Humility has never been their strong suit. But since 2001, when the Hives exploded onto the garage rock revival scene in matching black-and-white suits, they have proved themselves to be at least partially worthy of their own hyperbole.
In 2002, they were voted best live band in the world by Q magazine and eighth-best by Spin. But around the release of their third album, Tyrannosaurus Hives, the band of hyperactive Swedish poster boys for the law of attraction had a three-year scuffle with the law of gravity.
While they would never publicly admit the need for a parachute, the Hives responded appropriately to their slow descent in popularity by “wood-shedding.” With a lot of help from their friends, they produced their most ambitious effort to date, Black and White (originally titled The World’s First Perfect Album).
The Reporter caught up with lead singer “Howlin’ ” Pelle Almquist as the band was finishing up the Latin American portion of its world tour. Call it luck or call it divine justice, the Hives were scheduled to blow into Austin, Texas, for their first U.S. date on the same day as Hurricane Ike.
VCR: You should land in Texas the same day as the hurricane.
Pelle Almquist: Let’s not hope so. I’m trying to avoid hurricanes. It’s a New Year’s resolution.
So what happened to your Video Music Award this year?
I don’t know. If we didn’t get one, it must be rigged.
The title Black and White obviously refers to more than your stage attire.
We always like every album to have a title that’s like the last will and testament — a big, powerful title. Many bands, when they’ve made a definitive album, they’ve called it the White Album or the Black Album. So we figured we should be the first band to do both.
You hyped the record quite a bit in advance of its release. Has the response met your expectations?
Yes, I’m happy. It’s weird nowadays. It’s hard to gauge how successful a record is. You can kind of figure out how many people bought it at the store, but that doesn’t have anything to do with how many people heard it or liked it.
So does it bother you when people have their hands on your record, but didn’t pay for it?
I can’t let it bother me because it’s just the way it is. Nothing’s gonna change if I walk around and be bothered by it. Maybe they’ll buy a T-shirt or something. Of course, I’d prefer it if they buy the record, but the world doesn’t turn that way anymore.
You worked with a few producers on the record, including Pharrell Williams. Who challenged you the most?
In a way, the Pharrell stuff was most challenging because we wrote all that stuff in the studio the week we were there. We didn’t come in with finished songs, which is the way we had always done it before.
Where did you draw your inspiration from in that process?
We basically just hung out with Pharrell and listened to stuff on iTunes and talked about what we liked. Then someone would have an idea that would maybe turn into a song [or] maybe not. We were always intrigued with a period in the early ’80s when all the rock bands tried to get a disco hit. So we had talked with Pharrell before, and that’s what we were trying to do when we walked into the studio: a disco-rock number.
You’ve been sort of pitted against other bands in the past, most notably the Vines. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know, maybe it’s the bravado, that we’re one of very few rock bands that doesn’t apologize for anything. Then people take that as arrogance, and then they think we should be challenged or something. [Laughs.] I don’t really see music as a competition other than live [performance]. If we make a record, it’s completely independent of what other bands make. But when we’re playing live, like a festival gig or something, then yes, we are going to try to beat the hell out of the other bands. Not physically, but we want to make them feel bad about their band. Maybe that’s a little mean, but it’s part of what keeps us going.