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Radio Nova Interview  (July 2009)

Translation: Parte I

By sineresi @ livejournal.

Question: Tell me something about your childhood. Where did you spend it and what kind of time was it?

Ville: I remember the gas station in Oulunkylä. My dad liked to fix his car, and I was about 3 or 4 or 5 when I was there with him and put nails in the exhaust pipe. My dad turned on the engine, and I was like 15 centimeters from the exhaust pipe, so it’s just luck that I don’t look like Hellraiser’s Pinhead now.

I was born on November 22, 1976 at 8.28 in the morning. I don’t remember which hospital it was, but I think we lived on Limingantie in Vallila for a few months, and then we moved to Mäkitorpantie in Oulunkylä where I lived until I was 17 and a half years old. I went to school there. I met Mige when I was like 8 or 9 and Linde during junior high. Just basic stuff. There were a lot of woods there then and great places to play in. We did normal things. We organized our own American football league and glued all kinds of ice hockey guards to our knees. Normal stuff. We lived in an apartment, and we had nice neighbors. We had dogs and a parrot called Jallu who unfortunately passed away a little while ago. I don’t know what childhood consists of—I guess just growing taller and learning new things and noticing that you have hair growing in your armpits.

Question: What is your first memory regarding music?

Ville: Well, it’s hard to avoid hearing music. My first memory is that my dad drove a taxi, and he used to drive me to kindergarten and sometimes to school, and he always listened to Tuomari Nurmio and J.J. Cale and Emmylou Harris. Compilations that our family’s friend Jallu –who was an Elvis impersonator and not to be confused with the parrot – made for him to listen to at work, a lot of country and western and then Cat Stevens and stuff like that. When my dad was running errands, I used to sit in the car and turn the volume up. My dad’s taxi was my first introduction to music. We listened to a lot of music at home, but I just remember some songs like J.J. Cale’s Carry On that I just heard on the radio.

Question: So what was life like there in Vallila?

Ville: Well, Vallila was just the first two month, so it’s really hard to say what it was like. Probably just changing diapers and shitting. Oulunkylä – it’s a suburb in northern Helsinki – is a really pretty area and there is quite a lot of nature there. And we had pretty many animals. We hung outside during thunderstorms in the summer and made friends and enemies. Very basic stuff. I went to kindergarten and then to school where I was a kind of not very nice hell raiser and king of the hill type of character, but I was pretty good in everything besides Swedish.

Question: It’s really easy for you to sing in English and you basically speak English as well as you speak Finnish. When you were a kid, was the English language somehow part of your life? Have you learned it through music or something else?

Ville: I have always said that the little English I know I have learned from David Hasselhoff. We watched a lot of Knight Rider. And then BBC’s Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett was awesome. Some TV shows. On the other hand, you have to remember that – if I considered myself to be a pretty musically talented person – language is music, it’s chords and rhythms, and it’s easy to remember them.

At school I remember that our teacher gave us an assignment to find out what else the word ‘nail’ means other than ‘kynsi’ [finger nail] and the reward was one mark [= about 20 Euro cents]. I remember that I cheated and looked up in the dictionary that it also means ‘naula’ [the kind of nail that you hammer into a wall]. I got the reward, and then I felt so bad that I went crying to my mother to ask her what I should do because I had cheated. She said I should apologize to the teacher and give her an apple. And so I did that. Then my soul was pure again. I have always been a good boy on the inside.

But you can’t avoid English in Finland. We have a great culture in the sense that we don’t dub foreign tv shows like in Germany for example where very few people speak really good English. Just because nothing is spoken in the original language. I was just talking with my mom on mother’s day about how when I went to see Walt Disney movies in the movie theater when I was little, the mothers used to read the subtitles to their kids. Even Bambi and those movies weren’t dubbed in Finnish. Even a lot of children’s culture was in English, which was both good and bad, but at least you learned the language that way.

Question: What were the artists and bands that you first started listening to and became a fan of?

Ville: My cousin Pia and I were close, and she was a few years older and had her own records. She had Rainbow and Kiss albums and stuff like that. When I had saved enough money to buy my first album, I asked her which band was good, and she told me to buy Kiss. I still have that Animalize album with the text saying that you have seen this on tv. Heaven’s on Fire was my introduction to the hedonistic world of rock. But at the same time I was listening to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Nik Kershaw’s Riddle and Wouldn’t It Be Good, Madonna’s Live to Tell, Taylor Dayne’s Tell It to My Heart, and Locomotion. All that 80’s pop. Duran Duran. To the guys my age the video for Girls on Film was the introduction to eroticism.

I discovered a lot of music through television. I had a friend who had the satellite channels, and there was a two-hour rock show every week on Sky Channel and he taped it for me. That’s how I saw for the first time a lot of videos, WASP and stuff. At the elementary school, some kids liked Motley Crue and others liked Twisted Sister, and kids formed cliques based on who listened to what. Then there was a boy called Anssi who was one of my best friends and with whom I formed one of my first bands, and his older brother had a lot of albums and he was a metalhead, so he had Celtic Frost and Slayer’s Reign in Blood when it came out and Metallica’s Master of Puppets. That was my introduction to the metal world. That was after 1985. But it’s been a long time, so it’s hard to say what happened when. I still like A-Ha and can listen to them and then Black Sabbath. I don’t think they shut each other out musically.

Question: Did you think then that music was something you could do yourself? Was this when you decided you wanted to be a musician?

Ville: My cousin Mika saw I was interested in music, so he gave me an old Ibanez guitar. He tuned it for me, and when a string broke, I thought the whole guitar was broken. I didn’t realize that you just change the string. We had just seen the Kiss video where Paul Stanley smashes his guitar after a gig, and we thought it was part of rock’n’roll. So we went outside and smashed the guitar. I’m still upset I did that, but that was one of the first rock things I did.

It was probably a Christmas Day when there was some pop show on tv, and they played Nik Kershaw’s Riddle, and I sang along so loudly that I woke up my mother who told me to shut my face already. It was the first time I had sang in a way that I could feel myself getting hypnotized by the singing and being so much taken by the music that even my own mother got annoyed.

Then on third grade I started on a music class and started playing the bass because Gene Simmons and Steve Harris were so cool. I went to some art school too for a while to study drawing, but there wasn’t really any time for it. It’s interesting that in Finland a career as a musician isn’t much appreciated and kids aren’t encouraged to pursue it. Because the fact is that the pay for your first hundred gigs is more or less just a warm handshake and warm beer. It’s really hard to say when it becomes a so-called job. I don’t know if it still is my job . It’s meaningful to me, and it’s fun to make music and it makes you feel good as simple as it is. Especially to an introverted Finnish man like myself it’s a great way express your emotions without getting caught. It’s like being the flasher in the woods in Oulunkylä except in a sonic form.

Question: So you started jamming with your friends and I guess you started thinking whether this could turn into something real. What age were you when you realized this could be something big?

Ville: It was with Linde sometime around 1994. It was a lot later. It was the time to go to high school and start to actually do something, to study and become a real adult. We both felt that music was so much more important and understood that if you wanted to be a rocker, you couldn’t study it in any school. You just had to play gigs and make songs, and that’s when we made the decision.

Linde still lived in Oulunkylä then, and we sat on his balcony and decided to form a band. It was a summer night around eight o’clock. That was a turning point as far as this band is concerned. We had all played gigs before that though. Mige played at wedding receptions for a while, and I played bass and drums in lots of bands, but that was more of a hobby.

In elementary school, I was in a band called Eloveena Boys, and we played U2 and Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight at school dances. I noticed then for the first time that girls like singers and that it had a certain appeal to be the center of attention. Or behind the center of attention, since I was the bassist. It was an interesting phenomenon, and I guess the adrenaline rush was also interesting. You work really hard for something, and you see people smiling in the audience. That’s a big reward in itself.

Question: So you sat on a balcony and decided to start something big. Was it clear from the beginning who you were going to ask to join the group and what about the name?

Ville: Before that time, me, Mige and Tarvonen (and before him Juippi) had had a band called His Infernal Majesty. We were a kind of a power trio where I played the guitar parts with a six-string bass. It was the first band that I made songs for, and we rehearsed in Mige’s mother’s basement in Tuusula. We played a gig in Semifinal on New Year’s Eve in 1992. Kyyria played upstairs in Tavastia that night, which is funny because Gas played in Kyyria then. It’s a small world.

That band broke up when Mige left for his military service. I was upset because I didn’t want the normal life, so I revived with Linde the idea I had had earlier with Mige. And then Mige came back from the army as a handsome Van Demme-like soldier and we asked him to join. Originally, I was supposed to play bass in HIM. And we just took the same name, I don’t know why. A band just has to have a name, and all names suck. Sielun veljet is a pretty good name as is Led Zeppelin, but there aren’t very many others. Kiss is pretty good and so is Tik Tak. You just had to have a name, and it’s hard to come up with a name because you don’t know how the music is going to change and how life is going to change.

One of the first potential names was Black Earth because Black Sabbath’s first name was Earth, and it was a combination of those because we were big Black Sabbath fans, but we thought it was a bit too goth and gloomy. We wanted something more simple.

There was a death metal band called Deicide whose singer Glen Benton branded an inverted cross on his forehead. I was a big death metal fan and also a reggae fan. Benton had a song where he sang “infernal majesty” and then on the first pages of Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible the term “his infernal majesty” is mentioned. But H.I.M. is also used in the reggae circles as an acronym for His Imperial Majesty or Haile Selassie a.k.a. the Butcher of Eritrea who some people with uncombed hair consider a messiah.

His Infernal Majesty was a combination of all that, and I think it still describes us very well. We like so many things that we can’t do any of them well, and we try to add everything possible into the mixture musically as well as otherwise. There isn’t really a story behind the name; it’s just a combination of everything. Mige decided the name by painting the words His Infernal Majesty on his amp. It was his only amp and he didn’t have money to buy another one, so that was that. I recommend his method to anyone who is fighting over a band’s name. It worked damn well for us.

Question: So how did you become the singer?

Ville: I was in high school, but I wasn’t interested in it, so I skipped a lot, and when my mom and dad left for work, I stayed at home to sing for example Jane’s Addiction’s Ritual de lo Habitual and Faith No More’s Angel Dust. I didn’t think I had a really good voice, but I was really interested in singing. So I just started to sing. I didn’t think I was good enough to be a lead singer, but I thought I could sing backing vocals or something.

Linde and I made a demo where he played the guitar and I sang and played the drums, and we looked for players/singer for the band, but we couldn’t find anyone. Mige came back from the army, and I thought we had a good bass player in him, and so I decided to try singing. I had thick hair and I looked okay, so we thought it could work. All the best things happen by accident, there wasn’t any master plan. I started to sing, and I sounded like King Diamond. I sang really high in a falsetto, that was the thing then. Then Peter Steele came and now my singing is something between those two extremes. Squealing and growling.

Question: Were you ambitious from the start? Did you think that you were going to do something that hadn’t been done before?

Ville: That’s a fantastic question. I think that there isn’t really a simple answer to that because… Oh my god, I just sounded like a fucking politician… You have to believe in what you do, but you have to understand that you’re not going to create something totally new. So you have to honor your idols and appreciate the work that for example Hanoi Rocks, Waltari, Stratovarius, and Amorphis have done for us by spreading the message of joy of Finnish music in a way that made us realize that we too had a chance of getting some kind of international recognition some day.

But it starts from the little things: getting the band together, making our own songs, getting our first gig… And it goes from there one step at a time. I don’t believe that you can decide that you want this and that in the next ten years. Small successes. Just an example: we had a really good rehearsal yesterday. We were playing something, and suddenly I had all kinds of things playing in my head. It’s rare that a band knows each other so well that you can compose while playing. That’s really cool. Everyone keeps playing, and I yell “play this chord here” while the music is playing. And Burton blocked the melody and that was that. Those are moments when you forget yourself. I guess it must be very meditative, even though I don’t meditate. It’s the magic of music. You just lose yourself in it and forget yourself, and in those moments nothing else matters.

But at the same time you have to set your goals high, just because you can’t let yourself take the easy way out. It’s great because we had bands like Sielun veljet and other artists who were so great in every possible way that it would be an insult to our music culture to do that. You had to at least try your best.

Question: Was it easy to start working with guys you had hung out with for many years because you knew and trusted them?

Ville: I don’t really have anything to compare it with. I know people who have formed bands that have four or five egoists who just coexist and all have their own agendas and not a collective agenda.

In our band, things just clicked because I was the one that could concentrate in the music full time when we didn’t have any money because my mom and dad helped me with my rent. I did that while Mige worked for the Helsinki city park department and Linde worked at his mother’s shop selling wicker baskets or something. I could concentrate on the so-called artistic side. And Mige was good at putting amps together and he connected wires and they used to explode during gigs. Someone had a driver’s license and was good at driving. Someone was good at organizing. It’s probably the same thing in every firm. Everyone has their own role, and nobody steps on anyone’s toes.

Those are the things you should remember and appreciate every once in a while because it’s something you can’t buy with money and not something you can calculate in advance. That you have childhood friends that you like and you care about, and you can lose yourself in the music with them and get the bread on the table doing that. It’s such an incredible combination that it makes me believe that there is some kind of magic in the world.

Question: Who supported you in the beginning? Who helped you? You said your parents helped, but who else did when you almost lost faith in yourself?

Ville: We hung out at a bar called Teatro that Mige’s older brother helped run, and it became a place to meet people. Jone Nikula [a Finnish rock journalist that became famous as a judge on the Finnish Idol] hung out there and so did Toni Taleva who was like the chief of the Finnish metal scene. He worked at a lot of record stores, and he introduced all the rock and metal stuff to the Finnish youth. Toni is responsible for the success of so many bands that he should have a statue. He gave the first push to so many bands. I worked at Teatro as an elevator boy and a general helper, and because Mige’s brother worked there, we got our first gig there. There were maybe a hundred people who hung out there all the time, and we started organizing rock club nights there.

At first nobody came, and then more and more people started to come. And we had our first bigger gig there in 1994 I think. Jailhouse Band, or Apocalyptica as they are now called, played Metallica for the first time in public. His Infernal Majesty played Type O Negative, and there were a few other bands too that played Rage Against the Machine and Danzig. The idea was that young bands would cover famous artists and that would bring in people and the bands would get some attention. Around Eastertime there was always Mount of Olives a Go Go, and there we crucified some guy and played King Diamond. It was an important scene for us, and we got to play our first gigs there and see how everything works. We got a lot of support there. Jone was important. He was the first one who played our demo on the radio. I still have the tape where he introduces us. There were a lot of people who believed in us. It was great that while we were pretty young, we still got to organize parties. Putting lights up and doing things. Learning about the whole construction that is a rock show.

Question: How were the first performances as a band? Was there panic, and what caused doubts and fear?

Ville: What doesn’t cause fear?! It was okay. We had a little butterflies in our stomachs, but then we drank a few beers, and everything was okay. We didn’t handle the technical aspects all that well. We were just laughing with Linde and Mige the other day about how we didn’t have a keyboard in the beginning or an electronic tuner, so they tuned their instruments by ear in the bathroom before a gig with varying results.

In Finland in those days, you couldn’t really go on tour unless you were really famous. So there was something happening in Teatro like once every two months that we would manage to get us to play in. So we would have two months to decide what we would do there, and I would think about what I would wear, whether I could find a cool 70’s suit in a second-hand shop to wear and who could come help us with the lights, so we could get some atmosphere in there. I had an “Elvis mike” then, you know that kind of big old-fashioned one that I used because Peter Steele sang into one on the Christian Woman video. I thought it looked cool and it set us apart a little bit from the other bands, but I didn’t give a thought to how bad it sounded.

My personal supporter at that time was Suho Superstar, the leader of Jimsonweed. I played at a couple of rehearsals with Jimsonweed, and I hung out a lot with Suho, Kämä and Kinde. Suho taught me to be really stubborn when it comes to believing in your own vision and working for it instead of giving up right away. I wouldn’t be here now without Suho. There are many chains of events that happened more or less at the same time that are all partly responsible for us being where we are now. I don’t have a great memory, but I do remember the essential: the people who you are eternally grateful to for having had the opportunity to hang out with them and who have taught you a lot of things about music in a larger sense. Suho used to like give me a belt because he thought it would do well for a gig and I still have that belt and it was a good belt for that gig. They are little things like that that are at the same time really big things.

Question: After those first gigs, did people ever come up to you and tell you that you were going to make it big one day? Where there people who could sense that this band was going places and would make Finnish music history one day?

Ville: No, I think it was more the whole Teatro scene. I mean Gas was the first. Gas was the first one to come in front of the stage to shake his head. I mean the first one ever because then the audience always wanted to keep enough space between them and the stage. The closer you could get the people to the stage, the tougher band you were. We got them at like five meters. But Gas was there in the front, and we respected him because he was one of the best drummers around and that way we started to believe in ourselves a little more.

PARTE II –>


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