The Name of the Game
By Raoul Hernandez,
1:04PM, Mon. Sep. 15, 2008
Once the solid body wood and steel swagger of “Tick Tick Boom” swings London ’66 in a titanium Stone(s) setting, cheerleading chant “Try It Again” clears both the lumberyard and steel mill long enough for Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist to make an announcement. “They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” 2007 Hives platter The Black and White Album got different results all right. Loose.
The 12X5 skitter of 2004 predecessor Tyrannosaurus Hives, the Fagersta, Sweden, five’s colossal best, ate whole the 1970s German mechanics of B&W's “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.” and the Weill/Brecht broken music box of “Puppet on a String.” Yet the Aston Martin zip of “Hey Little World,” Bright Lights, Big City slicker “Won’t Be Long,” plus clop rocker “Square One Here I Come,” and hard-banking closer “Bigger Hole to Fill” approach a Between the Buttons density. Breaking out the Hives, Studio 54 wags the Eagles of Death Metal, and Redd Kross substitutes the Willowz at Stubb’s tomorrow night, Tuesday, tick tick booms a bygone era of high-strutting showmanship.
His Royal Majesty Prince Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, so listed in the liners to B&W and matching his bandmates in title and attire, let down his onstage, early-Jagger cocksurity to talk business over Labor Day weekend.
Austin Chronicle: Where are you?
Pelle Almqvist: So I’m in Brazil, São Paulo. The Park Suites Hotel.
AC: Are you just getting in today?
PA: No actually we were here the day before yesterday, and we did a press conference and stuff. Then yesterday we played in Brazilia, and now we’re back in São Paolo to do a show tonight.
AC: How big is the venue?
PA: I don’t know. I haven’t been to the venue yet, because we decided the weather was too nice for soundcheck [chuckles].
AC: First trip to Brazil?
PA: First trip to South America, actually. We’re here one and half, two weeks – something like that. Then we go to America for like seven dates or something, just a short little Texas and California run, which is when we come to Austin!
AC: Getting to South America must be pretty big for the band.
PA: It is. It’s pretty exciting. We’re all really happy to be here. It’s always fun to go places for the first time. This is one of the two continents we haven’t been to basically. So it’s just Africa left now. The good part is the first time you go somewhere you can check out all the sights ‘cause there’s not that much hysteria and not as much to do. We have a decent amount of time off here in South America, in like Chile and Argentina, and since we’ve never been, we have a good chance to be tourists again. Whereas, say, London we’ve been to a million times and seen most of it.
AC: When you’re a young musician you can’t possibly imagine touring the world right?
PA: No, not at all. For the longest time, we didn’t think of it as a profession on purpose because we were worried that would fuck up all the fun. So for the longest time, we just pretended like it was something we were just doing for fun. A couple years back we had to realize that this is basically what we do and it’s for life. We definitely couldn’t picture that hanging out in a basement playing guitar would take us to South America.
AC: Your families must be impressed that you’re out there seeing the world. PA: Yeah, they’re happy for us. You know it’s a good way to see it. It’s kind of like being a sailor or something. It’s a good way to see the world without paying too much for it.
AC: You mentioned that the band at some point realized it was doing this for life. Is that a hard a realization to come to, taking responsibility in a profession whose credo is sex, drugs, and rock & roll?
PA: Yeah… I think we were always, comparatively to the other bands we know, a fairly responsible bunch. We always cared about not fucking everything up, because it’s too important for us to fuck it up. Not because of financial reasons or any kind of keeping it going kind of thing, but just because we don’t want it to be bad. It’s too important for us. We spend so much time with this and we always did spend so much of our time and energy on this that we don’t want it to let us down or we don’t want to let it down. So we're always very careful about doing our best.
But I kind of know what you’re getting at. Sometimes you lose a bit of the innocence when you realize you’re actually making money and you’re making money because people pay to get tickets. I think it’s very important for you to also see the joy of people showing up and being excited to see you and see what you do. And they go home from the concert a little bit happier than when they came. That’s still the central thing. Then the fact that it’s what we do for a living and we have to keep doing it in order to make a living, you have to keep that secondary. You can’t think too much about that, because then you begin thinking that you started doing it for the money after a while. Or I know people that have started doing it for fun and then as soon as they make money they think that’s why they’re doing it. But you got to remember why you started doing it and that’s the reason to keep doing it.
AC: The Hives have now been doing it long enough to be veterans of the music industry…
PA: [Laughs] We are very, very young veterans.
AC: True, you’re not the Rolling Stones, but you’ve completed enough major label album/tour cycles to qualify. How much do you come up against the other half of the rock & roll equation: complete fuck-ups?
PA: When you hang out with bands that take it not seriously enough that almost appeals to me more than taking it too seriously. Cause you can be a fuck-up and just get a manager to take it seriously for you [laughs]. A lot of people do that. I think that works better than if you’re too serious or you’re too focused on the career aspects of it.
Cause you meet a lot of young bands that just started and they keep asking you for career advice and I keep thinking to myself, “Well, that comes a lot later. First you got to make some music and have some people listen to it.” There’s no point in thinking about business decisions before you’ve even made a record, or before people even like your band. It kind of makes me sad when people think we’re successful because we’re business-wise smart, which I think we kind of were because we didn’t want to fuck something we love up. We cared about it enough that we really wanted to take care of it and we're smart enough people to be able to do that. But I think it’s a little bit sad to me when people start thinking about that kind of stuff at the same time as they’re forming a band. Maybe because they formed the band older and we formed the band when we were too young. I mean we were 14. We didn’t think of having a job in the first place [laughs].
AC: Are some of the acts asking for advice Scandinavian bands? When you started, they weren’t as prevalent as they are today.
PA: That goes both ways. After we got successful and a bunch of other [Scandinavian] bands and artists got successful too, people actually now take it more seriously. You go, “We’re a band from Sweden,” and people go, “Oh yeah, you’re a band from Sweden,” whereas when we used to say, “We’re a band from Sweden,” people would go, “What?”
AC: They would mention ABBA a lot, right?
PA: Exactly. People think about Sweden more as a civilized country now when it comes to music whereas before maybe they didn’t. Although ABBA is very civilized music [laughs].
AC: That’s a pretty cool accomplishment for the Hives, to have been a part of that first wave of Scandinavian bands.
PA: It is pretty cool actually. It is pretty cool to have started something.
AC: Do people embrace that where you’re from? Do they give you credit for it, or is it now just, “Oh, it’s the Hives”?
PA: In that way, Sweden is very, very different from America. I think because of the Socialism and all that there, it’s very important to feel like they’re on the same level, so there’s less idol worship. There’s no one that kisses our feet just because we’re a popular band. Which is healthy, but it goes both ways. There’s very little hoopla about the fact that we’re successful.
AC: Is there a sense of camaraderie among Scandinavian acts?
PA: Yeah, I mean a lot of the times when you play a festival, you meet Swedish bands. You might not even know the band, but you’re excited to see each other and kind of get along because you’re from Sweden, or Scandinavia. Culturally it’s easy to hang out with people from Scandinavia because you’re from the same culture. It’s easy to just hang out, so most of the time you become friends pretty quickly. So yeah, I definitely say there’s some kind of camaraderie. Although it’s the same kind of camaraderie with all kinds of good bands I hear. If I like someone’s music, I can usually negotiate my way around them as a person.
AC: Is it then less spontaneous to have to work on music because there’s cycles that must be fulfilled?
PA: It can be. I think we really like working under a directive, even if we come up with it ourselves. We have to have some kind of plan: “Okay, now we’ll tour.” This is basically the last tour we’ll do for this record. Then we’ll start working on the new record. I think that kind of fits us too. We wouldn’t be as effective if we didn’t decide, “Now we’re gonna make a record. Let’s stop touring.” Because we don’t really write on the road, so we really need that. But I think you’re definitely right that there’s something that makes it less about fun and less sexy. If someone tells you to write a song, it’s not as much fun as when, “Oh, I feel like writing a song.” It’s the same thing with everyone. If someone tells you, “You have to eat candy now” it won’t taste as good as if you just decide you want a candy bar.
AC: Your most recent album was reviewed as being somewhat of a departure. What insight do you have to the album now that you might not have had at the beginning of the tour?
PA: You know, I think we tried not having any insight into it in the beginning. I think we just tried to let what happens happen, instead of what we usually do, which is to be very conceptual and think about things. This time we thought, “We’ll just make music and put it out on record and not think about if this song goes with that song.” There’s things I now see in a different light than I did when we finished the record, but that’s always going to be the case. I like some songs more and I like some songs less. Even if I like the songs, I’ll hear things we should’ve done differently. We know the material better now, so it would probably sound different if we recorded it now.
This record was very unrehearsed. It’s all basically played in the studio for the first time, or we put it together in the studio, whereas a lot of our other records we’ll rehearse for six months and then go in and bang it out in a week. Just the fact that you’ve had the material under your fingers longer makes it feel different.
AC: Given that recording the album was something of an experiment, do you feel it was a success?
PA: Well, some of it’s a success, and some of it maybe not so much of a success as other things. But I think we were fully aware that that was the way it was going to turn out. We knew we were going to like some things better later and some things better now, but we just needed to make a record and not think about what we were going to feel about it years from now, which is what we always do. We always try to make something timeless, something that will feel the same in 10 years time. This time, we decided to just kind of put it out there.
I think the biggest success of the experiment was that we learned things about how we work. We learned more about how not to do things than how to do things. I think it was something we really needed to do in order to move forward. Because on the Tyrannosaurus Hives album it was such a set thing that after making that record and really focusing on doing things a certain way, it was hard to keep doing things. It was hard for us to make music and just feel like, “Oh, we’ll just make some music.” We had such a firm identity for ourselves that the biggest point of this record was probably breaking a little bit with that identity. Some of things we thought maybe we wouldn’t like are the things we like the most now.
AC: Any idea how you’ll build off of this on future recordings?
PA: It’s really hard to know. We’re gonna start making new music when we come home and what we’ve done lately is a little more all over the place. The Black and White Album also gave us a newfound appetite for what we did in the beginning, which was just turning up the amp and pressing go. It’s hard to know where that balance will land.
AC: That’s the great bottom line: “We can always just turn it up and play.”
PA: Yeah, exactly. If you can’t get back to that anymore, I think you’re in real trouble. If you’re in a guitar band and you can’t get excited about turning your guitar amp up – and we have felt things like that when we’ve been on tour for a long time – that’s when it’s time to take it easy for a while. It sounds childish, but it really is very central to making good rock music.
AC: Good end quote!
PA: You know Austin was the first place we played in the U.S. Our first ever show was in 1999 at South by Southwest. It’s always great to come back there. We all bought super ridiculous cowboy outfits and then got home and realized you can’t wear cowboy clothes in Sweden [laughs].
AC: We just published a piece about AC/DC’s first American show being in Austin.
PA: Ahh, there, you see? It’s all starting to make sense [laughs].