Latest release: Tears on Tape (Universal)

Love Metal exponents H.I.M. have faced a tough time of it since their last Australian appearances back in 2010. During sessions for latest album Tears on Tape, drummer Mika Karpinnen was diagnosed with nerve damage in both hands and the band was forced into virtual inactivity for almost a year while he recovered. Since then however, Karpinnen has made a complete recovery and the band spent most of last year back on the road. Loud recently caught up with group leader Ville Valo to discuss their upcoming Soundwave shows, the uncertainty caused by Karpinnen’s injury and why there’s so many metal bands in Finland.

It’s been sometime since we’ve seen H.I.M. down here in Australia.
The last time was in 2010 when we did the Soundwave [Festival]. That was with Faith No More and Jane’s Addiction headlining. So it’s been a while. We didn’t tour much after the Australian shows. We started working on the album that finally came out in April and since then we’ve been on tour constantly. But we’ve had to work through a lot of drama. Our drummer had a medical issue with his hands and we had to take a rest for a few months and it was quite dramatic and quite frustrating for everyone involved, but thankfully now he’s in tip top shape and he’s playing with us on tour with no problems whatsoever so I’m hoping that shall continue.

What are your memories like of that tour?
Well you know it’s a great time for us to come down from Scandinavia because you know the days are about six hours long. It’s very very dark, freezing, mountains of snow everywhere… so it’s great to be back in the sun. It’s good to OD a little bit on the sun. Last time was pretty fun because a lot of the bands travel in the same buses and the same flights, and also we have a ton of time off in between festival dates and we had the opportunity to see Jane’s Addiction play at their sideshow. It’s really very different. It’s beautiful and it’s great the way the whole she-bang works out. You get a chance to meet people from all around the world and shoot the shit and exchange war stories. That’s what makes it great. It’s not just fly-in, play the show, fly-out and then off to the next one so you don’t really have the time to appreciate the whole festival vibe. That’s the cool thing about Soundwave, it’s all about the vibe.

Did you spark up any friendships with any particular while you were on the tour?
It’s not necessarily about forging ever-lasting relationships with anybody, it was more about everybody having a good time. It was a very stress-free environment to be, and also with the days off, it’s great to be with people from the other side of the world, just to walk around and meet local people and sit down for a lager. That’s the very special thing about it, and something that I can’t wait to come back to.

Tears on Tape was your first album in almost four years. What was the reaction like to that when it was first released?
Oh, well I don’t really remember. I think it went down pretty well. I think the strength of an album is measured when you tour. We toured North America, but we didn’t headline North America, we co-headlined with a Danish band called Volbeat who obviously are on Soundwave as well. When you’re in a band you have to travel and you have to see the faces of the people when you play and sometimes a song doesn’t resonate for one reason or another – sometimes it’s quite the opposite. And that, I think, personally is interesting and makes it worthwhile doing because it’s not the same old, same old every day. I mean it’s terrible if it would be, because then it would just be same old bullshit like 9 to 5, but of course it’s quite the opposite so that’s really great for us. It’s interesting to find out how people are reacting to the album live, especially in this climate where people don’t really buy albums any more, which means that bands have to tour to make a living. So we feel pretty special that we still have the touring power of getting people in the gate.

You mentioned that H.I.M. had a long lay-off because of the problems with your drummer. It must have been a frustrating period going through that long period needed for recovery. What were you actually going through at the time? Was there a fear there that you’d have to replace him or that H.I.M. wouldn’t be able to continue?
You see I think it was more the fear of… we’d been together for a long time and we’re friends. We grew up together, more or less, since we’ve been teenagers so it was one of those things where we wondered how to make the best of it. I was unsure whether we would be able to continue – at all. Obviously that made people really depressed. It was a tough time. Really, really tough. And obviously it was really tough for the drummer because the doctors didn’t know if he would ever be able to play at all again, ever. Because with those kinds of injuries you can never tell. You just have to rehabilitate yourself step by step. And that’s what he did, and kudos to him because he didn’t give up. He’s been playing drums since he was 4 or 5 years old and he’s over 40 now, so no wonder!

You said before that daylight hours are very short – I’ve asked this question of a lot of Finnish bands lately because we’ve had quite a lot of them tour here – but is that why there is so many heavy music bands from Finland?
Oh well, the winters are so long and so dark and so cold that banging your head keeps you warm! I don’t know. A lot of Finnish classic music for example – and a lot of heavy music is influenced by classical music – is very strong and passionate and very dark and brooding and melancholy, and obviously it’s a small country and it’s right next to Russia and they have classical music that is very morose in a beautiful way, and that has a lot of influence on how a lot of metal bands sound. We don’t have a lot of feel-good pop music here, and I’m very thankful for it.

Where do you hope to take the band after Soundwave? Are there still places you want to play that you haven’t been to yet?
Well, Spring will be quite interesting because after Australia we do a small trek over to North America and afterwards we’re going to South America, and that will be our first time there and we’re wrapping up the first part of the tour in Buenos Aires. That will be really great because we’ve never been there at all. And if everything goes right we’ll also be going to China for the first time in a few months. So there are some places we haven’t visited, and that’s also a good thing. It’s lovely that there are still challenges ahead and new places to see and new cultures to study, so to speak. It’s an anthropological journey from Hell!

It must be great that you still have such challenges. 15 years ago it was almost impossible to get a band into somewhere like China.
There’s also a lot of things that were different when we started out as a band. A lot of people said that we couldn’t play or sing in English – it’s never gonna work and you’ll never have the chance to play anywhere outside of Finland anyway, so why don’t you just sing in Finnish and do what the rest of us do! That was our first challenge. And bit by bit we’ve been able to convince other countries to appreciate what we did, and it’s been a long, long journey. We started our first EP in 1996 and we played our first international tour in 98 through Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and we’ve been pissing around in larger and larger circles with every album. And I think that’s a great thing, especially for a rock band. If we had been given everything and had been a global success straight away I think that we would not be a band together. I think that it probably would have done our heads in.

It’s interesting that you mentioned singing in English, because I spoke to Tuomas from Amorphis recently and he said that he believed that Finnish isn’t really as very natural language for singing rock. What are your thoughts about that?
Oh well, you know there are always exceptions that prove the rule- when you think about a band like Rammstein, no one would have thought that an industrial rock band would work in German, and then there’s Kvelertak from Norway who sing in Norwegian. They’ve still managed to be successful outside their home country. So of course there are exceptions. But Finnish… there’s not a lot of people who speak it, it’s fairly unmusical. It sounds like a distortion pedal on a guitar that’s being drained out of its power by too-weak batteries!

Do you have anything final to say to your Australian fans?
Only that I hope they have the opportunity to come and see us, because as discussed early on, it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to come to your country.

Catch H.I.M. at Soundwave:
22/2: RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane QLD
23/2: Olympic Park, Sydney NSW
28/2: Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne VIC
1/3: Boynthon Park, Adelaide SA
3/3: Claremont Showground, Perth WA

They are also playing two shows with Nostalghia and The Defiled:
25/2: Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW
26/2: 170 Russell Street, Melbourne VIC