The Hives’ Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist: “We’re Europe’s AC/DC”

The Hives’ frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist in his usual chipper mood talking from his home in Sweden and is almost as charming over the phone in conversation with DAVID SWAN as he is during the band’s famously raucous live performances.

It’s been a long way to the top for Sweden’s favourite sons The Hives spending over a decade earning their stripes through high voltage rock and roll shows, live wire albums and razor sharp fictional backstories. Now, after a few quiet years, the garage rock five-piece are back in black, arriving on our shores to support AC/DC on what frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist says is the tour of a lifetime.

“We haven’t toured that much this year, we’ve basically just been doing one-off shows and going to new countries,” he explains. “That’s been our way the past year, so haven’t really toured. But this kind of for us doesn’t really seem like a tour. Because it’s a few shows in very many days. It’ll be more like a week on the beach, and a show every once in a while. Not bad. It’ll be more like going to an AC/DC show once a week.”

Was this an easy tour to say yes to?

Yes, it was. For all of us I think that AC/DC was probably the first rock band that we liked. It was the first music that we decided to listen to ourselves, when we could pick our own music. We had the cassettes from a neighbour, the tape of For Those About to Rock in like 1982 when we were like five  or six years old. Since then they’ve been one of our favourite bands, in The Hives we keep referencing AC/DC a lot and stuff, it is pretty special. It was also kind of the one tour we still hadn’t done that we wanted to do, you know. The one band that exists that we haven’t played with. We’ve played with The Rolling Stones and The Sonics and a lot of our own heroes. This is sort of the last one I can think of.

Where’s that influence for you, from AC/DC?

I think we have a lot of things in common, musically. A, we play rock and roll music and B, we do it really well. [laughs]. But yeah I mean we’re definitely influenced by AC/DC or have been or are, there are lot of things to do with how they structure riffs and stuff in the beginning of their songs.

Do you see yourselves as being similar in that you buy an AC/DC album and you know what you’re going to get? Is that the same with The Hives?

Well, in a way. But we keep trying to ruin that a little bit. [laughs] We keep things a bit more different to AC/DC I think. We ruin the fun for fans a little bit more. I think there are bands that have a definite sound, and sound a certain way. AC/DC’s one of them, you kind of know what it’s going to sound like. And why abandon that? If you come up with something that’s going to ride until it croaks…

And they haven’t croaked yet, they’re still going!

No! They’re doing really well for themselves, I hear. [laughs].

Do you want that same longevity, that they’ve had?

Yeah, you know what I think it is, I think people don’t understand, they are like “oh, why”, and stuff, they say “they don’t need the money.” I think people have no idea how fun it is. I think it keeps you young, a little bit. I think if all things go well, we could still be going for as long as they are. How old are AC/DC? 55 or something like that? So we have another… 30 years, at least. Our average life expectancy means maybe we’ve got another 50 years.

Are you Sweden’s AC/DC?

I guess Europe, maybe [laughs]. We’re Europe’s AC/DC. Something like that. Someone said we were Europe’s Ramones, too. I don’t know if you can do both at the same time but it sounds like a good idea if you could. In a way though we’re The Hives. We are our own thing. But if you need something to compare it too, I’m flattered by the comparison.


Photo by Dexter Cornelius for FL

Does being a support band entail certain things, like playing at a certain volume or toning down the on-stage theatrics? Any rules?

No, not really, no. Well what happens I guess is a lot of times you can’t use the entire PA, because it’s going to sound more quiet, and you can’t use all the lights, it’s got to be darker. So basically it means we’ve got to turn up the on-stage theatrics to compensate for that. But other than that, so far they haven’t given us any rules we have to follow. There seems to be some nervousness about things going on on-stage but that usually goes away after the first night, when they see how fun it is. [laughs].

Are you doing your own shows in Australia or just those shows?

The thing is that we can only play the AC/DC shows. We’re not doing anything else. We’re rehearsing though, because we have so much time on our hands. And we’ll try to get some work done on our new album.

Tell me about that.

I don’t know much about it yet. We have a bunch of songs, we have a hard time agreeing what songs go on the record but that’s par for the course. And we’re working on it. Not so much working on music as working on agreeing, which is usually the hard part.

Any ballpark figures on how many songs you’ve done?

A lot of song ideas, but very few are finished. We usually finish them kind of late, we want to live with them for a while. Actually one AC/DC interview I read they were working on a record, they said they were working on the record for about two years, and they said they have some really good intros. [laughs]. It’s sort of like that. It’s hard to make really good music, that takes time and effort.

No timeline at the moment then?

We’ve been burned by that in the past, like saying “oh there’s a record coming out next year”, and it takes another two years. We’re trying to keep our mouths shout a little bit. I’m hoping next year, you know.

Every time I’ve seen you guys play, it’s been…

It’s been fantastic?

Yeah, it has. It has been genuinely fantastic. And I’m wondering what the secret is. Do you have backstage rituals, how do you get yourselves in a place where you can really bring it every show?

We slap each other around a little bit. We literally hit each other in the face and on the arms and stuff like that. But most of it comes from hearing the music played loud, and getting excited by the music. And from the fact that we hate to lose. We really hate it if we do a bad show. That’s part of the magic. If you’re fine either way, you’re never going to be very good. If you’re like “oh, it was okay”, it shouldn’t be like that, there’s something going on that might be a problem further down the line.

Does that last through to the next day, if you have a bad show?

Yeah, it’s more sort of a really bad feeling. You just feel bad. Like you feel bad until you can maybe fix it with a show the next day. That’s going to be hard on this AC/DC tour because if we have a bad show it’s going to be five days until we can fix it.

Are these shows an opportunity to gain new fans?

Yeah, it’s mostly for us too, I’d love for them to like us but that’s not really what it’s about for us. It’s about playing with AC/DC. If we play our own shows, people already love the band. They get into it either way. But it’s really good to have some sort of resistance, that people don’t immediately love you so if you have to work for it a little bit. We’re looking forward to that opportunity as well, to play to people that don’t like us. [laughs].

“We really hate it if we do a bad show”

What are you going to be doing when AC/DC’s playing, getting into the crowd, watching side of stage?

I think there are a few shows so we’ll do a mix of both. Seeing it from the side of stage is cool because you get a different angle and you can kind of see what they’re doing more from a professional standpoint. But it’s better to see the show from the crowd. We get some guest passes and sometimes when we do things like that we’ll just put ourselves on the guest list so we can get out into the crowd and like sit in the rafters and have some popcorn and watch AC/DC. We’ll do a bit of both.

Favourite AC/DC album?

Powerage, I think. That’s the one I’ve listened to most. Or maybe For Those About To Rock, because that was the first one I heard. But I think Powerage is the one I’ve listened to most. It’s been in my car stereo for years. [laughs].

AC/DC, The Hives and Kingswood tour

Wednesday, November 4 – ANZ Stadium Australia, Sydney
Saturday, November 7 – ANZ Stadium Australia, Sydney
Thursday, November 12 – QSAC, Brisbane
Saturday, November 21 – Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
Friday, November 27 -Domain Stadium, Perth
Sunday, December 6 – Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
Tuesday, December 8 – Etihad Stadium, Melbourne