While on tour with Pink, Nicholaus Arson & Dr. Matt Destruction of The Hives sat down with QRO. The guitarist & bassist talked about playing to people who’ve never heard rock ‘n’ roll before, wanting to be Little Richard (or the Dead Kennedys), their top hat & tails, their ninja stage crew, getting their mysterious songwriter Randy Fitzsimmons on camera (if not on the road), the Swedish music scene from unemployment insurance to Midsummer’s Eve, and more…
QRO: How has this tour with Pink been?
Dr. Matt Destruction: It’s been good, really good. For us, over expectations, I would say. Because all those fans probably haven’t heard rock ‘n’ roll bands before.
Nicholaus Arson: It seems like we’re taking people by surprise, at least – and we’re doing really well. We’re very happy. It’s pretty much exactly what we wanted to be, or possibly, like Matt said, a little better.
We wanted to come to arenas in the U.S. and play to tons of people, whether they heard us or not before didn’t really matter to us. I mean, we love playing to people who’ve never heard us, because we do really well with people who’ve never heard us. It’s pretty great.
QRO: I can imagine people who didn’t know anything about you guys [seeing you,] from the get-go coming out – I can imagine that being a really great surprise for people…
NA: Yeah, you can kind of tell in the beginning, people kind of have that look on their face, like, ‘What the fuck? This thing has way too much confidence for being a support band…’ [laughs] And then they’re lured into our ‘trap’ – our rock ‘n’ roll trap. From there, there’s no escape…
QRO: Is it a little odd, going back to the opening slot? I think of you as headlining band…
NA: We always saw ourselves as headlining. Basically the only time we stepped away from that– we’ve turned down tours with big bands before, simply because we wanted to be our own band.
But then, after a while, you sort of end up in a place where – I mean, I love touring and playing to our own fans, with music, it’s kind of fun with another crowd, coming to see your show. You get a different reaction, and it becomes less same-y than it’s been.
We’ve been a touring band now for fifteen years – if we do four weeks of arena shows, it’s not a big deal, you know?
MD: I feel more honest to play to get new fans by playing, because I think the thing we have together– the commercials & stuff, or whatever media you get out is important too, but still, it feels more solid to do big, supporting big acts, whenever you do something in support you reach, as Nicholaus said, you reach new people. I think that’s so great – it’s fun.
I’d rather be presented to new people as that, as standing and playing, do what we do, than ‘Check this out – the website…’ So it’s great.
QRO: How do the opening shows at big places, like Madison Square Garden (QRO venue review), compare with the handful of in-between headline shows on this tour?
NA: [Headline show] is like coming home, almost. The Pink shows, that’s more like being on vacation. Not only because we’re playing half the set, and it’s kinda easy, it’s easy touring, but also because it’s something that we normally don’t do.
Doing these shows in front of our own fans is something that we love.
QRO: You have such a reputation for great live shows – do you ever feel extra pressure, to live up to that, each & every night?
MD: Nah – it’s like, when you go up there, the thing at least I feel, every time you go up, I’m just as excited as the people who come to the show. So that takes it out – it takes both out; you’re in a positive mindset of what’s going to happen that makes it good.
NA: We’ve always noticed that we have a very high ‘work morale’, or if it’s just the panic of being a bad live band – it’s something else. We don’t feel pressure at all from other people – it always came from ourselves, the fact that we hate doing bad shows. We’ve always hated doing bad shows – if we did one bad show, we’d be ashamed forever. We remember those bad shows…
The shows, they have to be good. That’s why we work so hard at it.
Plus, we always thought, we hated it – like I said, everything comes from us, so basically everything that we do is our version of rock ‘n’ roll. Which basically means that, if we went out to see a band live and they did not seem like they were enjoying it, or they did not seem like they were trying as hard as they should, or they seemed like they weren’t – when you ask yourselves the question, ‘Why the hell are these guys on tour?…’
What you want to see live, it’s basically those bands who are amazing – you want to be whoever’s great at being live. You want to be Little Richard, you want to be Dead Kennedys, you want to be AC/DC, you want to be The Ramones – anything that’s great. Anything where it seems like they’re enjoying what they do, where they seem like they know kinda what they’re doing. Not turning away and being shy or whatever – everything from us is very extravagant.
QRO: You’ve been on tour for a while now – here in the States, and before that in Europe. How do you fight ‘tour burnout’?
MD: That’s something you have to deal with yourself. I mean, we could probably play every day, whatever, three hundred sixty-five days a year if we wanted to – it wouldn’t work, but still…
We know our limits; we know how much we can take, and how much we can play.
NA: Take enough time off in between.
MD: As long as we do that, and think about – like, we were offered to go with Pink on the European leg as well, but, because we know we’ve been out so long now, and then we’re coming back, we’re doing South America after this last week of this tour, South America, do two weeks, and then we have some time off. But that time, we could go and do one month more, but we know our limit.
NA: For us, to be able to do the European summer festivals, to be able to do those well.
Plus, you want to enjoy what you’re doing. If we’re doing it all the time, you’re kind of draining the energy from what you really love. You’re taking the fun out of what you really love.
It’s like having bland sex for four years – it’s not fun. You’d rather have great sex every once in a while. Which means every day, apart from one day a week… [laughs]
QRO: How do you decide on what everyone wears? When do you do decide that?
NA: Whenever. We spend enough time together to kind of just go, “We should wear that.” You go, “Yeah.” Draw it on a napkin and make it happen.
MD: Sometimes someone in the band will go and find this cool thing, “Oh we should get five of these!”
For instance, now we’ve got some stuff lying in our rehearsal space just waiting to get worn. We just need to find the socks and the shirt – for instance, when we started the band, we wore pretty much what we liked in the beginning. Then we started the black & white stuff.
And then, backstage in our dressing room, there was a mountain of stuff – white silk gloves, or suspenders, or whatever. And someone’s like, ‘Who’s gonna wear what?’ Then it was just this classic thing just turned into, from new wave-ish, punk rock look to more strict, we wanted everyone to be – we always liked the look of sixties bands or whatever, bands who have ‘a look’, you can tell, it’s them. Like Ramones, or Devo – and that’s kind of evolved into this is how we want it to be. We want to present like a team or whatever. It totally worked for us, and then the ideas just came. We’ve had tuxes; we’ve had all kinds of stuff.
This is like natural– somehow, we’re meant to have this at some point. This album, really, if I look at it backwards, it’s like having this hat is like celebration that we actually got this album out. It took like a year longer, like two years longer than it’s supposed to do. So it feels good to just have this on, and just celebrate that somehow we made it, whatever was taking up our time, took us five years – it was good, but it’s an honor just to wear that stuff to celebrate, actually, the thing.
QRO: It’s like dressing up to go to an awards show…
NA: Or eighteenth century sportswear. It’s pretty much what the wore at the Olympics in like fuckin’ 1850 or something… [laughs]
MD: Weren’t they naked? [laughs]
NA: That was the original! [laughs]
MD: No women. That sucks…
NA: This is what they swimwear in the early modern Olympics…
QRO: Doesn’t get hot in tuxedos on stage?
NA: No, it never gets hot on stage… [laughs]
MD: It’s super-cool, freezing cold… [laughs]
NA: Sometimes it’ll be like 50 degrees Celsius [122° Fahrenheit] when we go on stage. It’s always warm.
QRO: Is it especially hard for Chris Dangerous, being the drummer? So many rock drummers usually end up shirtless at shows, they get so hot…
NA: He usually sort of strips away as we go on. We all kinda do…
MD: I’m the bass player, and I feel like, when Chris drumming, I sweat with him.
That’s the thing – we’re this unit, and whatever you do, physically, you still push as hard as everybody. And he’s like the root of everything, so whatever he puts in, 100% action, you go with him. You sweat the same, because you’re in the same mindset for something.
I play the bass, but when I see Nicholaus jumping over to the other side or whatever he does, I feel like I’m the one that’s running, with him. So you feel like him, because you’re look at him – I don’t jump around, but I get super-soaked because you’re super-focused, and you’re just enjoying the moment.
I mean, I got like the best spot. Sometimes I stand on the stage, and someone’s like, “Oh, I want to play your bass!” It’s like – no, you can’t! And sometimes it’s like, okay, maybe you can play my bass, for just a bit, just one song, that’s okay…
QRO: What about your stage crew’s uniforms – when did you come up with that? Do they get any input in them?
MD: I think that was something we’d talked about before, “It would be cool…” And then, some years ago, everybody had– even us, who were playing, had mechanical suits…
NA: We had coveralls. And then they used to wear those.
MD: As well, yeah. Everybody’s got it.
And then, it looks pretty cool, but at the same time, wasn’t like The White Stripes out as well? And they had…
NA: They got like bowler hats, and suit and tie.
MD: We always wanted to have it that way, too, but we’re the band, we’re doing what we do. At least I didn’t never think about they could wear that, too. You respect, okay, he wants to have their yellow t-shirt – let him have it.
But then, we you see they enjoy working with us, we enjoy working with them, and they give so much back by doing it. I think it feels even better for them – “Okay, you can go to this ninja school in [Nepal] for six months, and then you get to wear this suit.” Cool…
NA: It was cool when they wore the coveralls as well. We all wore the same thing, us and the roadies. But it was a little weird, because sometimes you’d think that it was someone in the band when they came out. So it got better with them being ninjas and us being in this…
QRO: Has anyone ever accidentally not seen a ninja on stage?
NA: Yeah – that happens a lot. You accidentally spit at them as well…
I did that once. He came, one of our roadies, and I just went back by my amp and just kind of spat into the dark, and all of a sudden, I just see these eyes! “Oh, sorry…”
QRO: How did making Lex Hives (QRO review) compare with making previous records?
NA: I think it was sort of the same. I was thinking we always make records sort of the same way. We make records until they’re good enough to be records, and then we release them. So basically it’s not so much different.
The only record that was really different to make was probably The Black & White Album, since that was where we were trying to do something a little bit out of the ordinary, do stuff that we never really did before and try and release it.
But otherwise, as far as the other records go, I think, for the most part, we’ve done records in exactly the same way. We write songs until we think they sound good, and then we play ‘em until we think they sound good, and we put ‘em on the record. And then, when we think we have a good record, as far as the sequencing and stuff, then we release it. So as far as that, it wasn’t too much of a difference, I don’t think.
It took a little bit longer than usual, but it was only like six months out of the work. Probably stuff that took longer than it usually does.
MD: Let’s say, as Nicholaus said, The Black & White Album, was trying to do something different. Maybe for experience-wise, we had [producer Pelle] Gunderfelt on the earliest records; he’d been involved for some, because we thought it was interesting, the Steve Albini sound. We had ideas. The songs remain ourselves, and then we could do this or that. We always decided all this stuff ourselves.
And then, when we did The Black & White, we wanted to try some other work with people in a studio. So we just went for all kind of producers. We just went, took over the place. It was good experience to get how, in different ways, you can record or think about stuff, what other will people do. It’s good experience.
What we do is the best – for us. It’s like you get a receipt at the end of it. It turned out good – I loved that album. But this album, it’s like the receipt of what we do is actually the best for us, and that means do what we want. That’s the receipt. If we want to do it in any way we come up with we want to do it, we would do it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work – still, we come up through a song; you learn stuff, changing around stuff.
Like, starting in the rehearsal space. Like, one record, we would be rehearsing from eight to five every day, playing the same verse or whatever for hours and hours, the song gets changed around. And then we tried the demo thing, like listen and then, “Oh, let’s change it this way…” Whatever.
QRO: Why did you do two music videos for “Go Right Ahead”?
MD: That was because, we go in the studio, we make a live show, record us playing. And when you see us playing, and it’s cool that it could be the same – you’re seeing what’s actually happening.
QRO: It’s like a ‘making of’ – almost a reenactment?
MD: Yeah, like a documentary feeling…
NA: We wanted it to be, whatever we recorded, we wanted the video to be the song we recorded while we were in the studio.
QRO: In that video, you were wearing the top hat and stuff. Do you record wearing the uniforms?
NA: We usually wear some type of uniform.
MD: I can say, for me, being in this band for twenty years, black & white clothes… I’m not kidding you; my stuff at home is black & white. I could go and rehearse with this, and I don’t think anyone would say, “Oh?…”
QRO: It’s so natural now?
MD: Yeah – it’s exciting. That day we recorded, I thought that day was really, really fun. I think it was more fun because you actually dress up for the occasion.
If you go in the studio, like The Black & White Album, you have your shorts and you go and sit in the studio. And maybe you’ll sit there in maybe your flip-flops, you think, ‘Okay, I’m maybe the best studio musician in the world.’ But if you go in there in whatever we wear, it’s much better – it feels more real.
It does add a flavor, at least to myself. We should do that even more. Maybe then when we rehearse, I don’t know. [laughs] We could have rehearsal gear, like the overalls or whatever – maybe a doctor. ‘Oh, you’re going rehearsing – you’ve got the doctor suit now…’
QRO: Have you ever thought of doing a tour where each one wears a different uniform you previously had? Like, one guy wears the overalls, one guy wears the top hat & tails…
NA: Yeah – but it won’t be The Hives. We gotta wear the same. The thing is that, we don’t look like a gang unless we wear the same thing, ‘cause we look so different from each other.
QRO: Was it nice to finally have Randy Fitzsimmons on screen, even if in a mask?
MD: He’s had his foot in…
QRO: Yeah, one of the album covers. Does he come with you guys on tour?
The Hives’ in-studio video for “Go Right Ahead” (with Randy Fitzsimmons):
QRO: How much do you stay involved with the local Swedish music scene?
NA: So-and-so. We play with Swedish bands, but for the most part, we play abroad. It’s like, whatever tour we did in Sweden, we usually got to play with Swedish bands. Now we don’t really do that – now we play with bands from abroad, more so.
But every once in a while, there’s a few great bands in Sweden – we play with them. All the bands who are kind of popular, who are good, we know them. We love bands like Graveyard, stuff like that. There’s a new band now from Sweden called The Fumes – they’re really good; they toured with us in Sweden. They’re still touring with us when we get back home; we do some shows with them again. There are always some great bands from Sweden. You’re always happy when you find out about new Swedish bands.
QRO: Have you gotten support from the government program that sponsors musicians?
MD: I was trying, pretty much.
I kinda got some support when we started, in ’98, ’97, because I couldn’t get a regular job. I could have turns, like months and stuff. Like you’d work for four months or something, and then you get money– everybody in Sweden, if you don’t have a job, or you lose your job, whatever, you stop working, and then you have to go to this place and register and stuff.
QRO: It’s like unemployment insurance…
MD: Yeah. So I got support from that. Because we were trying with the band, I would go home for a week, I would work, but still I’d have to, for support, they’re like, “Okay – you’re trying to get this band thing working, so that’s what your aiming, so you get paid.” It’s not a huge amount, but at least I can pay the rent and eat.
If you don’t know what to do, there’s support to get. As long as you don’t expect so much from it, then you get somewhere – you live, and eat. Then it’s up to you, that’s the thing.
Many people in Sweden, they just don’t think they should do anything, because… I don’t know why. Anyone can do whatever they want, and in Sweden– people from all over the world come to Sweden. And this is very nice… [laughs]
QRO: Do you ever feel like you’re ‘promoting Sweden’ when you tour abroad?
MD: I think it’s like unintentional. Because we come from Sweden, we’ve been… not ‘stuck’ with Sweden; we love Sweden, but still we travel the world, and we know we’re Swedes. And that’s it.
We love the summertime; June, July, we like to be home. We like our traditions. Like, if we have the Midsummer’s Eve – it’s a big Swedish culture, you drink a lot, you have herring, and stuff like that. So if we’re out in the world, somewhere, and we’ve got some time to actually celebrate, we do that.
Like, it was three, four years ago – probably seven years ago… [laughs] One time, I remember, we were in London, and it was Midsummer’s Eve celebration day. At the airport in Sweden, we bought herring and Schnapps and cheese and everything, and then we just pulled up a big table with all this stuff, and we just celebrate.
We don’t like, ‘Oh, here’s Sweden!’ We just enjoyed. I think that people just stopped, ‘Oh, can I try that?’ Or, ‘What’s this going on?’ ‘Oh, it’s Midsummer – don’t worry about it; it’s not crazy. We just love this.’ And that’s like promoting Sweden, without doing like a big thing of it.
NA: I think we’re promoting Sweden in the way, too, that people find it kind of an anomaly that the greatest rock band in the world is from Sweden. So I think it’d be the same thing whether we’d be Mongolian or Russian or whatever. Then they’d go, ‘Russian band The Hives came and they were great,’ or whatever, ‘Mongolian band The Hives,’ ‘Swedish band The Hives’…
MD: Of course, of course…
NA: People find it weird that we’re from Sweden, singing in English, or whatever, and therefore they write that we’re from Sweden.
It’s the same thing in Sweden, even the fact that we’re from a tiny town. The town that we come from is only like 12,000 people, so not all the people know where it is or even know what it is. So every time we’re mentioned in the papers, it’s always like, ‘The Hives, from Fagersta…’
QRO: [laughs] Oh, so even then, you’re promoting your hometown…
NA: Your hometown, without doing anything, either – without doing anything apart from the obvious, what you should be doing. The fact that you’re playing in a band.
QRO: How far up north have you played? How close to the Arctic Circle have you played?
NA: Tromsø is way north, in the Arctic Circle. In Norway. Kiruna, we’ve played there. That’s way north in Sweden. But Tromsø is north in Norway, so that’s even further north.
QRO: Is that Lapland?
NA: It’s north of the Lapland.
MD: I think Slovenia would be the most east we’ve done.
NA: Or Japan… [laughs]
MD: We’ve still got China and Russia.