A member of The Hives should need no encouragement to exercise his vocal chords in interview. Recall if you will: they are the band from Sweden who swept in on the garage rock revival of the early noughties with their kinetic, monochrome punk; the band who sold t-shirts with slogans like “The Hives Are Law – You Are Crime”; the band with a singer called Howlin’ Pelle who spent most gigs rambling about why his band were so good; the band whose press release on the eve of their imminent return is a frenzy of superlatives and exclamation marks – not to mention hyperventilating repetition of the word ‘Yeah!’
So when I call a London hotel and ask to be put through to Room 204, the temporary lodgings of guitarist Vigilante Carlstrom, it is a surprise to be greeted with a deep-toned but barely audible drawl. It doesn’t sound nervous or jetlagged, just that it can hardly bother to expend the energy needed to form words and sentences. It’s distinctly less Yeah!; more meh…
Fearing the worst, I ask Vigilante if he’s in the midst of an interview marathon.
“Not too bad actually,” is the languid response.
So that’s one theory dismissed. Icebreaker down, it’s time for the first obvious question: how does Vigilante feel about the new album?
And can Vigilante elaborate?
“I don’t really have any distance from it because we’ve just been working on it up till now. But it feels good that it’s done and it’s coming out and we can get back to start playing again.”
Ok, better. Not one but two full sentences, complete with idiosyncratic, non-native turn of phrase
You will by now have heard The Hives’ comeback single – Tick Tick Boom – and though it may sound like the band are treading a well-trodden riff-fuelled path, album number four isn’t just more of the same. Did they take more risks in the recording process?
“Yeah of course,” Vigilante murmurs. “There’s at least one song that everyone loves and everyone hates in the band. We did stuff that we wouldn’t normally do but that was the only way we could’ve done it.”
This new-found desire to mess with the formula resulted in one of the most unlikely collaborations when the guru of commercial hip-hop that is Pharrell Williams offered his production services to the Scandinavian rockers for part of the album.
“We decided pretty early on that we wanted to record the album in a new way and work with people who we haven’t worked with,” Vigilante says with the merest hint of enthusiasm. “It didn’t make sense to do the same thing again and record with the same people again. We were only gonna do three records and then quit so we decided to do the fourth one in a different way.”
Hang on, surely they weren’t serious about quitting?
“Not really. We were fourteen when we made that three record plan.”
That’s right, The Hives go right back, and Vigilante is pretty tetchy about people seeing 2002’s Your New Favourite Band as their point of inception.
“We’ve been releasing records since 97, pretty much doing what we did in 2002,” he mumbles. “We’ve always been put in different scenes. We were in the Swedish hardcore punk scene and I guess in 2002 the garage rock scene came along and people put us in with that.”
As is so often the case, the intervention of Alan McGee – the Scottish music impresario with the uncanny knack of poking his nose in at just the right times – was crucial to The Hives’ success in Britain.
“We were signed to a Swedish label and he [McGee] saw us on a TV show and he wanted to release something,” Vigilante sighs demurely. “Since we were signed to a different label we decided to just make a compilation, so Your New Favourite Band was a mix of songs from previous albums.”
After that initial year of touring and promo The Hives were absent until 2004’s Tyrannosaurus Hives, which failed to make as big a splash as YNFB. They then dropped off the radar again before resurfacing this summer with a few live dates to roadtest the new songs. Having been away for so long is there a pressure to prove themselves all over again, or do they feel like veterans now?
“A little bit of both actually,” Vigilante responds meekly. “You do have to prove yourself again. Obviously you have the hardcore fans but then you have the people who liked us six years ago that maybe don’t like us now.”
By the end of the interview I’m almost warming to Vigilante’s reticent style. At least he’s not one to bullshit, and he isn’t exactly rude. He answers every question with a literal, Germanic curtness. It’s the same attitude The Hives employ in their music, dress sense and performance, so perhaps it’s appropriate, and I was wrong to expect a jacked-up, polysyllabic live-wire.
When I ask Vigilante to explain The Hives’ philosophy with my final question, he answers the only way he knows how: “We’re just a black and white rock ‘n’ roll band.”
The Black And White Album is out now.