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Hives Guitarist Nicholaus Arson: Rock ‘n’ Roll Is ‘Looks, Guts and Jumping’ – Exclusive Interview

Nicholaus Arson
Karl Walter, Getty Images

If you enjoy your music hard, fast and loud, you may be familiar with the Hives, Sweden’s most manic musical export. Vaunted, or even feared, for their live shows, the quintet transfers that same energy to their galvanizing new record, ‘Lex Hives.’ A key contributor to the rioting is guitarist Nicholaus Arson, who took the time to talk to Diffuser.fm about why the Hives are his favorite band, why the Dead Kennedys scared him and why ninja roadies are a must.

What kind of new direction is happening with this record?

I recently saw Jimmy Cliff doing an interview on the news, and he said he “was going forward to the roots” — that’s pretty much what we’re doing with this one, I think. We’re going forward to the roots, basically. We’re looking through the Hives catalog and whatever we liked with the Hives, that’s what we’re putting on record. Having said that, though, there’s stuff that would never have been on any other Hives album, I don’t think. That’s on this record. We never explored the glam punk thing before. Like ‘Wait a Minute’ is almost a pop tune, and ‘Patrolling Days’ being the long anthem-y one — there’s new stuff on there as well.

What are you tapping into in the Hives catalog?

We’re more or less listening to Hives records for inspiration.

What in particular?

Looking back at the Hives, what is it that we like? What constitutes a great band? What is it that makes the Hives great? It’s basically all the rules that we’ve set up over the years that ensured us to be great no matter what. Hence the name ‘Lex Hives’ — whatever else we made that we might use. Anything that didn’t fit into our music we ruled out. It’s the energy I suppose that we’re looking for … We want to go back and be the punk Hives again.

What’s the importance of punk rock to the Hives?

It was our fountain of youth, basically. It’s been our fountain of youth ever since we discovered it when we were kids. It was always like, we were inspired by music before by surf bands and heavy metal and whatever, but when we discovered punk music we were around 11 or 12 or something — like the Dead Kennedys, there was so much energy, so much cool s—. There were no huge heavy metal bands touring through our little town in Sweden. But there were punk bands. They were on our home turf. They come to your hometown, and they inspire you to form your own band. If they can do that, we can do that as well — we can put together a band.

It’s our lives, basically. The music is our lives. I would say the music is 50% punk, and the remaining fifty whatever — garage rock or whatever else we listened to.

The Hives are known for putting on absolutely mental live shows. Is it about the energy exclusively?

A little bit. Not exclusively, I wouldn’t say. We always wanted to be the band that we wanted to go and see. We always wanted to be the band that we wanted to buy records of. We’re basically our own favorite band. If you make records, and if you do live shows with that in mind, you’re bound to be your own favorite band — if you think you’re good enough with it. So what were doing with the live shows, [we] are the band that we want to go and see. It’s supposed to be sweaty and physical and hot and rowdy — the energy is supposed to be a physical thing.

What are the ingredients of being the band you want to see?

Music maybe comes fifth. Most important are looks, guts and jumping.

You’re well known for your looks. Tell us about the outfits.

Well, we always liked to dress up. In the beginning, it was like, it was a cross between pissing off the punks by wearing aristocrat outfits and suits rather than wearing punk outfits, and the sort of thing where your first show is an event, and you want it to be an event, so you put on a pink wig or whatever. It’s basically just dressing up for a show. It’s way more fun than not doing anything. It’s supposed to be an occasion, and it’s supposed to be an entertaining and energetic rock show.

And what’s the guts part?

I’ve recently come to the conclusions that I don’t like music that I don’t consider cool in any way. There’s supposed to be a feeling of this is the last day of my life, this is the last show of my life, this is the last show I’ll ever play in my life. It’s supposed to be a walking on the edge of a blade sort of feeling.

Tell us about the jumping.

Well, I mean, if you see a picture of Pete Townsend, you can see why people like him. You can see why people want to buy Who records. Any sort of punk bands that we’d see that were jumping, we pretty much instantly liked them.

Did you grow up admiring Pete Townsend?

Well, no, not really. I never listened that much to the Who. I only listened to the hits, and I saw him on Woodstock footage and we thought that was cool. As far as the guitar playing, it was more Angus Young and Yngwie Malmsteen for me. It’s a weird combination. I just started playing guitar because I thought it looked cool. After that, it was more about getting the guitar to sound the way you wanted it to sound. And for me it was more like some sort of power chords — more Kinks than the Who. I always wanted to get a roar.

We’re picturing you and your brother (frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist) discovering punk. Is there a particular scene that you recall where you guys just fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll?

Falling in love with rock ‘n’ roll? That came really early on. I was six, and Pelle was five. I was listening to AC/DC. [I] got those records from an older friend on my street, and I was listening to that over and over and over. And we had a band as well — Pelle sang, and I played the drums and my dad played the guitar. Music was cool back then. Half the day we’d play the Three Musketeers, and the other half of the day we’d have a rock band. There were influences all the way from 6 years old. I remember the Dead Kennedys in the beginning, they scared us. We were scared of them. It was sort of spooky sounding. But the Misfits we could relate to. Happier melodies and stuff.

Is it important to scare the audience a little bit?

I think so, a little bit. It’s supposed to be an element of surprise. And the element of surprise comes with the unpredictability. I think for some people the unpredictable is kind of scary.

You guys have ninjas as roadies. How is it that you recruited the ninjas to work for you?

They are agile and athletic and very fast, most days. That’s something that we require of our road crew. Hives shows, us being frenetic and agile, it comes with the territory to have ninjas that can keep up with the band.

Why have you given your life to rock ‘n’ roll?

Well, because it was the other way around. Rock ’n’ roll gave me a life. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise. Obviously I would have done something, horseback racing or something, but I ended up doing rock ‘n’ roll because it was the most fun.

Watch the Hives’ ‘Go Right Ahead’ Video

Read Our Review of New Album 'Lex Hives'

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