Sporting trademark black suits and white ties and offering audiences dynamic live performances, the Hives have mastered a style of music that reveals their affinities with punk bands of the late 1960s and 1970s. Although the quintet formed in 1993 and began touring the United States in 1997, the Hives didn’t achieve international success until the release of their single, “Hate to Say I Told You So,” in 2002. Comprised of front man/singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, guitarist Nicholaus Arson, bass player Dr. Matt Destruction, drummer Chris Dangerous, and guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem, the Hives were grouped by critics with the garage rock resurgence of the early twenty-first century, a resurgence that also included the White Stripes and the Strokes. The band is credited also for opening the doors of international fame to such other Swedish bands as Division of Laura Lee, Sahara Hotnights, the Hellacopters, Citizen Bird, the Soundtrack of Our Lives, the U.K., and the (International) Noise Conspiracy.
The Hives formed in 1993 in Fagersta, Sweden, a steel manufacturing town with a population of 12,000. The band members were as young as thirteen years old, and the individual members “didn’t really know each other before we formed the band, which I guess is kind of odd,” Almqvist told Rolling Stone writer Rob
Members include Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist (born in Fagersta, Sweden), vocals; Nicholaus Arson (born in Fagersta, Sweden), guitars; Vigilante Carl-stroem (born in Fagersta, Sweden), guitar; Chris Dangerous (born in Fagersta, Sweden), drums; Dr. Matt Destruction (born in Fagersta, Sweden), bass.
Group formed in Fagersta, Sweden, 1993; released CD single Oh Lord! When? How? on Burning Heart label, 1996; released debut full-length CD, Bare/y Legal, 1997; released extended-play CD single a.k.a. I-D-I-O-T, 1998; released second full-length release, Veni Vidi Vicious, 2000; released compiliation Your New Favorite Band, 2002; earned spot on Spider-Man film soundtrack with song “Hate to Say I Told You So,” 2002.
Sheffield. “But when we formed the band, we started to see what we had in common. We all really liked the Seventies Swedish punk rock—that’s what we really bonded on. We were about thirteen . The first five years we did what bands in their teens do: We just sort of hung around and talked about the kind of music we wanted to play. But we couldn’t really do it.” The band’s mythology holds that they were initially brought together by Randy Fitzsimmons, a Svengali-type manager who may or may not actually exist.
By 1996 the Hives had released a CD single, Oh Lord! When? How? After the band’s members graduated from high school in 1997, they decided to escalate their dedication to music. “We graduated from school and made our first record that summer,” Almqvist told Sheffield. “Since then, we’ve been touring all the time. We would come home, get a job, and then after a month quit our jobs and go on tour again.” The album, entitled Barely Legal, was released on the Burning Heart label, founded by Peter Alhqvist. Burning Heart eventually became the label of many of Sweden’s most prominent punk and garage bands. “I think Swedes are good at picking up influences at an early stage,” Alhqvist told Rolling Stone magazine writer John Harris. “Sweden is effectively an English-speaking country, so things don’t have to be translated. We also tend to have a lot of spare time, and you have to spend it indoors because the winters are very long. If you’re not into sports, you have to do something else.” The release of Barely Legal prompted the band to tour Europe extensively and also to conduct a tour of the United States.
Barely Legal established the band as faithful adaptors of American garage music as exemplified by the Stooges and MC5. “It feels like the U.S. didn’t want this music anymore, and we picked it up,” Almqvist told Harris. “There have always been American rock bands doing it the way we do, but nobody was paying attention. Because we came from Sweden, people got interested.” In another interview, Almqvist told Sheffield: “A lot of what we do best is just stuff we get wrong, translated to Sweden, I guess. We would try to make something sound like Little Richard, but we couldn’t—it would just come out sounding like us. Sometimes you get something so wrong, it becomes your own. You can end up being more original than if you actually know what you’re doing.”
In 1998 the Hives received a career boost when Courtney Love, Hole lead singer and widow of singer-songwriter Kurt Cobain, declared that the band was better than her late husband’s band, Nirvana. This pronouncement gave the band immediate credibility with American and British fans of alternative and punk rock. Also that year, the band recorded and released the six-song CD a.k.a. I-D-I-O-T.
In 1999 the band expanded its musical palette to incorporate classic rock ‘n’ roll from such 1950s performers as Little Richard and Chuck Berry, as well as a mix of garage groups of the 1960s and punk and new wave groups of the 1970s. The result was the 2000 album Veni Vidi Vicious, which included the band’s hit single, “Hate to Say I Told You So.” While the album was successful in Europe, it failed to make a dent in the United States until “Hate to Say I Told You So” was included on the soundtrack of the hit film Spider-Man.
The band’s punk ethic is revealed in Almqvist’s often boastful and outrageous claims to the press. “There is an inherent ridiculousness in playing an actual rock concert,” Sheffield reported Almqvist as claiming. “You’re doing everything you weren’t allowed to do in school. Jumping up and down, screaming, sweating, annoying people, and people love you for it. That’s ridiculous. We can’t avoid ridiculousness all the time. We just embrace it.”
The public became more conscious of the Hives when a new generation of punk bands came to the fore in the first years of the twenty-first century. Such bands as Detroit’s White Stripes and New York City’s the Strokes won critical acclaim and public admiration for their adherence to the musical tenets of such classic bands as the Stooges, MC5, and the Velvet Underground. The breakthrough of the White Stripes, the Strokes, and the Hives created a groundswell for like-sounding bands, which collectively were known for writing and performing music that is often called garage rock.
The public’s openness to garage rock led the Hives to a highly successful U.S. tour and impressive record sales in 2002. When the band’s first songwriting royalty checks were delivered, guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem bought a 1950s vintage Cadillac. “If you like Fifties rock—like Chuck Berry and Elvis—the first rule is, you buy a Cadillac with your first royalty check,” Almqvist told Rolling Stone writer Austin Scaggs.
In 2003 the Hives returned to Fagersta to record their third full-length album. “It’s a bit stiffer than the last album,” Almqvist told Rolling Stone’s Jenny Eliscu. “Kind of like Devo crossed with Motown.” He continued: “The actual recording is pretty simple . Most of the songs are two to three minutes, and it takes two to three minutes to record them. Even if it’s a hundred songs, it only takes a few weeks.”
Oh Lord! When? How? (EP), Burning Heart, 1996.
Barely Legal, Burning Heart, 1997; reissued, Gearhead, 2001.
a.k.a. I-D-I-O-T (EP), Gearhead, 1998.
Veni Vidi Vicious, Burning Heart, 2000; reissued, Warner Bros., 2002.
Hate to Say I Told You So (EP), Gearhead, 2001.
Main Offender (EP), Big Wheel, 2001.
Your New Favorite Band, Burning Heart, 2002.
(Contributor) Spider-Man (soundtrack), Columbia, 2002.
Rolling Stone, June 20, 2002; October 24, 2002; December 12, 2002; April 2, 2003.
“The Hives,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (May 21, 2003).
“The Hives,” Burning Heart, http://www.burningheart.com/bands/hives/hives.html (May 21, 2003).
The Hives Official Website, http://www.hives.nu (May 21, 2003).