The Hives Break Out (2004-07-18 Newsweek Magazine)
A decade ago the hives started playing in punk bars near their tiny, woodsy hometown of Fagersta, Sweden. It would be fair to say that not everybody warmed to them. "The fact that we wore suits was enough to piss people off because they thought we were bankers," says singer Howlin' Pelle Almqvist. "It didn't help that we would then announce we were better than anything they'd ever heard, and launch into a really short set for, like, 25 minutes at maximum energy. People were used to hour-and-a-half-long rock jams with no energy whatsoever. They'd feel cheated, and jump on stage to beat us up. It was like, 'Go ahead, bruise me, but don't touch the suit. I have a show tomorrow.'" Almqvist pauses. "We've always taken the Muhammad Ali approach to rock, and called ourselves the greatest band ever," he says. "We were just waiting for everyone else to realize it."
The Hives, with their ecstatic guitar riffs, their white spats and their Colonel Sanders ties, are certainly the most charismatic--if not stylized--rock phenomenon in years. The band first made it on to America's radar a few years back, part of a garage-rock renaissance that also included the Strokes, the White Stripes and the Vines. All the bands' names seemed interchangeable--code language for cool--but the Hives set themselves apart with their CD "Veni Vidi Vicious," which went on to sell 400,000 copies. Now their new label, Interscope, is banking on the band's follow-up, the fabulously scrappy and engaging "Tyrannosaurus Hives," to become the rock album of the year. Needless to say, the band members are not shrinking from the challenge. "Our last album, 'Veni Vidi Vicious'--which was, you know, Caesar's victory cry--was designed to be the record we conquered the world with. I think it worked out quite well, don't you?" says Almqvist. "We called our new album 'Tyrannosaurus Hives' because we are so huge."
The quintet, all of whom claim to be "25ish," formed back in 1994, when grunge music ruled radio and most major label rosters. "We never liked grunge," says Almqvist. "We decided to do the exact opposite--to dress up instead of down and be life-affirming instead of life-destroying. We decided everybody needed a rock band with a libido." The Hives put out a number of releases on independent labels while gradually attracting a following thanks to their incendiary live performances. (Almqvist is a frenetic showman onstage--it doesn't hurt that he looks like a young Jagger--and often tells audiences how much they love the Hives even when they've never heard of the Hives.) In 2000, "Veni Vidi Vicious" was released on a very small scale by the obscure L.A. punk label Epitaph. The band then blew up in England and American hipsters made it their mission to get their hands on one of the scarce CDs. "At the time I think there were only, like, 10 albums in each state," says drummer Chris Dangerous. So Warner's Sire Records re-released "Veni" on a grand scale, and a bidding war ensued over the album that would become "Tyrannosaurus Hives." None of this would have been possible but for the fact that the Hives had, from the beginning, adamantly refused to sing in Swedish. "The best rock bands always sing in English," says Dangerous. "It's a lot cooler to say 'Oh, yeah' than 'Owe yaw.' "
The Hives's new single, "Walk Idiot Walk," blends nervy punk and new-wave quirkiness. Like most of the album, it's a pure adrenaline blast and, as always, their animated frontman is a welcome break from the self-pitying shlump rock of chart-toppers like Incubus. Almqvist is an entertainer through and through. On "Diabolic Scheme" you can almost picture the lanky singer quivering, shaking and dropping to his knees, a la Screaming Jay Hawkins, when howling melodramatic lines like,"You had me for a moment, grab hold while you can." According to Almqvist, it's important to stay in character at all times. "It always seems wrong not to wear our outfits when we play. That's why we wore them in the studio while we recorded 'Tyrannosaurus.' We figured it was just one more way to be very dedicated, even when no one is looking."
The band made the new CD the way they always do: in a small studio near Fagersta. They labored over the songs for almost a year, and tested each track Hives-style. As Dangerous puts it, "You can tell it's good if a 3-year-old nods his head to it. It's a simple but effective test." The Hives cut the entire record in two weeks, playing each song live with as few retakes as possible. "It's just the way music should be made," says Almqvist. "If we went to L.A. to record in the biggest studio for four months, it would be admitting that our whole MO was wrong to start with--and we never admit we're wrong."