” I’m almost jealous of myself sometimes actually.” inside the mind of Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, (vocals) The Hives

"I don’t get to overrule shit. It’s a hopeless democracy." Pelle on the dynamics and politics within The Hives...

Interview by Adrian Hextall

The Hives, the Swedish rock enigma that rose to prominence in the early 2000s during the garage rock revival found mainstream success with the release of the album Veni Vidi Vicious, and the anthemic “Hate to Say I Told You So”.

Ever noted for their live shows, they return to the UK in 2017 as part of the British Summer Time shows in Hyde Park on a bill that sees them sharing the stage with Green Day and Rancid. 

With just five studio albums to date, Barely Legal (1997), Veni Vidi Vicious (2000), Tyrannosaurus Hives (2004), The Black and White Album (2007) and Lex Hives (2012), MyGlobalMind spoke to lead singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist about the possibility of a new album and the upcoming festival slot.

MGM: How are you Pelle? I’m looking forward to seeing you coming over with The Hives in the summer.

PA: How bad can it be being out in Pelleworld? 

MGM: Exactly. That’s very intriguing. I’m jealous.

PA: I’m almost jealous of myself sometimes actually. On a good day I am.

MGM: That’s the best way to be, isn’t it? Surely. Enjoying life to the full.

PA: Yes, I’m doing my best. And is going pretty well I might add.

MGM: What have you been up to?

PA: What have I been up to? I’ve been in Los Angeles for a bit, working a bit. Now, I’m in Sweden and I’m going back to Los Angeles next week to do some more, try to create some music out of thin air. It’s not easy being Almqvist, you know?

MGM: I can imagine. Where is home for you these days? Is it LA or is still in Sweden?

PA: I’d say still in Stockholm, still in Sweden.

MGM: Got you. And LA for the work and the sun?

PA: Yes. I love it there too. I’d like to be there more. I’ll figure something out, some way.

MGM: As far as the LA side of things is going, as opposed to having to pull music out of thin air, is this music for The Hives or is it one of the many, many collaboration pieces that you do?

PA: It’s kind of early to know really. The Hives have pretty high standard, so if I make a piece of music, it’s very hard to get The Hives to want to play it. It needs to be really good, which I think is a good way to go about it. The bar has been set pretty high for such a long time that you don’t want to just fumble something out half finished. You want it to really be worth something in the long run of Hive things that will come out. It needs to compete with that. I think it’s a great way of going about it, but it means that it’s hard to make a Hive thing after you made so many good things with The Hive and you need to stack up those and sometimes feel…

MGM: Is there anything on the horizon? I mean, it’s been almost five years now since the last album.

PA: Yes, it’s been too long, basically. It should be. There are a lot of good songs but we haven’t figured out when and how to make the album yet.

MGM: So, there’s material there. It’s just a case of getting the band together and working out how to go about it.

PA: Yes. It’s the first time, that’s the hardest part. There’s usually very little material, but we rehearsed a lot and now, it’s kind of the changed where there’s a lot of material, but we don’t rehearse enough. It’s a new problem and we’re not really equipped to deal with it in the best way, but we are trying.

MGM: Where is everybody based these days? Are you all still in Sweden or are you spread out? Is that part of the problem?

PA: We are spread out over Sweden, pretty much. I’m not sure that’s a problem. I think the problem might be that we’ve loved each other’s company for 20 odd years and it’s been strange recently. But I’m sure we’ll get back to it. It’s hard when you have each other’s company for 20 years, and all of a sudden, it doesn’t feel that good. It’s very hard to know what to do about it.

MGM: Definitely. That’s some celebration, you’re able to have to do 20 years. I mean, there’s few bands that manage to do that these days.

PA: That’s true, yes. Very few bands manage to do that.

MGM: That’s very true. You look back on history, bands like The Beatles, they lasted effectively a decade, and many others that didn’t even managed that, and for you to have gone 20 years. If you look back to when Lex Hives came out in 2012, you were still hitting the top of the charts in many countries, so there’s still an appetite for your music, as well, which is great.

PA: Yes, nobody really picked up the torch and that’s why we got to keep going.

MGM: There seems to be fewer and fewer bands that you find that can do good spots on big bills these days or headline festivals. It seems to be a lot of the same bands that are repeating.

PA: It’s a bit strange. It’s like we’re fairly young on the main stage, 15 years old. We’re spring chickens but these other people are even older than us.

MGM: It’s very true. Looking at what you’re doing this summer, is there more than just say, British Summer Time? I’m imagining you’re playing more than just Hyde Park?

PA: Not a lot but we’re doing a fair amount of European festivals all over the continent. It’s what we like doing in the summer, it’s basically playing in around Europe, going to shows. It’s always a good time.

MGM: You get a large crowd and a good weather presumably.

PA: Yes, usually. It’s something I want to keep doing for as long as I physically can.

MGM: In terms of then getting everybody back together, if it’s tough to the band together to work in the studios, how do you go about preparing and rehearsing for the festival circuit?

PA: We rehearsed so much when we were kids, we don’t really need to rehearse that much anymore. We can just show up and the sound’s pretty good. We’ll rehearsal for a week or something, maybe learn some of our old song again that we haven’t played in a while. I mean, we don’t really need a lot of preparation. It’s this thing that happens when we hit the stage that will happen regardless, pretty much, because we hate being bad so much, that we’ll just so for nothing to make it good, and therefore it usually turns out pretty good. We have to just realize how high the bar is set, and sometimes it can be painful to reach it, but there’s no alternative.

MGM: Presumably then, you all come to those sessions and you come to the shows knowing how good you need to be. So, you’ve done your own individual preparation before you all get together?

PA: Pretty much, yes. You don’t wanted it to be like the first show where all the other guys know that you’re fucking up all the time. We really stay on our toes for the shows.

MGM: When you do get together for the music, and consider what you might put down for another album, any thoughts around who you might want to work with again? I mean, you picked up Josh Homme last time, for example. Was that a great experience or would you like to do something different this time?

PA: It was great working with him, mostly because we love him as a person and we have so much fun together hanging out. I mean, guy is no slouch in the studio either… I don’t really know how we would record it. That’s actually the main problem now with making a new Hives album, is figuring out how to record it and what the overall style of the album is, because we have a hard time agreeing on that, but we agree on which songs are the best. As far as sound and style and stuff, that’s been more of an uphill battle this time to agree on.

MGM: With the music that has been out more recently, of course, you’ve managed a single back in 2015, Blood Red Moon. Was that one that was just lying around or did you manage to find time to pull that together and it was fresh at the time it came out?

PA: Yes, we made it right before we recorded it and it came out. It was all done sort of one go and fairly quickly. It was a soundtrack for a movie, like a teenage horror movie saying that we want to be more of it. We made that song especially for it. So, not really like a Hive… It doesn’t need to sound like The Hives and that was intentional, we wanted it to sound like we’re seeing a teenage horror movie soundtrack should sound like, and that’s slightly softer than Hives.

MGM: Is that something that you’ll pick up for lives shows? Is it really just designed to hit that soundtrack?

PA: It was really designed to hit that soundtrack. It would probably seem weird… because it’s kind of more of a thing you played sitting down, and it would feel weird to just all of sudden sit down in the middle of a Hives show and play that song. It’s a bit too mellow for our usual, blast everything to the max.

MGM: What about you and the rest of the band and the work that you do with other artists, is that still keeping you busy, as well? Because it seems like you almost can’t decide what genre of music to work in at times. You’ll seemingly try anything.

PA: Yes. I mean, I’m into trying anything. It’s just that I’m not sure The Hives would try everything. It doesn’t keep me busy enough. I would like to be way more busy that I am, actually. 2017 I promise to be more busy than I have been in 2016.

MGM: Everybody’s New Years’ resolution is the same, I’m sure.

PA: Yes, you probably right about that.

MGM: Of all of the collaboration pieces that you’ve done, which one stands out as, either the most unusual or the most enjoyable?

PA: The Christmas song with Cyndi Lauper was really fun. That was fun and it was also really fun to work with Timbaland because it’s a different world. Timbaland and Pharrell were really fun to work with. We learned so much about work processes and stuff like that from working with them, that has helped us eventually later on. It was fun because it was a very easy way of working and a lot of results from not that much effort, which was really fun because making a Hive classic can be so much just non-stop effort and some don’t most enjoy it was one would wish because we set the bar pretty high. It’s just like, “Is this good enough? No, I’m not sure. Is this good enough? No, I’m not sure.” We just don’t put on something together and hope it works. It was very fun in that regard to have someone else decide when it was good enough.

MGM: Now that makes sense. Is there a lot of material out there that you’ve tried decided it didn’t work because it didn’t hit the bar that you were looking for and it was just set to one side?

PA: Yes, we end up not finishing a lot of stuff. We have a lot of stuff that might be good and pop, but we don’t even really get to the point of finishing the song if we don’t think it’s going to hit the bar, like working with Pharrell and Timbaland. We’ve learned a lot that working, sometimes we can finish it even though it doesn’t feel perfect. Sometimes it might surprise me when it’s done. I think, we’ve gotten slightly better at finishing even our slightly, what feels slightly substandard and sometimes that means that it ends up surprising you and being better than you thought it was going to be.

MGM: Tell me a little of your world because this is something I didn’t appreciate about, the history of the band. Tell me a little bit about Randy, will you? You read about Randy and the involvement with the band, it almost reads like you’ve got an imaginary friend.

PA: Yes. I’m not sure our mental stability has always been up to par, but yes, he’s still involved. He’s not as involved as he used to be. Maybe that’s why we can’t seem to finish another record. He is still a factor in most things we do. It’s this thing where it’s hard because we never see him. It’s sort of like, you got to take it on faith. It’s like believing in God. Somebody says God exist then you’re like, “Really? Where is he then?” And he just goes, “You’re just going to have to believe me.”

MGM: Does he still have management workings within the band or has he stepped back from that a little bit now?

PA: Now, we have a normal rock band management like other rock bands have. He’s out of the loop, so sometimes it was a challenge having him as the manager because he’s really not enough part of society to be a good manager.

MGM: But he’s the guy that can potentially pull you together and make you record a new album, is he?

PA: I hope so. I have to give him a call and tell him to try.

MGM: I like that, very good. Tell me a little bit about what attracted you, if you were, to the British’s Summer Time piece, as well. Is it just because it’s one of the numbers of the European Festivals that you want to do or is there a reason that you said, let’s do that one? Was it with the other acts on the bill, as well?

PA: We have a lot of fun listening to those other acts growing up. It was really be fun to see them, like Rancid and Green Day. Before it was actually played in our time in our hometown, we we’re kids and we saw them. That’s like, it’s fun. But also because we played a Hyde Park in the Summer a couple of times and it’s always so fun, that we can’t wait to do it again. It really is a special place play for us.

MGM: Given the life of the band now, given the time slot that you’ll get, I would imagine you’ll be able to put a decent length set on, as well. What can we expect from you on the day? Is there any sort of anniversary-type celebrations that you’ll be wanting to do this year?

PA: I think that we’re going to have to go through and decide on some other older songs to play. Last summer, we decided to play a lot of stuff that we haven’t played in the long time, like pick other stuff from our old album. But this time, I think we were a bit too mean to Lex Hive last year. I think we’re going to play more newer stuff, if I have anything to say about it.

MGM: Is it a democracy or do you get to overrule people?

PA: I don’t get to overrule shit. It’s a hopeless democracy.

MGM: You’ve got to hope the rest of the band will agree on it.

PA: Yes. We try to manipulate each other. It’s a type of democracy you see in House of Cards, more like.

MGM: Fragile we’ll call it.

PA: A manipulative, fragile democracy.

The fragile manipulative democracy (if that’s not a future album title I don;t know what is) play BST on Saturday 1st July. 

Check out www.bst-hydepark.com for more information


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