The most dapper set of Swedes in rock are on their way down under soon to indulge us in their unique brand of well-heeled stage antics. The Hives set expectations high for their live shows, declaring before a recent performance in Dallas – “Tonight Dallas will go down in flames after the rock ‘n roll pirates have sailed into town this morning.” I caught up with guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem to get the latest Hives gossip.
Fabulously cocky and always appearing on stage in matching immaculate black and white suits, The Hives are their own biggest fans. The band consists of five Swedish school mates who have been together for 16 long years now. However, they didn’t find fame in the English-speaking world until 2001, after touring with The Strokes and The White Stripes.
Vigilante is very Svedish vhen vee talk; thoughtful and understated in his answers. “Where are you guys at the moment?” I ask him. He tells me they’re in Ventura, California’s favourite surfing spot. “It’s um…a nice day. Sunny day.”
The Hives’ first British release in 2001 was a best-of compilation from their previous European-released albums, named Your New Favourite Band. The title turned out true for many hipsters, who hungrily gobbled up the songs. Not everyone was so welcoming of their comically arrogant, self-assured style. Jon Bon Jovi famously accused them of being all style and no substance, directly stealing the stage swagger of James Brown and Mick Jagger. “I guess it’s scary when a new alpha male turns up on the scene and the old alpha male has to scoot off to the side,” retorted lead singer Howlin’ Pete Almqvist.
Vigilante is not nearly so cocky or extravagant. I ask him what it was like bursting in to such huge global fame overnight, after having had a modestly successful career in Europe for years previously. “Uhhh…you know…it was good. We’d toured for a couple of years and were about to make a new record; then it took over. So we had to continue to tour.”
Being on the road so much means that the band relies a lot on iTunes to buy music, preferring portable listening options. “When you spend a lot of time on the road,” Vigilante (a huge Tom Waits fan) says, “you get used to buying iTunes mp3s. If there’s a record I really like I’ll buy it on CD, too. I also listen to a lot of vinyl at home.”
Home is Stockholm for Vigilante, while the rest of the band still lives in their hometown of Fagersta. Having travelled all over the world on tour, Vigilante must have seen some amazing places? “Believe it not, I really like Sweden,” he says patriotically. “Norway is also very beautiful, and I love Australian beaches.”
The band always performs in black and white suits, and is fond of wearing white US Navy dress shoes they purchase online. At the moment, they are decking themselves out in suits with a punk-rock crest mocking school uniforms. “An American misunderstanding of English school uniform,” Almqvist says. The stark black and white theme is to make an aesthetic impact. “I think it’s because it looks good. We decided on that many years ago and it’s very easy to stick with it. It’s sort of a fact now, so we do it in our shows.”
The band claims songs are written by a mysterious Svengali figure by the name of Randy Fitzsimmons, though most people believe Almqvist’s brother pens lyrics. Their latest record, The Black And White Album, features production from Pharrell Williams. Previously total perfectionists who would spend weeks on a single song until every band member was happy, Pharrell forced The Hives to speed through production. “We had always worked with the same producers, so this time we wanted to try something else. Pharrell works differently to us, he works very fast from one song to another. It was fun.”
Before heading to Australia, the band is going to take a vacation back home. “It will be cold and snowy in Sweden, so it will be nice to get away to Australia.” Vigilante’s big plans for his break include washing his clothes and watching television.
“We’ll be fresh from a couple of months vacation so the Australian shows will be very good,” Vigilante promises. And what, prey tell, can Aussie fans expect from The Hives gigs? “A kick ass rock – “n roll show.” Of course…
The Hives land on our shores this summer to regale the hordes at Falls Festival, Southbound and Sunset Sounds. They’re also doing some headline shows of their own.
Originally published in FasterLouder