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 The Hives aren't wanting for self-esteem, and Swedish bands prove more interesting than Chia Pets ...



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 Popular Swedish pastimes: get drunk all the time, work in a factory or pick up a guitar ...



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 How Swedish bands get their groove, and how they're now getting their plane tickets ...





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-- by Jon Wiederhorn

It's dark and cloudy. Any minute it might start to rain. Many on the streets of Midtown Manhattan look tense as they quicken their stride to reach their destinations before the skies open up.

But the Hives look perfectly at home. In their native Sweden, rain and blackened skies are as natural as pickled herring and Ikea.

  Meet The Swedes
A couple of hours before a major club gig, vocalist Howlin' Pelle Almqvist and guitarist Nicholaus Arson smile at each other and sink into a backstage couch. They're wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with their names, lest anyone forget, and they look like they've got the world in their pasty palms.

Almqvist sighs contentedly — life is pretty good for the Hives. Over the past six months the band has sold more than 300,000 albums and triggered a healthy U.S. interest in Swedish rock. None of this surprises the bandmembers.

"We always consider ourselves to be the best band, so why shouldn't we sell a lot of records?" Arson says.

"We get to decide what music to make, so we might as well decide to do the best music," adds Almqvist. "And we're skilled enough musicians that we can pull it off."

The Hives may act nonplussed that they're viewed as Scandinavian saviors or that they recently inked a $10 million deal with Interscope, but their success is unprecedented. Swedish pop acts like Abba, Roxette and Ace of Base have prospered in America, but Swedish rock bands haven't enjoyed the same sort of mainstream success. Not that there's been any lack of talent.

In 1986, Union Carbide Productions rocked the Swedish scene with a volatile mixture of Stooges attitude and MC5 energy (singer Ebbot Lundberg and guitarist Björn Olsson later formed the hot and happening Soundtrack of Our Lives). Refused surfaced in 1991 with raging political hardcore flavored with jazzy breaks and ambient bits. The group broke up seven years later after completing the seminal The Shape of Punk to Come.

In '94, Hellacopters stormed the borders with a combustible blend of motorcycle metal, Detroit punk and arena rock. The band toured the U.S. and made inroads with the underground but never ignited on a mass level. But now that the Hives have broken out, every major label is scrambling to sign its very own token Swede. They're more fun than Chia Pets.

Even if the Hives aren't your new favorite band, there's plenty to dig about the Scandinavian scene. Unlike here, where many bands form with the intention of getting rich, Swedish rockers sound like they're playing music not as a career move but because they need to. And unlike American garage groups like the Strokes and the White Stripes, there's little trace of irony or hipster cool present in their recordings. While many scenes from Seattle to Manchester, England, have spawned similar-sounding bands, groups in the current Swedish crop are fairly distinct.

The frontrunners in the Swederock sweepstakes are the aforementioned Soundtrack of our Lives, who play retrodelic music that blends Rolling Stones swagger and Beatles hooks with the folk-rock textures of Love. The band's third album (and its U.S. debut), Behind the Music, was recently re-released by Universal. The group made its American debut opening for Oasis this summer, and at the end of the month the band will tour over here with Division of Laura Lee and Citizen Bird.

"There's too much technology in music right now, and we wanted to bring back the old spirit and renew rock and roll," Soundtrack of Our Lives' Lundberg said. "We want to save the world from sh-- music and take our influences and add our own Swedish thing to make our songs a little more interesting."


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Photo: The Hives: Warner Bros.

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 The Hives
"Hate To Say I Told You So"
Veni Vidi Vicious
(Epitaph Records/Burning Heart)



 The Soundtrack of Our Lives
"Sister Surround"
Behind The Music
(Universal)



  Sahara Hotnights
"On Top Of Your World"
Jennie Bomb
(Jetset)



 Division of Laura Lee
"Need to Get Some"
Black City
(Burning Heart/Epitaph)



 (International) Noise Conspiracy
"Up For Sale"
A New Morning Changing Weather
(Burning Heart/Epitaph)



 Citizen Bird
"Glory"
Citizen Bird
(North Of No)





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