Friday, April 13, 2012

Interview: The Hives at Coachella, other SoCal venues

photo by Travis Schneider

A version of my interview originally appeared at

Iggy Pop sang a song called “Gimme Danger” on The Stooges' 1973 classic "Raw Power." Lately, The Hives have taken that title to heart.  

Nearly two decades into a rewarding career, the Swedish garage rock band still shows no signs of slowing its relentless pace – especially in concert.

Such was the case during some Stockholm warm up gigs last month, when lanky front man Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist tumbled off the stage.

“He fell down five meters and was lying on the lighting rig,” said guitarist/backing singer Nicholaus Arson (real name: Niklas Almqvist), in a phone interview from his home in Fagersta, Sweden.

Although the Jagger-esque vocalist suffered a concussion, the other members emerged unscathed and longtime Hives enthusiasts were effusive with praise. “People who’d seen us a minimum of 20 times said it was the best ever.”

The group – rounded out by guitarist Chris Dangerous, bassist “Doctor” Matt Destruction and drummer Vigilante Carlstroem - starts a brief California jaunt this weekend.

Arson said The Hives are particularly excited about being at Coachella, which they haven’t done since ’03, when the Red Hot Chili Peppers headlined.

“We grew up going to festivals in Sweden since we were [teens]. We always loved camping out for a week in the forest and watching all the bands. Some years, we would play them.”

Local fans can expect the sets to preview half a dozen new supercharged songs from the forthcoming “Lex Hives” album, available June 5 via the group's own Disque Hives label through ILG.

“If we played more than that, people’s heads would explode,” noted Arson.

The Hives initially appeared on America’s radar via the early-to-mid 2000s garage rock revival. They are best known for the top 20 alt-rock hits “Hate to Say I Told You So” and “Walk Idiot Walk,” plus successful 2004 disc, “Tyrannosaurus Hives.”

Three years later, “The Black and White Album” (a nod to the quintet’s matching attire and color scheme) was met with less enthusiasm. Follow up effort “Lex Hives” frequently recalls the band’s early aggressive days on Swedish punk label Burning Heart.

“We definitely wanted to go back to a rawer sound” and emphasize the dynamics of a band “all playing in a room at the same time,” affirmed Arson. “We were ready to speed it up again.”

Re-igniting the old “short, simple and to the point” maxim, three tracks clock in under two minutes, while the longest, “Patrolling Days” (an anthemic full-throttle rocker) doubles that timing.

“We’re a very zealous band; always on the edge of our seats,” explained Arson. “That’s what we do live: try to be as energetic as possible.”

For “Black and White,” The Hives utilized various producers (including Pharrell Williams) to mixed results. “Lex Hives” found them handling everything in house. The process was not without difficulties though.

“When five [Hives members] are doing whatever they think is right, you have to fight your way into a decision or get along. I don’t think we could have done it the same way 10 years ago. Back then, it would’ve been all fighting. Now we’ve become diplomats to a certain extent.”

Among the standout songs is a Ramones-styled “These Spectacles Reveal the Nostalgics,” the Devo-esque “Wait a Minute,” sax-laden “Midnight Shifter” (“a Stooges-type riff that keeps nagging at you”) and lead off single “Go Right Ahead.” 

Arson said they “were definitely going for the glam/punk thing” on the latter. “This is the first time we’ve had horns on a Hives record.”

Another change is Howlin’ Pelle’s mature, gritty drawl akin to New York Dolls’ David Johansen. The deluxe version of “Lex Hives” contains two tracks produced by Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys).        

“We did some vocal overdubs at his studio [in Joshua Tree] and wanted to try the studio out,” said Arson. “We knew we’d need some bonus tracks, so we recorded those for fun. We were so tired of producing ourselves that we said, ‘help us. You can do whatever you want to The Hives.’”

Unofficial sixth Hives member - the publicity shy Randy Fitzsimmons (some have speculated the name is another pseudonym for Arson) - once again handled lyrics. 

“For us, songwriting is like Lego building. We put blocks of music and lyrics together. We’re pretty thorough when it comes to arranging.” The end result “felt like whatever we had in the stew, as long as we boiled it down, would be a taste sensation. Some sort of condensed bullion of whatever is great about The Hives.”

Despite the long absence from the studio, Arson doesn’t feel like The Hives are underdogs.

“Whenever you have a band that’s good enough to prove its existence over and over again, that’s when you have rock ‘n’ roll that nobody can deny. If your record is being played in hockey arenas and people outside the garage rock community listen to your record, you’ve proved yourself. We love that feeling.”

The Hives perform 6:05 p.m. Sunday and April 22, Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Empire Polo Club, 81-800 Avenue 51, Indio, 7 p.m. Monday with The Rapture at The Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona; 8 p.m.Tuesday, Belly Up Tavern, 143 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach. All shows are sold out.

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