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By David Rolland
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For the Hives, Sweden's ultimate contribution to the canon of "karrangin' " guitar chords and shouted choruses, it's back to brass tacks these days. Their most recent release, the "cheaply" recorded and undeniably rocking Lex Hives, bottles some of the lightning that earned the band its reputation as one of the best live acts on the planet. It captures the blur of sweat, piss, and vinegar these Swedes turn into onstage, quite the antithesis of the overhyped and underappreciated The Black and White Album, which had many feeling like the Hives had gone into the night for good.
Riding the wave of critical acclaim earned by this recent release, the band is touring the States again and tearing a swath of rock 'n' roll destruction across the land as it greets a largely new audience, opening for P!nk. We caught up with frontman Howlin' Pelle Almqvist in advance of the band's performance at Sunrise's BB&T Center.
New Times: How did "the greatest rock 'n' roll band on the planet" wind up touring with P!nk, of all people?
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Pelle Almqvist: We wanted to be the small band again, because sometimes you've got to do that to get a reality check and see if you can convince new fans. It is also more the fact that most big rock bands... I don't know, they usually don't want to bring us on tour. They say they do, but then at the end of it, they usually take some singer/songwriter and make it not a competition! The bottom line is, she asked us and we said yes! [laughs]
Do you have any insight into why the Swedish bands, like Refused, Ghost, and of course the Hives, have such a flair for developing a mystique?
I think from your point of view, it's probably the fact that we're from Sweden, the other side of planet Earth, basically. Well, I think that because you want to communicate things, you know, not just make a record and put it out. There is so much else that you can do that's fun to do than just making the actual album, whether it's Ghost's masks or whatever it is. I'm more entertained by the fact that Ghost wears masks than just being in shorts and T-shirts playing those songs; it wouldn't be the same thing. I feel like everything is a part of your art, and all of these things are what makes a band great.
What was the process in getting back to basics and recording an album essentially as a live rock band?
I think that because The Black and White Album was our attempt at making a studio album — like other bands do — with one guy playing something at a time and being pretty meticulous about things, and I guess we just wanted to have the natural thing.
When we play, our tempos go up and down and there are — I wouldn't call them mistakes, because we don't make mistakes — but anomalies in the way we play. We recorded a couple of the songs live and then we went: "You know, this is great, this sounds good enough, so let's make the record that way." And so much stuff, from '50s rock 'n' roll even to like '80s American hard-core punk, that we love, was recorded that way. Most good rock 'n' roll music is very cheaply recorded, I would say! [laughs]
Are there any bands coming out of the current garage-rock resurgence that have really caught your ear?
Were there any specific influences on the new album that helped bring the band back to its rightful place of more immediate rock music?
I think we were trying to make an album influenced by the Hives. It might sound weird, but that's actually the whole idea behind the record, was to make an album that was as Hives as we could make it. We are known as this great live rock band, so let's make a great live rock album.
How have the Hives remained a band for 20 years without killing one another?
Well, I think that the time when you're really angry at each other is the first like five years of the band, and we got those out of the way before we started touring, so there was always the option of leaving the other guys and going home. Whereas now, we're such a tight-knit family group that it's pretty easy to keep it together, really. I don't know what we would do without each other at this point, and it's really become like a family. We know we have to do this, and there's nothing else we can do, so we have to keep it together.