Photos: Danna Kinsky
The Hives Interview
By Alexander Laurence
The Hives are pure rock and roll music. They create music that sounds like five guys in a room trying to something vital and exciting. This Swedish band includes Vigilante Carlstroem (guitar), Dr. Matt Destruction (bass), Chris Dangerous (drums), Nicholaus Arson (guitar) and their leader, Howlin' Pelle Almqvist (vocals). Almqvist is a charismatic leader and frontman.
The band comes from the small town Fagersta, Sweden. They were just in high school when they started. In the early days the band members were known to fight onstage and insult the audience. Soon they hooked up with invisible member Randy Fitzsimmons and decided one day that they were “The Greatest Band.” Their sound combines 1960’s mod, 1970’s punk rock, and Motown R & B. The Hives released their debut album, Barely Legal (1997) on Burning Heart Records. The volatile band broke up soon after. The group reunited to record their second album, Veni Vidi Vicious in 2002, an amazingly successful record that won fans and critics over alike.
In July 2004, they returned with their third album, Tyrannosaurus Hives, on Interscope. The American release also includes a DVD, which features some videos, a documentary, and two live shows.
With Tyrannosaurus Hives, the Swedish band may have released their best album to date. Great songs like “Walk Idiot Walk,” “See Through Head,” “Missing Link,” and “Two-Timing Touch and Broken Bones” are memorable and deliver the punch. We have at Free Williamsburg done interview with a lot of Swedish bands over the years. We sort of ushered in that sound and championed it for years when no one else was talking about the scene. The Hives were happy to talk to us. They had to cancel interviews with Spin Magazine and MTV just to talk to us. I got to speak with drummer Chris Dangerous for a few moments right before a show.
AL: Where are you right now?
Chris: We are in Seattle.
AL: Do you like coming to America?
Chris: We like it a lot. It was very weird coming here the first time. But we like it now. We are very lucky to have the success we have had. We like to play anywhere. As long as we get to play some songs and perform. People can like it or hate it. We are fine with that. As long as we accomplish what we want to: and that is to have fun.
AL: Are there any American cities that you prefer to go to?
Chris: We are just concerned about playing a good show. There are places that we like to go. We like to go to Austin, Texas a lot. That was the first place we went to in America. We played South by Southwest in 1999. At that time, we hung around for a few days, so we got to see a lot of Austin. We always like to go back there. We like to go to the big cities because we always have good shows there. Places like New York City and Los Angeles always turn out to be some of the best shows we do. There are a lot of good places to play in America.
AL: Where are you from in Sweden?
Chris: We are from a real small town called Fagersta, Sweden. It’s about a two-hour drive northwest of Stockholm. We have a few hockey players. But it’s known as a real small steel industry town with twelve thousand people in it. It’s not that famous.
AL: How did you guys meet each other?
Chris: I don’t know how much you know about the Randy Fitzsimmons story.
AL: I know a little bout it.
Chris: It’s true. That is the way it works. He is still around. We get asked that question a lot.
AL: Are The Hives a boy band? Is it all Randy Fitzsimmons’ vision?
Chris: No. I don’t think so at all. It’s more like there are six people in the band. We were thirteen when we started. We thought it would be a good idea to play punk music. We used to see him more in the beginning. The Hives have always been six people. Randy Fitzsimmons doesn’t want to be known, he doesn’t want to be on TV, he doesn’t want to tour, and he doesn’t want to do anything.
AL: Will Randy ever join you onstage in the future?
AL: He likes to stay home?
Chris: Yeah. He likes to come up with good ideas.
AL: What are some of his hobbies?
Chris: His hobbies? I am not going to tell you. I am not going to tell you anything. He is the sixth member. That is all I can say. He doesn’t want anything to be known about him.
AL: The last record Veni Vidi Vicious was pretty good. There is always that expectation that the following record will be even better. Do you think that you achieved that?
Chris: Yeah. We feel that we have pulled it off. We have to think about doing that with everything that we do. We put in a lot of time and effort with everything that we do. Of course we like this album, Tyrannosaurus Hives, the most because it was the last one that we have made. It is very difficult for us to make music. It doesn’t come easy. When we are done with a record, we can sit back and relax and not listen to it for a while. If you can listen to it a few weeks later and you feel happy, then you know it might be a good record. I think with this record we are close to 90% perfect. It is almost everything we expected to do.
AL: Did you want to take the music in a different direction with this record?
Chris: Yeah. We tried to take the music in a few directions. After a while, it would still sound like us. At this point we can play any song and it will still sound like us because we have been playing together for ten years. We wanted to make a record that was really different. There is no point in making a record you have already done.
AL: It seems like there are some rock and roll songs, some punk rock songs, and some Motown R & B influenced songs. Was that deliberate?
Chris: I don’t know if it was deliberate. We make the songs that we wanted to make. We listen to all types of music. Everything from early disco music to current hiphop. The record is going to sound like different things. Everything we do is deliberate. The stuff on the record didn’t end up there by chance.
AL: I think that Tyrannosaurus Hives is better than the previous one.
Chris: I think that Veni Vidi Vicious is really good. But if you say the new one is better than it must be true.
AL: How do you write songs? What comes first?
Chris: The music comes first. It’s cool when we can come up with some lyrics and write a song in the studio. But usually it happens that the music comes first and lyrics afterwards. A good song is always music first. That is what you hear when you hear a good song. The lyrics are like this extra layer that you can explore if you want to go further into the song.
AL: Do you like writing songs, playing live, or recording in a studio?
Chris: We all like playing live. We have played a lot of shows in the past ten years. I am not sure how many. It’s a lot. That is what we enjoy doing the most. Recording your songs is not as fun. Playing live in front of an audience is why we joined a band.
AL: Do you like to play with any certain bands?
Chris: Of course. There are millions of them. We do like the bands that we are on tour right now, who are Sahara Hotnights and The Reigning Sound. We have toured with them before. We like them a lot. They are good friends. Sahara Hotnights are from Sweden. Sweden is not that big, so when you take a step outside of Fagersta, you meet other bands and people. Greg Cartwright had a band before The Reigning Sound called The Compulsive Gamblers. He had a band before that called The Oblivians. That was a band that we listened to a lot when we were growing up. When we started playing over her we contacted Greg and he was interested in playing with us.
AL: Pelle does a lot of talking in between songs.
Chris: He talks all the time.
AL: Was that always a part of the first Hives’ shows? Was Pelle always a cheerleader for the band?
Chris: Yeah. It’s hard to keep him quiet really. It’s the way we want to do a show. It’s always interesting to get a reaction from an audience. Pelle was good at getting noticed and getting an immediate reaction. Some people would get mad. It was always funny to us to get a reaction from the punks. It’s the way we have always been.
AL: Did Pelle talk more if there was a negative reaction from the audience?
Chris: No, he wouldn’t talk more. He would just say more rude things. More people love us now, so it’s hard to say rude things when people love you. It worked out great in the beginning, but things have changed a bit. If there is some idiot in the audience who saying something, Pelle is going to talk directly to him.
AL: Does he stare him down?
Chris: Stare him down. Talk to him. Make him leave if things are getting ugly.
AL: Do people throw things at you?
Chris: Yeah. Everything from woman’s underwear to huge bottles of beer. Someone meant to kill us. It didn’t work.
AL: When you play in Sweden does Pelle speak in Swedish?
Chris: Yeah. It’s our first language. It would be stupid to talk to fellow Swedes in English. It’s still us. It doesn’t matter what language we are speaking.
AL: I went to the Weenie Roast concert this summer. You played with Velvet Revolver and The Strokes. It seemed like someone from Velvet Revolver was doing a soundcheck while you were playing. Pelle got on their case for that.
Chris: Yeah. It always happens with us at festivals. It’s people trying to set up their drum set when another band is playing. You are not supposed to play your bass drum when another band is playing onstage. People should know that. We got upset. We don’t care if Elvis Presley is setting up their backline. We would have still made fun of them because it wasn’t polite to do that.
AL: This American tour was short.
Chris: We played about twelve shows. We are going to Japan to play some shows and then we will be back in America in October 2004. We want to play for the people. There are a few other countries besides America. We want to get them all in. But we will be back in the Fall you know. We haven’t picked the bands that are going to support us on the next tour. We will when we get back to Sweden and can think about it. We are enjoying this tour right now.
AL: Do you have any advice for young people who want to form a band and like the Hives?
Chris: Buy all our records and listen to them a lot.