Being a band for twenty years is a mean feat. Add in the fact that you have all the original members intact, a discography that’s unanimously loved, hit singles, festival/concert goers begging for your shows, and numerous world tours to the mix and it’s practically unheard of. The Hives of Fagersta, Sweden are that band and now more than ever they‘re showing no signs of stopping. While in New York (where they also played a spectacular celebration for their twentieth year) I got to sit down with drummer Chris ‘Dangerous’ Grahn and guitarist Mikael ‘Vigilante Carlstroem’ Karlsson about what life has been like for The Hives and where they’ll be going from here.
How do you feel P!nk fans have taken to you guys on this tour?
Chris: Really fucking great. We start off playing in front of around 8,000 people and none of them heard of us before. So we start out with people having no idea what to expect and as more songs we play more and more people come into the arena and more clapping and singing happens. By the end of our set we’ll usually have the venue filled with 17,000 to 20,000 people screaming for us as if we were their favorite band that they’ve had for years, so it’s really fucking great.
There’s a significantly big gap between Black and White Album and Lex Hives. What contributed to that and how do you feel the band has changed in that time?
Mikael: I think there has been a long gap between all our records. It just took longer between Black and White and Lex Hives. With each album we always tour for two years but sometimes we’ll even go as far and tour for three years. I don’t know what changed between the albums. When we start a record we won’t put it out until we’re really happy with it, which in turn causes the process to take longer.
Chris: And with the Black and White album, that album was the most ambitious thing we had done at the time. With Vidi Vicious and Tyrannosaurus Hives we recorded those albums in one place in Sweden but Black and White was recorded in four different countries with nine different producers; we were just trying to mess it up as much as we could.
Then going back to the studio after that we felt that we really wanted to mess things up again; but this time around we really just wanted to do things ourselves, pretty much everything ourselves. I mean you can hear that in the record and it’s not like we were trying to be retro, we just wanted to produce every aspect of it, every guitar chord and drum as much as possible.
Many people consider you guys to be the best live band in the world. Who have been some of your favorite acts to see live in your lifetime and who do you feel inspired you in some way when it comes to playing live?
Chris: We saw Reigning Sound play Brooklyn the day before yesterday. They’re a band we’ve been on tour with and we’ve loved them for a long time. Seeing them was one of those moments where you go “this is so fucking good.” There are plenty of bands that are great live, like The Bronx for example. Rocket From The Crypt are another band we love and fuck just who else? Mmm you know what, I have to say that Turbo Negro was probably one of the best shows that I have ever been to. There are so many bands that do it well but luckily we do it the best.
What made you guys want to play your 20th anniversary show in NYC?
Chris: We’re sort of doing a lot of celebrations for it, tonight being the New York celebration. It’s not a big thing for us to celebrate it but we do feel like it’s important to acknowledge that we’ve been together for twenty years and the main thing for us was to find a way to play headlining shows between the P!nk shows that we’re currently doing. We’ve played here before and it’s a great venue. It’s the type of place where you can really blow the roof off the place and just thinking about how packed this place is going to be tonight…it’s going to be awesome. I can’t exactly pinpoint why we play the places we play but it’s mostly because it feels right to us. Irving Plaza especially strikes us as the type of place people come to only if they want to have a good time.
Can you remember what your first trip to NYC was like? What exactly were you here for?
Mikael: I remember the first time we came to New York.
Chris: You do? I don’t haha.
Mikael: We were driving ourselves around in a van and we played somewhere on Broadway, I can’t remember the venue name but I remember walking around New York for the first time.
Chris: I remember us being on that van tour. Wait, was it that time we rented a van and we were explicitly told that we could not drive it to New York? Haha; which of course we did it any ways. Fuck who were we on tour with at the time? We probably had a support band. The first time we came here was insane. You come to a city that looks like this and there really is nothing else in the world that looks like it. It’s a really cool fucking city to visit for the first time.
Lex Hives is an album that stands out largely because there isn’t a lot of rock music nowadays that’s as straightforward. When it comes to song writing do you feel being as blunt and direct as possible works best?
Chris: Of course. We do really weird shit on our records. When it comes to the opening track of the record (‘Come On’) I mean…shit…I don’t think it could get more straightforward then that. For us it’s always been important to let the songs sound simple and to let the chords direct them.
Mikael: Also it’s very hard to make a song sound simple as opposed to complicated I think.
Chris: Yeah absolutely. And we’re the people who judge ourselves the hardest. Sometimes songs come together by themselves but usually that’s very rare. Sometimes we’ll work on two chords for months going back and forth before we’re satisfied.
Looking back on your 20 years as a band what is something that you learned/experienced that you never expected that you would?
Chris: It’s pretty much everything that’s happened to us. Who would have thought that we’d have ten US tours under our belts or the chance to play massive festivals in Brazil? Everything is just weird; we have fans all over the planet, even in places like Australia. We never thought any of that was possible when we started, when you start a punk band…things like that just don’t seem achievable. No one starts a punk band to be famous.
Everything is special to us and we don’t ever take it for granted.
Are there any Swedish musicians/bands that you’ve been getting into recently and/or have always admired?
Chris: They’re a bunch of great Swedish bands out there. There’s a surf punk band called The Barbwires that we’ve known for a long time and we love everything that they do. We just did a Scandinavian tour a month ago and we had a band support for us called The Fume who have a record coming out in May and they’re really good. Johnossi put out a new record two days ago. There are good bands out there everywhere; you just have to find them.
Hahaha though it’s funny, a few days ago at SXSW we were doing loads of interviews and this journalist from Peru asked us what our favorite act from Peru was and all I could think was “…are you serious?” hahaha. He should have asked us about bands from Sweden like you did.
Mikael: Also if you’re ever talking about Swedish music to anyone you have to mention The Hellacopters, they were the best.
Chris: Yes, absolutely.
Where was Lex Hives recorded and what was it like recording there? Do you feel the place a record is recorded adds to the craft of song writing?
Chris: For us it’s not that important. We can still make very good recordings in our rehearsal space, it’s always weird/different circumstances that make us choose where you end up recording an album. Most of the album was recorded on an island in Stockholm at a studio owned by Benny Andersson from ABBA. It’s a really nice studio and he’s got a really great sound desk. We wanted to record everything on tape so most of Lex Hives was recorded there.
We ended up recording in about five or six different studios altogether. All of them in Sweden except for one in Berlin where we recorded one song.
Which was Patrolling Days. It was actually the first test recording we did for the record. We have a friend who works at the studio (in Berlin) and he became our engineer for our whole record. We didn’t expect the song to turn out as good as it did but after recording it we just knew it had to be on the record. We tried to re-record it in Stockholm but it didn’t work so we kept the Berlin recording.
What is next for you guys? Is a new album on the horizon? Would you guys make a live album perhaps?
Mikael: We’re touring up until September. We’re going to go to South America in about two weeks and then loads of European festivals as well.
Chris: After we get home in September and things slow down we’ll be having a sit down to discuss the follow up to Lex Hives. It’ll be coming along for sure but we’re not the type of band that can write and tour at the same time so it’ll be a while. Some bands can do that (tour and write) but for us we couldn’t do it any other way even if we wanted to.