“We throw away a lot of stuff that probably would be kind of commercially successful, because we think it doesn’t feel right,” says The Hives‘ Pelle Almqvist with the same cavalier bravado that you see from him on stage. “We give it to other people like, ‘This song has too much of a chorus, fuck that! Throw away all your hits and then see how fucking good your record is!”
His fellow punk-as-fuck bandmate guitarist Nicholaus Arson agrees: “We’re better than that! That’s how you stay a perpetual teenager. You’ve gotta make bad decisions all the time!”
We meet the Swedish garage rock veterans in their dressing room at London’s Emirates Stadium. They’re hours away from opening for Arctic Monkeys on their huge stadium tour for ‘The Car‘, and it’s just a couple of days since we saw them tear the roof off the much more humble 600-capacity The Garage in Islington – their first return to the venue in 22 years. “It was a very sweaty affair, as they tend to be,” recalls Almqvist. “It’s too much firepower for a venue that small. It’s almost like the core nuclear reactor is over-heating.”
Still, as you may have witnessed if you were among the ma-hoo-sive crowd they pulled to The Other Stage at Glastonbury 2023, garage rock on a stadium scale is The Hives’ grand one-size-fits-all approach to playing. “It’s the only thing we know how to do,” says the frontman with his world-renowned humility. “Luckily, it’s a pretty good thing to know. This tour is oscillating wildly between 70,000 people and 700. It’s a particular set of circumstances, but luckily we’re pretty good at both.”
The ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’ hitmakers are certainly on fire at the moment, and they’ve plenty of reason to be. Their shows are explosive, there’s a renewed hunger for the band, and they’re about to drop their first album in 11 years with ‘The Death Of Randy Fitzsimmons‘ (due August 11) – named in honour of the loss of their (yes, fictitious) founder and mentor who passed in mysterious circumstances.
We sat down with The Hives to get to the bottom of this, as well as talk about inspiring the Monkeys and keeping the rock’n’roll flame alive.
What can you tell us about touring with Arctic Monkeys? Drummer Matt Helders told us you were one of their first real inspirations…
Pelle Almqvist: “They told us that the first week or month that they started the band, they saw The Hives and The Strokes and that was the thing that really started it off for them. We toured with them in South America about 10 years ago and had a great time, so I’m really happy they wanted us back. It’s a really great tour to be on; it’s really fun. I think Arctic Monkeys are fucking amazing. They’re the only good really popular band – and that’s not easy to do.”
In the UK, it seems natural for a band like Monkeys to be in a venue like this. Does the concept of ‘stadium rock’ change around the world?
Pelle: “I guess there’s a certain type of person that would only go to things in a very big place. That’s part of the experience; they maybe don’t like The Rolling Stones that much but they go and see the show because it’s a spectacle with a lot of people. AC/DC, hats off, they’re the world’s best band and they’re a stadium band.
“It’s just about being massively popular and then you figure it out. It’s hard to start a stadium band – you have to gradually become one.”
There’s gotta be a lot of money in that idea…
Pelle: “There’s a lot of money in it if you have a show that’s minimal.”
Nicholaus Arson: “The pay-to-play stadium circuit… that’s pretty big.”
Pelle: “Yeah, that’s expensive – just rent it and make it just guestlist.”
Nicholaus: “What we’re looking at here at these shows is just fans. They’re music fans. We toured with AC/DC, and that’s almost three generations [of fans] by now.”
Have you found that too? There seems to have been a renewed interest in The Hives…
Pelle: “It’s true for all bands like AC/DC or Iron Maiden – when you’ve been around for a while you have to pick up youngsters. We had a lot of bands that we liked or were friends with and they would never get new fans. It would just be the same ones with a few dropped off and the ones who remained cared a little bit less.”
Nicholaus: “Your band and music dies along with your fans. A band that attracts new fans will live on forever. You gotta have some kind of regrowth. The shows and the crowds are always re-energised by younger fans. If we’re projecting energy, they’ll react to that.”
Pelle: “There are a lot of teenage girls, which are great for a rock crowd because they’re the loudest thing in the world – 50,000 teenage girls is such a loud sound.”
Nicholaus: “It’s only rivalled by Formula One racing, which is super fucking loud.”
There’s also been a lot more love for that scene you came from. Since your last record we’ve had the book and film of Meet Me In The Bathroom, and the phenomenon of indie sleaze. Have you felt the focus shift back to you over the last five years, and this hunger for a more primal rock?
Pelle: “We notice, but then stuff just happens around us. It’s cool, I guess! You always hear, ‘Rock is back, rock is dead, rock is this, rock is that’. It’s funny that it’s now considered a ‘historical event’ and all that shit. Meet Me In The Bathroom is basically a history book about shit I did when I was an adult! I think that’s cool, and it was cool when it happened.
“For us in the middle of it, it was hard to realise how cool it was until after the fact. You have to remember how fucking terrible it was before that.”
Nicholaus: “We never look back or reminisce about anything, really. We once tried to celebrate our 10th anniversary but we missed it by a year. That’s the only time we tried to look back, otherwise we’ve been constantly moving forwards – or at least trying to make new records, even though it’s been a lame-ass situation over the last 10 years or so.”
You talked about how shit it was before, but your first album came out in 1997 – so you pre-date the indie explosion…
Pelle: “That’s where you’re right. That stuff, the ‘garage rock revival’ thing, was not the start for us. We’d been around and played with hardcore bands, we played with indie-pop bands, we’d play anything just to get a show. What we were doing was separate to all of it, then something happened and we were like, ‘This stuff’s actually good’ – The Strokes, The White Stripes, all of it. It was cool but for us it already existed before it got popular.”
You guys are always writing your own history anyway. You could say that every Hives record feels like a greatest hits record…
Pelle: “Thank you very much – that’s the nicest thing the NME has ever said about us!”
Nicholaus: “That’s gotta be a five out of five!”
Pelle: “Maybe a greatest hits by a really shitty band! Even if they’re all shit, then at least they’re getting better! But thank you, maybe that’s why this one took us 10 years…”
Yes, it’s been 11 years since last album ‘Lex Hives’ – what on earth have you been doing?
Pelle: “Not enough! Flailing wildly at each other, trying to make something happen. And missing Randy Fitzsimmons, and therefore missing songs. You can’t make a greatest hits without the songs. We’ve been playing fucking phenomenally, but there’s nothing to play!”
Nicholaus: “Since we couldn’t make records, we were still touring to a fair extent so we could pretend we were busy doing something important, which I guess we were, but not as important as making new records. That’s crucial. If you’re going to feel like you’re a band who is doing shit, you’ve gotta make records.”
Pelle: “It didn’t feel good. We weren’t fans of the situation. If you’re a fan of The Hives and you were angry at us, we were also angry! We hope it never happens again.”
What can you tell us about when things changed?
Pelle: “It was about finding the songs. When we got the songs through this mess of Randy Fitzsimmons dying and decided on what to do, it just four or five weeks of studio time and then a year of finishing it.”
Nicholaus: “It was pretty quick to the point where it was almost surreal and we were like, ‘This is actually becoming a record’. The pieces fell into place.”
Pelle: “Back to the ‘greatest hits’ thing; we’ve always been of the opinion that there’s a lot of fucking great rock music out there. In order to make a record to make sense then you have to add to that. It’s hard to just jam and do something with your left hand and then think that it’s fit for public consumption.”
One thing that we hear too often in interviews is, ‘We make music for ourselves and if someone else likes it, then that’s a bonus’. Do they really mean that?
Pelle: “Well don’t put it out! Just listen to your own record if it’s so fucking fun!”
Nicholaus: “For us, you have to do it to a point where you like it. If you’re trying to do something that will please other people then it’ll be super hard otherwise.”
The Hives always seem like the quintessential party band. If you don’t exist for a good time, then what’s the MO?
Pelle: “Sometimes it’s not a good time making something that sounds like a good time. Our thing isn’t the original rock’n’roll in that style of music, but it’s that feeling: just making your brain explode with endorphins.”
Nicholaus: “Like being electrocuted, it’s supposed to be a physical reaction. It’s not tears of sadness.”
Pelle: “It’s not music that’s about how we are as people or me baring my soul about my divorce. Some people make art to understand themselves better, but the thing about The Hives is that we think this music needs to exist. It’s functional: partying, getting people to scream and jump up and down at shows, that endorphin rush is out life’s purpose.”
Pelle, you recently said that “rock’n’roll is a perpetual teenager”…
Pelle: “Yes, I think it should be. There’s nothing more depressing than adult rock music. ‘Oh great! You took away the one thing about it that was fun! Now it’s rock without energy!’ I really like Dire Straits, that’s my image of an adult rock situation, but I don’t think that’s what we should be doing.”
Nicholaus: “There has to be some bad choices in there. It has to be a kid trying to figure shit out, trying to have fun, or just reacting to stuff.”
Pelle: “A lot of energy but no direction – that’s rock’n’roll!”
You’ve still made a pretty diverse record, though. What would you say you were trying to capture on this album?
Nicholaus: “Just The Hives’ energy. Whenever we play these songs, I feel like we’re industry leaders in the field. Fast-paced, energetic, rock’n’roll and punk. It’s a good feeling, and from having been away for so long, it was what we ended up doing from sheer excitement. You want to come back with a bang, you don’t want to come back with ‘adult rock’.”
Pelle: “Imagine ‘The Hives have been away from 10 years and now they’ve matured’. It was important to go the opposite way. This has to be fucking stupid and childish, even worse than we’ve been before! The punk songs on this album are almost worse than our first record. ‘The Bomb’ and ‘Trapdoor Solution’ are almost like us reaching the ceiling of it.
“‘What Did I Ever Do To You’ was almost born out of the frustration of not making a Hives album. We bought this thing out of The Yellow Pages which was a prototype this guy made of an organ connected to a guitar connected to a vocal mic. It was a one-man band contraption and fucking ridiculous. The patent came with it, and that song back out trying to make some ‘other’ kind of music.”
Nicholaus: “Whenever we wrote something on that and it sounded cool, we thought it sounded like a pop-py version of the band Sucide. Whether it’s The Stooges, Kraftwerk or early hip-hop, what it has in common is a beat and someone singing over the top of it for two or three minutes.”
Pelle: “A lot of the music we like is very minimalist, and that’s so hard to do. Ever line has to be correct for it to work.”
For those not in the know, what can you tell us about Randy Fitzsimmons and the shadow that he’s cast over everything that you’ve done?
Nicholaus: “It’s more than a shadow, he was like the core of our band. He was crucial to us even meeting each other in the first place. Some people might say ‘mentor’, and I guess that’s true as well, but he was also just another member of the band, really.”
Pelle: “And one with very, very clear opinions, which was good. Having someone with a producer mentality was helpful.”
Nicholaus: “And he wrote all the songs, which was very important.”
And you lost him in pretty horrific circumstances?
Nicholaus: “We don’t know the circumstances, we just know that he was gone. We saw an obituary for him, but we don’t even know if he’s dead or not. We know that there was a grave, we dug up the grave and he was not in it. Instead there were tapes and suits. I don’t want to call it a sign of life, but it’s definitely someone faking their own death. Someone has a good sense of humour, apart from the fact that he might be dead! If it’s true, it’s fucking sad, but at this point it feels pretty decent.”
If Randy doesn’t reappear or resurrect, have you thought about what you’re going to do next without him?
Pelle: “Not wait another 10 years.”
Nicholaus: “You never know. Every Hives record almost feels like the last we’re going to make, just because so much work goes into it. Then we just go off touring like crazy, but that’s the only way we know how to do it.”
Also, Pelle – how’s your head recovering? You vs the microphone, who won?
Pelle: “We’re both still here! I was swinging the mic, then Nicholaus stepped on the cable. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not. As a total experience, I would say that it’s positive. People seem to love the fact that I bled a little. I’ll gladly give them that if it helps. Way worse things have happened.”
Pelle: “I once fell off stage in Switzerland, passed out, then finished the show. It gives you a chance to show that you don’t give a fuck and nothing can stop you. I actually appreciate the challenge. Getting hurt on stage is like, ‘This is my opportunity to not give a fucking fuck about it and just do it anyway’.”
Nicholaus: “That’s what makes a rock band real to you anyway. If Dave Grohl falls off stage and comes back and finishes the show with a broken leg or if people are throwing beers and they keep playing, that’s what rock bands should be doing.”
Are The Hives gonna be like The Rolling Stones and just keep going until you keel over on stage or turn to dust?
Pelle: “I can think of worse things. I’ve always thought that it’s a question of making one perfect album and then split up or just keep going forever. Those are the only two dignified ways. You’re either Sex Pistols or The Rolling Stones.”
Nicholaus: “We don’t want to be a novelty act going around playing our old records. You wanna make great records which are to par with what you’ve put out in the par. You want to beat the five out of fives.”