The Hives Survive: Inside the Swedish Garage-Rockers’ First Album in 11 Years
When the Hives released their last album, in 2012, the Swedish garage-rockers didn’t plan on waiting 11 years to follow it up. Unfortunate, unforeseen events just kept getting in their way. The trouble started in 2013, when bassist Dr. Matt Destruction left the group due to health problems; continued in 2019, when drummer Chris Dangerous was temporarily sidelined following major stomach surgery; and the capper came in 2020, when the pandemic made it impossible for any of them to travel to America to record.
But the long Hives drought will end Aug. 11 with the release of The Death of Randy Fitzsimmons, a collection of 12 high-energy punk-ish songs reminiscent of their best work from the early 2000s. They recorded it in Stockholm at a studio owned by ABBA’s Benny Andersson. “We left the throne for a decade,” says singer Pelle Almqvist, a.k.a. Howlin’ Pelle. “No one sat on it, and so here we are again.”
Leadoff single “Bogus Operandi” arrived earlier this week, along with a video where the five members of the band transform into zombies. It was directed by Aube Perrie, who has worked with Harry Styles and Megan Thee Stallion in recent years. “He got caught up in the zombie movies of his childhood,” says Almqvist, “and this is what came out.”
The album was produced by Patrik Berger, the Swedish mastermind behind Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” and other pop hits by Lana Del Rey, Charli XCX, and Carly Rae Jepsen. But this doesn’t mean that the Hives have abandoned their punk-rock roots or softened their touch. “Patrik used to be in the punk band Snuffed by the Yakuza, who sounded like the Hives,” says Almqvist. “He makes all kinds of music, including weird prog and reggae. It’s just that the pop is the most successful. And since he makes great pop music and knows about punk, he seemed like a good fit.”
Their goal was to create songs that moved the band into the present while sticking to the group’s signature sound. “We desperately want the songs to feel like new songs, not exactly like old Hives songs,” says Almqvist. “There are claims that ‘all the Hives songs sound the same,’ but my answer is that we’re sharks. Sharks have been the same for billions of years, and they still rule. You have no need for development if you’re a shark. You don’t evolve since nothing kills you.”
Casual fans who mostly remember seeing “Hate to Say I Told You So” on MTV 20 years ago will likely be baffled by the decision to call the album The Death of Randy Fitzsimmons, but the hardcores know the Hives have claimed since the very beginning of the group that all of their songs have been written by a mysterious svengali by that name. They claim this figure, whom the public has never seen, has orchestrated practically everything that’s happened to the band since they were teenagers.
According to a press release, this album began when an obituary for Fitzsimmons in a small Swedish newspaper led them to a tombstone with his name on it. When they dug up the supposed grave, they say, they conveniently found a casket filled with the lyrics and music for their new record. “This was what we had been waiting for for so long, and yes, we are sure he wrote them,” Almqvist says in the press release. ”We’ve played his songs all our lives.”
Back in 2002, the British press uncovered convincing evidence that “Randy Fitzsimmons” is actually a pseudonym for Hives guitarist Nicholaus Arson, who is also Almqvist’s brother. The best explanation for the elaborate subterfuge is that the band didn’t want the public to view them as a band like Oasis or the Who, where a single member writes the songs. By making up Fitzsimmons, no one member of the group stood out and received undue attention or sparked any jealousy. It also created a fun bit of lore, similar to Jack White’s claim around the same time that Meg White was his sister.
When pressed on this, Almqvist sticks firmly to the band’s official story. “I don’t feel like I have to respond at this point,” he says. “I’m saying Randy exists. You’re saying he doesn’t. I am closer to the source of this information. People say, ‘If he was real, you’d say more about him,’ but it’s actually kind of the other way around. Since he’s real, we can’t say anything about him, since he doesn’t want us to. He’s basically helped us shape our lives and made us a lot of money, so why would we screw him over?”
And the notion that Arson is the band’s real songwriter? “Let’s just say my brother isn’t nearly talented enough to be Randy,” Almqvist says. “He does some things really well, but he can’t do that.”
The group has been answering skeptical questions about Fitzsimmons ever since they emerged as part of the much-hyped garage-rock revival at the turn of the millennium that also gave the world the Strokes, the White Stripes, and the Vines. It coincided with the meltdown of the record industry thanks to Napster. “We were younger than the people at the record companies at the time,” says Almqvist. “We knew it was the fall of the Roman Empire. That’s why we just decided to get the biggest fuckin’ advance that we could, since we knew there was no way they were going to copy-protect CDs and have that work after Napster. That advance insulated us against the collapse.”
And even when fat checks from major labels dried up, the Hives had little trouble thriving thanks to their incredible, frenetic live show. “That wasn’t some sort of clever strategy,” Almqvist says. “When we go to concerts, we want to see a show that makes you question reality. It has to shoot over the goal and be way too good. That’s what we’ve been able to do.”
Throughout the past decade, as new bassist Johan Gustafsson stepped in to replace Matt Destruction, the band kept booking shows, both headlining gigs and opening slots on tours by Pink, AC/DC, and other big-name acts. When Chris Dangerous had to take time off in 2019 for his surgery, they carried on with Queens of the Stone Age drummer Joey Castillo. Dangerous was back within a few months, but it was rough going for the drummer at first.
“It was a pretty severe surgery,” Almqvist says. “He was close to death for a time. He came back after a couple of tours, but maybe it was too soon. I remember him throwing up after the shows since he was so exhausted. He came back with one lung and worked his way up to two. We’re extremely happy that he’s still on the planet, and that he’s still playing in the band.”
They reconnected with Matt Destruction at a birthday party not long ago, and Almqvist says they worked on some sort of project with him recently that he “can’t disclose” at the moment, but there are no plans to bring him back into the fold on a permanent basis. And even though the band still has four-fifths of its original lineup, Almqvist says the change required a significant adjustment.
“One member leaving changes the dynamic a lot,” he says. “Johan is a different guy than Matt. If you change one person in a unit that’s been around a long time, you have to change every relationship. It becomes a game of musical chairs, and you have to start over with the whole gang feeling.”
That gang road-tested several of the songs on The Death of Randy Fitzsimmons over the past couple of years, including the absurdly catchy “Two Kinds of Trouble.” They’ll play more of them when they head to Los Angeles on May 9 to kick off a brief, small-venue tour of America. Those plans will also include their first New York show in a decade, at the 650-capacity Manhattan club Racket.
“I just found out that it’s been 10 years since we played New York,” says Almqvist. “It fuckin’ sucks, and I feel terrible. We’re looking forward to destroying way-too-small venues completely. We’re used to big festivals and arenas these days. If you shove us into some small basement club, it’s going to be way too much rock per square footage.”
They’ll move into larger venues as the year goes on, including a string of dates in Europe opening for the Arctic Monkeys. The future beyond that is unclear, but Almqvist says they’ll never again wait a decade to finish a new record. The supposed death of Fitzsimmons would seemingly complicate that plan, since they claim he writes all the songs, though.
“We’ll have to see about that,” admits the singer. “We won’t get new songs if he is really dead. But I sort of doubt he’s actually gone. I think that’s just what he wants us to believe. We’ll have to see what happens. But for right now, let’s rock.”
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