Many a mangled mind has rattled along to the rock of The Hives – on record or in the flesh they’ve proven to be, in their finer moments, less a band than a five-man frogmarch and it’s to throater ‘Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist that it’s fallen to playfully twist arms behind backs, being uncle over your shoulder, jibbing off about 'Barely Legal's and Keef riffs before submitting you to the ‘real music’ preserved solely in his dusty record collection.
That, however, was 2001 and now the good spirit in which this tussle began is quickly fading as, like a few sly digs to the kidneys, you suspect that this playfight was always about something more serious – what, you mean all that rockaroller goonery wasn’t ironic? Boy, do I feel stupid for getting my band to cover ‘Main Offender’ all those years ago. No, that’s not quite right either. It was sincerely fun, for a while, but there are doubts beginning to nag and questions need to be asked – ‘Howlin’ Pelle, how can there be any way, in 2008, that four-chord garage punk can end up sounding anything other than stolen? Black Lips? Charming highwaymen. Go further back, perhaps, and there’s one every ten years - The Hunches, then Gray Matter and then jump to the first Red Cross EP. Other doubts persist - was your last project – this Pharrell Williams-produced single featuring a trio of high profile guest remixers – just an attempt to breathe life into a tired formula? Are The Hives still the best band in the world, 'Howlin' Pelle?
DrownedinSound called an eloquent and amiable Almqvist at an airport in the west of America to give him the right of reply.
What are you up to at the moment?
I’m sitting in an airport in Denver, Colorado waiting to go to our next stop in Minneapolis.
So much how longer do you have to stay out there for?
We’ll be home on the 10th, so we reckon then. Before that, New York and Washington.
It’s not been too much of a slog, then?
It’s not been too much hard work?
No, it’s fine – I mean we just had some time off over Christmas and New Year’s and some time off in January. So we’re just getting back into it. It’s been really fun.
Yeah? Any ‘Adventures of The Hives’ to report?
Tons of adventures, I think that’s why it’s been so fun. We’ve been a lot more touristy than we have in a little while. You know doing things that you can only do when you’re at the place you can do them.
Going into the woods and shit like that.
Going into the woods?
Fishing, things like that.
Where have you been fishing?
Colorado. We’ve been skiing too.
Did you catch anything when you were fishing?
I didn’t really even go.
Vigilante (Carlstroem) and Nicho(laus Arson, both guitarists) went catching fish, I did other things in fact. And we’ve been drunk together quite a lot which has been quite fun.
OK. OK… do you want to talk about the remixes?
Yeah sure, if you want to yeah.
Yeah? It’s a strong cast of remixers – did you choose them yourselves?
No, we just put the question out there and I guess that’s why it happens to be a lot of people that are on our label – they aren’t all on our label, but those were the people who were most excited and the people we’d most like to hear. But usually we don’t really look for remixers, sometimes it feels like we’re saying “let’s put the fucken remixes on it”, y’know, just ‘cause the band doesn’t have to do any work. But it’s actually turned out to be quite fun, I think it’s something we might do more of in the future. Actually I’m thinking we should remix some shit ourselves.
You should do it yourselves?
Yeah, I think it’d be fun.
Video: The Hives - 'Hate to Say I Told You So' (April 2001)
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Do you think with the remixes it’s a case of trying to shake up the formula that you’ve been ploughing now for a few years, that straight-up four chord garage punk, do you think that’s maybe part of the…
…I don’t think we’re sticking to a formula of four chord garage punk, actually. I think our songs are very different from each other.
But there’s a continuity isn’t there? At it’s base it’s just kind’ve… four-chord garage punk.
Yeah, we have a lot of those songs, but y’know, it’s not formulaic four-chord garage punk ‘cause I know what that sounds like and it’s not what we do. But on the other hand I guess the reason we’re remixing things is just to see what other people want to do with it. Though I’m not really from the school that thinks just because you put a synthesiser with something it makes it new and fresh, y’know.
Oh yeah, sure.
They’ve been thinking that since the ‘70s. No, I think we just wanted to hear what they were doing, I don’t think it’s something we needed to do creatively to keep going.
But aren’t you getting to the stage now where songs – before maybe where they sounded like older ‘60s stuff, even if they were in your own style – a few songs are starting to sound like you’re just ripping off yourselves?
Yeah, y’know I think that was our decision (the remixes). It’s not so much the people we work with. We’ve been going since ‘97 we still get all the songs, it’s just that we wanted to do other things I guess. I think we’ll always listen to our kind of music and we don’t care too much about what people think. And you can think whatever you want. It’s something we’re always torn between, y’know, ‘cause we’ve always been proud to have that continuity and kind’ve do the same thing over and over and we’ve never seen ourselves as a retro ‘60s band – I mean I love a lot of retro ‘60s sounds but I don’t think we sound like ‘em.
Hurrr… I think the most important thing is that you’ve got your own personality and I think that freshens the sound up. But do you think there may be people who see you as a pastiche, as a retro band?
Hurrr… I know that, but it’s like people that say that all hip-hop sounds the same. It’s just that you didn’t listen to it enough. Or people that think all heavy metal is just noise. It’s a very parental opinion.
Yeah, I guess so.
I think it’s always fun to hear what people think when they listen. We’re less precious about it now, y’know - we don’t feel like we have to stand behind everything and basically that’s someone else’s interpretation of our song, and if they hate it I don’t care.
So, are you pleased with the results of the remixes?
Yeah, it’s been good – obviously a little worse than our versions…
…it’s fun to hear y’know. I thought they were good, yeah.
Which one’s your favourite?
I like the Mattt with three ‘t’s one.
Yeah, Mattt Helder, Arctic Monkeys (or M.A.T.T.T.). Yeah I guess that’s the closest in style in terms of the guitar sound…
No, I think it’s my favourite because he did the most – he changed the beat and he changed the riffs and everything, he basically just kept the vocal. Whereas the other ones are more like you’d expect a remix to be, I guess.
Do you still think you’re the best band in the world?
… Well… (exhales)… I don’t really know how to answer that, we’re just pleased to be in the Hives…
Yeah, I think we are. Basically, it would be a shame if I didn’t think so, wouldn’t it? Then we’d just have to go home and practice.
We’ve the chance to do whatever we want and if we fail at that then, y’know, shame on us.
Yeah I guess so. That’d be pretty depressing. What else do you have lined up for the future?
We have some touring left to do, but we’re talking about doing new music a little bit. I think after the last record we did, it was a bit more ‘anything and everything’ and it’s kind’ve a confused record, a scatterbrain record. It feels like this one will also be really fun to make.
Video: The Hives - 'Tick Tick Boom' October 2007
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Do you think that’s it now – making records for fun rather than, like you said, having that parental attitude of sticking to a sound and being more careful.
In a way that’s a bit more fun but I’m a bit torn between doing the same things and not doing the same things. I never really liked bands where they had one reggae song and I don’t think you can do everything and do it well. There are obviously going to be fewer who are better at doing reggae than The Police, for instance, and sometimes I feel that bands should stick to what they do best. But on the other hand you only live once and I wanna try different things so... I’m not old yet.
Do you ever get bored after playing with the same people for decades?
We still feel like we have a lot of things we want to do musically, so we might as well eh?
I mean in terms of personnel… is there a Howlin’ Pelle solo record on the way?
I wouldn’t say it’s on the way, it might happen at some point. But I wouldn’t say it’s close. I could do it now, though, whereas in the past I don’t think I even wanted to. Obviously we are free to do whatever we want, but the problem is we still really want to play with The Hives…
Yeah, you’re still having fun?
Yeah absolutely. More fun than ever I think.
So is that the main reason for being in a band?
Yeah, I guess…. that and chicks and money.
Sex and money?
Chicks and money, yeah or… no. No, I think if we didn’t think it was fulfilling musically we probably wouldn’t do it.
Do you think, though, that the musical climate has shifted slightly? Do you think the musical climate is still the right one for The Hives to be successful in, especially in London and this country?
Y’know London is not the world. I don’t care too much about London. I don’t really know that much about it. We think we’re doing fine in London, we’re still playing all the big venues.
Yeah, I know you recently sold out the Bar and Grill in Hoxton…
I mean over there, there’s always like a hipster element, especially in London. I think in London it’s worse than the rest of the world. Everyone steps in the same direction at once all the time, so there’s only room for two bands to be popular in London at the same time. I mean like popular. And there’s only room for them to be popular for a set amount of time, in that kind’ve way. Because people always want to look at something new, in order to make themselves look cool. Or I don’t know, maybe they find something they really like in the new band. Unless you have fans for ten years you start to question if they really like [the band], or if they’re just ‘hey look at me, I’m cool’.
But a lot of good things come out of that too. it could be like America where the same huge rock bands are popular year in, year out and nothing ever happens. I don’t know. There’s hope I guess.
You mentioned the word ‘hipster’ – how would you define a ‘hipster’?
Yourself? You’re a hipster?
No, I dunno. I guess anyone that’s 17-years-old and interested in music. Well not everyone, but you know what I mean, I can’t explain, look it up in the dictionary.
So we’re not going to get Howlin’ Pelle’s five pointers on how to recognise a hipster?
No, they change every year.
Maybe that’s the thing we should be looking for…
And there’s also new ones every year, you can only be one for a short period of time. It’s really good, because a lot of new music comes out of it, but on the other hand there’s also 15 bands I loved since I was 14 and that means a lot more to me than whatever I think is some interesting songs.
Stuff you hold on to?
Yeah, exactly. But on the other hand you have to discover them at some point, maybe it’s because they were hip at some point, I dunno.
Do you still consider The Hives a cool band?
Yeah. I mean The Hives have always been what is cool in music. And yes, I still think the same things are cool in music now. For me.
'Howlin' Pelle and The Hives are in the UK for a tour this spring - check dates below:
14 Norwich UEA
15 Newcastle Academy
16 Nottingham Rock City
17 Bristol Academy
18 London Brixton Academy
Tickets are £17.50 in the regions, £18.50 in London. MySpace here. The Hives' 'We Rule The World' single is out now, taken from The Black And White Album.