“We’re happy to be back!” The Hives’ frontman may not be shouting this from the rooftops as his stage moniker suggests he would, but the grin on Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist’s face speaks volumes. ‘Lex Hives’ is the first we’ve heard from these iconic Swedes since 2007’s ‘The Black And White Album’, and, as they’re keen to tell us, it’s all them. “Self-released, self-produced, self-played, self-taught, self… everything!”
In the five years they’ve been away - a time which, according to Pelle, seems longer to us Brits because they “didn’t play here that much on the last album” - they “stayed at home,” had “a year of bad luck,” and, chips in bandmate and guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem, “a year of laundry.” In fact, it wasn’t just their crisp white shirts they spent time on (and they did: “we talk about what looks cool, and then we decide to wear it,” says Pelle on the band’s outfits) - there was the small matter of learning how to produce. Plus, as Vigilante’s keen to point out, it was over three years after ‘Tyrannosaurus Hives’ that ‘The Black And White Album’ came out.
Learning to self-produce wasn’t easy - “this time we had to make all the decisions ourselves,” muses Vigilante. But, as Pelle adds “there’s five band members, so there’s always someone else to ask. We all produced it, so there was always someone who had an idea.” Then, there’s the small matter of the band’s own label, Disques Hives. “It’s a little scary,” explains Pelle. “[But] everyone’s doing it now. Record labels aren’t as powerful as they used to be, so there’s less of a difference self-releasing, and they’re more used to it now, they’re OK with you having your own label.”
‘Lex Hives’, the finished product of this autonomy, is twelve blistering tracks, all riffs, hooks and singalongs: even from the very start, via opener ‘Come On!’, there’s no doubt who you’re listening to, ‘Lex Hives’ couldn’t be the work of anyone else. Yet, there are notable differences: ‘Without The Money’ isn’t afraid to take things down a bluesy notch, and the whole record feels less ‘punk’ than its predecessors. More traditional rock ‘n roll. And Pelle is very happy about that.
“I would think we were known for playing rock ‘n roll, it’s all we ever do. There are still a few fast songs in there that are fairly punk, but it’s more rock ‘n roll in the sense that it’s less modern. On the last one there were synths and drum machines and things going on, and here it’s all real instruments played by real people.
That organic recording process – spending brief periods of time in various Stockholm studios (“it’s fun to change scenery”) - was also something they cherished, especially following those electronic influences which permeated the making of ‘The Black And White Album’.
Vigilante in particular is no fan of ‘new’ recording techniques. “In the old days, you recorded stuff and what you recorded was pretty much the end result. These days, people record music on to the computer, and can sit for a year and move stuff around and make everything super tight. We wanted this record to be more The Hives in a room playing the songs. If you moved everything around so it’s perfect, you’d lose a bit of The Hives. It’s supposed to be what we sound like – without cheating!”
His frontman agrees. “The reason AC/DC don’t sound like The Rolling Stones is because there are these subtle differences, between when the drummer hits the snare drum, or when the guitarist hits the strings. It’s what makes the band sound like the band. Since people started making everything perfect, you can’t hear the difference between which song is which band. The only difference is the singer, basically.
“The best rock ‘n roll music is just played and recorded. It doesn’t have to be a big studio affair where you record the kick drum first. The best rock ‘n roll albums are made by a bunch of guys standing in a room playing, and you just record that really well. We’re basically just recording what we do – like taking a photograph as opposed to photoshopping it.”
In the past, they’ve even gone as far as re-recording a track because it sounded “too tight.” As both explain, it’s less about tempo and more about feeling. “There’s no right or wrong,” begins Pelle. “There’s no ‘this is correct, now you’ve played it correctly’.” Vigilante continues. “You can play a song ten times, and one of the takes will feel better than the rest. It has nothing to do with if it’s tighter, or better played. It’s just a feeling you get from it. It’s hard to describe it. The mojo, I guess!”
It’s not even just digital recording perfection they’re not fans of. Live takes a bashing, too. Pelle admits “there were a few songs on ‘The Black And White Album’ that we never really played live, because of drum machines and stuff, and we didn’t want to dabble! The show is its own thing, and we need it to be organic, to be able to change things on the fly. We think it’s lame when people have programmed music or backing tracks.”
Calling The Hives’ live show ‘its own thing’ is somewhat of a humble understatement: anyone who’s caught them at a festival will assert that they’re nothing less than the ultimate live act. Never has the word ‘show’ seemed so appropriate. And, thankfully, they’re planning to return after this all-too-brief trip – first a return to Reading & Leeds this summer, and then a “proper tour” in the autumn. We’re happy they’re back.
The Hives’ new album ‘Lex Hives’ will be released on 4th June via Disques Hives.
Taken from the June 2012 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.
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