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The Hives’ Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist Has Smart Answers to Our Smart-Ass Questions

Pelle Almqvist / Photo by Columbine Goldsmith

Graduates of the great early-aughts garage-rock revival, and subjects of a subsequent bidding war, the Hives have learned some tough lessons over the years. The Swedish quintet saw their last effort, 2007’s The Black and White Album, fail to live up to overblown marketing expectations from their major label, Interscope, despite a full-court press that included production help from Timbaland and the Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams. Undaunted, the band released June’s self-produced Lex Hives on their own Disques Hives imprint, via Warner Music’s Independent Label Group. It was a wise move — Lex is the Hives’ most infectious offering since their 2000 breakthrough, Veni Vidi Vicious. SPIN met with the band’s always charmingly arrogant frontman, Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, to talk about skeevy hookers, bad decisions, and the fact that other bands suck live (compared to the Hives, of course).

Is it fair to call the new album a comeback for the Hives?
This is the time for us to get bigger than ever. Plus, I think that Interscope tried to quiet down The Black and White Album. They stopped promoting it after three weeks. They were also focusing on other things — there’s always a fucking Pussycat Dolls remix album to put out. So a lot of people think we’re coming back after nine years as opposed to five. And the thing is, we never went away. We were touring for three years, and we spent two years making the album.

Why are Hives concerts always better than Hives albums?
It’s just that other bands suck so much live that people only talk about our shows. Anyway, comparing concerts to albums is like asking if The Godfather is better than the “Mona Lisa.” Our records are exactly what we want them to be.

You were reportedly offered a $10 million contract in 2002. How’d you blow it?
We got castles in the country. [Drummer] Chris [Dangerous] had 14 cars at one point. [Guitarist] Vigilante [Carlstroem] bought a pen in an airport that cost, like, $1,000. I bought a ’50s Les Paul Sunburst, which is pretty stupid because I don’t play guitar.

No cocaine-and-hookers hijinks?
No. Coming from a small town in Sweden, we saw the bad effects of drugs at a way too early age. And whores freak me out. Why pay for something that’s so easy to get for free?

Speaking of business, Interscope clearly thought you would be the next Nirvana. Clearly, they were wrong.
We never wanted to be the next Nirvana. We wanted to be the Hives. Things only happen once. Elvis showed up once, Nirvana showed up once. The Hives showed up once.

Don’t the Hives have a lot of catching up to do to be considered on the same level as those acts?
We don’t fucking care. We used the fact that everybody thought we were going to be the next Nirvana and got ourselves a really good deal. We knew there was a big potential for [Interscope’s parent company] Universal to feel screwed. But we’re not making muesli. This isn’t a business where you can easily calculate success. [The record company] put up lots of money and pushed us a lot at first, but they soon learned denial is not just a river in Egypt. But they got to put out some amazing albums.

Your mysterious Svengali, Randy Fitzsimmons, is still credited with writing the band’s songs. Why continue that ruse?
Randy is real. In an era when the only way to get famous is to show your ass on television, people get anxious when somebody doesn’t want to be seen. It’s like religion. Either you believe or you don’t.

You and your bandmate brother, [guitarist] Nicholaus Arson, are attractive dudes. The other Hives — not so much. Do you regret letting them in the band?
If you put together a band of really cute-looking guys on purpose, they always suck. AC/DC is a way better-looking rock band than Poison.

Do you feel like you lost some cool points when you toured opening for Maroon 5 in 2007?
That was the point. We wanted to play for people that didn’t know anything about the band. And where do you find those people? They’re at the Maroon 5 gig. Maybe they hated us, but they’re not the kind of audience that throws things at bands, so we were safe.

How long can the Hives keep going?
We have a blood oath to keep going until we’re done. I’m sure I’m doing the right thing. We’re gonna ride this horse until it croaks.