“Rock’n’roll is about guts… there’s no rules!”: The Hives’ Pelle Almqvist and Nicholaus Arson on punk rock, sharp suits and the seal of approval they got from Taylor Hawkins

The Hives in 2023
(Image credit: Phoebe Fox)

“All good rock music has an element of something ridiculous,” begins The Hives frontman Pelle Almqvist. “We want it to be something larger than life.”

Pelle is an entertainer as well as a singer, whether that be through his wicked sense of humour, his flamboyant energy onstage or the charming charisma he exudes on the band’s Instagram live broadcasts. He and his brother Niklas - aka Nicholaus Arson – grew up watching Eddie Murphy films, the comedian's routines inspiring the sharp wit and playfulness that has run right the way through the career of the band they formed back in 1993.

After 11 years without releasing new music, The Hives returned with their sixth album The Death Of Randy Fitzsimmons last year and they also launched the “Franch-Hives” initiative, claiming that they needed assistance from fans in keeping the world’s hunger for The Hives fed. It has come in the form of Hives tribute bands playing shows across the UK. “The Hives have Franchised! As the very first band in the world we have spawned off into several because of the eternal and insatiable demand for Hives shows,” they declared in a Facebook post.

"This might be a way to satisfy the demand that we can’t satisfy on our own,” Pelle reveals, sitting backstage with Nicholaus ahead of a show at Cardiff’s Great Hall in early April. 

The tribute bands have a lot of living up to do – The Hives’ outstanding live reputation helped them sell out their recent UK tour, suggesting that the world has never craved The Hives more.

With the exceptional …Death Of Randy Fitzsimmons being robbed of a Number One album last year by Liam Gallagher, we agree that technically The Hives won top spot (well, the Liam Gallagher record was a live album, so technically it doesn’t count).

“An international number one!” Pelle quips. “We've become one of those multi-generational rock bands,” he smiles.

Pelle says his onstage antics are fuelled by the rush of saying something you’re not allowed to say.

“You want it to feel like ‘I can’t believe that guy said that into the microphone. Are you allowed to do that?’,” he states. “You want the person onstage to be outside of all rules. It’s about guts. Rock’n’roll is about guts. It’s so much more interesting. We are very uninterested in mystique compared to other bands at the time.”

"Also, if you have a microphone and you’re not saying something into it, you’re missing an opportunity,” Nicholaus interjects.

“It’s still there in between songs might as well use it,” Pelle agrees. “We don’t want things to go quiet in between songs. If things go quiet in between songs we kind of panic as it feels like the show is getting ruined. I gotta keep shit going."

Growing up listening to Ramones and Misfits, the music they consumed felt like it was a long way from Fagersta, the small town where they lived. Finding examples of local punk wasn’t easy, although records by local hardcore heroes Happy Farm did the rounds in school.

“I remember looking at the cover art and hearing it and it was exciting knowing that you could make rock music in our hometown. That felt surreal,” Pelle says. “There was also a neighbour across the street who had Misfits and Dead Kennedys albums. The cover art scared the shit out of me. We were about eight or nine, we were very young. But the music felt good.”

Despite being labelled as garage-rock since the dawn of their career, the band are punk through and through. However, their custom suits (made by Pelle’s neighbour’s daughter) and impressively tight performances do raise some questions about their credentials - can punks be stylishly dressed and play their instruments well?

“We always thought we were a punk rock band and then rock’n’roll. We were influenced by what’s known as garage rock, but we didn’t really know that was what it was called. And what became garage rock in 2001 was really different to what was known as garage rock in 1966 or 1981. It was a completely different thing,” says Pelle. "But we will happily tag along to any scene that will have us!”

“We bonded over punk, and then we discovered garage rock,” Nicholas adds. “Punk was cool because there were no rules. Then, the more you do punk, the more you realise how many rules there are. Then we were like, if there’s too many rules, we can be rock’n’roll. There’s no rules in rock’n’roll.”

“It was very liberating to stop saying ‘punk’ and to start saying ‘rock ’n’ roll’ because then no one could demand anything from you,” Pelle concludes.

Their black and white suits have become an iconic trademark and their creation is an insight into their attention to detail beyond the music.

“I had an idea, and my neighbour’s daughter has a good hand, can draw and she makes clothes,” explains Pelle. “It was kind of a rip off from a Country and Western nudie suit. She’s 19 so she doesn’t know what a nudie suit is, which is good because then it would be a punk-kid misunderstanding of what a nudie suit is. Which is what we wanted to do. We bought cheap polyester and tuxedos and then stitched that stuff on, it was very DIY.”

Their flamboyant look makes them arguably the sharpest dressed band in rock’n’roll, or punk, or garage, or whatever you want to label them.

“Sometimes, if we haven’t toured for a very long time, at home, we wear colours,” Pelle jokes.

As well as their sartorial elegance, the tightness and speed of their performances is another factor that sets them apart.

“It’s all in the delivery,” Nicholaus says. “With The Hives, we always strive to do it as well and as fast and as hard and as well as we could really”.

Pelle agrees. “If you see a band that are really tight, at the same volume, it will sound even louder. That’s what attracts us to it. It sounds like it’s louder than it is and that Jedi mind trick is really important. We want to be impressive, so we want to play faster, harder, tighter and louder than anyone else. I remember when we first came out, and Taylor Hawkins - God rest his soul – said, ‘Yeah, it’s like The Stooges if the Stooges were way tighter” and I thought, ‘Woah, yeah, that sounds pretty good to me!’”

But is the long gap between albums and launch of Franch-Hives a sign that The Hives are planning on slowing down? Absolutely not.

“It dawned on us that we were great and that we still like what we were doing,” Pelle smirks.

“We never write music for anyone else but ourselves, we never work on music for anybody else's pleasure. It’s totally for our own,” Nicholaus adds. Rest assured, The Hives aren’t going anywhere soon. Even if there is another extended delay until their next record, The Hives are sure to make it worth the wait…

The Death Of Randy Fitzsimmons is out now