It’s late July and the self-proclaimed purveyors of ‘real rock and roll’ The Hives are well into the festival season – they’ve clocked up 15 shows so far – most notably Benicassim near Valencia and have stopped off in our nation’s capital for the first time in two years to play two intimate gigs showcasing some of the material from their new album.
Just as brash, cocksure and every bit as arrogant as when they were last here, Clash finds lead singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist and drummer Chris Dangerous sitting on a bench, their formal attire juxtaposed with the relaxed surroundings of a park in East London.
Dressed in their trademark white and black sharp suits, they’ve got shiny eyes at the prospect of unleashing a barrage of new material to the world and challenging a brand new audience not to like them.
I’m looking forward to getting up on stage and facing some indifference!
Taking a seat, I find my first question answered before I can even utter a word. ‘So how did the new songs at Benicassim go down?’ I was about to enquire, as a smartly dressed gent cautiously approached us and very politely tells the Swedes just how “fucking fantastic” the five-piece were at the Spanish festival, grabbing himself a quick handshake before dashing off. That guy obviously liked it, but how did the band find playing the new songs?
“Fucking brilliant – fantastic,” Pelle says immediately. They are both obviously pretty happy with the way things are going for them at the moment. Chris adds: “I could not have dreamt of a better reception.” The songs weren’t all that new to the crowd though, it turns out the power of the internet has got the new material out into the world pretty quickly; “I partially blame, well actually I thank YouTube,” the drummer tells me. “We’ve played a few shows with the new songs and I think the record for someone uploading a video of us was something like 32 seconds after we finished until it was put online.”
The lead singer steps in at that point saying, “We’ve been playing different sets with different songs and the response has been great – like at the 100 Club [where they played the previous night] we played more new songs than before and the atmosphere was amazing. We’d not played there before.” Before pausing and adding, “We were too popular to play it when we first came to the UK…” feeding the band’s well-known ego.
This new record has been troublesome for The Hives. The follow up to the 2004 release ‘Tyrannosaurus Hives’ has had eight different producers getting involved and the album has seen the band’s most disjointed recording yet as they have moved from studio to studio to get things right. For the first time they’ve taken to recording outside of their native Sweden and in an attempt for their sound to evolve, have taken themselves across the globe looking for the right producer – a search which has seen them work with some of the biggest names on the planet. It’s also seen a scheduling nightmare, with studio time, live performances and producer’s whereabouts clashing massively.
“Put it this way,” Pelle chuckles, “Pharrell Williams was five hours late every day, and Dennis Herring was five MONTHS late… That’s what took the time – it was the scheduling. We could have got pretty much this record out nearly a year ago. We really need to get a fucking record out soon!”
One of the (quite literally) heavyweight producers involved with the new album was the R&B emperor, Timbaland. Over in Sweden on Justin Timberlake’s tour, the band managed to grab a couple of day’s studio time with him. Already familiar with each other from collaborating on the producer’s album earlier in the year, the idea of using someone from another genre appealed to the band. “We worked with him, and Pharrell Williams like we said; and it’s a completely different world,” the Hives front man says. “They don’t have the same outlook on live music as we do.” Chris Dangerous agrees, “That’s what made it good – we wanted to do what they do and they wanted to do what we do. We come from such different musical places and we wanted to bring those two worlds together and fuck with it a little bit.” He continues, “They’re not laid back at all; they’re really energetic when they’re in the zone. It just takes them fucking forever to get to the studio!”
The presence of the R&B producers also enabled the band to look at themselves in a new light. “They’d get really excited when we literally played a little bit of guitar. They’d be all, “maaaan that sounds fuckin’ great” so then we’d listen to it and think, “yeah we sound fuckin’great!” and we’d get all excited,” Pelle remembers. “It was nice recording with them, because even though we did some stuff with Dennis Herring in Mississippi and Jack Knife Lee in the UK, they bring something completely different to what you and I would think of to rock music. It was like fresh eyes and ears to our sound.”
“We got new jokes with producers from a different genre – I thought I’d heard all the fucking drummer jokes there are til we got in a studio with them!” Dangerous dryly notes.
Pharrell Williams was five hours late every day, and Dennis Herring was five MONTHS late… That’s what took the time. We could have got pretty much this record out nearly a year ago.
By purposefully stretching themselves to work with so many people (“it was meant to be like four studios, not eight,” Chris interjects), The Hives have changed the way they’d always done things and started developing a new sound at the same time. In their eyes, this album has to be a step up from the last, and it was time to try something a little bit new. Instead of practicing and getting rid of songs that weren’t quite sounding right in the rehearsal room, they decided to record everything they had to see what happened.
Now they don’t know what to do with all of the new material. They have the luxury of too many songs – a first for the band. “It depends on what songs finally make it on the record, but we’ve got some tracks that only feature piano, vocals and finger snaps, while others don’t have any guitars, but there will definitely be stuff that you’d be very familiar with as a Hives fan… except it’s better,” Pelle explains, describing what we can expect from the new album.
There will be a few surprises on the record – nothing quite as new as songs recorded in their mother tongue, but they assure Clash that there will be some stuff that’s very, very different. It’s something The Hives say they always try and do; pointing out for instance, that on their second album, ‘Veni Vidi Vicious’, they covered the Curtis Mayfield penned 60’s soul song ‘Find Another Girl’. “If we didn’t do things like that, it would get a bit tedious and we need to do things that haven’t been done before, otherwise it’s hard to be happy with the record,” Pelle says, as a police helicopter clatters overhead, doing its best to interrupt us on its way to Hackney.
Pelle has to lay down the vocals for one more song but other than that, the record is being mixed. When asked who’s doing this, it draws a wry smile and cynical laugh from the pair. “Tons of people are mixing it, and we’re going to pick one of them. We’ve got people doing it while we’re over here – all the equipment is set up in the hotel rooms,” Dangerous explains.
As for the name of the album – the band are as cagey about releasing that information to the world as they are about the mythical ‘sixth Hive’, Mr Randy Fitzsimmons. According to the band, he’s been writing and arranging the songs for their whole career, without ever being spotted, and this record is no different. “He arranged the songs,” the front man says, looking a bit bored about being asked about this mysterious figure, “he lets us do more now as we’re sufficiently trained or whatever you say. But it’s still mainly him.” “As for the name of the album,” Dangerous expertly diverts the conversation, “we know what we’re gonna call it. I like it. There’s no chance we’re gonna tell you though. Not even a clue.”
After playing their last night in London – in the tiny back room of the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, there’s a few loose ends to tie up around Europe before a 25-date tour right across America beckons in October supporting, erm, Maroon 5? What’s that about? The American band is - how shall we say it – a little bit more mainstream and soft core than the Swedes. “A little?” exclaims the drummer. “We just wanna win an audience. We wanna play to an audience that might not be fans.”
Pelle agrees, “We started missing the old Hives days when we’d have to fight against the crowd and win through by the end. Nowadays, most of the shows we do – and we’re gonna sound like spoilt assholes here – are to people that already love us, which is gratifying, but I’m looking forward to getting up on stage and facing some indifference! It’ll help us sharpen our tools a little bit.”
“If you go for a run,” Chris adds, joining in with the flowery metaphors, “it’s easier downhill, but it feels better if you run to the top of that hill.”
We’ve got to wait until late autumn to fully experience the new Hives record – that is if they ever get it mixed and finished - but judging from the reaction of the latest material, especially the track ‘Tick Tick Boom’ Clash noted later that night (nothing to do with Will Smith), we’ll have to hold on to our pants, as they look like they’re gonna rock our cocks off.