Friday, March 10, 2023

What It's Like to Create a Solo Album for the First Time with VILLE VALO

In this episode of The Rock Metal Podcast, we're chatting with VV (Ville Valo) about his new album ‘Neon Noir’ out now via Heartagram Records, distributed by UMG / Spinefarm. 

During our chat we touch on a lot of great tips for musicians, such as what it’s like to create a solo album for the first time.

'Neon Noir' was written, produced, engineered, and performed by Ville Valo (Helsinki), co-produced and Mixed by Tim Palmer at Studio 62 (Austin, Texas), mastered by Justin Shturtz at Sterling Sound (New York City), art by Ville Valo with Rami Mursula, published by Heartagram.

For fans of HIM, The 69 Eyes, The Rasmus, Charon.


Guest Resource - Connect with VV (Ville Valo)!

Guest Music Video

3 Heavy Hitters

1. Develop the skills necessary to worry about the trees, as well as the forest when creating art

2. Create authentic music with unique equipment and allowing the music to have quirks and blemishes

3. Finish your songs into an album to release to the world, rather than letting them lay dormant on a hard drive


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Show Notes // Transcript

Jon Harris: Vile, thank you so much for coming on today. Go ahead and say hi to all of our beautiful listeners. 

Ville Valo: Howdy one and all, thanks for having me. It's an incredible honour to be back in the land of the living and spread the gospel of melancholy tunes. To be honest, we're working on butts off to make sure that we're going to visit your lovely country as well later on in the year. Since we're not playing Canada on the first trek, the first North American leg of the Neon Noir tour. So that doesn't mean that we have forgotten you. 

Jon Harris: Well, thank you so much for not forgetting us here in dear old Canada. I can't wait to have you come and visit. Now, let's go ahead and jump right into this record, Neon Noir. I went ahead and gave it a listen. Absolutely incredible. And I'm curious, what was the greatest moment for you producing this record, Ville? 

Ville Valo: The fact that I didn't have to check on anybody's timetable when we can rehearse and when we can work on the album. So working on it by myself enabled me to be just as egocentric as one should when creating an album. So I stayed up. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I was able to stay up until 06:00 in the morning recording some silly handclaps or whatever might take my fancy at that time. So it's pretty special working that way and something that's very new to me. But at the same time, that's what I was missing. I was missing the camaraderie and the friendship and the other things besides music that are so important in having a band, you know, hanging out and having a shoulder to cry on. I was just playing on my, you know, my computer monitor. But it doesn't quite feel the same. 

Jon Harris: Okay, let's unpackage that statement. It doesn't quite feel the same. So working by yourself for the first time, staying up until 06:00, a.m. Recording, hand claps or whatever, but Ville first time working by yourself, take us through that.

Ville Valo: With the band as well. You have to remember that usually when you have five band members, there's always somebody having a problem is getting a babysitter or something is going down in life in general. And I remember when we started working on our last album, it was like, if you actually take the calendar in your hands, sit down with five guys, all of a sudden you realize there's not a lot of days we can rehearse because everybody's got so many things going on because of families and because of whatever. So other activities. So working by myself, that wasn't a question at all. It enabled me to spend as much time on as minute details as I would love to. And then to the other point is the fact that this comes out, or came out rather on my own label. So Spinefarm are doing the distribution, and Universal Music here in Finland, but the label is Heartagram Records, so I didn't have any A&Rs, I didn't have any artistic meetings with anybody, and I was given free reign regarding cover artwork and the music. And of course, I do like to work with record company people because at times it's good to have somebody who sees the forest for the trees. Who can give you another perspective on the music because as an artist, you're supposed to be lost in the making of it and at times, you get a bit too far off your own whatever. 

Jon Harris: Well, and you bring up some really good points there, Ville, especially for our listeners who are musicians themselves, I mean, who resonates right now with hard to get members together to rehearse because of life events and the convenience of working by yourself, being able to spend as much time as possible on minute details, as you had put it. Don't have anybody to answer to. No A&Rs, no artistic meetings, free rein on everything, including the artwork. But as you had mentioned as well, though, labels are helpful, and it's helpful to have somebody there to keep the perspective and see the perspective. As you had said, artists can get lost in the making of their art. Which takes me to my next question. Ville, was that a challenge for you or what was the challenge for you producing this record? 

Ville Valo: Yeah, I think it's a challenge sort of losing the perspective just as much as you need to, whenever you need to. It's like a superpower sort of thing. And I've been working on it for many years. It's the same thing as knowing when to finish. When you're done with something, like you're just putting icing on the icing on the cake, it doesn't actually make it different. It's just small.  That's something that I've learned along the way. But, yeah, it's tough. And I like ear candy, so I like little tiny details, and too many of 

Jon Harris: Well, and that's an incredible statement. A superpower to know when to lose the forest for the trees when you need to and bring it back, like knowing when to it's time to put the icing on the cake. And then, of course, you mentioned ear candy, which we'll get into in a little bit. But, I mean, for me, the blank page of creating an album would seem like a challenge to me. 

Ville Valo: I think the idea of all of a sudden creating an album from scratch, that was the most insane challenge I've ever put myself up to. Because when you actually don't have anything, it just sounds unattainable. It sounds very abstract and it sounds insane as a task. But I think it was quite hard to finish the whole thing when you're, like, halfway through. And during the pandemic, when people had sort of especially musicians, we had started to lose faith because we lost the second summer of festivals. So it seemed that it's a never ending thing, so there was no end in sight, and still, at the same time, tried to keep the creative energy going. It wasn't the easiest thing to do, but I think that was the biggest challenge. So, like, actually make sure that I would get the whole thing finished, that it would actually turn into an album, not just some haphazard, semi finished songs lying somewhere on a hard drive. 

Jon Harris: Yeah, I mean, come on musicians listening in right now. How familiar does that sound? Just a bunch of songs lying on a hard drive somewhere, where rather than finishing them, turning them into an album and then getting an interview on The Rock Metal Podcast. I mean, why not, right? Why not? Now, we mentioned ear candy earlier on, I heard hand claps and appreciated that you stayed up until 06:00 a.m. recording hand claps. So, just so you know, it resonated with someone halfway around the world. 

Ville Valo: Imagine just a hand clap. 

Jon Harris: Just a hand clap.

Ville Valo: It's a lot of hand claps. I love that sort of not only the 80s, but also the hip hop fight, where you have a lot of clap or used to have a lot of claps in the early 90s. So so, and I grew up with also listen to quite a bit of hip hop, not understanding the lyrics at all back in the 80s, like Eric B and Rakim's Follow The Leader, that was one of the first vinyl I got when I got into that sort of music. So I fell in love with the sound of the Oberheim DX, the drum machine. A lot of rap artists Run DMC used it quite a bit. And then a very similar drum machine was used by A New Order and the Sisters of Mass. It's very lofi in a very crunchy and a beautiful way, so I use that stuff too. A lot of old school drum machines come together with the real hand claps. And now you can see why it took until 06:00 in the morning, haha.

Jon Harris: Haha, well, I mean, very cool. Shout out to some old school drum machines doing some low fi claps, mixing them in with the real hand claps. So you obviously mentioned a bit of gear, which drives my curiosity. Ville, were there any other pieces of equipment that you used on the record? Did anything surprise you? 

Ville Valo: There was a ton of lessons learned, because I haven't really recorded a proper for I recorded some vocals, track vocals for a few backing vocal thing is for my friends and some lead vocals myself. But I think it was the entirety of it, because at the end of the day a good hand clap sounds better with a great snare sound. So as in music, it needs to stack. And if you have a great, let's say once again hand clap sound by itself, it doesn't necessarily make any sense. You have to have a great song around it and it has to serve a purpose and has to have a need. And if there's a handclap there's massive sound with a lot of bass and bottom ended really boomy, then the snare can't be really booming because otherwise they're going to fight each other. Stupid and simple example. I know, but it's a millions of those in one song and I think that it's just professionals don't really speak of them because they don't need to. It's second nature. But to me it wasn't so much. So there was a lot of firsts on this one. Regarding I'm an analog guy. I record onto ProTools. That's my recording medium. But I have an API desk, 16 eight, like a 32 channel analog board. And all my effects, like a lot of the effects you hear on the album are not plugins, they print it. I have a lot of late 70s digital stuff in classic Lexicon and AMS and all those reverbs that Universal Audio makes. So I have all that stuff in hardware because I think to me it does sound better and it makes the creative process more enjoyable. It's just those little tiny we're looking for the beauty spots, the beauty marks, the little tiny imperfections. That's what makes music interesting. So it's tough, tough to get that stuff if you're working completely in the box. But then again, once again I'm I'm maybe I'm just a tad too old my the evolution had hadn't sort of like developed into the state where my fingers would be evolved enough to sort of spend 24/7 on a mouse. So rather my hands want to work on like real old school big knobs and faders and such. 

Jon Harris: Yeah, nothing wrong with that. And then you get something unique in time that's printed that, you know, there it was, there it is. 

Ville Valo: Yeah. I think the important point about all of this is like, at least in my case, most of the albums that are on my top ten, they're weird sounding albums. I love the Misfits, I love the all Black Sabbath albums, all Black Sabbath stuff and the Depeche Mode. And they had very unique sounds and they weren't generic. They weren't like everybody else. That's what makes them classics. So I think it's important to try to go the take the road less traveled, as they say, you know, and that might mean we're going to end up staying up until 06:00 in the morning just to, you know, find the right little handclaps or whatever. There might be temporary good example as well, but but it's worth it because hopefully it makes the entirety of the album sound, in a positive sense, out of step. It doesn't sound like what is going on in that particular genre of music today. That's what I don't want to do. I want it to sound unique and organic and I want to sound like myself. Warts and all. 

Jon Harris: Warts and all baby looking for the beauty marks and the imperfections. Great albums weren't generic and that's what makes them classics. How would you define success at this stage of your career, Ville?

Ville Valo: Honestly, I think regarding success, there's so many it's a multilayered beast because there's a process of working on the art and that's something that's very personal, that's something that what you are hearing is to prove that I actually had to make that session. But there's a lot of wasted tracks and a lot of wasted hours, a lot of blood, sweat and tears that make the process very personal. And that process in itself is very important because that was big evolutionary moment for me and a learning lesson. I think that was a big success in that sort of sense. But then I think the next step is obviously the next step was to get the album out. And now the next step from this point on is to be able to talk. And we just played the first three gigs here in Helsinki about a week and a half ago and they went really well. And I'm feeling really positive because touring is not hard, but I've never been super confident or comfortable with it. It's great that we rehearsed a ton and people seem to enjoy the set and all that. That's a good thing in my book. So there's various degrees of success. Not only degrees, but sort of like parallel paths. So there's not a one single barometer of success that I guess. So, of course, I like myself to be the first artist on the moon, shaking my strut and being number one everywhere and do that sort of thing. But I do have to be a bit realistic as well. So otherwise it's all going it's just a domino effect, a series of disappointments. 

Jon Harris: Yeah, you mentioned a lot of really good things. I mean, just being able to do the record the 
way that you did it, getting the album out, learning as much as you did. I mean, there's so many cool things. 

Ville Valo: Yeah, you're absolutely right. But at the end of the day, if you're thinking in terms of bread on the table, there's, like, the spiritual journeys and then there's sort of like monetary journeys and everything in between. And commerce and art, they don't go very well together. It's like the hemispheres of the brain, the sort of creative and the more mathematical part. But, yeah, I'm trying to make it all work and it's looking good. A thing I'm really happy about in the larger scale is the fact that it's not a given or if it's not something I or whomever can take for granted. But after all these years, being away from the realm of rock and roll, that people would still remember my name and actually listen to the music and actually go and listen and buy the album stuff. It's pretty darn amazing. And on the tour now, this spring, a lot of the gigs have been selling out, especially in Europe, and few of them in the States. It's amazing. It's amazing to have this sort of pass that up that's not completely hated by everybody. It's a weird position to be in, but I'm not complaining. 

Jon Harris: Yeah. And honestly, I'm not surprised either. I mean, it's one of those things where one day in high school I'm watching MTV and it's you, and then the next day it's like, I'm sorry, I'm chatting with whom today? How did I get here? So the fact that you're still relevant, that says a lot.

Ville Valo: Thank you. One of those things is like, I would have never guessed myself a few years back that I would be here doing this. What I do love about being in the in the music not necessarily business, but in the world of music doing doing my little thing here is the fact that it that it is still a full of surprises. There's a lot of u-turns and there's weird, weird twists and turns and successful and less successful punchlines along the way. So I'm happy. I'm happy being here now. 

Jon Harris: Yeah, that's good. And I mean, as you said, ville music full of a lot of surprises. U-turns weird twists and turns, successful and less successful punchlines along the way. What's the one thing or the number one thing you want people to do right now, Ville? 

Ville Valo: What I'm hoping is that we can hopefully brush the past few years aside, forget all about it and go forwards. And I'm hoping that people will be healthy. That's not a spiritual message. It's just a vibey thing that I think it's important anyway, to all of us. And at the end of the day, I can't do what I do. You can't do what you do, if we're sucked into another black hole like Pandemic with the war that is pretty close to us as well here in Europe, let's say that the world doesn't go any less crazy. So music is a good way to at least for me to get away from it all at times. And I hope and I hope that music in general and in this case, obviously my music would be like a safe haven and a shelter on a bad day on a rainy day, or however you want to put it. So so if on top of that, you want to buy a ticket to a gig or or get the album, you know, please do so. It'll. Just enable me to continue doing this. 

Jon Harris: Absolutely. So go ahead and head over to, there you can get today's show notes, all of the extra goodies, music videos, everything that you need in order to be able to connect with Ville. All right, Ville. Thank you so much for coming on to The Rock Metal Podcast today. 

Ville Valo: Oh, no. Thank you very much for having me. 


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