Q&A: The Hives' Howlin' Pelle Almqvist On Being In A 9 To 5 Band, Taking Five Years Between Albums, And The Tupac Hologram
In these hyperactive times, five years can be a musical lifetime. (If you can't hurry up with that next digital EP, then dump out a side project or something, sheez!) But for The Hiveswhose long-range plan for world domination was fulfilled within their first two albums (and whose members had more children and contractual junk to deal with these last few years)five years was merely the right amount of time to fashion Lex Hives (Disques Hives), an album of crackling garage-pop. Their early-2000s fame has waned little in Europe, and they attracted a fairly insane crowd to a "surprise" show at The Studio at Webster Hall a couple months ago. Maybe the long hiatus is part of another grand schemeit allowed just enough time for a younger crowd who never saw them the first few times around to pant for more. SOTC spoke with Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, who called from a cab somewhere in his current hometown of Stockholm, about the band's recent activities.
What's all that noise?
They're building a new bridge across the water. And the graduating students have recently started this tradition where they ride around drunk on flatbed trucks, wearing white hats and screaming, throwing things around, and that's what I'm seeing outside the window.
Are they going to destroy the bridge?
Now that would be cool, I'd like that!
So here's where I could make a goofy transition from building a bridge to making a new record...
Ha, yes, you just did make that transition.
Ha. Okay, so what happened crossing over five years from The Black and White Album [released in 2007] to Lex Hives?
Yeah, it was a long time, though we didn't plan it that way. We do spend a long time making albums. But I guess also that last album had a lot more touring that went into it. That was a really different situation for us, putting out that album. We used a lot of different producers, spent some money on it, really thought it was different for us. So we felt we better give it a proper shot. That was the longest time doing touring, it was spread out, and the planning took more time. Maybe we did a higher number of actual shows around Veni Vidi Vicious. But what really happened between The Black and White Album and this one were some legal troubles we had to tend to, which I'd rather not delve too deeply into.
Like what, you were moving your tax stuff around like the Rolling Stones, and moving to different countries?
Ha, that would've been pretty cool! I wish, but it's not quite that interesting. It was a year of bad luck. But anyway, it always seems to take us about two years to make a record we're happy with.
Yeah, you don't mind taking time like that, right?
Well, for us, doing it that way has been pretty successful I guess. Usually, when we think we have a "finished" record, we then spend another six months months working on it. And if you compare the two, that's when it really becomes greatthose six months of messing with it, fixing what sucks about it.
You also bought a place in Brooklyn, didn't you?
Yes, I do still have a place there. I didn't stay there a long period of time though. I wish I did, and that was the plan. But then we started working on this album. I was going back and forth. I really want to spend a lot more time there than I get to.
So I've known you guys for awhile, and I was always struck by how, even before you got kind of massive around 2001 and the [major label] deal and all that, you really did work at the band very seriously, like a strict job in a way. Lots of Swedish bands seem like that. So has that band and recording process changed at all as you've gotten a little older?
Well, there's still a lot of traditional hanging out at the rehearsal space, trying to figure out songs. But yeah, we pretty much 9 to 5 it for a year and a half. We show up at 10 a.m., bang on some drums, bang on some guitars, maybe record a bit. It's an arduous process. But we're really bad at coming up with something and saying, "Yeah, there it is, it's done!" We can come up with something, but making it two-and-a-half good minutes can take us a year and a half. So we have this fantastic 20-second song, for a year. Ha.
You live in Stockholm but the rehearsal/recording space is back in your original hometown?
Yeah, the space is in Fargesta. We're all still basically in a two-hour radius from each other though. So we 9 to 5 it, but we count driving, hanging out... So we start at 11, then have a long lunch, etc.
Ha. So now you're down to about a solid two hours.
Ha, yeah. And then we start talking about stopping around 3. You know, it's like banging on guitars and drums for hours, it really gets to your head, you really get numb. After awhile you say, "Stop!"
So you wrote tunes over a two-year period. But compared to the last album, this one sounds like there weren't as many producers and remixers and such...
Uh yeah, I'd saythere were none! We produced it ourselves. I think that was the intention. Y'know, you're always happy with the last album. But it's almost like because you were happy with the last album, you have to try something that's sort of the opposite. So the last one, a lot of producing and studio time. So this time, it was like when we were kidsyou'd spend a year and a half writing and playing songs live, but then you can only afford a week and a half of studio time. And so much of our favorite rock music is done that way. That's a little of why you like so many debut albumsbecause a band practices those songs for a long time, and then have no time to record them. And sometimes that's a very good thing. Stand in a room, and go one-two-three-four! In the past, I think we'd get to a studio and find an interesting old drum machine or analog synthesizer or something, and sit around trying to write up with a song where we could use it. Whereas now, we thought it would be cool to just go with guitar/bass/drum/vocals. And there's the thing where the more shit you pile on an album, the worse every individual things are going to sound.
Do you have a favorite song off the new album?
I think right now it's probably "Midnight Shifter." I think that turned out pretty cool. There were all these rare old soul compilations that came out in the late-90s that Crypt Records put out. We loved all of those, and had been listening to them a lot again. And we had horn players there in the studio for [the first single], "Go Right Ahead."
So we just put them on that song as well. It was one of those songs where you come up with a drumbeat and think that drumbeat is so good that you've just got to make a song out of it. Like, fuck melody, man, we got this amazing drumbeat!
Josh Homme [of Queens of the Stone Age] kind of helped mix this album, right?
Well, we were done with the album, and we were mixing in California with Andrew Scheps, and Josh is a good friend of ours, and he has a studio. We had some vocals to finish, because I was sick earlier. So we were at Josh's studio doing those vocals, and we thought it was kind of a waste not recording stuff with him, since he was there, and he wasn't too busy, and we were having so much fun just hanging out with him. So we recorded two covers just as bonus tracks. They're not on the album. I think they wanted to use them as bonus tracks somehow. We figured they'd be B-sides, but, well, so much has changed with releasing music. Do they even have B-sides anymore?
Yeah, like you flip the record over, and there's a Hives hologram that pops up.
Exactly, with us playing at Coachella.
What'd you think about that Tupac hologram thing?
Well, I guess they beat us to that, though we've been working more on clones for a long time, but we haven't had a lot of luck. So the hologram seems like a more viable option now. But I don't think they pay us enough that it would be worth it. It's like if you bought a flat screen TV 10 years ago, it was fucking expensive, but now they cost nothing. So like we're not rich enough to be first on the hologram train, but in like 10 years, we should have an amazing one!
And that would be perfect timing, because by then you definitely won't want to be touring as much. The hologram could do the touring.
Where is the Hives cloning lab, by the way?
It's at Hives Manor. That's our lab/lair/moonbase/practice space. Or if you want to be artsy fartsy, you could call it "The Factory."The Hives, "A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors"
The Hives play Terminal 5 on Friday with FIDLAR and Flesh Lights.
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