Coachella: Hives promise to be as 'Hives as humanly possible'
Back in 2007, The Hives were tinkering with their sound, working with studio sorcerer Pharrell Williams and others, bringing a dash of funk and old-school-minded grooves to its lean and efficient rock 'n' roll snarl. Today, the band is gearing up for its first major U.S. performance in years, an appearance at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., and readying the release of a new back-to-basics album, "Lex Hives," a collection largely free of studio sheen.
"On the last album, the departure was us playing piano, keyboard and drum machine. On this record, it’s all instruments that could have been used 50 years ago," said singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist. "It’s a very low-tech album compared to the last one."
After recording two albums for the Universal Music Group, neither the band nor the label wanted to extend the deal, and the band found themselves free agents. The Hives responded by going independent — to a point.
"Lex Hives" was self-funded and self-produced, and will be issued on the band's own Disques Hives (a deeper look at the band's history will be featured in a story in Sunday's Calendar section). The Swedish band, one of the few survivors of the garage rock revival of the early 2000s that also included the Strokes and White Stripes, has licensed "Lex Hives" to the Warner Independent Label Group for its June 5 U.S. release. The album is relentless, opening with the call-and-response charge of "Come On!" and galloping through glam and roots influences on such tracks as "Go Right Ahead" and "My Time is Coming," all delivered with an underlying rhythm & soul punch.
But is it also a repudiation of 2007's glistening major label effort "The Black and White Album"?
"We wanted to make a different record," Almqvist said of the band's final release for Interscope. "It’s never been possible to push us in a direction. It was our idea and we wanted to make that kind of record. After three records of basically just rock ‘n’ roll, you become curious as to what would happen if you did something else."
The renewed focus on the quintet's vocal and guitar interplay was an attempt, said Almqvist, to make a record that was "as Hives as humanely possible." As for why the band went five years between albums, Almqvist noted the group toured for nearly three years after "The Black and White Album," but was quick to add that self-producing an album with a five-piece band is not the quickest of ways to reach a consensus.
"We thought it would be faster if we produced it ourselves as opposed to scheduling it with someone who’s busy 24-7, 365 days per year," Almqvist said. "Rather than squeeze in some studio time, we could go in to the studio whenever we wanted. It turns out that having five producers who have an equal say of everything isn’t that fast. You’d think we could have guessed that in advance."
There was lots of fussing over song choice, Almqvist said, and songs that present a departure, such as the AC/DC-like strut of "I Want More," needed to be fought for. And just because Hives songs come in at about 2 minutes and don't pack a lot of frills, don't think they're not labored over.
"Sometimes we’ll come up with 30 seconds of fantastic music, but that doesn’t get you anywhere unless you can turn it into at least two minutes," Almqvist said. "Making 30 seconds into 2 minutes can take a year and a half."
— Todd Martens
Image: The Hives at Coachella in 2003. Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times