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Q&A: The Hives’ Pelle Almqvist

By: Jessica Grose

Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, the magnetic and nattily dressed frontman of Swedish garage rockers the Hives, is calling from a corner office at the Interscope offices in New York. It’s fun to picture him in that signature white suit and black tie, his well-polished shoes kicked up on a glass-topped desk in front of him. Pelle’s not the kind of guy who’d be impressed by the possible grandeur of a major label office; hell, he’s not even impressed with rock music anymore. “When you’re in a punk rock band or a rock’n’roll band, your standards go way up,” he says. “It’s harder to be impressed by rock music, so I have to spend a lot of time listening to other things.”

Fresh off a tour jaunt in Japan and Australia, Almqvist is in the States promoting the band’s newest release, a live DVD called Tussles in Brussels, before returning to Sweden to join the jury of the Stockholm Film Festival. Quite the film buff, Pelle was actively involved in the production of the Hives’ DVD. The concert portion of Tussles was recorded at a small venue, Ancienne Belgique, in the Belgian capital, as per the Hives’ request. “Most of the camera men were standing in the crowd,” Pelle recalls. “Most bands use the logic that you record your show in the biggest venue possible so you look like a more massive band.” But the Hives don’t care about such rock star posturing these days. “We wanted a more intimate experience.”

Pelle got intimate with, chatting in his droll monotone about the Hives next album, hangin’ with the Boss, and how he became “Howlin’.” Little Steven of the E Street Band and Sopranos fame narrated Tussles in Brussels. How did he get involved with the project?
Pelle Almqvist: We were kind of friends with him. The story goes like this: Bruce Springsteen saw us on TV and thought that Little Steven would really like us. He kind of introduced Little Steven to us and then when they came to town they looked us up and had us come down to the show. [Steven’s] got a good voice for stuff like that so we just asked him and he said yes. He did it on a break from doing the Sopranos.

Are you working on material for your next album? How does it differ from the stuff on your last album?
We just got home from our last tour, which was of Australia and Japan. We just started working on our new record. It’s very early to say what it’s going to end up being. So far it sounds really different from Tyrannosaurus Hives

The Hives have tended to take their time in completing an album. How long has this one been in the works? What aspects are you particularly meticulous about?
We take a lot of time writing it but recording just takes a couple of weeks. We just stand in a room and play together and we record it. It’s pretty simple. We can take four months to making a song but it just takes three minutes to record. It’s probably going to come out next autumn.

What kind of music are you listening to these days?
God, there’s so much stuff. We’re constantly looking for new music and go to record stores, especially because I DJ quite a lot whenever we don’t tour. We look for new stuff to play then. Recently I’ve been listening to some Ethiopian jazz [giggles] and then I’ve been listening to the regular stuff that I always listen to. There’s a good record by Richard Hawley — the guy who used to play guitar in Pulp [on tour]. I like it because it’s a bit Sinatra-ish, a balladry kind of thing.

Do you ever find the non-rock stuff that you listen to — the Ethiopian jazz, for instance — creeping into your songwriting?
Sometimes some ideas will kind of pop up from things. On the last album we kind of took a lot from hip-hop. I don’t know if you’d be able to tell, but the way we play bass and drums is more like hip hop than punk. It’s not really punk guitar work. It makes it a little more danceable.

What are the new videos for “Abra Cadaver” and “A Little More for Little You” like?
We did two videos in Memphis in a day. I think I’m gonna call the Guinness Book of Records and see if that’s a record. Two videos in like seven hours or so. “Little More for Little You,” is just like scenes from a Hives movie — it’s really confusing. “Abra Cadaver” is basically — we’re all dead in it. It’s pretty morbid, yeah. There’s syringes and nooses and stuff. I don’t know if they’ll ever show it on TV. I like it though. The videos were shot by this horror director we’ve known for a while, Joe Michael McCarthy, maybe that’s why they’re so morbid. He does like really low-budget horror movies and we always liked the way they looked and he was in Memphis when we toured Memphis. We asked him to make a video and he made two.

How’d you get the nickname “Howlin'”?
I don’t really know, I guess it came from Howlin’ Wolf — I guess it came from all the screaming when I was younger. I was always sort of hyperactive. I’m working on keeping it down, and when I get to let loose is when we play our shows.

You guys have been playing music together since you were teenagers. What direction do you see the band going in now that you’ve been together for so long?
We always had the idea when we were younger that we would only make three records, because we never thought any band made more than three good records in a row. We figured if we only made three, all of them would be good. It was like the logic of a child. But now it seems way more interesting to keep it going — or we just feel like we have too much music to make. I guess that’s the way all bands think. That’s why they never quit. It was also kind of an eye-opener to meet the Rolling Stones. We played some shows with them over the summer, and they still have more energy than most new rock bands. You don’t really get worse. It’s just that the culture is so obsessed with youth that everyone over 25 is old. We’ll just keep it going because it’s more fun for us that way. If we thought we were bad, I hope we’d be able to stop doing it.