By: Martin Halo
Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City was filled to capacity. The air inside the venue was coated in muck. While the tiers of general admission seating gazed down on the floor, mayhem ensued. Fueling the fire was a gang of musicians dressed in black shirts, black pants and white snake skinned boots. "Clap your hands if you want more," screamed vocalist Howlin' Pelle Almqvist in a classic Mick Jagger strut. "Come on, do you want more!" The audience couldn't help but to beg for it.
I was 18 years old and there I was squashed up against the stage barricade, like a piece of meat, my ears happily harassed by the down strum of barring electric guitars. It was my introduction to The Hives. I didn't know their names, I didn't know their catalog, but what I did know was that these guys were never going to slip in a ballad on me. They were raw, like a bleeding piece of prime rib direct from the butcher's seasoned hand, and they worked the crowd like a hooker at a high priced Bunny Ranch. Once you walked in that door, you were prepared to sell off the house, the wife and the kids for just one more taste.
From that moment forward I've held a soft spot for The Hives, even when they seemed to fade into the oblivion of hyped rock projects surrounding the millennium. I am a changed man these days, having worked inside the pulsating nexus of the music industry for a spell, and it is sad to say that some of the mystique is wearing off. But, like picking up a new lover while in the communion line at church, the spark returned when a friend recently brought the band back to my attention.
Consisting of the aforementioned Almqvist (vox), Nicholaus Arson (guitar), Vigilante Carlstroem (guitar), Dr. Matt Destruction (bass) and Chris Dangerous (drums), The Hives exploded onto the world stage in 2000. "Hate to Say I Told You So," part of the Veni Vidi Vicious sessions, climbed the charts. The Strokes and The Vines were American darlings, and these Europeans were bringing the rock, too. It was a time that didn't stay intact for long. Tyrannosaurus Hives followed in 2004, but soon the band retreated back into the shadows.
Now in 2008, the names remain the same but the band I first crossed paths with in the summer of 2002 was much different. They are still filled with scorching hi-octane garage rock, and they are still pleasantly fucking arrogant. But the process by which The Hives recorded The Black and White Album, released in late 2007, stood as drastically uncharacteristic.
When Hives drummer Chris Dangerous phoned me from his Swedish country villa two hours outside of Stockholm, what transpired was a conversation that uprooted the inspiration behind rebelling against punk, their teenage dreams, and what it was like for the band to record in Mississippi. Welcome to a raw, unapologetic glimpse into the mind of a Hive.
JamBase: Is there a strong American influence present in the Swedish music scene?
Chris Dangerous: There has always been a lot of American influences. The whole country speaks English, so it's not only people our age that grew up listening to American, British or Australian music. It goes a long way back; probably from the time [America] invented rock 'n' roll, pretty much. It was big in the '50s to listen to Elvis. I don't really know why that is because if you go to Finland it is not the same thing at all. They listen to more of their own traditional music. I don't know why that is.
JamBase: I know in the early '60s blues music invaded the American countryside. I was wondering since you guys were more of a garage band, what American garage bands influenced you?
Chris Dangerous: We didn't even know there was something called garage rock until pretty late. We started playing and listening to punk. We listened to stuff like The Ramones and the Sex Pistols. We didn't find stuff like The Sonics until later on. We didn't really listen to garage rock in the beginning. We got curious to where punk came from. I grew up listening to music everyday. My father was a record collector and a singer. I grew up with it everyday. He was an Elvis collector, so at Christmas we always had an Elvis Christmas. He was a big Stones fan, too.
The Hives by Bill Pratt
What is it about music that you believe in? What are you all about? What do you believe to be true?
I would say to live with peace and to have a lot of fun [laughs]. That would be something, to end all misery. It is not political for us. When people come to see our band, of course there are deeper thoughts in the lyrics, but when people come to see us play it is a Saturday night, even if it is a Tuesday and it's raining [laughs]. We want to make people feel happy, no matter how miserable things are. For an hour and a half they can really forget about everything that sucks and really just have a good time. I think that is what we are trying to do with our music for ourselves. We are trying to get the most fun out of playing that we can. I guess we believe in that.
I have seen you guys a couple time, and the first time I saw the band you reminded me of very early Stones. When you talk about being musicians and you talk about making art, what would your intentions be?
Our intentions in the beginning were to rebel against everything. We were teenagers. It didn't take us very long to realize that the people who were supposed to be rebellious and different, which were the punks, were the most stuck up assholes we had ever seen. If you had the wrong kind of beer you would get beaten. That is not what punk was about, for us at least. We started as a punk band, but then we changed and wanted to rebel against punk.
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I saw you guys about five years ago at an AIDS benefit in New York City where you were headlining a gig with Pete Yorn and Jimmy Eat World. I was blown away at how engaged the crowd was. After the first song you had them eating out of the palm of your hand. What is that like?
When people come to see us play it is a Saturday night, even if it is a Tuesday and it's raining [laughs]. We want to make people feel happy, no matter how miserable things are.
The adrenalin rush is enormous, of course. It is amazing. To be honest with you, people say we are "the greatest live band" and blah blah, you know? But, it is supposed to be a show. It is supposed to entertain people. You can't do that by looking at your feet. We are not up there with acoustic guitars. That is not our thing. To get all of that energy, we have to put a hell of a lot into it. I think more people should do that because we are having such a good time every night on stage. I think we have more fun than a lot of bands.
The Hives by Sandra Waibl
What was going on for you, creatively and personally, leading up to the sessions for the latest record, The Black and White Album?
This record was a weird one. You were talking about intentions before and we never thought we would make it outside our hometown. That was never our intention. Our intention was to make three punk rock records that we could look back at when we were 50 and be proud of. We didn't think that anyone would ever buy more than 20 copies of each record. We just thought that when we were 50, the kids, like we do with bands, would find them and enjoy them. Then we got popular and fucked that all up [laughs]. So, when we decided to make this fourth record we had to deviate from the original plan. It was time to make something new. That is why we changed everything that had to do with the band, apart from the members.
What were the changes?
We recorded demos. We had over 30 songs, and we recorded with seven different producers. We had never worked with anyone, except for maybe a co-producer on the first record and beyond. We just felt like it was time for a change in the band that we started 15 years ago. It was really weird.
I am happy you decided to make the fourth record.
Yea, so am I because we had to go on. There is not a new band that came along and took our place. So, until then, if we are the best we have to keep going no matter what.
You guys recorded the record in Mississippi?
Yeah, about half of it [was] recorded in Oxford, Mississippi.
Mississippi is the life blood of this nation's musical history. Could you describe the experience you guys had while you were down there?
Let's put it this way, the previous records took us about three weeks in total to record. We recorded for ten weeks in Mississippi and didn't even finish nine songs. We had to go back to Sweden to finish recording. I will tell you this much, Mississippi is a fucking slow place [laughs]. It is not very efficient when you want to play punk rock. Everyone moves so slowly. It was weird for us. We are so used to setting up the drums and pushing the red button. It was nothing like that.
Being a Swedish band and having all of this American influence, are The Hives perceived differently in Europe than in America?
In the beginning it was very different but the day after tomorrow we are starting our seventh tour of the United States. We are sort of getting used to it. After playing pretty much everywhere bands usually play in the world, there's not many places that are different from each other. The only different place we have played is Japan and that is weird!
The cultural differences are so huge. When we first played Japan people didn't applaud in-between the songs because they tried to understand what we were saying. That was just weird. The big difference with America, and most countries work this way, is that there is a big city crowd and then there is the sort of crowd you find in the sticks. That is pretty much true for wherever you go. It is very different to play Stockholm, Sweden than to play our hometown. That is how it pretty much works in America, too. You get more of those differences in America because it is such a big place. A small city crowd is a small city crowd no matter what country. The differences lie within what type of city it is rather than the country.
Do you have a favorite city in America?
Yeah, I like New York a lot. Let's put it this way, if I lived in America I would probably have an apartment in New York, where I would spend most of the time. Then I would go to L.A. to party for a week a few times a year. Then I would have a cabin in Colorado so I could go skiing. I always like to relax. That would be if I lived in America. Now I live in Sweden, not even in Stockholm. I live in sort of the country about two hours from Stockholm, but if I lived in America I would live in New York. I really like it.
The Hives are on tour now...
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