The Hives Q&A (2012 V Music)
By Pip Cowley
Swedish garage rockers The Hives are back for their third time at Falls Festival over New Year's. This time around, the five-piece come armed with new album Lex Hives, which is their most "Hives" album to date, featuring thumping rock hits that they're so well-known for. We caught up with frontman Howlin' Pelle Almqvist to talk groupies, Nirvana and self-producing Lex Hives.
Where are you and what are you up to?
I'm in a tour bus in Glasgow, Scotland at the moment. We just played a show there. Now we're about to depart for London. There's a disco going on outside of the show. There's a lot of people around from the UK and the British Isle wearing very little clothing when they go out. I can't believe it because it’s pretty cold.
Do you run into a lot of groupies?
When our show's done, they've probably left because we've been hanging out in the dressing room drinking a bit. I mean, yeah, I guess we do. We don't pay much attention now - we're old guys. Ha ha.
Oh come on! So are the groupies as good as what they used to be?
I mean I wouldn't know. I don't dabble in that sort of thing - I don’t partake. Ha ha.
Oh come on…
No, I mean, I have when I have been single. But I'm not now, so I don’t.
So, how have you perfected being the best band in the world?
How did it happen? Well, you know it's trial and error. It's taken a long time - 20 years of trial and error. Mostly error. You just have to know when it's an error and not right. Ha ha.
What's the biggest error you've ever made?
Well, you know, mostly our errors have been failing to do something good. You know, when you shoot for the stars and you really try to have a big ambition about what a show is going to be like and it falls short. But then if it falls short it can be absolutely fantastic, you know regular fantastic, which is usually good enough. But I don't have any examples of, "We did this very badly" and also I don't think we would be the greatest band alive if we admitted to doing something wrong. Ha ha. The biggest error would be admitting we did something wrong, if we ever did.
Interscope predicted you were going to be the next Nirvana, which was very ambitious of them. Do you think there really is room for another Nirvana now?
No. I mean my version of that is that things only ever happen once. There's one Elvis, there's one Nirvana, there's one The Hives. I don't think anything ever happen twice. You can't say that Nirvana was the next Elvis or the next The Beatles.
Are there any bands out there now that you think have that same capacity to have the same or similar success? It seems to be the Justin Biebers and One Directions of the world who are achieving this. What's happening to rock'n'roll?
That's always the way it seems. I'm sure when The Beatles came along, Pat Boone was huge, you know [Pat Boone being the Justin Bieber of his time]. What I'm saying is, mainstream music is always pretty shit, but then once in a while something pops up that's good. Having said that, I'm not a huge Beatles fan, you know. Ha ha. For me, they're a bunch of guys who play music. That hysteria I think was more a sign of the times than a sign of them being The Beatles. And I think the same thing with Nirvana - that it's just a group of guys who made a record and it was very good timing. If you make a good record at the right time and there's a cultural shift that happens... It's not because of five guys in a band - it's because millions of people want it to happen. Do you know what I'm saying? It's not something The Beatles did, it's something that all the fans contributed to. It belongs to the people way more than it belongs to The Beatles or Nirvana, with that whole shift. With that Nirvana album, there were Pixies albums that were really good that came out around the same time or before it, but it didn't happen for them then. I guess it takes the lead singer and it takes a lot of people to want it to make it happen to reach that mass.
And I suppose it has a bit to do with how much a record label wants to push your album to.
No but, yeah it does have a little bit to do with that, but I don't think the record label before... I mean, I'm sure the first video budget or first marketing budget for that first Nirvana record wasn't as big as it was later. I think the record labels react to what the people want. They don't decide if Nirvana's going to be big.
You guys decided to self-produce your latest album. Tell me why you made that decision.
Every time we make an album we have to feel like it's a new album - that we're not using the same things and doing the same things. We have to feel like we're doing something new, otherwise it's hard for us to get excited about it. Our album before the latest one, we used a lot of producers and that was a way to make it fresher. Then what happens is that different people produce a bunch of the songs and we use a lot of producers to see where that can take us. Then I guess, the natural progression after that is to self-produce it. We felt like we've been in the studio enough and we were basically very into just having us play the album as a whole. We would write the songs, learn the songs and then record them as we would play them live, basically, with singing and drumming, all at the same time. And it sounds very exciting to decide to do that. So therefore, if it is exciting, then we must be on to something, so we go with the people who like it and are excited by it too. So we kind of knew what kind of album we wanted to do and it just formed from there. It was probably the most DIY album of all time. We wanted to take the photos, you know, do the album cover - we wanted to do everything ourselves. It felt pretty good.
Did it take some of the pressure off not having a major label involved? Were you more free, or did you feel like there was more pressure this time?
Well, when we were on the huge label, they really didn't mess with our business. When we made an album for them, we basically made it and then gave it to them and said, "Hey, this is what we want you to see". We never really had a record label that wanted to change what we did that much. I mean, maybe they did want to, but never had the guts to tell us. But in saying all of that, it feels pretty cool to be self-sufficient - if that works. I mean, in this day and age it totally can work - you just need to make use of the people who are excited about it.
It is a very "Hives" sounding record and you have remained fairly consistent in sound across each album. Was that the ambition for this record, to have it filled with those banging Hives hits that crowds really react to live? Would you ever go in a different direction in terms of sound?
The thing is, half the interviews I do people say that, "Oh this record is really different from the last", and the other half, people say it's the same. So I don't know. We just kind of make the record that we're excited by making. It was like, something we talked about, "What is the most Hives record we can make?" which helps us look forward. 'Cos you know, the last album was kind of schizophrenic. I think we kind of wanted to make as "Hives" an album as we could and this is what we came up with. So if there was an ambition to say, "What is The Hives?" then this is it and keep it really simple, then play it live. But, that doesn't mean our next album will be like that. It's a band with a pretty strong identity - you can usually tell within a few seconds if it's a Hives song or not. That means some people think all the songs sound similar and to some it's not the same - it's all in the eyes of the beholder. This is what we like, [rock'n'roll] music, and this is the way we wanted to be and this is how we wanted it to do it. And any band that's good at what they do and have a thing that they do like The Ramones or AC/DC, what we consider classic bands, all have a sound and we have a sound. We're probably going to be using it to some extent.
How did you come up with the characters in your band and your live performances, which are unique, unlike a lot of bands?
Bit by bit I guess - as I said earlier, by trial and error. But it was also from being bored of seeing bands not doing anything. We grew up watching bands just walk on stage, wearing a mundane t-shirt, playing the same songs - there wasn't much showmanship going on in the '90s. Too much was going on in the '80s, and the '90s too little of it. So, in the 2000s, we came along and brought back show business again.
It's refreshing. I've seen you play a few times and even though I've seen your show before, I'm still excited by it each time.
That's awesome. That's like the nicest compliment we could ever get.
You're coming out for Falls Festival again, what is it that attracts you to coming back to Australia and playing at this festival?
The thing about Falls Festival is that it holds a very special place in our heart. The first time we ever played in Australia was New Years Eve 2001 and we went there and borrowed a house from the promoter and we played on the beach for a week after a super intense year. So that was our version of a holiday. I think this is the third time we've played. It's just so much fucking fun. Ha ha.