part of a song, its more about the vibe. So we’re generally talking about the Monster Magnet vibe or the Turbo Negro vibe or the My Bloody Valentine vibe not necessarily one song or one lyric that would be a reference point.

I know I have read some interview with you where you said you have not listened to the new Black Sabbath album yet…
I still haven’t. I’ve only heard a couple of songs off it because my friend had the vinyl edition. At the moment my home studio is a shambles so I don’t have anything hooked up. For me, it would feel weird to listen to them on MP3 or any of those formats. I’d rather listen to it on vinyl. So I guess I need to wait until I get my shit sorted then I can enjoy it. But it’s sounding good so far.

Do you feel that way about a lot of bands or is it just because you grew up with Sabbath on vinyl?
I’m not a huge vinyl freak but the good thing about the format is that people are so ADD these days–me included–its so easy to listen to the first 40 seconds and then skip to the next track. People are in such a rush to listen to 100 songs in an hour that the good thing about vinyl is you have to do the physical act of putting it on and then you don’t skip songs as easy. So that’s what I like about it. It has a calming effect.

So after this autumn tour, what is next for HIM?
We’ll be done with this part of touring around halloween and then we’ll see what’s happening with Tears on Tape, the album. If there is a need to tour more–people want to see more of HIM–then that usually means we’ve got to keep on touring. If its all quiet on the touring front, then I think we’ll work on writing new music as soon as possible.

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