Something strange happened outside New York's Irving Plaza before System of a Down's May 9 gig.
On this overcast evening, before the venue's doors were opened, a gaggle of System fans had gathered along Irving Place in long lines to chain-smoke feverishly, given that it'd be a while before they'd be able to light up again. All of a sudden, the monotone hum of hundreds of casual conversations was interrupted by two screeching teenage girls outfitted in the latest goth-wear.
The duo rushed up to a rail-thin man with a cigarette dangling from his mouth and started groping and hugging him. Both were wide-eyed and shaking uncontrollably, with mascara bleeding down their cheeks, panting "Oh my God" over and over again. The dude, H.I.M. frontman Ville Valo, indulged them for a minute and then continued toward the much shorter V.I.P. line, leaving the girls wilted.
Apparently, this happens to Valo all the time, at least in Europe. "What can I say?" the singer asked, before laughing devilishly. If all goes well, the phenomenon could become more widespread: H.I.M. launched a U.S. tour on Wednesday in Portland, Oregon, with Finch and Skindred in opening slots.
On September 27, the Finnish goth-rock quintet released Dark Light, its first proper U.S. release. The band's previous efforts — Greatest Lovesongs, Vol. 666 (1997), Razorblade Romance (2000), Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights (2002) and Love Metal (2003) — were not initially released Stateside, although they were reissued in the U.S. several months ago.
"This time around, we got rid of the condoms," Valo, speaking from a pub in Amsterdam, said — metaphorically — of recording with producer Tim Palmer (Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Plant). "I mean, we weren't afraid to experiment. We weren't afraid to just go for it. We felt so confident as a band that we knew we could work together and have a great f---ing time doing it.
"All we did was talk about porn films [with Palmer]," the singer added. "My daddy owns a sex shop in Helsinki, and I was working there for a little while. Now I'm selling records, but before that, I was selling sex toys. It's the only other job I've had besides music. But it helped with the record, because you need things in common. We'd be talking about Black Sabbath and then porno."
As it happens, the album was recorded in the Paramour, a Los Angeles mansion built in 1923 by silent film star Antonio Moreno which has housed everything from a nunnery to a school for wayward girls since its erection. "They'd double-booked the whole place, so at the same time, Playboy was shooting films there," Valo explained. "So we're in this nunnery where Playboy models were hanging around, and we were talking about porn and recording a rock record — pretty good combination, you know?"
A few weeks ago in Los Angeles, H.I.M. shot a video for "Wings of a Butterfly," the first single off Dark Light, with director Meiert Avis (Audioslave, Avril Lavigne). In the video, H.I.M. perform from behind custom-made stands topped with magnifying glasses that not only twist the images of the bandmembers but cast the group's heartagram logo across a gothic city — kind of like when Chief O'Hara summons Batman in times of grave danger.
That heartagram symbol is actually the reason H.I.M. are coming to America. Valo scratched it down on a piece of paper more than eight years ago, and his biggest fan, skateboarding prankster Bam Margera, co-opted it as his own icon — it's emblazoned across Bam's cars, his homes and his merchandise and can be found tattooed on the arms, chests and backs of his eager followers. That H.I.M. are known first for that symbol, second as Bam's favorite band and a distant third for their tunes doesn't bother Valo one bit.
"We're the first band on Earth more well-known for its symbol than the actual music, and that's a great way to start," he said. "Bam's a friend. We'll always be Bam's favorite band. A lot of people claim they do their music for themselves. We claim that all of the albums we write, we do for Bam. The heartagram is not Bam's symbol. If people like us because of Bam, that's fantastic. If they like us for who we are, that's fantastic, too. I don't really have a problem with that."