The Hives are sick of all the whining going on.
Too many of the rock ballads littering our airwaves sound like something Edgar Allan Poe might pen. In the world where Pelle Almqvist lives, that’s not what being a rock star is all about. No, it should never be that serious.
“Rock and roll these days has no confidence,” said The Hives’ frontman. “It’s all about feeling small and sad and tired and everyone’s mean to me, whereas rock and roll, the way we look at it, should be about, ‘Look at me, I’m really happy and drunk, and I have a 20-foot penis.”
Almqvist, 34, who formed the Swedish rock band in 1993, said he is still having as much fun now as he was when he was 18. And he doesn’t anticipate that to change anytime soon because then he might have to get a “real job.”
The Hives opened Day 2 of Budweiser’s Made in America festival Sunday afternoon on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The group has performed in Philadelphia many times — yes, they’ve sampled the local cheesesteaks — but this was a chance to attract a whole new generation of fans. Donning tuxedos and top hats, The Hives stayed true to their retro sound, amping up the crowd with howling vocals and snappy beats.
“The first three or four songs, they kind of had their mouths open and just stared and then they got really into it,” Almqvist said of Sunday’s set. “I think that’s the reaction you kind of want from a first-time crowd. I feel like a lot of people saw us for the first time and will probably see us again.”
Many critics are quick to pigeonhole The Hives as a garage band, with sounds you might expect to hear at a neighborhood block party. While there is some truth to that, band members try to downplay it.
“We’re a rock and roll band with all the parts that we think are good,” Almqvist said. “We’re not a retro band, we’re not a garage rock band. We love it [the garage sound] and it’s part of our sound and who we are, but a lot of other things go into it as well.”
Like hip hop, for starters. Almqvist claimed he was a huge fan of both Jay-Z and Run DMC, something very evident in his recent music. Back in 2007, The Hives famously teamed up with producer Timbaland on the hit track “Throw It On Me.”
“We feel like we have a lot in common with hip hop,” Almqvist said. “Hip hop took a lot of the fun things from rock and roll, and rock and roll kind of let them, which we really don’t understand, so we’re trying to take some of the colorfulness from those things back.”
The Hives released their fifth studio album, Lex Hives, just three months ago. It’s been greeted with rave reviews, mainly because it remains consistent with their unique sound. It draws largely on 1950s rock and roll and 1970s punk, then mixes in “a dash of hip hop and a splash of 60s music,” according to the band.
“When you’re younger you just listen to punk, it’s more narrow now,” said guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem. “These days we kind of listen to anything that’s good … from crooner to death metal.”
Lex Hives is the band’s first album since 2007, but Almqvist and Carlstroem said it really only took about 1 1/2 years to make. In between, they needed some time off after a hectic world tour.
“We wanted to make a really simple and straight-forward rock and roll album, whereas so much music these days is done by copying and pasting, fiddling with every last detail,” said Almqvist. “We worked on the songs for years and then we record them in three minutes.”
Make no mistake, The Hives want you to buy the new album. They just don’t care that much if you like it.
“The music is us, the way we want it, and it’s not built to fit anybody,” Almqvist said. “It’s built to fit whoever likes it and us. It’s not meant to be for everybody, not for the 50 million people that think it’s okay. It’s meant for the couple of million who love it.”
The Hives are embarking on a three-week, West Coast tour starting in Canada on Sept. 5 and wrapping through San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. They are expecting big, diverse turnouts.
“A rock crowd is basically a bunch of people throwing their hands up in the air and screaming, and they do that on both sides of the pond,” Almqvist said, when asked to compare European and U.S. crowds. “But I feel like, in this U.S. audience, there were more people that hadn’t seen us, whereas if we play in Europe most people have already seen or heard us.”
And if you haven’t seen or heard them, The Hives have a message for you.
“Just come out and see us, fuckers,” Carlstroem said.