The Hives, the Swedish garage rockers with a penchant for uniform black-and-white attire, kick off a short North American tour tonight in Washington, D.C., in support of their fifth album, "Lex Hives." Even though the band is creeping up on their 20th anniversary -- next year -- they show no signs of slowing down.
“We always go forward at 190 miles per hour,” says the guitarist Nicholaus Arson. “We started young in a town where there was nobody else to play with – there wasn't much of a punk or hardcore scene – so we were stuck together from the very beginning.”
“But if we stay together for three more years,” he jokes, “we will have been together for longer than the Ramones, so then we can quit.”
When the Hives emerged in the mid-1990s, they were lumped in with bands like the Vines, the Strokes and the White Stripes as the vanguard of the garage-rock revival. The music was scrappy, fun and raw, marking a significant departure from hair-metal's unbearable cheesiness and grunge-rock's stifling apathy. Although they could never have predicted it at the time, the Hives paved the way for younger garage-rock outfits like the Black Lips, Ty Segall and Heavy Cream.
“Nowadays, it's more accepted than when we started,” observes Arson. “People who aren't even into garage-rock now know what it is, and some bands are even able to make careers out of it. That didn't seem possible when we first started – we never expected to sell any records, but then somehow we sold two million. This music is much more socially acceptable now.”
The Hives' previous album, "The Black and the White Album" (2007), was a departure from those lo-fi roots, with input from hip-hop producers Timbaland and The Neptunes. “Lex Hives,” which was self-produced and released on Disque Hives, the band's own label, shows them returning to garage with a vengeance.
“With the last one, we had all this money, and we knew that we owed it to the world to be the last rock band that had that much money and put it all into the record,” says Arson. “But we wanted 'Lex Hives' to be a revolt against that record. This one is all the things the Hives do best – wild, rip and tear garage-rock music.”
“We want to look like these guys coming in from another world and putting on the best punk show people have ever seen."
On the opening song, “Come On!,” vocalist Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, who is also Arson's brother, screams the phrase “Come On!” nearly 60 times. It's an audacious, and downright hostile, statement.
When asked whether it should be understood as a friendly invitation or a violent threat, Arson says: “It's both. If you're already pumping your fists and jumping, then we invite you to do it even harder. But if you're not already jumping, then it should be taken as a threat.”
Fist-pumping and jumping lives shows have always been the Hives' specialty. And when they hit the stage tonight, the band members, as always, will wear matching outfits. For the last album and tour, the band members wore school uniforms with black-and-white striped ties. While touring in support of “Lex Hives,” they'll be wearing top hats and tails.
“It was a no-brainer,” says Arson about the wardrobe decision. “We want to look like these guys coming in from another world and putting on the best punk show people have ever seen. We're like aristocrat punks, and we look bloody smashing.”
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