When HIM frontman Ville Valo asked LA Ink’s Kat Von D to tattoo three hedonistic writers on his right forearm—American author Charles Bukowski, French poet Charles Baudelaire, and Finnish novelist Timo K. Mukka—the characters were supposed to represent role models for Valo’s own decadent lifestyle. Between 1997 and 2007, the Finnish singer had spent only “about two weeks sober,” and while his drinking didn’t impair his creativity or productivity, it certainly decimated his health. In September 2007, when HIM finished mixing the brooding, metallic Venus Doom album, Valo was at death’s door.
“I went to a doctor who said I was going to have heart failure if I didn’t stop drinking and that I should go into an emergency room right away—to which I replied, ‘That sounds great, but I don’t have the time because I’ve got interviews to do,’” Valo says.
Soon after, the singer did check into a celebrity rehab center in Malibu, CA. And to the shock of many, he completely sobered up. He’s been clean now for two and a half years, and today the hedonists on his arm are a reminder of how low he’s liable to sink again if he’s not careful. But while getting sober has greatly improved his physical health, it’s come at a price. Not going to bars has left him with nowhere else to go, and being unable to dull his emotional pain with alcohol has made him feel anxious, depressed, and vulnerable. These emotions are evident in abundance on HIM’s new album, Screamworks: Love in Theory and Practice, a bittersweet disc that shivers with melancholy and clamors for redemption.
Catchier and more sonically eclectic than Venus Doom, songs like “Shatter Me With Hope” and “Ode to Solitude” are still loud, rife with buzzing power-chord volleys, cutting guitar lines, and granite-solid beats. But much of the music is woven with darkwave keyboards, layered guitar, and piercing pop hooks. And while Valo still mopes and screams like a cross between a depressed goth and a teary emo brat, his vocals are generally as infectiously tuneful as Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan.
The evening after his 33rd birthday, the clearheaded vocalist picked up the phone at his home in Helsinki to talk with INKED about his history with tattoos, the creation of Screamworks, why he almost drank himself to an early grave, and how he still smiles at funerals.
INKED: Your band logo, the heartagram, is a popular tattoo. Where did it come from?
VILLE VALO: I came up with that design on the day I turned 20. I remember showing it to people and saying, “Now I finally got a cool logo for the band.” It’s ridiculous the amount of people I’ve seen it tattooed on over the years. It’s a great honor.
Were you intentionally trying to combine a symbol of love with one of evil?
The irony of it is that the pentagram is only the symbol of the devil in Christian propaganda and in Hollywood cinema. If you search for the origins of that symbol, it doesn’t necessarily have to do with any religious forces. And I’m not a religious person, so for me it was just a combination of Mötley Crüe’s Shout at the Devil coming together with something like “Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear” by Elvis Presley—something overly cheesy and sentimental combining with something way more macho.