The Hives taking punk to a new age (2013-03-07 Chicago Tribune)

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By Allison Stewart for the Chicago Tribune


When Swedish garage rock band The Hives started out about two decades ago, its members made a pact that the band would break up after three albums. At the time, it seemed like a very punk rock thing to do, and anyway, no one could have imagined that The Hives would go on to become one of the most famous Scandinavian acts of all time. Or that band members, who released their fifth studio album, "Lex Hives," last year, would have to answer questions about this ancient "blood oath" for the rest of their days.

For The Hives, The Pact is now legend — and an albatross around the members' necks, roughly equivalent to The Who's singing "Hope I die before I get old" years after the fact. It's not embarrassing, but it is a little awkward, says frontman Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, who is 34. "We meant three good albums. In a row," he jokes. "I think everybody, all rock bands that are, like, 17, 18, 20 years old think that life ends at 30. And it really doesn't, I'm sorry to say." Pause. "I mean, I'm not sorry. I love being alive."

Besides, Almqvist says, all the greats have to deal with something like this. "Mick Jagger said he would refuse to sing 'Satisfaction' after he was 30. Now here he is, 70 and still doing it. We will all walk that path, I'm afraid."

The Hives didn't get famous until the release of their second disc, "Veni Vidi Vicious," which fortuitously coincided with the early '00s rise of American garage rock bands like the White Stripes and the Strokes. The Hives never had much in common with those bands, to whom they will be forever yoked in the public's imagination, but Almqvist has a theory. Hear him out on this: "When you think about a movement, it's usually a bunch of bands wearing similar pants. In grunge, everybody wore big shorts, but they sounded nothing like each other. All (the garage rock) bands wore tight pants at a time when no one else wore tight pants. It had nothing to do with being musically similar."

The Hives predate, and in most cases, have outlived, their revivalist counterparts. "We had been active long before those bands. I still like those people, and I like those bands," says Almqvist, who says he stays in touch with Meg White. "It was great for us. It really lifted us up. I think all those bands kind of helped each other become more popular. They sounded really nothing like each other."

The Hives still dress only in black and white, still make fat-free, propulsive punk albums grounded in soul. "Lex Hives," one of the band's best releases, was self-produced and funded, after about 18 months of recording that felt a lot longer: Because the band's five members all acted as producers, every member's needs had to met, everyone's ideas heard, on Every. Single. Song. "It felt like the only way we could do it," recalls Almqvist, who wouldn't mind doing it differently next time. "We're pretty tightknit as a band, and we've managed to stay friends for 20 years, so if it means making the album takes six months longer, in the big picture of things, that's pretty small. Democracy is not a perfect solution, but it's the only solution we have."

The Hives are justifiably famous for their live shows, which are high-energy spectacles characterized by trash-talking, strutting, scissor kicking, and stage diving. During one recent show in Las Vegas, the entire band jumped into the venue's pool in tuxedos. Almqvist, who likes to aim himself into the crowd, knows that this nightly beating will eventually take its toll on his body, but it hasn't happened yet. "I think if you're young, it's more like exercise. If you use your body, your body becomes better. If you don't, that's when you get aches and pains. I do get scrapes and bruises and sprains and stuff, but I think that's good for a body. You know, cells regenerate. It kind of keeps you young, I think, in a weird way. I feel better when we're touring than when we're not touring."

Almost 20 years after the band started, it's a good/weird time to be The Hives: They're in the middle of a mostly sold-out arena tour with Pink (at the United Center on Saturday night), "Lex Hives" is a decent seller, and being from Sweden post-"Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is a strangely gratifying experience. "Coming to this country and going through the airports, the only detective stories you can buy are about murders in Sweden. It's pretty bizarre, I have to say," Almqvist says. "I guess I'm proud a lot of pop songs are written by Swedish people, and Swedish detective stories are huge. I'm pretty proud of Sweden, culturally. It's kicking a lot of (Scandinavian posterior) for a country with only 8 million people."