Interview with Pelle Almqvist
The Hives took a circuitous route to fame, recording a couple albums and EPs in the 1990s and getting the greatest hits packaged all together in one magic hit CD, Your New Favourite Band, a couple years ago. Last year the Swedish punks came back with the all-new Tyrannosaurus Hives, a clean, punchy set that clears the sinuses of music fans who've just about had it up to here with wussy stuff from the likes of Dave Matthews and Sheryl Crow. The band’s new concert DVD “Tussles in Brussels,” released in time for the Christmas shopping season, gets the Hives phenomenon down for the record: The hard licks, the black-and-white outfits the band wears, and of course, the singular sound of lead vocalist Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, with whom we sat down for the following chat:
Bullz-Eye: Describe a Hives concert for those in our reading audience who haven't been.
Pelle Almqvist: If you've been to a rock concert--I'll assume that much--if you take what you've seen there and multiply it by ten, that's pretty much it. It's like a rock concert except there's more of everything else. Except color, because we're dressed in black and white. It's a bid louder, more intense, a bit more energetic. The only thing it isn't a bit more of is…calmer.
BE: I'm sure you've been asked this about 5,000 times, but here's 5,001: why do you dress that way, anyway?
PA: It looks good, but also, we're convinced it makes us sound better. Like some hippie bands had some statues on their amps and stuff because it made them sound better? This makes us sound better. The treble's a bit clearer.
BE: I've been listening to your stuff for a couple years now....but describe your music for those who haven't heard it.
PA: Well, it's rock music, that's what it is, I'll tell you that much. Very very very energetic rock music. If you like the classic values of rock – first it has to be entertaining and exciting, and after that you can do different things with it – it’s fast and loud and fun.
BE: Does the DVD cover one show or a series of shows?
PA: We just recorded one show and we had to just trust that we'd be good enough to put it out, otherwise we'd have to record another show. It's one show straight through, not edited. It turned out really well. We spent a lot of time cutting between cameras and making sure the sound was as good as it could be.
BE: What do you remember about the gig?
PA: I was going into the crowd and this guy was pulling on my leg and I fell and did a jump and I landed with my shins on the barrier. I think you can maybe see where it happens. My leg was bleeding and swelling up halfway through the show, and I keep getting stiffer and stiffer. But the good thing is that I was wearing black pants, so you can't see the blood.
BE: When you guys first got together, you could have played any type of music. What made you decide that punk was it?
PA: We were 14. Punk is pretty easy because it's straightforward. It sounded all right when we started. Plus it's way more fulfilling to play music that intense and energetic. We liked it.
BE: Were there a lot of punk bands in Sweden at the time?
PA: Quite a lot, really.
BE: So there were a lot of punk clubs for you to play in.
PA: No, not really. What was popular when we got together was the same sort of stuff—but it was grunge—and we didn't fit in there at all. You're supposed to be miserable and wear your street clothes. But we were a) not miserable and b) not wearing our street clothes. We played with a lot of bands but we didn't really get along with them, I guess that's where the confrontational stage style evolved.
BE: So I listen to your stuff, and I wonder to myself, How does this guy keep his voice in shape on tour, screaming his lungs out song after song, night after night?
PA: I've been pretty bad, but I'm getting better. I drink a lot of tea and don't talk a lot. I think I've subconsciously developed a way to scream, or my larynx is calloused or something.
BE: Are you a big punk fan, or do you listen to other music?
PA: Punk was my first love. I still listen to punk but it's harder to be impressed a lot. I can't listen to bad punk anymore I guess because my standards are too high. It has to be really good for me to accept it. Some of my favorites would have to be the Misfits, the Sex Pistols, and the Saints.
BE: Why do people still listen to the Misfits 25 years later?
PA: For me, it's the best hidden pop music in the world. I think they have pop melodies that are on par with Abba or Motown or the Beatles or whatever. Those melodies are some of the best I've ever heard but they're very badly recorded. People think it's really hard metallic punk music but those were some of the best pop songs the world has ever seen. Plus when I was younger I was really into old 1950s B-movies.
BE: Where does AC/DC fit into your world view?
PA: I just figured out this week, I'm celebrating 20 years of being an AC/DC fan. AC/DC was the first band I got a tape of, when I was six years old. I rediscovered them when I turned 20. They are the best, most consistent band I know of.
BE: I promise not to just keep throwing out bands and asking you about them but I have one more. Devo. I hear "Walk Idiot Walk" and that screams Devo to me.
PA: We really like Devo. I think we listened to them more before we made the Veni, Vidi, Vicious album, which doesn't at all sound like Devo. But we're big fans. I've met those guys a couple of times. They made some great stuff….["Walk Idiot Walk"'s] bassline is sort of similar to "Girl U Want," too. A slower "Girl U Want," with an AC/DC riff over it. Which, in my world, sounds like a pretty good song.
BE: I think Devo's quite underappreciated in the U.S. They were geeky, hostile toward their audience at times, and unapologetic about their weird costumes. People don't see past that and hear the great music.
PA: That's our problem, too, sometimes. Most people are clever enough to get it.
BE: So you guys didn't have to do much on the DVD, it was all done for you?
PA: No. We did a lot of work. There's a movie about us, the "Not Your Average Band" documentary, a history of the band in photos and cartoons and things like that. It's a story with Little Steven as the voice of a reporter [who's a character in the story of the band].
BE: How'd you hook up with him?
PA: We're friends. We've been for a while. I guess Bruce Springsteen first heard us, and he told Little Steven about us, about the time he was starting his underground radio show. We asked him to [do the DVD] and he said yes.
BE: Last question: After the Hives have broken up and gone to rock and roll heaven, how do you want the Hives to be remembered?
PA: I guess… I want to be remembered as something that came about when music had gotten boring and made it fun again. And not in the sort of dumb "good clean fun" sort of way, but I guess, sarcastic fun is how I'd put it. And that we kept to the basic values of rock without being completely retro.
BE: I lied. I have one more question. Are you mad at Green Day for ripping off your idea, writing songs about idiots?
PA: Not really. I think there were a lot of idiots in the news at the time and we both picked up on them. I like Green Day, they're good guys.