The Hives: Suited, booted, top-hatted and ready to rock

The Hives' fifth album has been five years in the making. It's the time it takes to make a classic, the natty rockers tell Gillian Orr

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The Independent Culture

It was never The Hives' intention to release so many albums; they always planned to quit after three. But their latest, Lex Hives, is actually their fifth. "We thought the bands we listened to never made more than three good records," their guitarist Nicholaus Arson tells me over coffee. "We always liked the first, the second and the third one, and the rest we were like, 'Nahhhh'. So then we decided we wouldn't make more than three. That was our way to ensure we would never make anything bad. But here we are."

A couple of things convinced them to continue. Firstly, they never expected to sell a million records. When they passed that milestone, it seemed churlish to pack it all in. Secondly, they played shows with The Rolling Stones, the Lost Boys of rock. "We thought, if they can do it, we can do it," says Arson. "We also started to like the fourth AC/DC album," laughs their frontman, Howlin' Pelle.

They formed in their native Sweden in 1993, but the five-piece didn't catch the attention of Brits until 2001, the year that garage rock enjoyed a renaissance with The Strokes' debut, Is This It, and The White Stripes' breakthrough, White Blood Cells. It was the year The Hives released Your New Favourite Band, essentially a Hives greatest hits compilation for the uninitiated (they had already released two studio albums), which introduced what would become ubiquitous hits such as "Main Offender" and "Hate to Say I Told You So", and climbed to number seven in the charts. Two albums followed: 2004'sTyrannosaurus Hives and 2007's The Black and White Album.

The band cites a gruelling three-year touring schedule and the 18 months they spent recording Lex Hives as the reason for the five-year break. "It does take us a long time to make a record that we're proud of because we're sort of comparing ourselves to the classics, rather than our contemporaries," says Pelle. "That means that it gets a lot harder if you're trying to beat Never Mind the Bollocks or For Those about to Rock instead of the last, I dunno, Kings of Leon or something."

Fans of the band will be delighted with the new album. It is signature Hives: 12 tracks of catchy, humorous, and, at times, idiotic rock that comes in under 30 minutes. "I think it's more of a classical rock'n'roll album than the last one, which used modern techniques, synthesisers, drum machines, computers and that sort of thing," says Pelle. "We were trying to sound kind of shiny and glossy and fat on the last album, whereas on this one we're just trying to play rock music the way we think it should be done, which is live in a room. It's not trying to be retro, it's trying to do something the way it was supposed to be done."

Hinting at some disappointment with their last album, the band approached their new record in a fresh way. In the past, if 12 songs were required for their album they would write 12 songs. For Lex Hives they had more than 150. Instead of recording parts separately, as they had previously done, they played in the studio together. "That's how most of our favourite rock music was done," says Pelle. "We would rehearse a song for a very long time and then record it for a very short time. We wanted to be able to hear the drummer sweating and the bass player breathing."

Naturally, the band is showcasing new matching outfits, as they do for every album. And they are their snazziest yet; what they have taken to calling "the Mount Everest of dressing up". "We needed to get new outfits and someone suggested top hat and tails and everyone just went, 'Yes. It's time'," says Pelle. "It was bound to happen at some point."

At a time when most rock bands barely give their image a second thought, they certainly stand out. "It's a way of life to us!" enthuses Pelle. "It's something I think all good rock bands do well; being easily identifiable and having a strong identity."

"I think all the bands we really like do," adds Arson. "Pretty much all of them have a logo. Like Dead Kennedys or the Misfits or the Ramones. It's the way we think it should be done. It's way more fun this way." And having fun, you soon learn from hanging out with the band, is No 1 on the agenda. You need only look at the members' monikers to figure that out – Vigilante Carlstroem, Dr Matt Destruction and Chris Dangerous complete the line-up. "It should be fun. There's a misconception that's been spread that it shouldn't be fun, since the Eighties," laughs Pelle. "It's important for us to have fun. For the audience to have fun as well."

They have zero interest in the cool posturing of some modern-day acts. "Rock'n'roll wasn't invented to be an intellectual art, it wasn't supposed to be self conscious; it was supposed to be entertaining," insists Arson.

And they do entertain. With a reputation as one of the finest live acts around, they tour Britain at the end of the year. Is it business as usual? "There are things about every show which surprise us even," says Pelle. "The only thing we know are the songs we're going to play. Apart from that, we don't know what's going to happen. It's way less scripted than people think it is." Arson gives a little smirk before adding: "If you expect to see the best rock'n'roll show on earth as of today then I guess, yes, it's business as usual."

'Lex Hives' is out now (