Radio Nova Interview (July 2009)
Translation: Parte II
By sineresi @ livejournal.
Ville: You were talking about whether people would come up to us to say that there was something special in what we did and whether we started to think like that ourselves. Well, it’s still not really like that because we have always known that’s there’s something special in it because it’s meaningful to us. We like doing it. But every time you get a victory under your belt, you’re already thinking about the next one. You never bask in the sunshine; instead you think about the rainy day and the next challenge. If a show went great, it was over right away, and at two o’clock in the morning we would sit down and think about our next move. I think that’s the only way to get ahead. You don’t spend much energy thinking that this is it. That has never been an option for our band because everything can be over in a second.
In the music world, nothing can be too big; you can always sell more records. It’s interesting because nothing is enough. Of course every musician wants to make that one song – let’s take John Denver’s Annie’s Song for example – one song that is so meaningful that it just touches such a multitude of people. Nowadays when people are put in a million different categories and there are a million different ideologies, it’s more difficult to make a song that would touch the whole world without being as phony as a band like Coldplay that has very little edge as nicely as they do play. But they’re missing a little spice, a little kick…
What on earth am I blathering about here?! I must have had some really grand idea, but I just completely lost my train of thought.
Question: Let’s talk about your first demo. What kind of situation was it and how did you manage to get a record deal with a cover?
Ville: Well, it wasn’t just a cover. If I’m correct, what happened was that we made three demos and after the second one I had a lot of talks with a record label, but something came up—we weren’t good enough or we weren’t metal enough… Anyway, the stars weren’t aligned right, and it didn’t work out. So we did another demo that was a little more accessible with Hiili Hiilesmaa who did a lot of demos back then at the Munkkiniemi youth center. That’s how we met Hiili who we have worked with on a couple of albums later on.
We did the demo with Wicked Game on it, and the next bit ties to everything I told you before. We did the demo, and because Jimsonweed was signed on Kari Hynninen’s label Zen Garden, Suho introduced me to Hynninen, and we went to his place to watch sci-fi movies and eat ice cream. I managed to almost accidentally give the demo to Hynninen who gave it directly to Asko Kallonen, so that it didn’t have to sit in the same piles as other bands’ demos. Asko Kallonen heard our version of Wicked Game, and since it was a familiar song and our version was a bit different, he assumed that this band was different and interesting.
So he called me one day when I was taking a bath in my apartment on Pietarinkatu. Back then I had a landline, so when the phone rang, I got out of the bath dripping water all over the place. It was Asko, and for a moment I assumed that it was a prank call or something. Back then Asko was known only perhaps in the music industry, he wasn’t the star he is now [also Asko Kallonen became famous as a judge on the Finnish Idol]. He called, and we made an appointment. I remember we had a rehearsal that day. It was a beautiful spring day, and it was a magical moment that someone had called me and told me that he would like us to record something for them. Asko took a chance with us, and then we went and recorded our EP – the blue one with my mom’s face on it that you can’t really get anywhere anymore. We made it with Hiili, and slowly things started going forward.
It’s interesting because I had hung out with Suho so much, and then Suho introduced me to Hynninen. This is a version that I think is pretty logical, and it could be what actually happened.
Question: So you got to meet Asko and started to work together. How did it feel when the wheels finally started to turn and there was someone who believed in you?
Ville: Well, let’s say that I had read so many rock biographies that I assumed everyone was trying to take advantage of us all the time. We were damn careful with all the contracts right from the beginning until many years later when Seppo Vesterinen came and saved us. We had a few people who helped us by reading the contracts and suggesting what we should do about this and that. We were really careful because there’s a record label who invests money in you and you have to like “come up with the goods”: you have to show that you are good and trustworthy and that you do good work. There was a lot of pressure, but on the other hand we just tried to pick the best songs and go record them.
Asko was really good to us because he’s an old-school a & r executive who believes in letting a band grow. Anssi Kela is a good example. He was always one of Asko’s favorites, and it took years and years before he found success with the Nummela album. It’s rare especially these days when they try to squeeze everything out of an artist as soon as possible, which makes sense because you make money fast that way and then you can move on to the next artist. But Asko had a long-term vision for the artists he worked with, and he helped us so that we had the freedom to try things out.
So they played Wicked Game on the radio a little bit, and it was a really good introduction to our music. Then the EP came out, and we told everyone’s mother to go buy five copies. I guess that’s where they all are. I suspect that all the copies that are on eBay are the ones our mothers bought. That’s how our mamas are making money.
Then we met Tiina Vuorinen from Welldone [Agency & Promotion], and slowly we started to get real gigs that you actually got paid for or at least got gas money, and we got to play outside of Helsinki too. Those are a little obscure times, I don’t remember them well. They involve the whole Teatro scene and a lot of gigs and the record coming out. But our orchestra has always been one step ahead, so we were always rehearsing for the record, and at the same time I was listening to October Rust and One Second by Paradise Lost. It was a revolutionary album that was ahead of its time, meaning that it combined a kind of gothic synthpop with heavy guitars. We had parties at Teatro where we danced to these songs and drank a lot of booze. Whatever Tony [Taleva] played, that was the thing, and we sucked influences form it unconsciously or consciously and then worked on them.
We were rehearsing all the time, and that’s how the first album came to be. When Love and Death Embrace was one of the last songs I made for the album, and it was the first time I realized that you can be bare and direct and sensitive without losing the strength and that sensitivity can actually be strong. The world of heavy metal is so weird. It’s so Tom of Finland, so uber-masculine in many ways, and then it’s not. Life isn’t just “balls to the wall” all the time. Good life is, but unfortunately it doesn’t always work out that way.
Question: It’s interesting that you can talk about the world of metal or rock as something that you are a part of, but you can also look at it from the outside. Are you a part of it because of the music, so that if you weren’t making music, you would belong to another genre? Have you grown into it?
Ville: Let’s say that when puberty hit, I had the pleasure and honor to meet a lot of people who were very intensely into music but all liked different genres. If you are friends with someone, you don’t give a fuck if your friend likes Madonna, or is a boy and likes boys, or likes red meat. It doesn’t mean that you have to like boys, or eat meat, or like Madonna. You can just enjoy their company. I used to have dreadlocks, and I was a street musician, I played djembe. I have also played jazz and stuff like that and sang in a grindcore band that played Carcass covers. I played drums in a punk band and almost died. We were playing a gig and our singer fell on the light rack, and it dropped on the drums like five centimeters from my head.
I’ve done a lot of different things, and that’s why our band is the way it is because I have never found the right combination that would include all the sensitivity and strength at the same time. That’s why it isn’t possible for us to be in just one genre. That’s clear if you take a look at the contents of my iPod. I don’t think Goldfrappe’s A & E is any worse than Cradle of Filth’s Gilded Cunt. Let’s say that the message and the feeling are pretty different, but there are moods that they both fit.
Question: People got interested in you right away. And the same thing happened abroad as soon as your record came out there. What is your secret? Is it what you said about moving between genres and still being credible?
Ville: You have to remember that we are the only band in the world that has played an acoustic gig with full black metal masks on. And we were being serious. Let’s say that we were testing our limits a little bit. Not consciously, but nothing good came out of it.
Speaking about our success abroad, we have sitting next to the wall there the person who is responsible for that, that is Silke Yli-Sirniö who was back then married to Sami Yli-Sirniö from Waltari. Silke happened to be in Finland when we played a New Year’s Eve gig in Lepakko, and Sami and Silke came to celebrate the New Year there. She heard the band and fell in love with it, and we gave her all the tapes and the EP. Silke worked for a German record label then, and she took our tapes there and sang our praises. So the German record label people flew here to see the first gig we played at Tavastia.
That was also the first gig that Seppo Vesterinen saw because we were starting to need help with the legal stuff, we needed someone who could actually help us with the paperwork because there were piles of papers that we understood nothing of. What were our rights as musicians? Did we have to give up the rights to our songs and the actual tapes to someone else for all eternity or could we negotiate about things? The tapes are still very important to me. If I have recorded an album, it’s really important to me that I have at least copies of the original tapes. I don’t know why—I’m just bad at letting go of things.
So basically the same way I got the demo through Suho to Hynninen who gave it Asko, Sami brought Silke to see the gig, and we gave her the tapes. We didn’t think about anything then. It was just “wow, thank you so fucking much”. She was the first foreigner who had said that we were good. And then a few months passed, we were playing at Tavastia, and we had a real light show and everything, and the executives from the record company were there, and they wanted to license our music in Germany. And then we went there. Greatest Lovesongs Vol. 666 came out in Finland in 1997, and a year late, in the fall of 1998, it came out in Germany, and we played our first tour there. It was at that time when Antto Melasniemi quit the band and concentrated in his successful career as a chef.
It’s so cool that the big things that affect your life so much happen because of such little things. That a wonderful lady like Silke, who has tirelessly helped us for so many years and pushed us forward all the time, happened to see that one gig. You don’t have to have a famous manager first or something. That’s why I love our band: everything happens kind of against the rules. Everything has happened through people, and 90 % of it has also happened through friendships. We have made good friends, and we have worked together with them, and when you think of it like that, Silke is kind of like part of the band in the same way that Seppo Vesterinen is part of the band. You can say that we make the music and we are the ones that play on stage, but what we are to people – the whole HIM thing – that includes for example everyone who works here in the office. Because without Tara we wouldn’t be doing this interview. I think that’s interesting and makes this whole career and this whole lifestyle really interesting. All the people you meet, you never know.
Bam Margera is a good example if you want to talk about things like that. There’s some random skater who is in some Jackass show that hadn’t come out in Europe yet, some MTV show where guys do stupid stuff. He flies from Philadelphia to London with his own money to see our gig and comes knocking on the backstage door and says that I’m Bam. And we’re like okay, now fuck off. We didn’t know who he was and it didn’t make any difference. We asked him to drink a few beers with us, and suddenly he started talking about us, getting the same tattoos I have, promoting our band in the US, and putting our music on his own tv show. That way Linde’s project Daniel Lioneye and their song The King of Rock’n Roll became the theme music for Bam’s show Viva La Bam, and as far as I know it’s the Finnish song that’s been played the most times abroad ever. Go, Mikko Lindström! These are all coincidences, but I guess it helps that you have good manners.
Question: Of course you are pretty interesting people. You have a magnetism that appeals to people all over. People go crazy over you in Finland and abroad. What is your secret? [after a long silence] This is one of the easy questions, I know.
Ville: Let’s say that… How can you say it… Okay, you can think of it in one of two ways. You can think that there are some higher powers involved and we are just puppets, but on the other hand, we are really straightforward and unforgiving and honest in our perverseness, and we have never tried to pretend that we are something that we are not. We are what we are, take it or leave it and fuck you [literally: smell shit]. The wind is blowing from here.
Maybe that honesty is what’s essential. None of us has started to play for money or cars or chicks or materialistic reasons but because it makes us feel good when we are feeling bad. I always find a warm home in a song when it’s raining outside symbolically as well, and maybe that shows. I hope so. This is one of those things that if it’s higher math, I don’t want to study that far because I don’t want to take away the magic in what we do. I mean this band wouldn’t exist without me, but it also wouldn’t exist without Mige. This band wouldn’t be where it is now without Silke or without Seppo. There are many factors that are as important as the songs. Understanding that helps. I mean, Bill Gates wouldn’t be Bill Gates without a few assistants who have helped him along the way. Nothing comes from just one person—it’s all about working together and appreciating people who are good at what they do.
Question: Your success has reached incredible proportions. You have sold an unbelievable amount of records abroad compared to what you have sold in Finland. Still Finland has always remained your home, even though you have gotten almost more success abroad than in Finland. What makes you return to Finland?
Ville: The reason why we live here is that people have their wives and kids and parents here and this is our home country. The reason why we have played few gigs here recently is just that the world is such a big place, and we have to go where the iron is hot. Of course since we’ve already played all around Finland, it’s interesting for us to go play in San Francisco for example.
Let’s say that out of the Finnish bands who sing in English, we are perhaps the most Finnish. Maybe that’s why we are respected. We don’t sell as many records as Nightwish. Nightwish is damn good at what they do: the pompous, theatrical metal with heavy soundtrack influences. They do it fantastically, but it’s much more Walt Disney than Timo K. Mukka. We are a lot more unpolished, we are ugly and beautiful at the same time, and I think that appeals to Finns.
Question: But considering what you just said, it’s interesting that you have conquered for example the US which is considered a very different country from Finland and often symbolizes something totally different from what Finns as personalities or characters represent. How did you do that?
Ville: In America, you just have to remember not to show your teeth when you smile unless you have like really white veneers. There the things started through Bam. He talked to his friends, and the word spread in the skate scene. Because I believe that Americans love to find their own bands, it often happens – like it used to in Europe – that when a band becomes mainstream, they start to suck because they aren’t your little secret anymore.
Let’s say that in Finnish popular music, men have never been afraid to say that they hurt and they feel bad too, they are sensitive and not perfect, whereas in America it’s the chicks that whine in the popular culture. Maybe in bedrooms too, I can’t be sure about that. I think admitting we are sensitive is part of our appeal to them because a lot of things are based in materialism there, and it’s a relatively new country with a mixed cultural heritage. There are so many different kinds of people there. There’s something for everybody. You have to remember though that there are like a billion people living there, so we haven’t sold that many albums compared to the size of the population.
It’s an ongoing process to find a way to offer something new in those McDonald’s wrappers. They think they’re getting something familiar, but instead they get a kick at the back of their heads. The idea is to use familiar metaphors but in unfamiliar contexts. That way maybe their brain snaps into a new position, and you make them maybe like something not so usual.
But it’s the same thing with England. England is a very difficult country. When we were liked in Germany, we did a big tour there and made a little money. We spent all that money so that we could go on tour in England at our own expense, not breaking even but losing a lot of money. The record company didn’t want us there, but we went there because we wanted to play in Birmingham because Black Sabbath is from there. We wanted to play in particular places because we thought it would be good for our mental well-being. We have done a lot of that kind of things. Like some tours in America when we just went to play at Roxy and Whiskey a Go Go. It’s pretty cool to think you’re playing on the same stage as Jim Morrison if you can’t find any other positive things about that particular day.
But what I think is interesting in our band and in a lot of other Finnish bands – which is why I believe they will be around for a long time – is that it’s difficult to find an instant success story in Finland. First you show what you can do in Finland and Scandinavia, then maybe in Europe, hopefully in England, and then maybe in America. In a way you have to start all over all the time. We played for 8000 people at a sold-out arena in Germany and the next week for 150 people in a pub in England, and it a) keeps your feet on the ground and b) reminds you why you do it. And then when we got a little success in England, we went to America and played for 200 people once again. It takes a lot of time, but it’s a lot of fun, plus you see the fruits of your labor right in front of you.
Question: What’s most important to you as an artist and to all of you as a band? Is it selling records, doing gigs, traveling, being in Finland? Is it selling gold or platinum?
Ville: I’m tempted to imitate Matti Nykänen and say it’s pussy. What’s most important? [long pause] I don’t actually know. A gold record is an indication that the record company has managed to promote your work so that even people you wouldn’t think would buy it, do buy it. That’s a whole different thing. And so are the gigs. All the guys in the band like different things. I like the phase we are in now, that is making the new record. We smell like shit at our rehearsal place and laugh and tease each other and drink coffee and eat buns. And something comes out of that. Someone bangs something and someone beats the keys on the keyboard and suddenly it sounds like a song. Creating is the most fun. It’s so incredible how it starts from such a small thing and how big it can become. If you think about Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, for example: he has played that song alone on an acoustic guitar somewhere and thought that it is probably pretty good, and then through the radio and everything else, that song has become a significant part of my life and changed my life and made me happy when I’m sad and a little melancholic at other times. That’s the power of music. Not that I want to influence anyone on purpose, but if you can give that kind of an experience to someone, that’s fantastic.
Question: Are these the kinds of things that you dream of for the future and what you want to accomplish as a band? Of course you have already caused the kind of visions that you where just talking about with your music and your songs. There must be hundreds of thousands of people who can say the same for your songs, but…
Ville: We don’t know that for certain, and that’s why we don’t believe it, and that’s why we have to keep going…
Question: Oh c’mon now… So what happens now? Where are you searching for your future kicks?
Ville: [long pause] Well, I’ve made songs for like the past four years that we are rehearsing now, and I’ve spent every last bit of energy in making music and not sitting in a pub, and that has been a bit of a change for me in my attitude towards the new music. We had a damn good rehearsal yesterday and we were supposed to have one today, but Burton has fever. My dream is that we get to make a record that’s really good and that’s it. When the record is done, it’s out of our hands. Let’s say that a lot of good records were forgotten when the airplanes hit the Twin Towers, meaning that what happens in the world also affects how music is received, so there are a lot of things that don’t depend on us. When our music is on a cd or available as an mp3, it’s out of our hands, and all we can do is play those songs live.
Let’s just hope that some of the songs mean so much to someone that he or she wants us to play in that city and tells enough friends that we have to get this band to play here that we do have to go play there, and that way we get to visit a new place. I don’t know if that made sense… It would be nice to go play in South America. We have already been to Mexico. And we have only been to Japan once, so it would be nice to go back there. We’re just trying to find our path to happiness through work, as boring as that sounds.
PARTE I - PARTE III