There are some of you who may be hoping that the two new tracks on the upcoming Stones compilation will live up to the band's past. Or that a new wave of guitarists will recapture the angular sound of DEVO and Gang of Four. Or that garage-soul revivalists like the Fleshtones and Rocket From the Crypt will eventually rise from the dead.
Good luck with all that. But in the meantime, you can get some satisfaction from the Hives, who've created a critical buzz by keeping the spirit of those bands alive. With their matching black-and-white suits — which have most recently evolved into thrift-shop top hats and tails — the band has served up a tightly wound sound that hasn't faltered from their 1997 Barely Legal debut album on up through this summer's Lex Hives.
The five Hives — lead vocalist Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, guitarist/vocalist Nicholaus Arson, guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem, bassist Dr. Matt Destruction and drummer Chris Dangerous — all hail from Sweden, a country adored by Abba fans and redeemed for the rest of us by the less saccharine sounds of artists like Fever Ray and the Soundtrack to Our Lives. Through the years, they've become renowned for high-energy live shows, highlighted by Almqvist's Jaggerly swagger and his brother Arson's guitar showmanship.
Arson, meanwhile, may or may not write the group's songs, as well. The band has always maintained that a reclusive "sixth Hive" named Randy Fitzsimmons is the band's manager as well as its songwriter, even after British music publication NME reported that the name is a registered pseudonym belonging to the guitarist.
In the following interview, Arson talks about Lex Hives and its place in the band's deceptively colorful legacy.
Indy: The guitars on the new album, especially on tracks like "Wait a Minute," have some great interlocking parts. You and Vigilante have obviously been playing together for a long time. How have your styles evolved as a result of that?
Nicholaus Arson: Yeah, we developed a kind of call-and-response style that we used to call "neat beat." I guess we do have a sort of interlocking style, but I think it was more a sound we developed with the whole band maybe, rather than with just the guitars.
Indy: What are some of the other guitar bands you've been into that might have influenced that style?
NA: Well, one of my favorite bands is DEVO, who can do that sort of guitar thing where each of you just play a snippet and it goes together in a beat. I also like AC/DC. All my favorite bands, even the Dead Kennedys, had great guitar, even though they weren't doing the same kind of thing.
Indy: After all these years, you guys haven't had any lineup changes or even solo albums. What's the secret to your longevity?
NA: Yeah, I think we don't have anything else to do. No other great talent, apart from being a great rock band. So basically we're all fighting to stay in there, you know?
Indy: New songs like "Without the Money" have a kind of creepy circus organ sound, as have earlier tracks like "A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors." Is that a Hammond organ, and if so, what do you do to make it sound so strange?
NA: On "Without the Money," it was just the amp and whatever effects we were using at the time. But on a song like "My Time Is Coming," there's an organ in the beginning that we were mic'ing through a ventilation shaft that runs through the building. We put a mic at one end of the shaft and then placed the speaker at the other end. It's sort of like a big reverb chamber, but with air going through it.
Indy: Do you do a lot of those kinds of experiments in the studio?
NA: Yeah, we've got to keep it fun and make it sound weird. We've got to find weird sounds because that always makes it better.
Indy: You're pretty acrobatic with your guitars onstage. Have you damaged a lot of them in the course of touring?
NA: Yeah, the guitars are all glued together, and some guitars I've had to retire. They have to be sacrificed in the name of entertainment, I guess.
Indy: Are there some that you would never take out on the road for that reason?
NA: On no, I play all my best guitars on the road, because they have the best sound. I show off a bit, and then they break, but I can still use them. I superglue them all back together. It's like a Stradivarius, they have to sort of re-glue it every once in a while.
Indy: When you listen to this album versus the previous one with producers like Pharrell Williams, how does it feel different to you?
NA: Well, this is exactly the record we wanted to make. We wanted to make a record that was very garage-sounding, you know, just a very natural sound. Like the last record, we were going for slicker production, it was almost close to Def Leppard.
Indy: So in a way, this was like going back to your early days, but with better songwriting and playing and arrangements?
NA: Well, I'm really proud of our old records as well. But I think that, well, you know, I guess you have to learn something after almost 15 years.