THE STATE OF MUSIC HAS always been crap," says Hives frontman Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, sounding half-bored, half-exasperated. "So we've learned that how popular we are has nothing to do with how good the music is." That's not modesty talking: The Swedish band happily acknowledges that its latest CD, Veni Vidi Vicious, kicks the kind of ass that only smart, snotty, stylish garage punk can. The album's first single, "Hate to Say I Told You So," was a hot property on rock radio this summer, during which time the band has been lauded as the next Next Big Thing. Yet the five young Swedes have been together since they were thirteen, playing hardcore shows to unwelcoming audiences, and they're taking their new success in stride. "We think it's funny," says Almqvist, 23. "Because now that we're a critics' favorite, we can make fun of people."
What did you listen to as a kid that you think is cheesy now?
There's a big thing with the band where we don't think anything is cheesy if we like it. If you like it, it's good. If you don't like it, it's bad. There's no such thing as quality in art or music.
What's the weirdest record you've ever heard?
Once upon a time my dad came home with a record of African burial chants. He's big on old jazz and blues, and he got it from some mail-order company. He cranked it up really loud while doing the dishes. It was excruciatingly sad and loud. Sad and loud: It's like new metal, isn't it?
What genre of music do you find most annoying?
The thing is that I don't really like music in general [laughs]. I love music when it's at its best. But most music I have a hard time with. I have a real hard time with mediocre punk rock music. It's so annoying that it has all the right parts but it just doesn't get there all the way. I also find most house music quite annoying. It's not my cup of tea.
When did you start listening to punk rock?
In, like, '86, my mom bought a punk record off a guy she knew and took it home. I treated it as my own and then I started buying the punk records. But she knew this kid who was selling them, so she just bought one to be nice. They were called Happy Farm.
What album from the past five years do you wish you had made?
Crystal Gazing Luck Amazing by the Compulsive Gamblers. It's just got brilliant songs on it, and it's also something that doesn't really sound like the Hives. It would make no sense to name a record that sounds like the Hives, because I think what we do, we do best.
Do you like any bands that sound like the Hives?
Yeah, sure. I mean, I think it's cute sometimes. They're trying [laughs]
What if you could have any living musician jam with the Hives?
Lee Allen, who played saxophone with Little Richard. Blind Boys of Alabama. And Herbie Hancock. What was that song Herbie Han cock did in the Eighties? "Rock It"? [laughs] We should do something like that. It's like Kraftwerk, and Kraftwerk are genius. This is why I don't like house music: If you're going to make something sound electronic, you may as well make it sound electronic. When somebody tries to make something electronic sound groovy and smooth, it doesn't work. If you're going electronic, you have to make it as stiff as possible.
What music do you listen to when you're getting ready to go out?
Either Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels or the Misfits. When you're getting ready to go out, you need a minimum amount of brain activity in the music. It has to be all hips. The music has to appeal to the reptile part of your brain.
What's good make-out music?
As long as you want to make out, you can listen to any music. People want you to say something like Barry White, but I won't.
But do you listen to music when you're making out?
Not really, no. When I listen to music, I listen to music and do just that.
Who's the most underrated musician or band of all time?
A band called Any Trouble, who were sort of New Wave. They were on Stiff Records and they sound like early Elvis Costello, but better. You want to buy the first album, Where Are All the Nice Girls?
Do you have a large record collection?
I own quite a lot of records. I went through a big record-collector phase, but I don't really anymore, because I don't really anymore, because I don't really have time to listen to the ones I already have. Back then, I had a lot of time on my hands.
What was the one record you searched for high and low?
I had to look for the Saints' Eternally Yours for a very long time. It's one of my all-time favorite records. I was looking for it for probably three years, but from the time when I was fourteen to seventeen, so I didn't have a lot of resources.