Home Read Features Back Stories: My 2012 Interview With The Hives’ Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist

Back Stories: My 2012 Interview With The Hives’ Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist

The Swedish garage-rocker talks naked music, hive minds, why Latin rules & more.


Way back in 2012, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hives frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist shortly after the release of their fifth album Lex Hives. Since the hard-rocking Swedes just released the long-overdue studio followup The Death Of Randy Fitzsimmons, it seemed like a good time to pull this out of the archives. As usual, I’ve added in some bits that were edited out at the time. Enjoy:

The Hives have always played by their own rules. Literally.

“When we formed the band, we had a big blackboard where we wrote down rules for what we could do and not do,” claims Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, the charismatic and energetic frontman of the Swedish garage-rock veterans. “We drew a line down the middle and on one side we wrote ‘What We Don’t Want.’ And under that we wrote things like ‘Beatles-style melodies’ and ‘jazz.’ And on the other side we wrote ‘What We Do Want,’ and under that we wrote things like ‘to only wear black and white.’ ”

More than 15 years later, the 34-year-old Almqvist and his cohorts — guitarists Nicholaus Arson (Pelle’s brother) and Vigilante Carlstroem, bassist Dr. Matt Destruction and drummer Chris Dangerous — are still cranking out Stones-meets-Stooges garage-rock on their fifth disc Lex Hives. They’re still wearing black and white (now it’s top hats and tails). And still planning their moves ahead of time.

“Before we made our new album, we sat down and went, ‘OK, what is this going to be like?’ ” Almqvist says. “We decided we were only going to play live in the studio. So we wrote that down. It’s a good way to get your bearings straight. Besides, you need to have rules in order to break them.”

As he drove through rural Sweden at night while chatting over a crackly cellphone, the surprisingly serious and thoughtful Almqvist explained naked music, the hive mind and why Latin rules.

Your songs seem simple, but simplicity is often difficult to achieve. What’s your secret?
The secret with us is tenacity. We won’t give up until we like it. It’s a matter of details — taking something out here, putting something in there. But you’re right; it is hard to make simple music that lasts and sticks with you. If you make complicated music, you can impress people with noodling. But when you play straightforward music, there is no hiding. It’s very naked.

After producing this record yourselves for the first time, you said it was hard to get all five of you to agree. Shouldn’t The Hives have a hive mind?
Well, we do, kind of. But you know how it is, even in your own mind. Sometimes you don’t even agree with yourself.

But you studied psychology. Shouldn’t you be able to use your powers to bend the others to your will?
Yeah, I try to do that. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. We’re all pretty screwed-up characters. That’s probably why it doesn’t work.

Would you produce yourselves again or get an outside producer?
There’s five of us and we’re all pretty opinionated; that was what was hard — finding some democracy or benevolent dictatorship or knowing who would lead. Hiring a producer would be the best thing, obviously, because then you could just focues on yourself — playing and writing and the performance. But it’s really hard to know who is the perfect fit. We’re so protective of what we do that we sometimes have a hard time letting ourselves be produced. I think that was definitely the challenge of The Black And White Album, to let ourselves be produced. You start to realize that some of the albums that you love were produced by people that weren’t in the band and the band probably didn’t like it at the time but it turned out good. You have to entrust your creation.

Were you unhappy with The Black And White Album? It was something of a departure for the band. 
No, I really like that album. it was the only way we could have found a way forward, I think. We had to mess with our — i don’t want to say formula, but we had to sort of mess with ourselves a bit on that album to find a way forward. On the Tyrannosaurus Hives album, it felt very much like we were squeezing it so hard, our Hivesness, that it was kind of in danger of being crushed, I think. so we really needed to drag ourselves free and see what we would be like doing other kinds of music. Although having said that, there is stuff that is very Hives on The Black And White Album. I’m really proud of that album. That’s not the reason this new album sounds like this. But we didn’t feel like it was really fun to make the very same album again. After making The Black And White Album, with so many days in the studio and so many people invovled, it was so much fun to be the five of us standing in the room and playing and saying, ‘That’s our record.’

After Veni Vidi Vicious and Tyrannosaurus Hives, this is your third album with Latin in the title. Whose doing is that?
It’s Nicholaus, really. He’s the only one who knows a little bit of Latin. The thing is, Latin is cool because anything you’re trying to say, Latin makes it seem a lot more important.

You’re playing Toronto and Montreal in late June. What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think of Canada?
Big trees. Big mountains. And amazing trendy hot dogs that you can buy on the streetcorners. I’m glad we’re finally coming back to Canada. It’s sort of like Sweden, both geography-wise and nature-wise, and also a little bit in spirit. It’s very similar. I’m actually driving through country that looks like Canada right now.

Your songs are popular in the sports world — they’re played a lot in games and ads. What sports do The Hives enjoy?
They love everything to varying degrees. Some like watching soccer. I myself am completely uninterested in sports — though I do like sumo wrestling and dirt-track racing.

If anyone left The Hives, would you carry on or stop?
We would call it quits, I think. We wrote on one of our albums that we are The Hives now, then and forever. So it would really be strange to go on without one of the guys. But it would also be very strange if one of them left and said we could no longer do this.

If you did make a solo album, what would it sound like?
I would have to do something very different from The Hives. For hard-ass rock ’n’ roll, this is my favourite band. So I would have to go really far in the other direction and do classic ballads or something.

I think we would all like to hear that.
(Laughs) I would like to hear it too. I don’t know if it could pull it off, though.


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