By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
|Photo by Eric Josjo|
Some journalists are able to affect a healthy skepticism toward the Swedish rock band the Hives. Not me, though. Every time I see them play, I fall in love with rock & roll all over again.
I just can’t help it. Nor can most people I’ve met: At this year’s South by Southwest indie music fest in Austin, where the quintet of sharply dressed youths premiered songs from their then-yet-unreleased album Tyrannosaurus Hives, I spied a crowd of elitist hipsters melting into a puddle. First they all began shaking; before long they were uncontrollably bopping — and smiling. Fact is, the Hives make music infected with a primordial sense of fun that seems to marshal musical snobs and idiots alike to its side.
When their second album, Veni Vidi Vicious, was released in April 2000 on the indie imprint Epitaph, the Hives were just obscure darlings of retro-rock fetishists. By the time it was reissued by Sire/Warner 18 months later, they had miraculously crossed over into pop mainstream. Their audience was doubling every week. Their videos, which skipped plot in favor of basic, visually arresting images of the band rocking out in standard-issue black & white regalia, went into heavy rotation on MTV. Crisscrossing the world with maximum-energy live shows, the group joined the now-clichéd “rock is back” royalty of the Strokes, the White Stripes and the Vines, and got props in the media for popularizing cool music in the new millennium.
All of this prompts two questions: What did the Hives do then that was so special? And now that they’ve returned with a fresh record, can they do it again?
To answer the first one, allow me to take you back to a packed show the Hives played at the Roxy in May 2002. Center stage right there’s the smirking spectacle of guitarist Nicholaus Arson, who plays his instrument (dubbed “the Arsonette”) at such manic speed that in between songs he has to blow on his fingers to cool them. Off to the left side there’s the dynamic duo of massive rhythm guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem and mustachioed bassist Dr. Matt Destruction, who work up a sweat and puff it off like walruses. Drummer Chris Dangerous and his menacing facial tics seem to hover all over the drum riser.
Finally, there’s front man Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, a skinny showman with enormous baby-doll eyes, a magnificent repertoire of rock & roll routines — the Mick Jagger chicken strut, the Pete Townshend midair kick, the Iggy Pop backward bend — and a relentless arsenal of one-liners and self-congratulatory shtick. He charmingly sweeps the bangs out of his eyes and proclaims, “Yes, America, you love us! We’ve come to take over your country and change everything. History starts today!” By the time the band bids farewell — with deep bows and a crisp “thank you and fuck you!” — the entire room fairly leaps to sign onto their manifesto.
The Hives are a band with a mission. Combating idiocy with irony and fine taste is part of it. But more than that, they want to replace the standardization of contemporary musical product with better standards of their own: the voodoo of ’50s-era rock & roll, the brutal energy of garage, the wit and studied simplicity of proto-punk. Their hybrid sound — which they’ve dubbed punkrock music avec kaboom!— packs a punch, has a point, and a plan.
“We’re extremely serious about our rock & roll,” says Almqvist, reached by phone at his Stockholm home. “But rock & roll should be something that’s easily ridiculed, because that’s when it’s at its best. We like it when it’s so over the top, so silly, that it almost is a joke: ‘Wop-bop-a-loo-lop a-lop-bam-boom.’ It doesn’t make any sense. It’s just ridiculous. But it’s good!”
And if these young contrarians believe in one thing above all, it is their own worth. They brashly billed a 2002 compilation of their first two records Your New Favorite Band. That same year, Interscope extended the group a contract reportedly worth $10 mil. In the next 12 months, the Hives retreated to their homeland to work on a VVV follow-up and emerged only to plant rumors in the media that they were chasing a radically different approach: rock & roll made by “humans trying to sound like machines.”
A felicitous impulse, given that it might be difficult, dangerous even, to attempt to improve on something that was already perfect.
“At first we thought so, too,” Almqvist says. “That’s why we had to do something a bit different. We wrote the first half of the new record in a very stiff and robotic and conceptualized manner, and it came out pretty good. But then we started missing ourselves too much, ’cause no one else was doing what we were doing on our last record. We realized that nobody had picked up the torch.”
Thus Tyrannosaurus Hives, which arrives in stores this week, is pitched halfway between the old punkrock we all know & love and neo–new wave aplomb.
“Walk Idiot Walk,” the band’s current single, illustrates the compromise. Propelled by Spartan riffs, handclaps and tinkling sleigh bells, it features a newfound sense of mechanized glee but climaxes in one of those Ramones-catchy choruses: “See the idiot walk! See the idiot talk! See the idiot chalk up his name on the blackboard!”