Five things you should know about the Hives -- Frontman Howlin' Pelle Almqvist talks about why he wanted the band's latest album to be its last

By Liane Bonin
July 21, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
The Hives: Steve Double

The Hives are back in black… and white. The Swede rockers, still sharp in their trademark two-hue suits, just released a new album, ”Tyrannosaurus Hives,” featuring the rock-radio hit ”Walk Idiot Walk.” talked to the band’s lead singer, 25-year-old ”Howlin”’ Pelle Almqvist, backstage at last month’s Weenie Roast concert in Los Angeles about his onetime plans to break up the band, what accounts for the Hives’ new, edgier sound, and where he gets his stylish ankle accessories.

THEY’RE NOT GREAT AT KEEPING PROMISES Like the dinosaur after which they partly named their new album, the Hives were supposed to be extinct by now. ”We took a vow when we were 17 to not make more than three records,” says Almqvist. ”All our favorite bands sucked after three records, so that’s what we figured we had to do.” With ”Tyrannosaurus,” the Hives have hit that three-album limit. So how does Almqvist account for their continued existence? ”Now we like a lot of records by bands that are past that mark, so we’ll just keep on doing it, I guess.”

Their career wasn’t the only thing the band once promised to cut short. Keeping songs quick and punchy (like the one-minute-and-two-seconds-long ”Well, Well, Well,” from their 1997 album ”Barely Legal”) was an early priority: ”We tried to forbid everything that was bad for our band and just end up with the stuff that we could really take a stand and fight for,” Almqvist says. Since those early days, though, the Hives have changed their tune — their breakthrough hit, 2002’s ”Hate to Say I Told You So,” clocked in at three minutes-plus, and ”Tyrannosaurus” also features longer songs. ”We have broken our vows all over the place,” says Almqvist, laughing. ”It’s all been a ruse!”

THEY HAVE SERIOUS SPATS Before the breakup rumors start circulating, we should clarify: ”Spats” are those old-fashioned white shoe covers you’ve seen the band wearing. ”You have to work to find them, because they don’t really make them anymore,” says Almqvist. ”They’ve become oddly unfashionable, for some unknown reason. But the Swedish Royal Guard [the soldiers assigned to protect the Swedish royal family] has them. If we could wrestle some guards to the ground, we could probably get them. Instead we have to get somebody to stitch them up, because the Royal Guard is usually armed with automatic weapons.”

THEY DON’T HATE THIS ALBUM… MUCH ”Tyrannosaurus” received a middling B- from Entertainment Weekly, but Almqvist still may be the band’s harshest critic. ”I always hate the records after we make them,” he says. ”It’s reverse psychosis. I hate everything for a month, because I can only hear the faults in it. But this one only took me a few days to like, so it’s better, I guess.” And their last album, ”Veni Vidi Vicious”? ”We loved it, but it’s kind of annoying now. There are only a few bands that can make the same record over and over again and still be good, like the Ramones or AC/DC. Otherwise it’s just lame.”

THEY OWE THEIR BIGGEST HITS TO LOUSY VENUES If you think the new album lacks some of the driving beats on ”Veni Vidi Vicious,” blame improved acoustics. ”On the last album, because we played such scummy places around that time, we would all play the same riff at the same time so even if you couldn’t hear the bass at a show, you could still hear what the song was,” says Almqvist. ”Now we play places where you can hear everything, so we write music where everyone plays a different part.” That isn’t the only change in the Hives’ sound on ”Tyrannosaurus”: The disc includes punk-inflected tunes EW dubbed ”robotic.” ”We wanted to give the album a more mechanized sound,” says Almqvist, ”sort of a Devo influence.”

DON’T CALL THEM GARAGE ROCK Despite the Hives being lumped in with the garage-rock movement (remember when MTV pitted them against the Vines in a battle of the bands at 2002’s Video Music Awards?), Almqvist says he’s never felt like a part of the trend: ”Over the 10 years we’ve been together we’ve been linked into hardcore punk and garage rock, and we’ve played with ska bands, punk bands, any kind of bands. There were always bands we liked and could feel a kinship with, but they were always from different places with different sounds.” Still, he kids about one detail that his band shares with many successful garage rockers: ”A few months after us and the Strokes and the White Stripes got popular in England, there was no unsigned band left out there with a definite article and plurals in their name. They just didn’t exist.”