Saturday, July 13, 2002
New York Pelle Almqvist never could understand the connection between loud guitars and being miserable.
You're up on a stage jumping around, making a loud noise with women adoringly gazing at you.
What's not to like?
"It's just such a naturally exciting and fun thing," said Almqvist, lead singer of the Swedish rock band the Hives.
Acts like the Hives, White Stripes, the Strokes and the Vines are leading a new vanguard with a raw, adrenalized sound best described as garage rock.
And after a decade dominated by dense, morose grunge or the angry rants of Limp Bizkit and its sound-alikes, rock 'n' roll is remembering to have fun again.
The Hives, a punk quintet whose best song is "Hate to Say I Told You So," have sold nearly 100,000 copies of their latest CD and just completed a sold-out club tour of the United States.
The Detroit-based White Stripes is a two-piece with just guitar and drums, and their blues roots are close to the surface. Their third album, "White Blood Cells," has sold 271,000 copies.
The Strokes have the biggest hit ï¿½ they've sold 500,000 discs. They've revived a sleepy New York rock scene with music reminiscent of the city's punk movement 25 years ago, and will headline a Radio City Music Hall concert later this summer with the White Stripes.
Capitol Records has high hopes for the Vines, a band of Australians who relocated to Los Angeles.
"A lot of these songs are just exhilarating, maybe because of their brevity," said Little Steven Van Zandt, guitarist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and host of a new garage rock radio show. "There was a certain excitement that had been gone, there's no question about it."
Van Zandt's show, "Little Steven's Underground Garage," started broadcasting on 23 stations in April. Now it's on 56.
His motivation was to play some of his favorite songs, which he never hears on the radio. To him, the show's success indicates fans have a hunger for more than the usual fare.
"The choices we have been left with in the mainstream are heavy metal, rap and pop," he said. "There's nothing wrong with that. But the lack of choices, the lack of opportunity for the young generation to be turned on to all these other cool things, that needs to be corrected. That's just not right."
Many radio programmers blanched when Van Zandt showed them a playlist filled with unfamiliar names like the Greenhornes, the Shazam, Mooney Suzuki and the Swingin' Neck Breakers.
"I said, 'Don't look at it, listen to it,"' he said. "I think any fears they had went away."
The Hives and White Stripes have some odd similarities besides their music.
Both hail from areas not considered rock 'n' roll hotbeds. Detroit is better known for soul and rap. Most Americans' knowledge of Swedish music begins and ends with ABBA.
Both have unusual dress codes. The White Stripes dress strictly in red and white, while all five Hives dress alike onstage. Lately they've been wearing ascots.
Both have an air of personal mystery about them. The Hives were supposedly put together by someone whose very existence has been questioned. Meg and Jack White of the White Stripes insist they are brother and sister, but a magazine turned up records indicating they were a married couple, and now divorced.
Both share a warped sense of humor. "We are your new government," Almqvist announced to a Washington, D.C., audience recently. The White Stripes once introduced themselves as the "new Carpenters."
The White Stripes are off the road, recording a new album, and turned down an interview request. The Hives made the time to talk while waiting to perform for Conan O'Brien recently.
The Hives grew up as fans of Swedish punk bands, but were disenchanted when many of their favorites went in an angry, negative direction. They turned to oldies like Little Richard or the Yardbirds.
Even Motown was an influence, "even though you probably can't tell," Almqvist said.
"We could find all these records really cheap," he said, "or steal them from our parents."
Band members are all in their mid-20s, but have been together for about a decade. They've added some suitable rock star names: Almqvist is "Howlin' Pelle," and his bandmates include Chris Dangerous and Dr. Matt Destruction.