Typically, when a rock band goes the concept-record route, it's created some elaborate story that ties every track together in the end. The plot is the blueprint by which the band writes both the music and lyrics. But for their forthcoming fourth full-length offering, The Black and White Album (out November 13), the Hives took a different approach.
"We wanted to kind of break with tradition a bit, so the record's kind of half and half," frontman Pelle Almqvist explained. "Half of the stuff you would recognize as a Hives song, but only a bit better than the last record. The other half is a huge departure for us; it's a record that's kind of a greatest-hits record — by a band that didn't exist. We had to record in all these different studios all over the world, and do all these different types of songs, because it would then feel like a band's entire career. That was an idea we had when we first started making the record, so, really, this one's our most diverse record by far."
By Almqvist's count, the Hives worked with seven producers in eight studios on something like 30 songs; only 14 made the album's final track list. While most of the songs were produced by the Hives and Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, Elvis Costello), the band couldn't turn down Pharrell Williams' offer to work on a few cuts.
"He produced two songs on the record" — "Well All Right!" and "T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S." — Almqvist said. "Working with Pharrell was his idea; we'd met him in 2004, and it was kind of too interesting not to do it. He doesn't really record rock bands that much, but that's what interested us in working with him. He's obviously a very talented guy who doesn't have all the same baggage rock producers bring with them into the studio. Working with him was way more spontaneous and more fun, I guess, because we didn't know what we were doing. It was fun for us to shoot from the hip."
The band also enlisted Jacknife Lee and Timbaland to produce some tracks; alas, none of the Tim-helmed songs made the disc, because they came together "so late in the process," Almqvist said. The frontman explained that the songs the band started crafting with Timbaland sounded "great" but were never actually completed. He hopes the band will be able to release the tracks as B-sides or hold onto them for the next record — although, the singer said, the band usually "likes to clean out the cupboards before we start working on our next album."
Almqvist said the pressure was on to one-up 2004's Tyrannosaurus Hives (see "Don't Worry: The Hives Haven't Gotten Deep"), but that pressure was self-imposed. "We didn't want to repeat the same trick," he explained. "We needed a new set of cards. It's not easy for us, making records; it takes a lot out of us. It's like the law of diminishing returns: You have to spend 90 percent more energy to get a 10 percent better record. That's what we always try to do. It was a tough record to make, and now that we've made it, it feels like we can do anything — like we can shoot off in any kind of direction and still sound like the Hives."
Almqvist said the band tried things it normally wouldn't have on The Black and White Album. For one track, "Puppet on a String," the band employed handclaps and piano — and not much else — and on the instrumental "A Stroll Through Hive Manor Corridors," the boys used only a drum machine and an organ dating back to the 1960s.
They even invited the entire University of Mississippi cheerleading squad into the studio to belt out some cheers for the disc. "They showed up in their uniforms, and after that, the entire studio smelled liked strawberries for a week," the singer said.
Recently, the band shot a video for the album's leadoff single, "Tick Tick Boom," which is still being edited. "All I can say is it's us, as massive statues, blowing up a museum," he said. "Sounds pretty spectacular, doesn't it?"
Perhaps stranger than the video's concept is the band's upcoming tour with Maroon 5, which kicks off September 29 in Detroit and runs through a November 9 show in San Diego. While most people wouldn't put the Hives and Maroon 5 together in the same room, Almqvist thinks it's a perfect match — at least for the Hives.
"On [tour for] the last record, we only played to Hives audiences, which was great and every show was fun, but it was kind of making us lazy, we felt," he said. "So we needed to play to an audience that doesn't know what we're doing or who we are — an audience we kind of have to fight for a bit. Plus, there's tons of people at those shows. We don't play the same music as Maroon 5, but that's half the fun, I think. That crowd will be very surprised when we start playing."
In February, the Hives will likely embark on a U.S. headlining run, which Almqvist thinks will be even more interesting.
"I can't wait to see how our new Maroon 5 fans will mingle with our old Hives fans," he joked.