Soundboard: The Hives
Interview: Nate Deschenes
Photos: Axis Media
Originally featured in Snowboard Mag Vol. 10, Issue 2 | The 10 Year Anniversary Issue
It’s hard to believe that Swedish rockers The Hives have been at it for almost twenty years now. Consider that they started as wee punklings barely in their teens and it makes a little more sense. But still, two more years and they beat the Ramones! Armed with one of the tightest, most explosive live shows around, if you are at all interested in the unique sensation of flesh melting from the bone it’s advisable to add a Hives performance to your to-do list. Whether it’s a head whipping AC/DC inspired anthem or two minutes of sonic sacrilege, The Hives deliver with lethal style. Read on, as lead singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist and his guitar wielding brother, Nicholaus Arson (who coincidentally snowboards), brief us on the current state of rock music, snowboarding and a foolproof way to get the facts straight.
As trained experts, can you please tell me what happened to rock and roll?
Howlin’ Pelle: Well it’s alive and well wherever we play! Other than that I’m not so sure.
Nicholaus Arson: A lot of “rock bands” these days sound like U2. Some people think that’s rock, but to us, they were always a pop band.
HP: I think rock and roll has always been alive and well in the underground, it’s just that mainstream rock has always been kind of sad, at least for our generation.
So rock and roll is alive if you want it to be?
HP: Exactly. It’s kind of a weird thing, people always talking about saving rock and roll. It’s doesn’t need saving. As long as there are fifty drunk people in a room who want to have fun, it’s alive. You don’t hear people ask if classical music is dead. You don’t hear people ask if jazz music is dead.
You told me earlier that you could probably be a bigger band if you just did this for “career reasons.” Speak more about that and why you do what you do.
HP: We knew a lot of bands that said, “Our label dropped us, now we have to quit.” Come on! What does that have to do with anything? Some bands might feel like they are only doing it because they get a stamp of approval – like you need a stamp of approval from the establishment to play punk rock, which is the weirdest, most contradictory thing I’ve ever heard! The whole reason you play punk rock is because you’re not looking for someone to approve what you do.
NA: I mean, you work for a snowboard magazine. Snowboarding probably wouldn’t have happened if you needed someone to tell you it was alright for you to do it first. Am I right?
Yeah, for sure. And often times it’s the riders who don’t get a paycheck or the guys who get dropped from their sponsors that are the best out there. If anything, they are certainly the ones doing it for the most pure reasons.
NA: We have always had that thing. Every time we started to see our support go a little downwards we had this… what’s the word?
NA: Yeah, sort of. There’s a different word for it in Swedish, but it sort of means the same thing. It like sort of activates your body to want to be on top of the food chain again.
HP: You sort of feel strengthened by this. A lot of bands we love are bands that nobody liked. So in the early days it was like, “Yeah fuck these people, they’re not supposed to like it anyways.”
NA: We’ve just been fortunate to be able to spend larger amounts of money on punk rock than many of our favorite bands.
HP: Plus, I think that we are better than our favorite bands! I say that, but I mean it. We get a lot of comments like, “So you guys are known for being cocky, you say you’re the greatest…” To that, I say it’s really not that complicated. We’ve been a band for 19 years, and we practice a lot. We know what we want it to sound like. If we couldn’t get this thing right in that amount of time, we would be a pretty shit band! But we are pretty good and we are our own favorite band.
NA: I’ve always seen it as a fact. And it can be proven too.
HP: How do you measure it then?
NA: Here’s what you do. Think of a rock and roll band. Don’t say who it is. Anything you think is good. Take a minute and think about it…
(A moment passes, I think of a couple bands.)
NA: … we’re better than that band.
HP: We’re not, because he was thinking about The Hives!
NA: And that’s how you prove a theory!
That’s an airtight system you got there, but I’ve seen your shows, so I don’t need any convincing. Let’s talk snowboarding then. How was it growing up in Sweden? Did snowboarding have any influence on you?
NA: Well, it sort of blew up the same time all of this great punk music did in the early and mid-nineties. So we would sometimes play shows at the local ski hill.
HP: I would just go and drink beer up there, I didn’t snowboard that much, but I was friends with everyone that did and got to know all the guys who were up there pushing it. I think it’s a thing that Swedes were pretty good at it as well. Like Ingemar Backman, I know he was like an elite rider at the time. Snowboarding was this thing that we took pride in knowing we could get good at it. I don’t think many Swedes will pride themselves on playing rugby or surfing, but things like snowboarding and hockey, definitely.
NA: Now sometimes we will play events around snowboarding, like we did the Air & Style in Austria once. It’s crazy to see what has happened with the progression since we were doing it a lot in the nineties. I think it got pretty dangerous in some ways, right?
It’s at a level where those competitions are pretty gnarly.
HP: I see it as one of these sports that’s at a point where if one guy does something, the others have to follow. And maybe that’s not what it was originally about.
NA: With it being an Olympic sport I think that opens all kinds of craziness too.
HP: What, like doping?
Maybe not Lance Armstrong doping, but other kinds for sure!
NA: No, I mean like, I suppose they must have to train like gymnasts a little right?
Yeah, they are put in snowboard school at age six now. They go to camps and training sessions and all this. It’s certainly not like it was.
HP: I think it’s one of those things that’s a career opportunity for these kids. So of course there must be an incentive to do well. Once you start practicing with a foam pit, things are beyond going back, at least at that level.
NA: That’s the professional bit of it though. People still go freeriding and do it to cruise around and have a fun time.
That’s what it’s really about right there. So do you still get out on the snow a bit?
NA: Yeah, for sure. A friend of mine gave me his setup a few years ago and it got me back into it. It’s pretty fun.
HP: I never really was good enough to where I got past the point of just trying to make it down to the lodge without getting hurt! But I really like hanging out in the mountains, so I will get on the skis from time to time.
NA: I had a friend who worked on the local mountain and we used to go up during the night whenever there was a big dump. So I got the feel of floating and riding the fresh snow. That is what really got me excited, and probably what I enjoy most about snowboarding. For me, going for the big manmade jumps or halfpipe hurts too much.
HP: Yeah, we’ve had tours where your ribs were broken from snowboarding and that makes it interesting.
Getting back to the music, how have you managed to sound as fresh as you did when you broke onto the scene with The Strokes and The White Stripes and all that?
HP: When you listen to a band and it seems like the next record is just a slightly worse version of their last one, of course you get a little disappointed. So that scares the shit out of me. You either have to change or make something that’s better.
NA: Or just do something so good it’s undeniable. Like if you haven’t paid attention because a band has been out of the spotlight for five years then you all of a sudden hear this thing, and it’s like, “Shit! This is amazing!”
HP: Even people who hate us have to admit that we are good.
We have some of that in snowboarding. I think there is a certain rider that many people hate on because of how huge he is and all the corporate sponsors and all that, but damn if he isn’t the best halfpipe rider in the world.
HP: Are you talking about Shaun White?
NA: He seems to be like freakishly talented, right? He can do anything. It looks like, at least.
HP: Kind of like us!