We're Punk Rock Aristocrats (2012-05-14 Drowned in Sound)

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By Robert Leedham

Source: Part I / Part II

Part I

The Hives are a rock and roll band. This much the Swedish five piece were very clear about when they sat down with DiS a fortnight ago in an opulent London hotel. It was also wholly apparent two days later at the Borderline, when Howlin' Pelle Almqvist and co. held a small but sweaty mass in rapture with songs old and new.

The new songs were from the band's fifth album Lex Hives (out next month). It's a classic Hives record and one which its creators were eager to talk about, when they weren't blathering on about top hats, peanut collecting and bands reforming half-heartedly.

In fact, The Hives got so excitable when we thrust our dictaphone in front of them that we had to split our chat into two parts. Trust us, what follows is both a revealing and hilarious insight into one of the few remaining loud and proud guitar bands.

How are you finding London? How long have you been here?

Chris Dangerous - CD: A few hours. We just flew in hours ago from New York so we’re a bit fucked up.

Nicholaus Arson - NA: It feels like coming home. We’ve spent so much time over here and it’s so close to us, because of the weather it feels like coming home.

Howlin' Pelle Almqvist - PA: It’s that rainy weather - the temperate soul. The temperate European soul.

To borrow a quote from your live shows, are The Hives still 'the best band in the world'?

PA: They’re the best band I’ve heard.

NA: The best band in the world and still the youngest band on the main stage, apart from the Arctic Monkeys.

PA: Yeah, they’re sometimes the only ones playing who are a little younger than us. We’re going off in different directions here but I think it has to do with when people stopped buying records there stopped being promotional money for new bands. Therefore, it’s just the same bands. Nothing happens on that line-up.

Well you’re still doing okay...

PA: Yeah we’re doing great. As far as Lex Hives goes I think it’s our new favourite record. Also, we’re one of an extremely small number of bands playing rock and roll. They’ll call other bands rock bands but eeeeeh wrong. A lot of bands it’s pop bands with loud guitars which they think is rock but it totally isn’t.

What do think makes a rock band?

PA: Well it’s actually a technical thing, like it should be blues based or it’s not rock and roll.

CD: It should be rad-ass too.

I like your new top hat and coattails look. Where do you get your top hats from?

PA: Christie’s in London. The UK you nailed the top hat. It’s one of the things the UK does best.

One of our finest achievements alongside the monarchy...

CD: You’ve got the top hats and then those furry things, not the Beefeaters. [The Bearskin hats worn by Buckingham Palace Guards]

NA: What are those things called, they’re really fucking good.

PA: I think you nailed hats in the UK. The bobby policemen hats are pretty great too. It’s a helmet... I think we’re going to call ours a top helmet and use them to go to war.

NA: Cevlar, bullet proof.

You were saying this is your best album to date, I think this is probably your best look to date

PA: Well it’s tried and tested and it was bound to happen as it’s one of the great classics of formal wear. We’re really into formal wear for a punk band.

Why is that?

NA: We’re punk rock aristocrats if you will. We always thought of ourselves dressing up more than dressing down. We always disliked the dressing down bit of rock and roll.

PA: Yeah why would you want to look better when you’re not on stage? That always seemed lame to me and also more of a lie, more of a hypocrisy.

NA: Even AC/DC would dress up, Angus in his schoolboy uniform. The Ramones would wear matching leather jackets and jeans. Devo would wear the same thing. The Sonics would wear the same thing.

PA: So I think this is now proven that it sounds good when you wear the same thing.

NA: Little Richard would wear a cape made out of mirrors throw it into the crowd and people would cut themselves on it.

PA: But it looked good under the lights.

It’s been 5 years since The Black and White Album. Why the gap?

PA: Well it’s usually four years but five is longer than that so I guess it requires an explanation. There was a lot of touring on The Black and White Album, I think it also feels like a long time because we didn’t do as many interviews on The Black & White Album as we have done in the past because of all the touring but we have to feel like we’re inventing the band again. It ends up that we invent the same band again but we want every album to feel like a debut album. We don’t want to write in the studio, we want to disband for a while.

How do you recognise when you’re done with the old Hives and need to invent the new Hives?

PA: We have to come up with an idea for the record. That’s important. Sometimes we write a few songs before we come up with the idea for the record. The plan for this record was to be as Hives as we could, whereas the plan for The Black and White album was to be less Hives. The last one was less Hives and this one is Lex Hives.

NA: It’s like choosing between two fun things because it’s fun making records, the part of reinventing the band, but we also like the thing of being physical with music. Rock and roll music is supposed to be physical and we like that. On The Black and White Album we toured for two years which is normal for us but on the third year we did a lot of festivals and stuff. I guess we just missed that being physical part.

When do you stop being The Hives? Presumably you’ve got to switch off to start again. What do you do in the time in between records?

PA: Different things, some band members will use a hobby to reset their brain.

NA: Ice hockey. Peanut collecting..

PA: It could be anything because being a rock band, we’re pretty obsessive guys so you have to reset your obsession on something else a little bit in order to be at your best. I’m really bad at coming up with hobbies, I just wander the streets aimlessly for a few months. It’s very much classical hobbies actually.

NA: Ice hockey. Swimming...

Who does ice hockey?

NA: I do ice hockey.

Are you any good?

NA: No, I’m decent...

PA: He’s great at playing rock and roll guitar. Most people can only be great at one thing at a time.

NA: Good enough to play with my mates you know. By British standards I’m probably super good.

It seems like a smart move for you to self-produce Lex Hives. When you’ve used different producers in the past, the results have always ended up sounding like The Hives

PA: Well yeah, even when other people have produced, we can’t keep our fingers out of it.

CD: We can’t shut the fuck up you know. Like you were saying, it doesn’t matter who tells us to do something, it’s still going to sound a certain way.

PA: It’s also this weird thing where we won’t think it’s done until it sounds like The Hives. Like we can make all kinds of music at the start of the process making the album. It seems like we just won’t release it. When we think it sounds good it sounds like The Hives.

The new single is called ‘Go Right Ahead’. Can you tell us what it’s about?

[Awkward silence]

Because, most Hives songs you pick up by the first chorus but I was wondering if there’s anything more complex to it that people won’t notice?

PA: Well there’s always thing of you say something and then the guys say, ‘Go right ahead’. There were a number of different phrases which we whittled down to make the song. It was just one of these really funny things to write lines for.

NA: It’s like we would always collect the best opening line for a song like Iggy & The Stooges’, “I’m a street walking cheetah with a head full of napalm” or the Rolling Stones’, “I was born in a crossfire hurricane”.

PA: My favourite is the Bon Scott one, “I am hot and when I’m not, I’m as cold as ice.”

NA: We played the song to a friend of ours, Jesse from the Eagles Of Death Metal and he was like, ‘But it’s so polite’.

PA: Basically it’s about doing whatever you want to do and that’s a true tried and tested rock and roll sentiment but you can say it in a different way. Also, I love songs when you can come up with your own verses. A while ago there was a Nick Cave song called ‘I’m on Fire’ that was really long and it went ‘The janitor with the bucket on his head says la de da da dah says “I’m on fire”’.

NA: Maybe it’s a polite way of saying this revolution is endorsed by The Hives. Do whatever the fuck you want to do.

You’re self-releasing the album. How did that come about?

PA: We’d fulfilled our contract basically and at the rate they were paying us and the way the music industry was doing, there was no way they were going to pay us that much for another album.

NA: I wouldn’t.

CD: Basically, now we have people who are Hives fans in different parts of the world who work in record companies which aren’t necessarily the same ones.

PA: Interscope was a complicated thing because it was all run out of the UK and the US, so if you do really well in France. France would have to ask the US if they could work on the record.

CD: We’re still on Universal Sweden like we were before too.

NA: It became a problem when the record company were saying the record’s doing really well and you could come over here and tour a stadium but we’re not allowed to work on the record any more because we’re working on something else.

PA: It’s usually a Pussycat Dolls remix album if it’s on Interscope.

When most bands self-release an album it’s almost their last throw of the dice. This sounds like business as usual?

PA: Yeah we keep going forward because if you don’t do that you quit. If you quit you’re just going to end up reforming and making a fool out of yourself. Plus, we have no reason to quit. We’re in a great band. We’re doing well and we have fans all over the world. I don’t see why you’d want to quit that.

Why is reforming making a fool out yourself?

PA: Maybe it’s not but sometimes you reform, you’re out of shape and you haven’t played together in 10 years it’s like, ‘How well are you going to do?’

Are you saying that with any bands in mind?

PA: Probably but I’m not going to say.

NA: But we’ve seen a few bands reform and it’s great. The Refused reunion has been brilliant so far, they’re getting into it more and more. They never played that well when they were around and now they’re better than they were before.

I’ve read you’ve been quite critical of reunions and it surprised me because The Hives are a band where if the audience are enjoying themselves, you’re enjoying yourselves

PA: I have nothing against bands that reform at all. I think that’s what you should be doing if you were in a great band, because it’s really fucking fun.

CD: Put it this way the Refused thought they could do it and rehearsed a really long time before they came back. Some bands don’t do that.

This is slightly off topic but I saw the Backstreet Boys at the O2 last night..

[The room erupts with laughter]

PA: Were they good?

They were fun, they’d rehearsed it to an absolute tee

PA: That’s how you do it. I thought the Pixies reunion was good because they played everything exactly like on the record and that’s what you want out of a reformed band.

Sadly that's also where the first part of our chat with The Hives ends. We haven't just left all the dregs until Part II though. To prove it, we'll leave you with a collection of choice quotes you'll want to see explained...
"There was a nurse called Troll who would wake me up once an hour by flashing a flashlight in my eyes to see if my pupils were dilating or not."
"It’s like a pole vaulter going for the 100 metres. We’ve been practising other shit for such a long time."
"That’s the part when you’re basically throwing up because of the pressure."
"No one’s having any fucking fun. They’re all whining."

Part II

For for those of you who didn't tune into the first half of our interview with The Hives, you join us deep in conversation with the often hilarious Howlin' Pelle Almqvist and co.

The Hives have returned five years after The Black & White Album and they've got a point to prove. They're still fully committed to rock and roll.

They're so committed that a little concussion four songs into a Swiss festival set didn't stop Pelle finishing the remaining hour's worth of songs. Even if a trip to the hospital to check for internal bleeding was required afterwards.

But you'll find out all about that in a minute. We're chatting about what makes a good Hives song at the moment...

What’s the difference between a good Hives song and a bad Hives song. I read you said that each album should be better than the last, so how do you tell?

Howlin' Pelle Almqvist - PA: Well it takes longer every record that’s for sure and the bad Hives songs are way rarer and harder to spot.

Chris Dangerous - CD: There are songs on the records, if we’re not 100% about them we don’t play them live.

Nicholaus Arson - NA: The bad Hives songs aren’t on the album. For this album we recorded around 300 demos and maybe 150 of those were different ideas. When I went through the demo archives I only liked three or four of those songs. In the beginning we had less time recording, less time to choose what goes in the record.

PA: I have to say that those 300 songs were not actually songs but someone humming into a tape recorder.

NA: No, no, no. They were proper songs. We have way more recorded material than you might think. It’s sick.

PA: Just because you wrote a song doesn’t mean it’s good. A lot of people think, ‘I put these two chords together, let’s release this’. Because everybody can’t shit gold all the time but often there’s a little speck of gold in that shit.

Do you wish that you were sometimes taken a bit more seriously?

PA: Well we are very serious.

NA: We’re taking ourselves seriously to the point where you can’t help cracking jokes all the time. When we make records, that’s the part when you’re basically throwing up because of the pressure. Like, ‘This is not good enough.’ You’re panicking and that’s why it takes a long time to make records. At the end of the day once we’re done, we’re so proud of the record that.... [laughs]

PA: I see what you mean, people are used to bands that aren’t fun. I think that’s why rock and roll is losing out to hip-hop in a lot of ways. You know, white boy music because no-one’s having any fucking fun. They’re all whining.

NA: Rock and roll started with people in a room who wanted to have fun and that’s how you ended up with Little Richard and Chuck Berry. That stuff was all fun and at some point rock and roll started taking itself too seriously.

PA: It went to college in the 60s and when it got older those people still liked the same music but they had to explain it in an intellectual way. There’s a sort of epicness to most sort of rock music now where everyone wants to hold a long note and be in a stadium. Basically everyone’s ripping off U2... [warbles an incomprehensible impression of Bono]

NA: All of our favourite bands growing up had a really strong sense of humour like The Dead Kennedys, Manowar...

The Replacements’ drummer Chris Mars used to get drunk and go on stage in a clown costume

NA: All that stuff appealed to us as people who were having fun with music but then we noticed that some bands were having fun but weren’t writing any good songs.

PA: A lot of groups or artists feel like they have to take that out of the equation. Like you have to portray emotions of being lonely or angry or all these things but you can’t have fun.

Moving on, Pelle you concussed yourself quite badly last summer...

PA: The ground managed to concuss me.

How did that happen?

PA: Well I climbed onto the lighting rig at a Swiss music festival, as I sometimes do, and I was trying to jump back on stage. I was trying to jump round a corner which I thought was possible at the time because there was rock and roll music blasting in the background and I got my foot caught in some cabling. So jumped and landed on my head on some concrete.

What happened immediately afterwards?

PA: I passed out, woke up. I’d missed a few lines in the song. I was pretty confused and shaking. It was the adrenaline that woke me up I guess. There was a doctor that came over and said, ‘How are you doing?’ He shook me just in case i had any neck damage. ‘Is your neck okay?!’ [Mimes vigorous shaking]

He said, ‘It’s your call do you want to keep going. I said ‘I think I’m fine.’

NA: I diagnosed him. I was like, ‘Did you throw up? No? Then you’re probably alright.’

PA: Then we played the last hour of the show because this was only on the fourth song. Afterwards the doctor asked, ‘The guys said you passed out. I want you to go to the hospital.’

If you get a concussion you should remove all sorts of impressions. Be in a dark silent room, not in front of blaring guitar amps, 50,000 screaming kids and strobe lights. So then I went to the hospital and I stayed there. There was a nurse called Troll who would wake me up once an hour by flashing a flashlight in my eyes to see if my pupils were dilating or not. That’s pretty much the end of the story and I felt slowly better.

So the hospital was a precautionary thing?

PA: Yeah, in case there was internal bleeding in my brain. It’s pretty miraculous really, it’s worse odds that I would have hurt myself pretty seriously.

On a similar note, you’ve managed to keep the same band line-up going for all of your existence?

[Uproarious laughter]

PA: [Still chuckling] Well that’s Swedish music, you form a band and you stick with that band rather than everyone being their own hired gun. It’s the only band we’ve ever been in so we don’t know how to do it any other way. There have been older bands who have told us, ‘That’s amazing’.

Dr. Matt Destruction - MD: I would say it like this. As long as it’s rock and roll we won’t have a problem.

NA: We always had fun with it and we always consider ourselves to be one the best bands at it.

It’s hard to envisage The Hives as individuals, you’re more of a collective

PA: I don’t know how other bands do it. Sometimes we meet other bands and they’re all in separate rooms and I kind of don’t get.

Are there any specific examples of that?

PA: Most bands don’t seem to get on that well or they’re sick of each other.

MD: Rammstein...

PA: I’ve heard that they don’t like each other but it never happened that way for us. We can be angry at each other or sick of each other but not so much that it’s worth firing anyone or quitting.

It doesn’t seem like you’ve got a particular leader either. Is there one person who calls the shots?

PA: No not really.

NA: Sometimes it’s the person with the most energy and sometimes it’s the guy with the idea.

CD: If someone starts to run, there’s gonna be four people right behind you.

You’re a rock and roll band from Sweden which from the outside looking in is a bit of an anomaly?

NA: When we started in the 90s, there was a huge scene of guitar based bands.

PA: It’s very easy for Swedes to write pop melodies, it’s just we’ve chosen to go the hard way and write rock and roll songs instead which don’t come as naturally. I don’t know what it is with Swedes but it’s always easy to write a catchy tune.

Would you ever do the Eurovision Song Contest?

PA: I don’t think so because it sucks.

[Everyone laughs]

CD: I feel like that’s one of those things where we wouldn’t be in charge of what’s happening.

PA: Maybe I could appreciate the spectacle of it if it weren’t for the fact it sucks.

NA: I don’t think I would be okay with the possibility of not winning.

PA: It’s like a pole vaulter going for the 100 metres. We’ve been practising other shit for such a long time.

What’s your favourite memory of being in The Hives so far?

PA: What’s your favourite memory of life so far?

Seeing The Hives

PA: Touché. Well, actually the first thing that comes to mind is this show we played in a super tiny punk rock club in Stockholm when we were 17. We played there again a month or so ago. It’s really tiny, we got 150 kids in there, then we emptied out the place and got 150 new ones in there. Somewhere in the middle of that show being covered in 15-year-old punks it was pretty... I had some sort of moment myself.

NA: It’s almost a religious feeling, that’s exactly what your music is designed to be. You were exactly that guy or girl when you were a kid. You wanted to see those bands and be completely covered in sweat in the front row.

PA: Being an atheist and all, it’s as close religion as I’m going to get. Until I get old and convert to Christianity.

On that note, are there any regrets you have from being in the band so far?

MD: We don’t regret anything.

PA: I think we could have made some wiser business decisions but as far as the music goes...

NA: And they were all calls we made ourselves, they could have been wiser but they wouldn’t have been our calls. We used to manage ourselves and we’d just go, ‘No, no, no’. It was a way to protect our own integrity. So I don’t regret that at all.

We have the best life in the world and we’ve been able to do it... I mean next year I think we’ve been a band for 20 years and we’ve been a touring band for 14 years.

PA: We’re at a pretty great level of fame too, where we’re not mobbed wherever we go but every day someone comes up and says, ‘You’re amazing’.

NA: We get to do interviews about music and not for tabloids.

From the perspective of an average Drowned In Sound reader they might think, 'I’ve heard The Hives before, why should I listen to Lex Hives?' What you you say to change their minds?

PA: There’s some stuff on this record which could not have been on any other Hives album. I feel like all our songs have a strong identity but here there are some songs which actually are very different from what we’ve done in the past.

Like which ones?

PA: ‘Without the Money’ and ‘My Time Is Coming’.

NA: ‘Midnight Shifter’ is pretty different too. It’s more like a soul song. I guess its a mix of country, soul, gospel and drunken soul ballads.

CD: ‘Patrolling Days’ is like a Hives song but it’s at least twice as long as any Hives song before. The funny thing is we tried to make it shorter but it didn’t work.

When was the last time you listened to Barely Legal?

PA: I listened to it a year ago, six months ago.

NA: I’m very proud of that record because we were very young when we made it. Like 18 or 19 or something like that and some of my favourite songs are on that album. ‘Here We Go Again’, A.K.A. I.D.I.O.T.’. Plus, I love the fact that record is so fucking full on in the speed and the sound.

MD: When we soundcheck for something and play those songs for fun it’s just like it was on the record, everything at 110 kmph.

PA: It was fun also that show in Stockholm I was talking about, the studio we recorded Barely Legal in is right next door to that venue. We were even thinking about recording Barely Legal by pulling the wires over the road and recording in the venue.

You’ve never done a live record, it’s just struck me

NA: It’s really weird. We’ve only done one live DVD, we should have made 100. It’s just stupid we definitely should have done more with it.

Well at least you’re aware of the problem, you can always solve it...

And just like that, our time with The Hives is up. They've been brilliantly entertaining in interview and should you wish to catch them live, they'll be returning to the UK for a full scale tour/invasion later this year.
Lex Hives is released on 4 June through Disque Hives