INTERVIEW: Pelle Almqvist (The Hives) 2

INTERVIEW: Pelle Almqvist (The Hives)


Swedish rock group The Hives are probably one of the most outlandish explosions to have been let off in music for the last decade or so with Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist being at its ferocious epicentre. They have been kicking people in the teeth politely with their mix of garage punk and indie madness for the best part of 12 years now and show no real signs of holding back in their live performances, despite the ever present milestone of 40 years beginning to creep slowly into the horizon for all members. Known for his colourful idiocy and mercurial on stage persona, I was surprised to find that Mr.Almqvist was a rather insightful, humorous and well-formed individual. I was even more surprised when he ended up becoming my alarm clock on a boiling Monday morning when he rang me at nine o’clock (a time not frequented by most twenty somethings). Probably not a role he was used to, almost fatherly in some ways, he was rather accommodating and gave me an hour to get ready for the interview. I was meant to have done this interview on the previous Friday to discuss the release of Ron Howard’s documentary which provides an insight into the mind of rap legend Jay Z and his festival for the people of Philadelphia, Made in America ( coincidentally the film shares the same name), but as always with in the music industry, nothing ever goes to plan (mainly a fault on my part here). Eventually, I dragged myself and out of bed and we began to discuss: the Hives recent tour of America, being involved in the new documentary and festival, who Randy Fitzsimmons is, why he (Pelle) used to get into fights at early Hives shows and whether there is nobility in music that is just meant to be fun.

Hi Pelle it’s Scott

Oh Yeah

I’m mainly meant to be…firstly thanks from moving the timing from Friday.

Oh no worries. Don’t worry about Friday.

No it’s fine. I just didn’t have a number to get back in contact with you, so I ended up getting lost in the Universal call list.

Yeah I gotcha

I was all over the place. How are you?

Yeah I am good. It was a great weekend, good spirits.

What did you get up to?

What did I get up to generally or this weekend?

What did you do this weekend?

Well I was drunk twice, which was fun (he laughs). Then er….it was like the first weekend of summer in Sweden, first weekend of really, really hot weather. I hung out by the water, read a book and got drunk twice, so it was great! It was our weekend off in a very long time, so it was great to rest.

(I laugh nervously for some reason) Does it get that hot in Sweden? It’s pretty hot over here too, supposedly it’s meant to be hotter than Ibiza in Britain at the minute. I don’t quite understand it.

That’s global warming man.

(Laughs nervously yet again) Yeah, yeah definitely. It’s bit weird. (Finally I compose myself) I’m mainly meant to be talking to you about the Made in America documentary by Ron Howard today.

Yeah, Yeah

I haven’t had a chance to see the film yet myself because it hasn’t had a major release yet in Britain but I have seen the trailer and read about it. Firstly, can you tell me how you became involved in the festival?

Well…Jay Z booked us to play it, I suppose. I mean it was his festival and he’s in charge of booking all the acts. He asked us to play and we said yes because it seemed like fun. I really like the fact that more and more festivals are starting to pop up in the US. I mean it used to be all like club shows for us but now they are kind of starting to get a real festival scene with things like Coachella and Lollapalooza. It’s really fun for us because it means we can do the US as we can in Europe. It was a fun day. Also it was sponsored by Budweiser, who asked us some weird questions to promote themselves. Which, if you are European, you didn’t really understand why you were sitting there, potentially making a Budweiser commercial. Other than that it was pretty great day, we had a lot of fun. It was great meeting Ron Howard too.

What was it like meeting him?

Oh yeah, he was really enthusiastic. I mean…he talked to us a little bit and was a good sport about talking photos with him. I don’t know…I have nothing bad to say about him. It was all pretty quick though.

Had you met either of them (Jay Z and Ron Howard) before the festival?

Not Ron Howard. I think we’d met Jay Z. We never really met Ron Howard. We’d seen him a lot on TV growing up but I never met him. I used watch him on Happy Days.

Would you say that what Jay Z has done with that festival is truly a new thing for America? As I am sure you know, in Britain an eclectic festival is part of our tradition and heritage with Glastonbury etc. I ask because in the trailer they all seem to speak as if it is quite weird thing for rap and rock to be together at the same event in America. Is that a new thing for their country?

Well, you know, Coachella and Sasquatch did it. I guess it (Made in America) was probably more mixed. I mean the feeling I got from Coachella was that they were all larger rap or hip hop acts and mostly indie rock bands. It has changed now though. I think maybe at the Made in America festival they had smaller hip hop acts, it seemed much more mixed all across the board. Of course, coming from Europe that doesn’t seem weird at all because we know that it’s the way you do a festival; it’s how you get everybody to come.

Exactly, that’s what seemed strange watching the trailer; Jay Z seemed as if he had had some sort of epiphany about making an eclectic festival. I didn’t think it was new an idea for them.

No, it isn’t but it is the way they talk in America too. They may make it sound like it was a brilliant idea but he was really just explaining what happened.

Well it’s a good way to sell the film in the trailer.

Exactly, but that is what Americans do. (He chuckles to himself)

Do you remember anything in particular about playing the festival that you thought was different? Was there anything that separated it from a standard show?

There was really rigid security. (He laughs again) That’s what I remember the most.

Was that because of the way Philadelphia is? Supposedly it is quite rough.

I have no idea why. It was very rigid, even for the bands, they were searching our bags and shit.

No one had anything dangerous did they?

Well we had ourselves!

Ha ha! Alright, I suppose that is true. Considering that the documentary and festival are both called Made in America, a lot of the acts seem to be ones that had their careers cemented by an American audience. Is that really the case with The Hives? I feel that when you became more commercial, not in your sound but in terms of your appeal it was more the British audience that encouraged your support, for instance when you began to work with Alan McGee.

Well I think at first it was Germany really and main land Europe caught up to us. Alan McGee helped us out in the UK a lot and I think through UK success we landed in the states. It was a time when music magazines listened to each other and people actually read to those things. That’s what happened for us. I think the Made in America thing was for quite a rough corner in the US, at the time we played there was the worldwide economic crisis and high unemployment in that area. I mean were from sort of the rough belt of Sweden so it was good to try and make some positive for quite a negative region.


From what I’ve seen it’s seems as if that was the clear aim of the festival. Would you say since the first festival that it has actually changed things for Philadelphia?

I’ve been back maybe once since the festival. I mean what do you really know about a place after spending one day there. There was definitely a poor region outside of the main city, across the bridge. There was talk that now there was money coming because of the festival, the main city is going to bleed into the poor suburb and make everything better, real estate prices are going to go up. However, what happened in stead is that, the poor suburb bled into the city because all the money left. I wouldn’t say I am an expert on the state of Philadelphia right now but that is what I took away from it.

Speaking of money, I looked into a ticket price for the festival. I know you don’t have any impact on this or the day, but what do you think of the ticket price being $117 (£69) for a two day entry? I mean it’s not a huge amount but it’s a festival for the people but most of those people don’t have that much money.

I have no idea. I think it’s a hard balance to strike. I mean it’s hard to put on bands for the people if the people can’t afford to go. I mean there are enough people in America that the festival was full and stuff and it costs a lot of money to put on a festival. I mean it’s a business decision that I don’t really have any say in. I mean what were we… third on the bill? I have no idea what the ticket price was. Ticket prices have gone up as a whole a lot. That’s because on the one hand, it’s the only way to make money in music these days. It’s been a while since anybody paid for music…properly. I mean you get your five pence from Spotify, whatever it is. That is the real reason prices have gone up. It’s the only real way, or one of the very few ways, for an artist to make money. (Sighs) Yeah, you know, it’s a tough situation. I mean, are you really doing something to help people out or are you also just making money? If you are making money, you are making it from their money. You know, it’s difficult.

Did you know for instance that Pearl Jam’s appearance at the festival with Jay Z made the band $2 million?

I don’t know, is that really true though? (laughs) I mean where did that come from?

It was something I found through some research. If it is a fact, it’s a pretty interesting one.

I’m pretty sure that’s not a fact. I mean when I talked to Pearl Jam about it, they didn’t even know if he(Jay Z) was going to come on do a song with them or not. They learnt the song and everything but he hadn’t been around. They had no idea if they going to do it or not until he showed up half way through their set, so I don’t know if they had been given $2million or not. That sounds like source code from the internet.

With regards to making money from music I was wondering how long it took The Hives to find success?

You mean money? Ha ha

Well yeah. Is it true that you have been around since 1993?

Yeah something like that, 1992 or 93. It wasn’t quite real then we were only 13. It wasn’t like we were actively seeking success. I mean if we did find any by 14 people would still have a hard time buying that we were serious rock and rollers. We starting going on tour at like 19 and then we got popular a couple years later but there was definitely a few years with no money. Surviving on whatever food they gave you at the venue and er…ha ha and then kind of not eating for a little while after that.

So did you get to experience making money out of music before the whole internet download scheme paved the way?

Well I guess we kind of knew where it was going. We tried to make it on TV; making it on there is like opening Pandora ’s Box, you could then turn it into digital file and then from that the music would get copied and shared on the internet. We kind of knew that because we were slightly younger than the bosses of the record copies at the time, which had all been fighting piracy. We knew that that was a lost cause. When we got popular we tried to get as big an advance as we could out of the companies so we could keep making money out of selling records, for a couple of years. Everybody in their twenties at the time knew all that. It’s hard to put the cat back in the bag, isn’t it? Ha ha.


Would you say that this had an impact on the way you performed then? Creating a rather intense show so that people got the value of their ticket or were you doing that before hand?

Yeah, we were always doing that. That’s what got all of us interested in rock music, a high energy live show. That’s always what we wanted to do. That’s what we always thought was going to make a good show. You know it is music; you don’t really start doing music if you are trying to make a lot of money. Well at least you don’t start playing garage punk in the early nineties if you are trying to make money in music. So, you know, as far as it being a career decision or whatever. You know people come, they like the show, and they come to the next one, which was our theory. That’s how it always works. Doing a good show wasn’t like a marketing move (he laughs, in fact he laughs quite a lot it would seem). It was just the pursuit of excellence. It wasn’t like “Hey! I’ve got an idea. If we do a really good show, people will pay us money for it.”

Who would say then, in terms of your performance, are some key bands or people that influenced your performance style in particular or was it all yourself?

No, there were definitely people who I thought were cool and I tried to sort of do similar things to what they did. I think that the first thing was maybe when I was ten or so, there was some kind of New Year show on Swedish television, there was like a clip of James Brown and a clip of the Who. I think most of what I got was from those two little three minute clips from when I was ten years old. Those were my two, sort of, biggest influences. Then there were other things, like bands that we toured with and stole a few moves from. Then we you become 19 or something you don’t really think about where your influences you stole your moves from, you start to hope that they come from yourself.

Do you as a band practise the performance as much as the music in your rehearsals?

The funny thing is we’ve been a band so long that we kind of don’t practise any of it.


We play enough shows that it kind of happens during in them. Someone will do something interesting and after the show, someone else we say that was cool and that we should do it again some time. That’s kind of how it evolves, we don’t really rehearse that much ha ha. We don’t really plan it, it’s pretty organic. We are actually, for the first time years, rehearsed last week with the intention of changing our live show because we so er… once you’ve done the trick a couple of times you begin to feel like a puppet. We need to push up on the bag of tricks, so let’s see what happens in the summer.

Did that bag of tricks come together naturally? Was something you had to force a little in the early days?

With the other band members or what?

I mean, I can imagine that it is easier to put on an energetic performance in front of a packed show. In the earlier days, playing half full rooms with depressed teenagers sitting in the corner, I’d assume you’d have to find something deep inside yourself to bring that energy across to them. Would, I’d assume you’d have to find something deep inside yourself to bring that energy across to them. Would you not agree?

I think that what that brought out of us was sort of the rebellion of…we are going to fucking do this anyway. I don’t give a shit if you like it, I don’t give a shit if you listen. It almost made us seem cooler that we did it front of nine people, throwing ourselves into the drums and shit and it made the nine people in the room stand to light. I think we would have failed if we had a show with nine people who were fucked off if we were also fucked off with the fact they were the only ones there. You can have fun with one person, why can’t we have fun with nine? If nine is what we were given, we’d kick the living shit out of them with rock and roll if we could.

In those days did the crowd ever turn on you, was there anything horrific that happened because of your performance?

I remember getting into fights a bit with crowd members. Some of them being about our set length (laughs). I mean we used to do really short shows, like super fast, only twenty minutes and then never do encores. That was our thing. People had driven miles and miles and then they’d get mad that we only played for twenty minutes. Some people just out of principle, though that we owed them money. Punk is weird man, it has so many rules and everybody has their own. People thought that if you were that kind of band you’d have to play for two hours and then we’d get into fights over that. It seemed completely insane, there was a lot of animosity but that was two ways. You know it was good to get people riled up by insulting the crowd a little bit but politely you know? It increases the excitement.

The five of you must have become quite tight unit because of that. Although I have heard there is a sixth member, who doesn’t perform, called Randy Fitzsimmons. Didn’t he get the band together?

Well we were thinking about it and we had all met. Obviously my brother is the guitarist, I knew him, and the drummer lived down the road. I didn’t really know the other guys before Randy. We all liked the same music but he was definitely a factor in getting us all together.

How much of a role does he play? Does he write all the songs?

It’s very different; it can work in many different ways. In the beginning it was very much his vision but now we are all sort of more evolved. It’s gotten more democratic. Plus I think it is now very obvious what The Hives is. In the beginning you have to create it and sort of force it down everybody’s throat a little. Now it’s sort of a very clear thing. It seems to us now that it always existed but if I think about it now there were times when people didn’t really know what that was.

Yeah, during the slow death of Britpop and the rise of the cheesy boy band, it may not have been that apparent what you needed to be.

Don’t forget Nu-Metal. I remember a lot of Nu-Metal.

Don’t get me started on Nu-Metal. How come he (Fitzsimmons) didn’t want to be in the band?

Well maybe I know but I don’t think that I should tell you haha.

Ok , I’ve got a couple more questions then you can get away, if you need to. In terms of your music would you see The Hives as a way of bringing the fun back to music or is there a deeper level to it than that?

I think there are two answers. It’s definitely not just fun for me, it’s dead serious. On the other hand I don’t think there is anything deeper to music than it giving you joy, if it makes you feel good. If it makes you feel that way, the music is good. I think it’s quite a cliché to say that the only deep music in music is the kind that is about feeling sad or shit. It’s sort of a long tradition. I think that if you mach music that makes you feel happy or fulfilled it’s like religious experience. The point of singing the blue is getting rid of the blues not getting more blues.

I would say that kind of religious experience is definitely something that you can witness at your shows. The audience seem to release a lot of pent up energy or frustration. Do you think it’s almost a better thing to give people that then maybe making them cry for half an hour or so?

Yeah, well to me it seems that way at least. That’s why I always want to go out. If I pay to go see a show and my life is fucked I don’t want to feel worse. Music that makes people feel worse is for people whose lives have no real problems. They’re not really or people. People who have such cushy lives that they need a song to make them feel sad, whereas our crowd were already feeling sad and we try to make them feel better. I feel like that is a nobler cause.

Do you think then that music generally has a bit of its spirit then? Is there anyone that you think is holding out a beacon of hope?

Well I think there is a lot of great music. It kind of because the discussion about mainstream music but I think the face of that kind of music has always been pretty shit. There have been beacons here and there but when you remember the past you just remember the good stuff. For instance in 70s they were so great like Fleetwood Mac were good but if you were alive in the 70s you may have thought all the music was shit. Now I can look back on the nineties, they were pretty rough I thought at the time, but if I look back I can this was good or they were great. I remember being alive though and thinking everything sucks. That’s why I think the majority of music of your current time is always going to seem like you are knee deep in shit. There is always good lesser music, I mean I heard good hip hop and band mix tapes when were toured in states recently. Good music does happen everywhere. I guess the music industry has been quite panicky recently; no one is going to let Bob Dylan release four albums now. They’d think what the fuck is this bullshit? I think it’s been that way for the last 15 years.

I think that also bands, such as yourself, used to be allowed to attain mainstream success where as now they are not only crippled by the record companies but also their own fans because they think band is selling out.

Yeah, I think that has been happening really since the nineties. Maybe even in the sixties when people would say you were selling out because of this or that. There was a time; I guess we came at the end of it, when companies would spend loads of money marketing a shitty rock band. They would spend a lot of money marketing Nirvana, they would spend a lot of money marketing Metallica before they were even big. Yes that doesn’t happen anymore but there are ways of finding your fans because of the internet and Youtube. Anybody could make something that potentially everybody could see but the problem with that is that not everybody is looking in the same corner all the time. When you used to have music on TV you kind of already were successful whereas if you have music on the internet it doesn’t really mean shit in those terms.

Did you just say you don’t like Nirvana?

Oh no I LIKE them. I was just saying they had a huge record company plugging their music. It doesn’t mean there music was bad.

Finally, are there any bands in particular at the moment that you enjoy or would like to see do well?

Oh there is a band we toured with called Fidlar from Los Angeles that I really liked. I’d like to see them do well because I liked the guys in band as well. There are a lot of bands I like at the moment. Fidlar are kind of like before skate punk was a thing, the sort music you heard in the skateboard films from the eighties. What is it? A mix between Nirvana and Black Flag I think? Also Lykke Li, I like the sort of slow dance stuff.

Have you had a chance to listen Iceage yet? I think you’d like them.

Actually I haven’t but I will now though. Is it good?

Honestly, it will completely change your ideas of what punk can be. You may need to give them a second listen or a few more to get what they are about. Listen to a track called “Ecstasy” if you can.

Well it’s been a long time since someone has challenged my notions of what punk can be.

It’ll be worth your while.

Well I’ll trade you Fidlar for Iceage.

Ok hopefully I’ll speak to you sometime soon and we’ll exchange notes.

Yeah definitely haha.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you so much.

MADE IN AMERICA is available on VoD and DVD 19 May and The Hives will be beginning the European leg of their tour on the 12th of June in Switzerland. They will then be rounding it off in England with first show being on the 21st of August at the Brixton Academy.






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