On the 20th Anniversary of Barely Legal

On the 20th Anniversary of Barely Legal

On the 20th Anniversary of Barely Legal, Journalist Björn Westin goes deep in an article for Fagersta-Posten. The original piece in Swedish here

Barely Legal reissues on black & bronze vinyl here & here or support your local record store.

And now without further ado….reprint courtesy of Fagersta-Posten. English translation by Eva Almquist

The Hives´ first album ”Barely Legal” was released twenty years ago. At that time people thought that they were a little strange- They were never typical punks. At the same time, much of what characterizes the band was created. They went from a basement in Fagersta to a frustrated producer and quarrels in a studio.

Niklas Almquist, more known as Nicholaus Arson, turned on his walkman in his parents´ basement. It was late summer in 1997 and the Hives debut album “Barely Legal” had come back from mastering. He began listening to the result of years of experimenting.

What the band had achieved was a big step towards everything that has made The Hives famous all over the world. Not many people could see that potential back in 1997.

“They were not really popular from the beginning. It was not what people listened to at that time” says Magnus Larnhed, singer in another band from Fagersta, “59 Times the Pain” and a good friend of the members of The Hives.

“If we had tried to sketch a successful music career- whatever that is- we could have chosen other, easier ways,” says Christian Grahn (Chris Dangerous) drummer in The Hives.

This is the story of how five young guys from Fagersta formed a world famous band by following their own hearts.

From 1997 we move back twelve to thirteen years in time. The members of The Hives have several things in common- for example music from the early sixties echoes in their early childhood memories. To understand what has formed The Hives it is important to listen to this music.

In their home in the residential area of Hindric Pers in Fagersta the brothers Niklas and Pelle listened to their father playing the blues. He was a guitarist playing jazz and funk in his spare time.

“There was music right from the start. Dad listened to everything and had a huge collection of records. He played the guitar and had an amplifier, we thought it was cool.” says Niklas Almquist.

At the age of five and six years old they formed their first band, Stallion, together with an older guy living in the same street. Pelle sang or screamed, Niklas was playing the drums. When they did not play they were drawing pictures of rock bands, amplifiers and demons. Or they were building fake guitars out of chip boards.
Through a televised New Year´s concert with James Brown and The Who, a big-eyed Pelle Almquist got in touch with the world of rock.
“I got excited, nervous, happy and a little scared. They blew up the drum set and it was also about how they moved and sounded. I have imitated the moves- to swing the microphone and to do the splits- from them” says Pelle Almquist, also known as Howlin´ Pelle.

The others in the band had a similar upbringing and what they have in common is their parents´ interest in the music of the sixties. The guys chose their favorites straight away- Niklas and Mikael Karlsson (Vigilante Carlstroem) picked out the best records in their parents´collections.

All five guys continued listening to a lot of music throughout their upbringing. Niklas, Pelle and Chris got in touch with hard rock and punk through some older friends. Mikael went through his dad, Sören´s collection and he found and liked bands like The Shadows. Mattias Bernvall found bands like Led Zeppelin, Rush and Fugazi through his sister´s boyfriend.

For young musicians, Fagersta was no ordinary small town in the early 1990s. In a place called the Rock Castle, also called Kottis or Rockmossen in the area Kottmossen, a lot of famous American punk bands played. When the place was demolished in 1991, the concept continued with big concerts at Folkets Hus. And in the summers between 1989 and 1996 the festival Bergslagsrocken was organized.

This had a huge significance for the young future members of The Hives. Eleven year old Pelle went to Bergslagsrocken. He wanted to see the bands Kreator and Candlemass.

“The Bergslagsrocken had a monumental impact and made us very interested in hard rock. When bands came from the USA and played in the B-hall at Folkets Hus, it felt like it was possible that we could do it ourselves” says Pelle Almquist.

Risbroskolan is the only high school in Fagersta, so students from the whole town come together. When the summer of 1991 was over, Pelle, Mattias, Christian and Mikael started in the seventh grade, Niklas was one year older.

At school these young guys found each other. In the music room the students could borrow instruments to play during the breaks. Among heavy Metallica riffs Christian and Mikael found one another. Mattias and Pelle studied German, Spanish and Biology together.

“We didn´t care about the Biology class, we talked instead. Mostly about music” Mattias says, later known as Dr Matt Destruction.

“I was rather quiet and we sat next to one another. Mattias was a companion supporter and maybe it was such an initiative, that he was going to hang out with me, who was silent and kept to myself” says Pelle.

He knew Christian, who knew Mikael. As the cold winter got a strong grip on Fagersta, Mattias, Pelle, Christian and Mikael formed a floor ball team to participate in the “Luciacup”.
“We didn´t take it seriously” says Pelle.

The band met for the first time in the early summer of 1992. The place was number 6 Skyttegränd, in the basement of Mattias´ home.

Christian had a Hoshini-drum set, on which the former owner had written Pataässä (Finnish for Ace of Spades) in black ink. Mikael played the electric guitar, a black Vester he had got the previous year. Mattias borrowed a bass guitar from Pelle who took the microphone.
“Maybe I was the least skilled as a musician, I had more ideas for the band. More ambition than skills. Then I dared singing in the mike too” says Pelle

After a few months Niklas joined the band, with his Flying V.
“It was a bit like pretending to be punk rockers: ‘How the hell do they do it?‘ We tried to find out”, says Niklas.

“We had varying skill levels, but we felt we had to start somewhere. Everybody listened to punk, so we started rehearsing the song Betongbarn (Concrete Children). We tried to play a lot of music from Strebers and Asta Kask” says Mattias.

Everything else lost importance when the five young guys from Fagersta gathered in their basement. It was their own island, full of sounds, tones and dreams. They played throughout the nights, week after week. Sometimes they practiced the same riff until four o´clock in the morning.

“In our little town five persons who wanted to play as much had found one another” says Mattias and continues, “We could try all variations. It wasn´t meant as rehearsing but it turned out to be so. All the time we raised our standard. We were all fascinated about what happened.”

“We have been together through our musical upbringing. Actually we are the only persons we have ever played with and I think that is a part of our chemistry” says Pelle.

Everyone in the band wanted to play live right away. They wanted to be on stage, in front of an audience. Everywhere where it was possible they played: recreation centers, graduation ceremonies and school discos.

“We are one hundred percent exhibitionists: We think it is cool to be on stage” says Niklas.

“I noticed early that I could be interesting on stage. I dared to say things others didn´t dare. But I have always been nervous. We have always had the ambition to be better that we actually are; it was a constant source of anxiety- but it had also brought us forward” says Pelle.

Even regular rehearsals turned into live shows for The Hives. After two summers in the basement at Mattias´ place, the band moved to one of the rehearsal spaces at the theatre at Folkets Park. When the band was rehearsing people gathered to watch.
“We improved our show a lot because of that, instead of just rehearsing it was more like a real show” says Pelle.

Magnus Larnhed, who was rehearsing with his band 59 Times the Pain in one of the other spaces, got to know the younger guys in The Hives: “They were already very good live the first time I saw them. They had an energy and some kind of aura about them. They just needed to get their influences in order and sound like they wanted to.”

In search of their own expression The Hives belonged everywhere and still nowhere. The played punk but to tease the punks in big boots they dressed in fine clothes during their gigs. The band was influenced as much by garage rock as by rock´n roll from the sixties as by American punk from the eighties.

“There were role models that we looked up to and listened to- to see what we could do differently. We always wanted to do it our way” says Pelle.

In order not to end up in a musical mess it became essential with rules. The first rule came during the first practice session when the band forbade a drum beat they called the Manchester beat.

“Rules have always been important to us, we didn´t want to play just to have fun. We wanted to have a clear idea with everything. We had goals from the start; today people may think that we just wanted to have success, but we just wanted to sound in a special way” says Pelle.

Spring was in the air and the year was 1997. A frustrated Pelle Gunnerfeldt, producer and guitarist in the band Fireside got a phone call. An old acquaintance from the skate punk scene, Peter “Babs” Ahlqvist, CEO of the record label Burning Heart Records, told him that he wanted him to meet some guys from Fagersta.
Pelle Gunnerfeldt likes when bands play loud and hard; it doesn´t have to be perfect, like in the popular skate punk music. Hardly any producer in Sweden thought like he did.

“I didn´t understand why people didn´t appreciate what I did” says Pelle Gunnerfeldt.

At the same time, in a rehearsal place in a basement at Alfaskolan, The Hives were working with their first album. One year earlier they had released a single: Oh Lord! When! How!

“We were very disappointed. We were sent away during the mixing and then it didn´t sound like we wanted to” says Pelle Almquist.
The Hives couldn´t find people in the music industry who believed in their music.
“When we tried to explain how we wanted it to sound people just said: ‘Yeah, yeah but in this way it will be better’” says Niklas.

But through Burning Heart Records, that had had an office in the same house at Folkets Hus as their rehearsing place, they got an opportunity to record an album. The band had listened to records that were produced by Pelle Gunnerfeldt – and liked the noisy, hard style. Now the studio outsider had to work with the strange band from the little factory town of Fagersta.

A warm summer´s day, some days after four of the members of the band had celebrated their college graduation, the band met Pelle Gunnerfeldt for the first time. They met him outside the Café 44 in Södermalm in Stockholm. He parked a big van, got out and shook hands with the wrong hand. They were going to record in the studio Rub-A-Dub in the same house as the café; here celebrities like Kent and Weeping Willows rehearsed.

The band spent two weeks in the studio. The first week they made the basic parts and the second week they recorded the vocals and mixed. Gunnerfeldt soon realized that he was working with an unusual band.
“Pelle was under constant strain, he climbed the walls because he had such an anxiety over the perfection of every little line of text. It was the first time I worked with someone who behaved like that” says Gunnerfeldt.

In the studio real cock fighting between the brothers, Niklas and Pelle, took place. “I would never dream of being so mean towards anyone in a band. But it was a way those brothers had. And they triggered each other to do their best at a completely different level than other band members usually do” says Pelle Gunnerfeldt.

Pelle Almquist about the quarrels: “Sometimes it is a good thing, sometimes it is bad. It may be frustrating for the other members when we quarrel and they can´t make themselves heard. But the quarrels made us move forward.”

All members of the band had high ambitions. But the brothers wanted to take it to another level:
“Sometimes one thought: ‘It is enough, now it is good’. But they could go on forever” says Mattias.

After two intensive weeks the record was finished: fourteen songs with a lot of noisy sounds and the level of energy would make other punk bands blush.

“Pelle Gunnerfeldt was the first person to understand what kind of sound we wanted” says Mikael.

The songs were sent up to Tonteknik in Umeå for the last adjustments, the mastering. As expected, Pelle went along:
“I am the last one to let go. Actually I want to go on even when it is finished” he said

Back to Hindric Pers in Fagersta; Niklas Almquist sat in his basement listening. The work of “Barely Legal” was finished and the disc started spinning in his walkman and it was not only the result of the hard work for several months. No, the songs were the substance of the band´s dreams.

“We created it based on what we thought was the best, even though people said it was not good” says Niklas, “I wanted it to sound just like this- it was the first time I was really satisfied. It was a cool feeling.”