If you've been to the cinema recently, you may have choked on your popcorn while being confronted with the sight of Kylie Minogue riding a bucking bronco, wearing nothing but her underwear. If you noticed what was playing in the background of the Agent Provocateur ad – granted, it's unlikely – then you've already heard The Hives (their recent single, "Main Offender", is the commercial's soundtrack), even if you didn't know it.
This says a lot about the stealthy way in which The Hives have been sneaking up on the national consciousness. On the back of relatively little hype, the young Swedish mod-punk fivesome have already sold enough copies of Your New Favourite Band (which compiles the best bits of their previous albums Barely Legal, Veni Vidi Vicious and the marvellously-titled Oh Lord! When? How?) to earn them a gold disc. And they've just announced a headline show at Brixton Academy in May (a testament to their word-of-mouth reputation as a scorchingly entertaining live band). Remarkable achievements for a band who have yet to have a hit in this country, although with the release of the pile-driving Dandy Warhols-meets-The Who single, "Hate To Say I Told You So", this will soon change.
I meet the horribly handsome Howlin' Pelle Almqvist (vocals, showing off) and his silent sidekick Vigilante Carlstrom (guitar) in Nordic, a Scandinavian theme bar in the West End of London (the missing members are guitarist Nicolaus Arson, drummer Chris Dangerous, and bassist Dr Matt Destruction).
Those priceless names alone tell you that this is a band who instinctively understand the essence of rock'n'roll. I ask whether they refer to each other by their punk-onyms in private. "We have short versions," says Almqvist, "'Doctor', and so on. We have lots of nicknames for each other." The world will be learning The Hives' many names soon enough, although they do not always meet universal adoration. But if they cannot be loved, they'll happily thrive on hate. "Hate is better than nothing. It's usual that when we play, 90 per cent of people like us and 10 per cent hate us." At a recent show at The Astoria in London, sponsored by a heavy metal magazine, the Hives' clean-cut image clearly bewildered a handful of stray rockers, who pelted the band with cans and bottles. "But they had the worst aim ever!" Pelle laughs. "London, come on! Only one guy hit Nicolaus, and he was standing still at the time. Which is rare in itself. We're a moving target." Almqvist is a consummate agent provocateur. "That comes from growing up with my brother [Nicolaus Arson]", he explains. "He provokes me, and I provoke the rest of the world." It's The Hives' absolute lack of modesty which winds up their detractors. "Modesty is a virtue in life," Almqvist concedes, "but maybe not in a band. I'm a really modest guy ... " (his eyes twinkle) " ... but we're a really, really good band." He accepts the comparison with the Rolling Stones, wherein Jagger's over-the-top gimping around allowed the other four to maintain their unimpeachable aloofness. "I'm not the coolest guy in the band. They're the cool ones. I'm not cool at all. If all you want to do is try to be cool, you won't really get there." Another reason The Hives go against the grimy grain of Planet Rock 2002 is their addiction to cleanliness. "Dr Destruction, especially, thinks it is really, really important. He washes himself all the time. If you play rock'n'roll, everything smells like crap. Hygiene is a great thing." Obsessively smart (they each wear a uniform of black shirt, white tie, black trousers and white shoes), they also agree that the world might be a better place if more young people wore ties: "In this country, a lot of young people wear ties to school, but that doesn't happen in Sweden, so it doesn't have that association." All of which sheds light on their name. It's Hives as in the rash, rather than a domicile for bees. "It's definitely a rash. We thought at first it might be the [beehive] haircut, but it is the rash. We irritate people. We get under their skin." How come they can't be sure about the reasons for their own name? Simple. They didn't choose it. The Hives, so the story goes, were formed in 1993 when, as teenagers living in the small industrial town of Fagersta, they each received a letter from a certain shady and enigmatic character called Randy Fitzsimmons, instructing them to be in a certain place at a certain time. Fitzsimmons is credited with writing all their songs, and guiding their career to date.
That, at least, is their story, although many – including staff at their UK record company Poptones – have suspected that it might be an elaborate gag, and that the improbably-named Randy never existed. I try catching them out, but they play a straight bat.
What does he look like? "We're not allowed to say." You understand why I'm asking? "OK, what can I say? He exists." Fine. In which case, in what way are The Hives different from a boy band? "The only thing we have in common with a boy band is the way we were formed. We have a manager but he doesn't make all the decisions."
Right now, with or without the mysterious Fitzsimmons, The Hives are loving saying I told you so. "We are right," says Pelle with a supremely cocky grin. "We always knew. History will prove us right. I don't care about now."
The new single, 'Hate To Say I Told You So' is released by Poptones on 11 February. The Hives are on tour from Thursday. For details, visit their website, www.hives.nuReuse content