On October 28 at Brooklyn Bowl Nashville, hundreds of rock fans in attendance were transformed by the white-suited showmanship and heavy riffing of Swedish band The Hives, who stopped in Music City between another southeastern date with Nashville-based openers Nicole Atkins and the Family and a trio of Texas dates to finish their American tour. (Besides their Third Man Records performance inside the intimate Blue Room space in 2019, which was recorded and released on the local label last year, The Hives had not performed in Nashville since their 2013 arena tour with pop-rocker P!nk.
The band’s front man Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist indeed howled and sweated all over the stage, walking along the rail like it was a tightrope while buttressed by the hands of front row show-goers, stealing the cell phones of not-so-sneaky videographers, and momentarily joining a group’s bowling lane while sauntering through the venue mid-song. Earlier in the day, the singer shared a few minutes with me backstage. Enjoy these excerpts from our interview.
On the Record: A Q&A With Pelle Almqvist of The Hives
Celia Gregory: I’m here with Howlin’ Pelle on 91.One WNXP, Nashville’s Music Experience, on the day of the The Hives’ show at Brooklyn Bowl. Glad to have you back in Nashville for a good ol’ rock and roll show tonight—different than the virtual things you were able to trot out last year. There’s really no substitute for the real thing. Now that you’ve been back on the road, how is it feeling?
On Returning to Performance
Pelle Almqvist: It’s feeling really good. I mean, it’s strange. We’ve done a show here and there, but it’s been a long time since we’ve done serious touring, playing every day and stuff. It feels really great, actually. We’re very Lutheran in our work morals, we’ve got to whip ourselves so we do stuff. So we’re really happy to be working again. We don’t really like time off too much.
Rehearsing is rehearsing and that’s not too fun. But playing the show is fun. Yeah. Well, actually, it is fun. I love playing music in any way, shape or form, so that’s fun. Well, I just realized that was not true. I don’t like playing music unless I think it’s very good. I don’t like jamming or, you know, just playing something you don’t know. I don’t like that kind of thing. I like it when the results are good.
CG: Does the results being good necessitate for you having it tight, like you just said, not jamming? So the opposite of that?
PA: I like it better when everything’s decided. It’s a preference. You improvise a bunch of times until we come up with something that’s good. And then you play it that way.
CG: It was so sweet, but also a kick in the gut, to hear the show from Third Man [Blue Room] that you recorded straight to acetate in 2019, but then released in the pandemic when you couldn’t see anybody at all.
PA: But it was kind of like a little Band-Aid, I guess.
CG It was. But yeah, to hear that crowd engagement. Even the single that you released [“I’m Alive”], it was kind of like, “Did you miss me? Here, we’re back. Ok, now we’re back again.”
PA: Yeah, it was a bit of a bummer. I’ve been calling the pandemic a bit of a bummer, which is an understatement. But you know, we all know, everybody knows.
CG: Well, I actually don’t know, though, how it was for you in Sweden. I look at the comparisons number wise and it’s just like night and day. [Deaths in Sweden attributed to the novel Coronavirus are just over 15,000 whereas more than 740,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19.] Obviously the sizes of the countries are different. But you had COVID, right?
PA: Yes, I had COVID really early on. I was an early adopter. It wasn’t that bad. It was weird, though, like symptoms I had never had before. A few of the guys in the band are in risk groups (as we call it in Sweden), you know, pre-existing conditions and stuff. So we didn’t meet for a long time. We were not supposed to drive across county lines, so we didn’t do that either. We just all sat at home for a long period of time. And then we started working when it felt like you could. I had [the virus] and Nicholas [Arson, The Hives’ lead guitarist and Pelle’s brother] actually had it after having two shots of vaccine. He didn’t feel a thing, but he was testing positive.
CG: Experientially, without being able to be with your friends or family or being able to travel at all: did it change anything for you as an artist? I mean, it changed all of us as people, right?
PA: If I am being positive, I thought it was pretty interesting that the world slowed down for a few years [sic] and to see what that was like and what you liked and didn’t like about it. It was mostly like this pause in the space-time continuum, I thought, which was interesting. It was like a taste of retirement.
CG: But forced, right? Like we didn’t choose this.
PA: Yeah. But interesting to see. I’m not sure all retirement is—you know, when my parents were retired, I’m pretty sure they would have wanted to keep working.
CG: Yeah, idle hands are not great for me. Speaking of, weird segue, but…
On Awesome Live Bands
CG: …we just had [British band] IDLES up in our studio. And without prompting, even before I knew I would get to talk to you, [singer Joe Talbot] told our Program Director that he feels like The Hives are one of the best live bands in the world. Is there anybody in recent years, pre-pandemic or even since just getting back out there, that’s really blown you away?
PA: Yes, I really like IDLES. I really like Viagra Boys, a Swedish band. I’m kind of biased. I know them a little bit, but I think they’re great. There’s always great rock and roll coming out, but most rock and roll is not great. It’s few and far between when it’s really amazing. But I think IDLES, that’s an awesome live band. They have moves that I’m kind of envious of, some of them.
CG: I feel like as a fan, if it’s not a good live experience, even if their records are really great, it’s hard for me to appreciate as much.
PA: I feel the same. Like there are bands that I think are great on record that I don’t feel the live show adds anything, but it’s also fine. It’s like listening to the record, but louder. I can like that too, but it’s not like I run away to see it. I might as well listen to the record.
On Kinship with Jack White
CG: So I have to ask, because you worked with Third Man and released that live show after releasing the single, are you tinkering around with them again and maybe doing something with Jack?
PA: Yeah, we were yesterday doing something with Jack. I don’t know what will come out of it, but yeah, it’s really fun. You know, we like him and we kind of broke through at the same time. It’s this weird experience that we share with The Strokes, too. It was a weird thing to go from being in some kind of little indie circuit to being stars all over the world. And I guess that’s a bonding experience. Plus, you know, we like [Jack White] as a person and have a lot of fun with it.
CG: Yeah, you are sort of “the graduating class of…” but the difference in saying it’s a class reunion is that you’re all still performing all the time.
PA: We’re still working, he’s working, everyone’s working. Whatever it is we’re doing. I’m not sure it’s working, but it’s something.