Ten years. That’s how long it had been since Ville Valo last put out an album, back when he was part of the revered and successful gothic-infused melodic rock band HIM. Four years after the band released 2013’s Tears on Tape, the members of HIM went their separate ways. Though Ville maintained a presence in the music world, he didn’t release a proper solo project — until the arrival of Neon Noir in January. “What I think the special thing was for me when working on the new album was the fact that for the first time in a long, long time, I was able to, in a very childlike fashion, lose myself in music,” he tells HollywoodLife about this collection.
“There wasn’t a lot of noise around me besides the music, and I was able to just at least truly lose myself in it,” he continues. “I’d just forget about the world outside, and I think that that’s very healthy. That’s something that I might have forgotten along the way. And then again, with bands, there is the noise of communication and the camaraderie, and there’s always something going on — which is endearing because that is how it’s supposed to be when you’re in a band of brothers who have known each other for all their lives. There’s so much more than just music involved.”
“But regarding the new album, I didn’t have that,” says VV. “Nobody was calling me and telling me to pick up any Starbucks orders or anything like that, which is part of the studio sort of everyday life. So I was really able to get down to the nitty-gritty, but also, to the big, bold brush strokes sort of why am I doing this and what makes not necessarily me tick, but what makes this whole combination tick?”
Neon Noir does feel like a renewal. The voice that helped define rock and metal in the late ’90s/early 2000s shines throughout the album. The album has refined Ville’s natural charisma, focusing his distinct songwriting voice into the strongest it’s ever been. The music is enchanting, with a dash of humor and darkness.
Does he feel like this album has led him to discover ‘why he’s doing this?’ “Oh, I think I do because it lets me do it,” he tells HL, “meaning that music has been a very forgiving and incredibly generous muse all along. It’s how I see or hear the world and how I interpret the world. And it’s always been my, not necessarily a crutch, but sort of a helping hand.”
“Music has been the shoulder for me to cry on for many an occasion, and it’s always given me a reason to wake up in the morning,” he says. “And I think that everybody has a thing. It might be family, for some people, it might be their work or a passion.” For Ville, it’s music.
He admitted that there was a moment when he “wasn’t sure whether I’m able to pull it off and create any music that would resonate with myself, and with anybody else.” He says, “I went back to that original sort of primal scream-type emotions. And I think that was the [benefit] of COVID because probably without it, I wouldn’t have myself been pushed into that corner and made to think all those things, those existential questions. But once again, trying to find something positive out of the negative.”
Neon Noir is a blessed marriage of opposites and contradictions. “In Trenodia” soars with beauty, leaving the listener in a haze akin to basking in the orange glow of a lover’s sunset. Yet, as the song peaks, VV sings, “High on the dying sun we are, high on the dying sun.” It is, as he sings, “a love song for the lost and lonely / A monody for all lovelorn hearts.” It’s beautiful and melancholy, joyous and sad.
While Ville has always walked in that space where those contrasting forces meet, he says that this time around, “there’s a certain ease, and you might even want to call it grace” with Neon Noir. “It’s not forced. For me, that’s how the album sounds. It doesn’t sound forced at all; it all sounds very natural.”
“A lot of times, especially when I was younger, when you have contrasting elements where you have that juxtaposition going on at times, it really easily feels forced. But, on this album, for whatever reason, I think that it feels very natural. And to have those contradicting at times melodies coming together with words that don’t seemingly fit and that creates a new sort of perspective or new realization, that’s exactly what I was hoping for,” he says.
“But, it’s not something that I could do – it’s not a muscle, it’s not something I could just decide that I now I’m going to do that. I’m not clever enough for that,” he says. It’s not a muscle, it’s not something I could decide that now I’m going to do that. I’m not clever enough for that. So I was happy to find the trinodia, the word that doesn’t exist.”
“Trinodia,” VV shares, is an alternative to utopia and dystopia. “In Trinodia,” he says, is “a solo vocal piece, which is very sad. So I thought that trinodia is my utopia, the world of a sad song. And that’s where we are safe, and that’s where we are high on the dying sun. We keep on repeating like a mandala, we keep on repeating these truths and half-truths.”
“And that’s, in a way, because I find us quite messed up by human beings,” he adds. “There’s some sort of endearing quality to it. If the human species, if we’d superheroes, I think that our super quality would be the ability to instantaneously f–k everything up. And we realize it, and we still keep on doing it. It’s amazing. And I’m doing my best. I’m not greater. It’s not how I want to be, but I’m too old for the barricade. My knees can’t take it anymore.”
“It’s like some David Lynch movies or whatever from back when,” he muses. “I always used them as a reference, or even a better reference might be Blade Runner. I’ve been thinking about it because somebody asked me if Neon Noir would be like a movie, what movie would represent it? I think Blade Runner is a cool example and a cool way to start a discussion because it incorporates so many different genres and does this seamlessly. And the fact that it does have heart and it does have the sentiment, which is quite rare in that type of a film.”
“Then it has that Philip Marlowe sort of film noir thing going on and then that high-tech stuff and everything between. I think that’s, in that sense, it’s a perfect film, and in that sense, it maybe describes something that I was maybe unknowingly but yet wanting to create somehow.”
VV has been sharing that vision with North American audiences since the start of April when he kicked off essentially his first headlining tour as a solo act. When the month-long tour concludes, he will prepare for Sick New World, the epic one-day festival in Las Vegas. Boasting System of a Down, Korn, Deftones, and Incubus, the festival captures that late ’90s, early 2000s rock, with a dash of modern acts – Turnstile, Death Grips, Spiritbox, Scowl – among some legends like The Sisters of Mercy, Skinny Puppy, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Killing Joke, and KFMDM.
“We’ve been laughing about it,” he says. “Everybody I know who’s playing there is laughing about the fact that all wish they could get the schedule sorted out really early so they know when they can watch all their favorites. So it seems their own gigs are the secondary experience there, but we’re fans as well.”
“We’re playing a lot of 50-50 between the new and the old stuff,” he says of his tour, how he’s playing not just Neon Noir but also some classic HIM tracks. “And then the set is like zig-zagging between, so there’s a new song, and then we go back a decade or two, and it seems to work really well, and the audience seem to really like it, at least in Europe. So I’m hoping that it’ll work in the States too.”
“The band is playing great,” he adds. “I’m hopeful that it will resonate and the people will hear and hopefully feel what we’re feeling too. And it’s a tall order, I know and easier said than done, but we’re willing to try, and fingers crossed.”
While it’s very likely that Neon Noir has and will continue to resonate with fans – both of HIM and the ‘love metal’ sound VV pioneered – the album is already a success in his mind. “I think the big deal regarding the album is that I was able to make it,” he says. “Not necessarily even, not anymore whether it’s any good, but the fact that I was able to pull it off because it was quite a tall order when I started. And I’m really happy that I’m on this side of it now, especially coming on tour to be able to live those emotions with the emotions from the days of yore with some of the HIM stuff. And it’s incredibly nice to be in this sort of mental space now. The stars are aligned for whatever reason, I don’t know. But I want to keep writing that wave until the wave is out.”