Not Your Typical Dinosaur: Hives Hype Has Heightened

“He was more of a loner then. More of a weirdo. I think he’s more accepted now,” Arson says of his kid brother, with a chuckle.

The knowledge of exactly how long you’re going to live may not be a welcome thing. It’s possible that some would like to know and others would prefer to leave their available time to a higher cosmic power, hidden from all earthly view. Might that number, if unveiled, cause you to act differently, to treat everyday matters with urgency or disdain, depending on the forecasted prognosis? All manners of acceptance or disbelief would be within reason if such a prospectus, rounded to the exact hour of being snuffed of life for good, were as realistic a computation as an earned run average or a slugging percentage.

There are easily accessable charts that tell us, as citizens of the United States of America, that our average life expectancy—a figure based on the general state of our country and its handle on medicines—is just a tick over 77 years. The average life of a resident of the United Kingdom is 77.7 years. Sweden, the land of The Hives, is on the high side of the scale—surpassed only by Switzerland, Australia, Japan, and the microstates of San Marino and Andorra. The average Swede can plan to make it all the way to 80 without much of a problem. Not a single person’s doubting that Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, Nicholaus Arson, or Dr. Matt Destruction will reach their denture days, nursing bad backs, bad digestion, and knees that don’t want to bend straight anymore. It’s a different sort of expectancy questioned in their cases. It’s as serious as death and not as serious as death, all at the same time. Where do they fall on the rock ’n’ roll relevancy wheel? Their musical life’s blood—as does any hot-flash band’s—hangs as precariously over unstable ground as does the regular life of the 124-year-old Russian woman feebly holding the distinction of being the world’s oldest living person.

As they are, these charts are baloney. They don’t take into account drunk drivers, aneurysms, or other random acts that could make these numbers as useful as picking the winning Powerball ticket a day late. But given a way to tweak the formula, allowing it to give us approximate dates of disappearance for certain rock bands, they could mean something. Say, for instance, that we could tell within a week or two when the last time we’d hear an A Simple Plan or Usher cut on the radio would be; that would be worth something.

What has been speculated since the 2002 American release of Veni Vidi Vicious and the single “Hate to Say I Told You So” is the staying power of a band that has been seen as a rebellious form of kitsch—not quite novelty and not quite rudimentary in its act. European music periodicals—so quick to embrace and quicker to unlock those bear hugs from their bands-of-the-moment—might have wound their doomsday clocks one album ago, the same day they named The Hives and their unfettered, sonic luge of quicksilver punk rock the tastiest on the globe. Sure, it’s fashionable to pick on the snappy dressers just as it’s fashionable to call fart jokes junior high-ish and say that the Yankees are real pricks for trying to buy happiness and usually getting it. The Hives are used to the badgering and the crooked smiles meant to read, “Yeah, you’re cool now, but those floors are going to cave in, we just know it.”

The Hives are a band that recognizes the fleet steps of original thought. There’s more of a willingness to buy into an idea because it’s the popular thing to do, not because it’s what you might truly want to do. Hell, their tremendous new record, Tyrannosaurus Hives, is all about the insignificant posturing most people do to fit into the norm or sound smart. Guilty of that are the rock critics. Anyone who’s given this band an expiration date as if it were a gallon of milk should look into meteorology—a profession where you’re wrong most of the time, people still listen to what you have to say nightly, and you get paid for it. The Hives have heard the skepticism and it doesn’t bother them.

“If you read NME [New Musical Express] or any kind of British newspaper, they’re based on finding a new band every week. They miss out on a lot of great music because of that. The rise and fall of The Hives is really bizarre. It seems pretty insincere,” 26-year-old Arson said from a tour stop in Germany. “If you’re the hottest band one week, you’re the fattest, oldest band the next week. It’s water off a goose. Popularity-wise, I can’t predict what’s going to happen, but quality-wise, that’s very easy to predict.”

Arson said that most people don’t know how to look at the band. They’ve got the matching uniforms—this year’s model has them looking like the spiffiest matadors that ever lived, with longer pants—and Almqvist articulates an arrogance that spares itself from being obnoxious and grating, but rather comes off as clever boardroom confidence. They won’t apologize for ruling the roost or always being center stage.

“Some people think we’re pretty complicated and some think we’re the simplest joke around,” he said. “We are in uniform all day long. Sometimes it’s like wearing wide, dancing shoes in the rain when rubber boots would have been more practical. If you’re by yourself, people think you’re dressing in clothes. If there are two of you, it looks like the stupidest thing ever. But if there are five, it just looks impressive.

“We have them washed about once a week and the rest of the time they just smell. If people notice there’s blood or snot on our clothes, we might get them washed.”

Growing up in Fagersta, Sweden, a mining town of just over 12,000 people, all the members of the band lived on the same block. Arson is Almqvist’s older brother and they started the band over a decade ago when there was nothing better to do. And nothing better to listen to.
So did their working-class hometown play a part in shaping their sound? “To a certain extent, I think it did,” said Arson. “It’s kind of hard to say. We had time to digest and seep it in. We had to find everything ourselves. If you wanted good music, you had to play it yourself. When you come from a place where people save up for a guitar instead of having them thrown at you, it’s a lot different.”

Being a long way from any hot spot kept the band’s career aspirations modest. It would have been too much to expect such an outpouring of love like the one they received worldwide two years ago. The could only hope for a post-mortem discovery of their talents through reissues or frosty-faced used records, dug up by a generation of with-its able to accept them for what they are: the best punk band in the universe.

“We never really thought about how popular we were or how popular we wanted to be. We always thought we’d be discovered 15 years after we were gone,” Arson said. “People just kind of beat us to it. We just like doing what we do. We had a bigger plan. We didn’t try to get popular. If it’s your goal to be popular, then when you get popular, you’re done. You just sit up in the hills and do nothing.

“A lot of really boring artists are very popular. I can’t predict it. I’d rather see good bands become popular. I can’t go out and buy five million copies of my favorite band’s record. I probably could, though, but it would be pretty expensive.”

The Hives are set in their modes—simple modes, driving fast through each song with revamped riffs and hasty new ones. When recording, they set the studio up like they’d set up a stage. They spend much less time with the recording process than most bands do. They play everything live and record three takes, keeping either the first or the third because, as Arson tells it, the first one is usually too fast, the second one’s too slow, and the third’s just fast. Complication would only surrender the energy.

Topping it all off is a frontman who belts out hurricanes—gusts that would make Ivan seem like a whiny little bitch—and jiggers around a stage like his nipples are being twisted, slowing just long enough to hold himself in a cocksure Jagger pose that might be an improvement and more how the angels devised it. The whole band’s got the look and the moves, but it picks its spots.

“Some things we do, I don’t think they involve as much acting out. If you’re going to go buy some food, you don’t swagger the same way,” Arson said. “Other people might think it’s showing off. Our hobby has been what we do. Some are interested in cars. Well, some are interested in cars when we’re home, but we’re pretty much exclusively interested in music.”

Despite how he appears—so natural with the microphone and an attentive audience—Almqvist wasn’t always so suave, even if all his fancy talk would seem to question it.

“He was more of a loner then. More of a weirdo. I think he’s more accepted now,” Arson says of his kid brother, with a chuckle.

And there’s plenty of time left for Almqvist to be further accepted. The sands are not draining from any hourglass, trickling to mark a match-point for The Hives. Any band that expends as much energy as they do and still claims that it could run its tanks on 15 minutes of sleep and a Mars bar (more of a choice snack in Sweden, I’m guessing) must be doing something better than most. Sometimes it’s hard to get these indie rock groups we pay to see to even look respectable as they work—to comb their hair, throw on some deodorant, and dress up a smidge—much less be respectable with their work. But The Hives are choice. The Hives are law. And we are crime to consider their affluence short-lived.

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