(Photo: Joel Lundell)
In early February I saw that The Hives, one of Sweden’s biggest rock bands, were coming to town to play a show in San Diego. Interviewing The Hives for our newsletter was a no-brainer, so I sent them an e-mail. Days turned into weeks and I heard nothing, until the day before the concert when I got a call offering me a telephone interview with Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, lead vocalist of the Hives, the following day. Obviously, I didn’t miss out on the chance to interview Howlin’ Pelle.
The Hives were formed in 1993, making this their 20th year together, and they have toured the US many times. The Hives are considered, among international and Swedish critics alike, one of the world’s best live bands; it’s not just the music, it’s an experience. In the fall of 2012 The Hives released their 5th album “Lex Hives”, and are now touring the US in support of it. What is it like being on tour? The Hives are not the only big Swedish rock band, so how come such a small country like Sweden has been able to export so much music? How do you become a rockstar? These were some of the questions that I asked Pelle.
I was sitting by my phone waiting and as the minutes passed I started to get nervous that there was no interview after all, but suddenly it rang and Pelle was on the line. He was really relaxed and was walking around in Solana Beach, planning to catch some waves the day before the show.
The Hives got their breakthrough in the US before Sweden. Why do you think you appeal to the American audience?
I think it has to do with our style, which in some aspects is very American. It’s hard to become a ‘prophet’ in your own country. In Sweden you need to be accepted by critics before you can get your breakthrough. People are not as open to new music as the Americans.
What is the difference between making it in the US and making it in Sweden?
In the US, you can tour your way to success, just keep on touring and playing gigs. Here people go out with their friends to see bands more than people do in Sweden. It’s more common for Americans than Swedish people to go see an unknown band. It’s hard to tour your way to success in Sweden and you can’t really play every day. Usually you will need the press and critics to back you
Still, Sweden exports a lot of music.
Yeah, it’s fantastic music, I think it has to do with the fact many Swedish bands are very serious about their music, and you have to put a lot of effort into it. I think that Swedish unemployment benefits, “A-Kassa”, are also a great contributor to Swedish music exports, as a lot Swedish bands are using or have been using them from time to time. (Pelle identifies Kent as one of those bands). Another big contributor is Kommunala Musikskolan, which is a government-funded musical school for youths.
What do you think about California?
There is no better place than here to have a gig. It’s a fantastic state with good weather and nice people. California was one of the first places The Hives got popular and this is the part of every US tour that I really look forward to. Good Mexican food, weather, and surf.
The Hives usually try to go surfing while in California, and because they are touring by bus they have a lot of spare time. I have to admit that I got pretty jealous when Pelle told me that being on tour is like being on vacation with your best friends, while getting paid. During the day, they can go hiking or surfing, and by night they do what they love the most, play music.
Is it important to have rules in a band?
Yes, I think it is important to decide what you are. There are a lot of bands that just play different styles and never really figure out who they are. We have chosen to be The Hives.
At this point I’d gotten some good answers out of Pelle, but I still didn’t feel like I’d discovered the Hives’ key to success.
And now the question you’ve been waiting for: How do you become a rockstar?
We have always gone with our guts, and we’ve been touring a lot. It isn’t something you can just learn. It is hard to teach a talent. What you can do is follow your instincts.
This article represents the views of the author and not necessarily the views of SACC San Diego. The interview was conducted in Swedish and was freely translated into English by the author.
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