A strange hush, broken only by the disconsolate chirping of crickets, has fallen over the world music scene. Things have happened over the last few years, haven’t they? Bands have played, albums have broken, festivals have rumbled and splattered, but beneath it all there is this unearthly silence, a vacuum where once was the thunderous, bloody heart of rock'n'roll. Where are the spectacle and the sweat? Where are the egos? Where is the unapologetic, self-promoting theatricality? Where, oh where, are The Hives?
Busy creating a new world order, guitarist Nicholaus Arson explains. In the five years since The Black And White Album was released, the band has crossed many international date lines, visited far flung countries, and refined their philosophical aesthetic into a one-inch punch of punk rock power called Lex Hives. Lex Hives is the name of the band’s new album, but it is so much more besides. Inspired by Lex Romana, the system of laws governing ancient Rome, Lex Hives represents the word and the law according to Sweden’s most visceral garage band; “The holy laws,” according to their press release, “After which all life from now on must be lived.” Sort of a tall order, but The Hives are nothing if not rakishly confident (and time has not dulled their flaming lack of humility).
“When we were 14, we used to make up rules. If we saw a band playing a lame drum beat we’d go yeah, we’re not allowed to do that. If we saw a band playing a certain type of guitar and we thought it wasn’t cool, we weren’t allowed to do that. We always made up rules and laws that we had to follow,” Arson says, “This album pays homage to that, Making this album, we looked back through the archives and were inspired by everything we’ve liked (and everything we’ve hated) for the last 20 years.”
Having worked with a series of producers on 2007’s The Black And White Album (including Timbaland, Jacknife Lee and The Neptunes), The Hives elected to go back to basics for the recording of their fifth long-player. Lex Hives was self-produced, although it bore the influence of their previous experience.
“We never would have made this record if we hadn’t made The Black And White Album before it,” Arson says. “Working with all those different producers and stealing all their best ideas, stealing all their best shortcuts for when you get stuck in songwriting and stealing all their best ideas for how to work in the studio – it meant that we had millions and millions ideas for how to make this record. We didn’t even need to call anyone else, we knew exactly what to do and we had tons of inspiration.”
The process of recording Lex Hives was piecemeal but democratic. The band floated in and out of the studio when they felt they had material ready – multiple studios, in multiple locations – and took a little extra time to make sure that all Hives were happy.
“We’ve always taken our time making new music and I think we’ve allowed ourselves to take a little bit more time on this record, because after three years of touring and then another year at home, we realised it had been four years since we released an album and thought, ‘Oh shit, this has to be really good,’” laughs Arson. “We basically had a record after a year, but it wasn’t as good as the one we have now.”
Like the four Hives albums that precede it, Lex Hives is full of brief and blistering rock tunes, stompy, sparse things that at first glance favor energy over artistry, primal dynamics over subtlety, like opening track Come On, which is a minute long and features three words, total. But as Arson explains, making simple music isn’t necessarily a simple process.
“It takes time to perfect something, it takes time to boil something down to the bare essentials, otherwise the songs are long and boring. Well, some of them are long and ok, but it takes time to boil them down too. It sounds like we wrote these songs in five minutes, but it took five years.”
This process produces a lot of wastage however – maybe ‘excess’ is a better word.
“We wrote a whole lot more for this album than we have every written before,” Arson explains, “We have tons of stuff left that was great, but didn’t fit on this album, or didn’t quite get finished. Some songs are really hard to finish. You can have the best hook and then it can take two years to finish it, like Wait A Minute – we’ve had that song for quite a long time, it was just impossible to finish. We knew that we wanted it on the record so we worked and worked and worked on it, but there were two other great songs that we’ve had for about two years, and they were never finished. I still think they’re great. Maybe they’ll be ready for the next record.”
The songs that did make it on to Lex Hives are an eclectic lot, at least in the minds of Arson and his fellow band members, the legendary Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, Vigilante Carlstroem, Dr. Matt Destruction and Chris Dangerous. To the untrained ear, this is another Hives record in which each song is a brain pounding, Stones-influenced slice of party-starting belligerence, but there are subtleties a-plenty if you know how to listen.
“There’s brass in there, and there are types of songs that we haven’t done before,” says Arson. “Wait A Minute is a sort of a pop song, in a way, The Stones’ kind of melodic pop. Then there’s something like Midnight Shifter, which is a total wannabe soul. Go Right Ahead is like our version of glam punk, and then there are anthemic punk tunes like Patrolling Days. We were trying to make a really long tune – and it ended up being kind of long by our standards.
“We always write different parts and then we put them together and they end up being something else. Without The Money is like a cross between…I mean the first part of it was written like a cross between a hip hop beat, and then the verse was like a sixties ballad that we had. It was written half hip hop tune and half sixties ballad and then it ended up sounding like a blues song or something. Then we have something like My Time Is Coming, which was originally a country song. It was written on an acoustic and we kind of liked it, but it was country song. Other people liked it too, so we put it on the record, and it ended up being a cross between a country song and a gospel song, but played fast.”
Sure enough, 30 seconds in to My Time Is Coming, the pummeling of drums take you out of the grim dirge-like intro and back into The Hives’ pocket, where loud and fast is all that matters. You have to wonder how they still have the will to rock this hard, some twenty years into their illustrious music careers. Arson, now 35-years-old, doesn’t know where he gets the energy.
“Physically you get really tired. Every time you play a show you’re so drained you think ‘we’ll never be able to play another show again.’ Every time! But I’m used to the touring and I like it. It’s such a treat to be able to do what we do – travel around the world and see different places and play to people who go wild. It’s pretty amazing. And if you think you make good music, you get a certain energy from that; you have a certain optimism from doing good things…But anyway,” he grins, “We’re not that old. Still the youngest on the main stage, we always say.”
Still flattening the field when it comes to live performance, too, even if half the bands they play with these days are barely out of infancy.
“There are people that come up to us now and say ‘You guys were the first band I saw live’ or ‘I started playing the Telecaster because of you’ or ‘We started our band after seeing you guys.’ We’ve been a touring band for 14 years, so we’re talking to people who came to see us when they were 12-years-old and they’re now 26. I love it. It makes me really proud to hear bands like the Arctic Monkeys say, ‘You guys inspired us.’ I really like them, so I think that’s pretty cool.”
And with that, Arson is off to catch a plane, a 5am flight after a 2am gig in Portugal that signals the beginning of yet another world tour, because the first principle of Lex Hives is this: You have to work pretty hard if you want to be the rulers of everything.
BY SIMONE UBALDI
Lex Hives is out now through Dew Process/Universal.