All music has an element of the ridiculous,” says the Hives’ lead singer, Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist. He should know. The Hives have become international superstars on the basis of their exuberantly demented version of the basic three-chord punk-rock assault. These five crazed Swedes have steamrolled through Europe, making their name with their natty black-shirt, white-ascot uniforms, their death-defyingly energetic live show, and punk anthems such as “Die, All Right!” “Uptempo Venomous Poison,” “Hail Hail Spit n’ Drool” and “The Hives Are Law, You Are Crime.” As Almqvist boasts, “When we play, people go into a state of shock.”
With their smoking new album, Veni Vidi Vicious, the Hives are poised to conquer America. “It’s about time,” Almqvist says with typical modesty. “America’s new-metal bands are horrible, actually. And they’re everywhere. They’ve even begun to export a few to Sweden, and I’m not very happy about it.”
All five Hives hail from the same small Swedish town, Fagersta. “It’s a mining town, about 12,000 people,” Almqvist says. “It’s pretty bleak.” They got together in 1993, when they were assembled by their mysterious Svengali, Randy Fitzsimmons. “We didn’t really know each other before we formed the band, which I guess is kind of odd,” Almqvist says. “But when we formed the band, we started to see what we had in common. We all really liked the Seventies Swedish punk rock — that’s what we really bonded on. We were about thirteen, so I guess we’re going on ten years. The first five years we did what bands in their teens do: We just sort of hung around and talked about the kind of music we wanted to play. But we couldn’t really do it.”
The Hives started to get serious in 1997, when they released their debut album, Barely Legal. “We graduated from school and made our first record that summer,” Almqvist says. “Since then, we’ve been touring all the time. We would come home, get a job, and then after a month quit our jobs and go on tour again.” After years of small-time gigging, recording on the Swedish label Burning Heart and scoring early success in Germany and Italy, the Hives made a big splash in the U.K. last year, when they released a compilation of their singles, naturally titled Your New Favourite Band. These days, the Hives are the toast of London, firing up audiences primed by the Strokes and the White Stripes. “Hate to Say I Told You So,” on the Spider-Man soundtrack, is one of the catchiest things to hit modern-rock radio all year.
“A lot of what we do best is just stuff we get wrong, translated to Sweden, I guess,” Almqvist admits. “We would try to make something sound like Little Richard, but we couldn’t — it would just come out sounding like us. Sometimes you get something so wrong, it becomes your own. You can end up being more original than if you actually know what you’re doing.”
This summer, the Hives will be buzzing through America to promote Veni Vidi Vicious. Just don’t expect them to start taking themselves seriously. “There is an inherent ridiculousness in playing an actual rock concert,” Almqvist says. “You’re doing everything you weren’t allowed to do in school. Jumping up and down, screaming, sweating, annoying people, and people love you for it. That’s ridiculous. We can’t avoid ridiculousness all the time. We just embrace it.”