You can call Swedish garage rockers The Hives many things, but prolific isn't one of them. Not for them are the bygone days when rock bands would churn out an album a year, The Hives preferring to concentrate on touring and just release an album every now and then, probably when they're sick to death of playing the current batch of material for the thousandth time.
Their brand new album Lex Hives is their first in five years and just their fifth long-player since starting out way back in the early-'90s, but they've always been a band to do things on their own terms rather than play the game. Even the album title relates to the ancient Roman system of enacting a body of laws and accepting them as a standard, the liner notes attributing to Greek philosopher Plato the quote: “Lex Hives is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything”.
Regardless of the record's highbrow (read comedic) aspirations it is indeed a strong bunch of material, well worth the lengthy wait. There's nothing groundbreaking on offer – it's all clearly the product of The Hives' fevered imaginations and retro rock'n'roll aesthetics – but it's a cracking bunch of songs, one that grows into itself over time much like 2004's Tyrannosaurus Hives, more songs revealing themselves to be stayers with repeated listens and the whole blossoming into more than just the sum of its dozen parts.
“That's the reason that it takes us a long time – we never release records unless we're completely satisfied with them,” reflects guitarist Nicholaus Arson. “I'm very happy. I think it's probably the most consistent record we've ever made. On this one we worked on way more songs than we usually do – I think in the end we had maybe 20 songs, usually when we make a record we have only the 12 songs that are going on the record. We have some good ones that didn't make it that will probably end up on the next record.
“I think we sort of noticed while we were making this record that we're still a band that makes albums. We wanted to make a record that you're supposed to listen to from the start to the end – back to back – it's supposed to have ups and downs with different tempos and dynamics, and definitely feel like an album rather than the same song over and over 12 times. It's a proper record, and I think we did really well with it – I think we pretty much achieved that radness.”
According to Arson the band didn't have any preconceived notions about what sort of sound or feel they were aiming for with Lex Hives, they just wanted it to be good.
“Less than usual actually,” he muses of their agenda for the record. “We usually have a set plan of what we want to do, like on the Tyrannosaurus Hives record we wanted to make a very, very dry-sounding record – we wanted it to be like punk rock music played by robots almost – and on The Black And White Album (2007) we wanted to make a shiny, glossy hi-res record – hi-fi, or as close to hi-fi as The Hives can go. But on this we wanted to go back – or to go forward by looking back – and have a rawer-sounding, garage rock-sounding record, and we didn't want to go with overdubs and overdubs, we wanted it to be exactly like the five of us playing in a room and just recording that pretty much.”
One noticeable aspect of Lex Hives is the return to the template of their first few albums – there's some horns and keyboards abetting the usual guitar, bass and drum set-up but not much else – and this is partly a reaction to the experimental bent of The Black And White Album, which utilised a slew of high-profile producers such as The Neptunes, Jacknife Lee, Dennis Herring and even Timbaland (although those sessions didn't make the album), which in turn only served to dilute The Hives' sound. This time they produced the album themselves and stuck to what they know best.
“Yeah, pretty much,” Arson admits. “Maybe not so much a reaction to that, but more a sense that we'd worked with so many producers last time and we'd discovered all their tricks, so we came out of those sessions with tons and tons of ideas about how to work in the studio and what to do next. How to take shortcuts whenever you get stuck working on a song and stuff. All of that we used on this record as well, but to make it more of a garage record.
“We knew exactly what we wanted to do this time around so we didn't feel the need at all to bring in anyone else. In fact we wanted to make a very Hives-sounding record, and in order for us to do that we had to have The Hives produce it – have The Hives do everything on it.”
The Hives have somehow survived nearly two decades without a line-up change: there are familial links (Arson is brother of frontman Howlin' Pelle Almqvist) but there must be other reasons for their longevity.
“I dunno, good jokes I guess. Better jokes than most bands,” Arson laughs. “I think we just like hanging out with each other. We've always had fun doing what we do. We were playing together as a band for seven years before we became famous in any way – we were always doing it regardless of whether we were famous or not. We would have been doing it on as small a scale as possible if we could – we would have been driving around in cars doing touring and playing whatever shows we could get, we would always play anyway. I guess it just comes from knowing that you're going to do it regardless of whether we're famous or not. It's a great experience doing it – we enjoy making music and we enjoy the touring and taking leave from our regular jobs to see new places. I think we've just enjoyed each other's company since we were 14.
“For us, the way that we do things is so that it's all meant to be fun. If you're surrounded by 20 drunk people in a room who want to have a good time – that's the music part – and outside of that if you're going to survive in a touring band and stand shoulder-to-shoulder for 18 hours a day then you do need some good jokes, you need a certain atmosphere otherwise you'll all be fighting. It mostly is the jokes – it really helps out the day. We've toured with bands who don't have the sense of humour we have and they'll all be tense and saying, 'Shut the fuck up!', and we'll be cracking jokes and snapping fingers. We were born to be Hives.”