By: Curtis Sindrey –
Eight years into their career, The Hives rose from garage rock stalwarts to one of the trendiest bands of the early 2000s, along with The Strokes and The White Stripes. Mixing arty contrivances such as a strict black-and-white dress code and the guidance of a (possibly imaginary) Svengali named Randy Fitzsimmons with Stooges-inspired rock, the Hives — Nicholaus Arson, Chris Dangerous, Dr. Matt Destruction, Vigilante Carlstroem, and Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist — formed in 1993 in Fagersta, Sweden, while they were still in their teens.
In our new interview with guitarist Nicholaus Arson, and frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, the duo discuss creating new Hives music, their fashion philosophy, must-hear Swedish bands, and more!
You guys haven’t really released any new music since 2012, what have you been up to?
Pelle: We have actually released one new song since 2012. It was called “Blood Red Moon” [and was] for a movie soundtrack called The Circle. It was a Swedish horror movie. The guy who wrote the script is from our home town and the story takes place around our home town. A lot of the places are places we would play when we were kids. Then Benny Anderson from ABBA financed the movie. We recorded our song in his studio and he played organ. He didn’t play organ on the song, but there was a TV show later on, so there was an ABBA/Hives collaboration. That’s actually the last bit of music to come out of the Hives.
In terms of a new album, have you guys been working on that?
Pelle: We have, and we stopped, and we have… we’re not really getting along as far as creative stuff. We’ve been a band now for 25 years almost and this is I think the first time that it’s not moving in a completely straight line, as far as making music and touring. This is I think the first bit of limbo that we’ve ever had, so we’re kind of in the middle of that.
Nicholaus: I think we got lazier with the arguing, we don’t want to argue through it.
Pelle: I think we argue, but I think the problem is, having said that, we have so much more recorded music than we’ve ever had in the history of the Hives. We must have 60 songs or something.
Nicholaus: Yeah and a lot of them are very good, so it’s really hard to figure out what would make it [onto] an album and how to finish it.
Pelle: That’s the thing too. We never did demos before. Whenever we made a record and we had songs we were recording, those were the songs that we had. The rest we would scrap at a very early stage. After making the Tyrannosaurus Hives album, [which] was the first time we ever started recording demos and after that we just sort of built a big library. But when you have 60 or 70 songs and all of those can make a totally different album, it’s very hard to know where to start.
Nicholaus: Maybe we need help, we’re not sure.
In terms of the music that you have and the music you’ve been on-and-off working on, is that mostly been self-produced stuff, like your last record?
Pelle: Yeah, whenever we [bring] in a producer, it’s usually at a later stage. I don’t think there was any time really that a producer heard the music we were recording more than like two months ahead of actually recording it. We never really had someone involved in the whole process. So we haven’t even gotten to the point of deciding who to record with or how to record it, but we tried to make a record where we’ve tried to be produced, which was the Black and White album. On the other hand, I don’t know how much it was actually produced. I guess we relaxed a little bit with less regards to control of the sounds and the order of shit in the songs, but it was still most of our ideas and I don’t think it was that big of a difference from working with ourselves, at home in the studio. It seemed to have something to it, making a record with other people. As well, we don’t really know how or if, or when to bring someone else in.
Nicholaus: We just haven’t met the right man or woman.
You guys are renowned for your energetic live shows, but you’re also known obviously for your sense of style. Do you guys have a stylist?
Nicholaus: No, we don’t have that either. (laughs)
Pelle: We have very little help with anything actually, we kind of do everything ourselves, by default, because there was no other options when we started out. So we’re still in that mindset of if you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself. It’s still very much our bad ideas. (laughs) It was sort of based as well on the fact that we’re from a very small town in the middle of the woods.
Nicholaus: There were no producers. (laughing)
Pelle: If we were looking for a stylist at home, we would have be very different.
Nicholaus: The closest you would come to anybody who was interested in clothes in our home town would be a person who had an outlet store or something with used woodland gear. (laughs)
Yeah, all of the shows of yours that I’ve been to you’ve been wearing top hats and tails, going all out, it’s amazing. What advice would you give someone who wants to have a similar type of style?
Nicholaus: It’s hard, because it’s something you have to know, or not know. You can wear a top hat and pants and look awesome, or you can wear a top hat and pants and look like shit. It’s hard to just say “this is how you do it.”
Pelle: It’s also very hard sometimes because whenever we’ve done it with someone who stitches suits, or a costume manufacturer or something, you always know and it’s hard to say what makes you know. For us, it comes from somewhere, but I don’t really know where it comes from. Maybe it’s some sort of mix from our childhood, watching James Bond, he’s probably a big influence, as far as clothing. (laughs)
Nicholaus: More like the villains maybe. It’s the same with us and a lot of things we do with the music, there’s like a curse where we always know how to make it better. (laughs) You get a suit and someone would go, “oh that’s not right, you’ve got to change this, you’ve got to change that,” and it’s the same thing with the music. You play something and everybody goes, “that’s not right,” then you argue about it. It’s hard to explain style and it kind of ruins it when you try.
Pelle: It’s like trying to teach someone a sense of taste when cooking.
Yeah, you either have it or you don’t.
Nicholaus: Well you can learn to a certain extent, but it’s weird, because it’s better if it comes from you.
What are some songs that are your go to on pre-show playlists?
Nicholaus: That could be anything.
Pelle: They’re usually very long, those lists. As much as you could fit on a CD before, then after that, it was as much as you could fit on an iPod, which was endless streams of music.
Nicholaus: Anything that would give you an energy boost. You could listen to the Misfits, or Metallica, that would work. It could be anything corny and energetic I guess.
Pelle: For us, a lot of times it’s 50’s or 60’s based, in some way or another I think.
Nicholaus: Status Quo was on there for a while.
Pelle: That’s how you know it could be anyone. Little Richard, Elvis, whatever.
So in terms of the music listened to on tour, does that change when you’re at home?
Pelle: It’s a little different. At least for us, music is something that matters. It’s not something you have in the background as white noise. For us, music is stuff that matters, which means that I can’t listen to music [and think] “this is pretty cool.” I’ve got the bridge there, and this is the breakdown part, or whatever. It doesn’t necessarily make me relaxed, so when you’re playing every day, that’s the music that I listen to. Now that we’re playing with the Misfits tomorrow, I have an upload of their set list and I’m listening to that, to sort of gear up.
Nicholaus: We’re really excited about that.
How amazing is that? You’d never think that would happen.
Nicholaus: There’s a Swedish saying that goes “when the devil gets old, he becomes Christian.” I think that’s sort of inevitable for a guy like Glenn Danzig, or Jerry Only, to bury the hatchet [and] try to do it again once. It seems to be like when you hit 60, you’ve got to re-form the band and it’s been like that all through the ages. I’m so excited about it though. I’ve seen some footage and it seems awesome. It’s the last band that we love that are a big influence, that we have not played with.
Pelle: We have played with the Misfits when it was just Jerry Only. It was Only, but it was called Misfits.
Nicholaus: This is the first time we get to play with them with Glenn, [who] seems like he’s a pretty important part. Even when they had the other singers, apart from Jerry Only, it was never Glenn. He’s a big part of that thing for me.
Pelle: It was the same thing when they had the Dead Kennedys tour without Jello. It’s not the same.
Nicholaus: It’s not the same, but that was fun. Every guitar intro, I’d get goosebumps, then he’d start singing and a minute in it’s like “oh yeah, it’s not right.” (laughs)
Pelle: Both the Misfits and the Dead Kennedys have very specific male vocal styles, so it doesn’t really add up. It’s like an instrument basically, it’s like swapping an electric guitar for an acoustic, or swapping an electric guitar for an organ.
Nicholaus: Or even worse, I think that you could do that. (laughs)
Pelle: This is kind of like the last… it feels like we could quit after having seen that.
Nicholaus: We played with AC/DC, we played with the Rolling Stones, and we played with whoever else. Pretty much all the bands that we really cared about. But why would we? If we quit, there’s nothing left unless the Misfits keep going.
Sweden has been exporting dozens of really great bands over the past couple decades. Refused, Opeth, ABBA, but who are some of the artists that westerners might not be familiar with?
Pelle: I guess it would be everything that’s sung in Swedish. There’s a great band called Bob Hund, who tried to sing in English, but that wasn’t as good. But they’re an awesome band. They were probably one of the best live bands at that time, early 90’s.
Nicholaus: And still pretty good.
Pelle: Yeah. But they were beyond amazing, for a long time. If you went to see shows, it would be like Refused.
Nicholaus: It’d be the best time. They’re amazing. You probably haven’t heard of them because despite their long, illustrious career, they don’t sing in English. There’s other stuff that’s good in Swedish.
Pelle: The punk we grew up with meant a lot to us.
Nicholaus: After us and Refused and stuff, it became way easier… not because of us, maybe a little bit, but it became easier. If you’re a good band in Sweden and you sing in English, it’s pretty easy for you to travel.
Pelle: Bands like Millencolin and Refused, it opened doors for other bands. We had success as well and that opened the doors for a lot of other bands.