Pelle Almqvist, lead singer of the Hives, would like to establish one fact: ”We’re really, really popular, did you know?” He’s exaggerating. But on June 13, the Swedish band’s second full-length album of Raw Power-ed garage rock, Veni Vidi Vicious, jumped into the top 100 of Billboard’s album chart—nearly two years after its U.S. release. ”It’s taken a while for people to catch on, but the record has always been as good as it is now,” shrugs Almqvist. ”It’s timeless.”
Maybe so. But how did Veni Vidi Vicious go from selling about 400 copies a month here in early 2001 to moving 15,000 this week? Blame England, where the band’s gimmicks (they dress in black and white and insist they were assembled, boy-band style) helped trigger a tsunami of press hype last year. A U.K. Hives comp, ”Your New Favorite Band,” went gold, and in response, the band’s U.S. label, indie stalwart Epitaph, dusted off its unsold copies and pushed Veni Vidi again. An April deal with Warner Bros. put major-label clout behind the album. ”We saw what was going on with the Strokes and the White Stripes,” explains an Epitaph source. ”We couldn’t muster that kind of push.”
Despite the corporate machinations, there’s an organic aspect to the Hives’ U.S. success. In February, one brave modern-rock radio station, San Diego’s 91X, added the band’s five-chord anthem, ”Hate to Say I Told You So,” because its music director was a fan. L.A.’s KROQ and others soon followed, and sales spiked. ”It’s just a nice fairy tale—regular kids heard it and it caught on,” the Epitaph source argues. That doesn’t surprise Almqvist: ”The single is pretty easy to get. It hits your reptile brain. Plus, it’s fairly monotonous.” Now that’s what we call hype.