The Hives: ‘We’ve never done guitar solos, listened to ABBA or had long hair’

The most popular band in Scandinavian rock, which released a new album this month, refuses to grow up

The band The Hives, with Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist in the center
The band The Hives, with Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist in the center.Bisse Bengtsson

And in its eleventh year, The Hives, the most popular band on the Scandinavian garage-punk scene of the nineties, resurrected. They hadn’t released an LP since the now-distant Lex Hives (2012), though they never stopped performing live. They also released a handful of singles (Red Moon in 2015, I’m Alive and Good Samaritan in 2019) and a live EP, Live At Third Man Records (2020), on the label founded by Jack White, fueling rumors of an imminent album. On August 11, their sixth full-length work in three decades, The Death Of Randy Fitzsimmons, was released.

Formed in 1993 in Fagersta, a small town north of Stockholm, The Hives spearheaded the new millennium’s rock revival with their second album Veni Vidi Vicious (2000). Today they continue to maintain its reputation as one of the best live bands on the planet, propelled by vocalist and showman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, who gave EL PAÍS an interview via video from a park near his home in the Swedish capital. Dressed in a sort of white robe with black trim, he explains the long hiatus due to the sudden disappearance of his mentor, Randy Fitzsimmons, the only composer to appear in the credits of all his songs. Although it has never been confirmed by the group, some believe that Fitzsimmons is either a pseudonym for the quintet or Pelle’s brother and the group’s guitarist, Niklas Almqvist.

Q. 11 years have passed without a new LP. Why so long?

A. It’s a long story, but mostly because we didn’t know where Randy Fitzsimmons was. Usually when we make an album, he disappears for a bit for inspiration or whatever he does when we tour, we don’t know. But this time, he just never showed up again. It’s been terrible having no songs to release and no album there. Maybe we waited too long. We released a couple of singles hoping that that was going to get them to come out of the woodwork and make music with us again. But instead we get the news that he died, which led us on a quest to find out if he was actually dead. We didn’t find him, but we did find these demos that ended up on the record.

The band The Hives.
The band The Hives.

Q. Is The Death Of Randy Fitzsimmons a new beginning or a farewell?

A. We don’t really know either. We know that this album exists and we’re really happy that it does.

Q. This new album was well recorded in a studio owned by ABBA member Benny Andersson. I imagine when you were a kid you grew up with ABBA.

A. No, I never listened to ABBA. Me and Nicholas grew up in a household where we only listened to free jazz and ancient blues and African rhythms. We never heard mainstream music in our house, no Abba. There was no radio, just vinyls of old blues. I have a lot of respect for ABBA, and I tip my hat to them, but it’s not an influence on The Hives.

Q. The Hives formed in 1993, so this year marks the 30th anniversary. Right?

A. Yeah, something like that. I think it was on New Year’s 1993. Yeah, we’ve definitely been a band for thirty years now.

Q. What were your goals as a band at that time?

A. Record a recording and play a few shows. Rock and roll was definitely not important at that time. We never thought that we would make music that anybody cared about. We wanted to make music that we cared about, period. Most things that were popular at the time were fucking terrible. So we were assuming that since the stuff that we do is good, therefore no one will like it, and therefore we were just going to record it, play our shows and make music that we wanted to make, and then we’re probably going to have to get jobs. We were like 13 or 14 at the time, but we had no concept of a career. We wanted to make noise that we thought was fun to make.

Q. During the nineties there was a tremendous explosion of the rock scene in Scandinavia: Turbonegro, The Hellacopters, The (International) Noise Conspiracy, Gluecifer, Backyard Babies, The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, Diamond Dogs, Sahara Hotnights… What happened? Did the governments put something in the tap water?

A. Some of the ones you mention are from the late 90s and we are from the early 90s. The Hellacopters are from our generation. Also Turbonegro, which are older, although we had not even heard of them. I remember when The Hellacopters got some notoriety we were very happy. We thought, “Look, these guys also like New Bomb Turks and all that stuff that we love.” Some of its members had been in local death metal bands before and that’s why we knew them. Suddenly there was a time where if you were in a band, it was probably going to be a rock band. There began to be more of an audience and that audience discovered that it was possible to start a band and have a good time. And that gave way to a kind of second wave. Many were part of what we called action rock, with a style close to The Hellacopters: long-haired guys, heavy metal fans, who played rock & roll. The Hellacopters, Turbonegro or Gluecifer were basically punk with guitar solos. We were different. We never did guitar solos. We also didn’t have long hair.

The Hives.
The Hives.Ebru Yildiz

Q. How have your influences changed in all these years? On your debut Barely Legal (1997), you sounded pretty hardcore and nowadays you tend to rock.

A. Hardcore is just rock played fucking fast. It’s funny, like every other interview I do, people say we’ve always sounded exactly the same. The truth is probably somewhere in between. new music has come out that we’ve listened to. After being in a band for as long as we have, and a band with such a strong identity, you kind of are influenced by your own band. We ask, does this sound enough like The Hives or too little? It sounds weird, but after being in a band for 30 years, your main influence is yourself and stuff you’ve done before.

Q. Unlike The (International) Noise Conspiracy, The Hives have never been a political group. Are you allergic to politics?

A. I’m not allergic to it. We have very definite political opinions in the band, and I think you can figure them out through the lyrics and who we hang out with, but it was never at the forefront of what we did. Like, I always thought, like, I, I love Refused, but a lot of punk is about us versus them. That was like hardcore punk. Punk for us is me against everybody else. Politics is about groups, is about democracy, and democracy is by definition the majority oppressing the minority. When we toured with Refused, obviously not all of the members had exactly the same political views, but in the end, we all had the same idea.

Q. In 2001, Main Offender was chosen as the soundtrack to a lingerie ad by Agent Provocateur, starring Kylie Minogue riding a mechanical bull.

A. A friend of ours who made the commercial and asked us to use the song. We never thought it would become so popular or that Kylie Minogue would appear, or the mechanical bull, or anything like that. Also, Kylie is a fucking cool person. We had already said no to a lot of ads and in this case we accepted because our friend asked us to. It was a big deal in the UK and that made us bigger there. When people stopped buying records and rock radio almost disappeared, we decided to give our music away for publicity. Before, in many cases, what they were doing was reselling our tracks and taking our money. After Kylie’s announcement we continued to refuse to release our recordings until 2007. When we released The Black And White Album that year, there was no rock radio in the US and we needed to be heard, so the ads seemed to us the best option. The truth is that it was something very strange for us coming from the punk scene.

Q. When the group was formed, Spotify didn’t exist. And today almost all the artists are there, although many hate it because they receive practically nothing for their songs. What do you think?

A. Put quickly, they pay very little. I like the service they offer and it works well, but they pay very little. Or they pay the wrong people.

Q. What have you learned about the music business in all this time?

A. Many, many things. It’s what we’ve been doing for the last 20 years: learning how to handle this shit. Basically, everything is simple if you have a hit. If not, you have to work harder.

Q. And if you don’t get it, forget it?

A. No, not really. You can still make music and have a great career without having hits, if you make an album that people like. But having one hit song can really change everything. For us, becoming a hit in the early 2000 meant that we can still do it and make a lot of money now. So that was very good.We are as popular as we ever were. We’re doing better economically than we did at the time when it was perceived that we were so fucking big. The music business now is pretty much all concerts. That’s why everyone is on tour. That’s why Fleetwood Mac is on tour. That’s why Black Flag is going on tour. Every band that ever existed is on tour because that’s the only way to make money. It became a job again, like being a plumber. You have to show up and sell out.

Q. Do you think that rock is dead?

A. Rock always has to defend itself and show that it is still alive. It’s the only genre that happens with that. Nobody says that jazz is dead or that chamber music is dead. We just got back from touring with the Arctic Monkeys, and they sold 90,000 tickets for a single show. They say rap is the dominant sound today, but certain artists who are at the top of the charts don’t sell tickets. So no, it’s not dead. It’s true that the rock that dominates the charts today couldn’t matter less to me, but the rock that I like never became successful.

Q. What’s the worst insult you’ve ever received?

A. I remember a girl in the front row of a concert, when we opened for AC/DC in Australia. In that area of the venue there was only an audience waiting to see AC/DC, without giving the opening act the slightest opportunity. There was this metalhead booing us. I was climbing on the barrier like I always do, and she grabbed my penis. When I looked down, I saw her gesturing with her thumb and forefinger, with a really small gap between her two fingers. I think that’s my favorite insult.

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