FORMERLY REMEMBER THE EIGHTIES.COM
A-HA (MORTEN HARKET & MAGNE FURUHOLMEN) INTERVIEW [2009]

LAST TIME WE SPOKE WAS JUST BEFORE YOUR ‘ANALOGUE’ ALBUM CAME OUT AND THE MOOD IN THE A-HA CAMP AT THAT TIME SEEMED VERY UPBEAT AND POSITIVE, DID THAT CONTINUE THROUGHOUT THAT PROJECT AND ON INTO THIS ONE?

MF – I think the mood got a little more sombre as we got closer to the release of that album, but this is pretty much the case with every album that we’ve done; it starts out with everyone in high spirits, kind of coming out of the trenches waving white flags at each other, and then it tends to end up with everyone kind of lobbing grenades over the edge and getting dug in!But at the end of the day I think that if we didn’t start out with the peace treaties and the idea that we need to work together to get somewhere we would be even further apart… I think with this album in particular I can honestly say that I have never worked harder to give the songs a unified shape in terms of sticking to ideas, championing them and kind of soldiering on to give the album direction, and I think that Morten also feels much closer to this album…

MH – That’s true, I do…

MF – I think that one of the things for me is that we sort of lost a little bit of the magic of the early stuff, and that happened quite naturally by itself and it was also quite natural for us to move on, but by kind of sacrificing the naive sequencing and that very precise arrangement through synthesisers, and little multi-layered motifs and riffs, and moving more towards a rock and orchestral sound the magic got a bit lost for me.There are the songs, there is Morten’s voice and there’s us, our taste, in the arrangements and all those little hooks and motifs, all the little things that are there are so vital to what made a-Ha tick for me.There’s also another side-effect for me, and that’s when you record the instruments as a full-on band, you rehearse and you record and at the end of the day you’re usually pretty happy with your take so it’s harder to walk away from an idea than if you make a demo and, instead of trying to push it in a certain direction, going ‘how about if we speed it up or slow it down, or bring it down a semi-note’ and you can just do it and it changes it just like that so it’s a much more flexible process… and getting back to that was kind of the key, it became a kind of dogma; let’s forget about all the other tools and let’s just use the synths and program the bass and drums and do it ourselves, no-one else but us… three men and a synth!I think that the result – even if it’s not as hardcore electronic as I would have liked it to be – has been given a much more interesting and sculpted form than we’ve been doing for a while…

IT’S INTERESTING I THINK THAT THE ELECTRONIC PROCESS IS MORE ORGANIC THAN THE ‘REAL MUSIC’ PROCESS…

MF – It also brings Morten’s voice alive in a different way I think… Morten has a very distinctive voice and I can say this because…

MH – Because what? (laughs) Because I’m here in the room?

MF – No, because you couldn’t say it in the same way, but for me your voice is quite unique in pop music. If you put Morten with a orchestra, the kind of intensity and level of passion he brings to it, sometimes you get too much sugar with all the orchestra sound around his voice, and if you put Morten into a rock context I’m not saying he can’t emulate the styles because he clearly can, but there’s something that just happens naturally when you put his pathos into a synthetic, clinical soundscape and you pair it off with Paul’s and my songwriting… well it’s only with a-Ha that he does this, he sounds different on his own material…

MH – Well I respond differently to it…

MF – There’s a blend there that makes up a-Ha for me and I wanted to reclaim some of that territory, not to go back there, not to try and pick up from where ‘Stay On These Roads’ stopped, that was not the ambition, not to forget about the mid-career stuff but to see what would happen if we bring that into the mix now. I would have gone even further had I been alone in deciding but we ended up where we are as a kind of compromise, with everyone kind of doing their bit to reach that result.

I THINK THIS IS A MUCH MORE ACCESSIBLE ALBUM THAN ‘ANALOGUE’, A POPPIER ALBUM PERHAPS, ALTHOUGH IT STILL HAS A GREAT DEAL OF DEPTH…

MH – I think it is much more accessible, much easier to access…

MF – Again, for me that’s what worked with a-Ha, we had the ability in the early days to have quite complex, dark matter be accessible. Also Morten does kind of make introverted material more extrovert, he makes it possible for people to listen to it in a way that doesn’t bring you down… he adds a different colour to it and that makes it more accessible in my view.

IS IT EASY FOR YOU, MORTEN, TO PICK UP SOMEONE ELSE’S WORDS? HOW LONG DO YOU NEED TO LIVE WITH THEM BEFORE YOU CAN DELIVER THEM?

MH – Well it’s always intuitive, and it’s immediate when it happens but I can also experience words that don’t do anything to me, and all of a sudden they wake up and they wake me up to them, and again it then becomes immediate. I don’t really have an intellectual attitude to lyrics in any way, it’s purely responsive. That’s when I sing them that is, if we were to talk about what they mean or what they can mean, well I don’t really like doing that… music, and the words too, is meant to be just absorbed and responded to, and shouldn’t really ever be explained to anyone.

MF – Having said that though, you can be drawn to people like Leonard Cohen, not because they have easily sung lyrics but because they have depth and meaning and Paul’s lyric writing has never been short of depth so I think that it’s more of an emotional response…

MH – It is an emotional response and it’s not analytical when I respond as a singer. I mean it’s not an intellectual analysis, if anything it’s an emotional one. But that’s me as the singer, it’s that side of me, that aspect of me because I am not the same part of me as a singer as I am when I represent myself as a writer which is an entirely different thing… and I don’t really care, it doesn’t matter to me, if I end up singing something I have written myself or something that someone else has written…

MF – There’s a song title in there somewhere, I Am Not The Me I Am With You! Actually that is something that has changed in a-Ha, at the outset of our career I didn’t write lyrics and it was frustrating all the time because every co-write was always held hostage to Paul finishing a song with the lyrics and they always came late and they always took a long time to come.

MH – And they changed! They changed the songs…

MF – Also it felt to me that if he had a song that he felt was more important he would always finish those lyrics and my song would be left by the wayside! I didn’t really find my voice as a lyric writer until about 2002, with the re-start of a-Ha, and the first sign of that was coming up with the title for ‘Minor Earth Major Sky’ which was kind of about me finding my way into a voice that was separate from Paul’s. Obviously some things had happened in the seven years that we were apart, Morten had started writing songs in much more prolific way so it was a different band that met and I think richer for it…

MH – Definitely!

WHAT WAS THE WORKING PROCESS FOR THIS ALBUM?

MF – We actually started this album – following my dogma of it just being the three of us – just playing around with the songs, taking elements from songs that we’d written individually and placing them together. It was very natural and Paul has always been very good at taking something that I’ve written and pairing it with something he’s written. More often than not when we’re all sitting together something that is suggested as a chorus becomes a verse and a new chorus is written…Some of the thrill for me, on a songwriting level, was to revisit that old way of doing things because we have been writing very separately over the last ten years. A song like ‘Bandstand’ for instance is a classic example for me of going into the room and remembering how it was all those years ago and getting reignited by the possibilities that were there. Then things start to disintigrate a little and you start to retreat into your own little camp and you fight for what you believe in and everyone else does the same. But the outset was quite exciting, it showed me – proved to me – over the course of three or four songs, the first five songs of the album basically, it proved to me that we can still do interesting stuff together when we co-write, and we can still add something to each other’s creative process. Then Morten’s input on that changes, in my view, a lot more than just adding personality… that has always been the case, we do a demo and then try it with Morten and the way it sounds then changes the way we write it and where we take it from there.It’s very much a three-person effort on every level and any attempt to write the story differently always kind of bugs me. People do tend to look at it very superficially and then define roles very clearly based on personality or based on what they think they know, and sometimes we do feel very annoyed… it reminds us of the annoying feeling of our early career, of having to point out that we are musicians making music and not just pop stars waving from balconies! I mean we did those things, we gritted our teeth and did them because it was worth it for the songs and for the music.

YOU RECORDED THE ALBUM ALL OVER THE PLACE TOO, IN NORWAY AND THE USA, GERMANY, SWEDEN, THE UK… WAS THAT DECISION MADE BECAUSE OF WHAT THOSE COUNTRIES WOULD BRING TO THE ALBUM OR WAS IT MORE A QUESTION OF LOGISTICS?

MH – I think it was both… sometimes you feel like working in a particular place but it’s also logistically driven.

MF – We started out in Norway and then for personal reasons Paul had to spend time in America and we went to New York to accommodate that, and also to create a kind of sense of a communal fieldtrip and work with a guy called Mark Saunders, and then after that when things sort of disintegrated a little we brought in Steve Osbourne in the UK and we did some recording here at Real World, Peter Gabriel’s fantastic studios down in Bath.The album is essentially split in two, I continued working with Steve Osbourne in the UK and Paul worked pretty much over the phone with Roland Spremberg in Hamburg. I tried to adhere to the kind of electronic ideas that we started with and Paul was going more into a kind of American sound, something I was trying to get away from. I wanted something more British, I always felt that this was our return to our British roots as it were…

IT’S INTERESTING ISN’T IT THAT YOU HAVE RETURNED TO YOUR ROOTS AT A TIME WHEN THIS SORT OF SOUND IS EXTREMELY CONTEMPORARY…

MF – Well, when we started this album that wasn’t the case, I mean it was three years ago… I think people assume that we have a much quicker response time than we do! Actually we started four years ago, after ‘Analogue’ we were starting to gather ideas and I had an idea that we should make an album called ‘Digital’ which would be just us and electronics… actually I still think that’s a good idea and maybe we’ll do that next! But strangely here has been this synchronistic fact of the 80s coming back in different guises through new artists.I mean I would never pretend to be able to revive the 80s because we were there the first time and we’re looking at it only from an a-Ha career perspective but we need to reclaim some of that, we need to take some of that with us going forward… but people like La Roux, they’re doing it differently to us, they’re doing it brilliantly and through different eyes…

DO YOU FOLLOW WHAT YOUR CONTEMPORARIES ARE UP TO? I MEAN PEOPLE LIKE ERASURE, PET SHOP BOYS, DEPECHE MODE?

MF – Well we went to see Depeche Mode in Berlin… a huge, fantastic stadium gig, and we thoroughly enjoyed that, so yeah we do pay a bit of attention. I go to quite a lot of concerts, not just to keep an eye on our contemporaries but right across the board.

MH – I don’t, but I have started to do it again and I really enjoyed going to see Depeche Mode!

WE’RE ALMOST OUT OF TIME SO I NEED TO ASK THE BIG QUESTION THAT HAS BEEN SENT TO ME BY HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD WHO WANT TO SEE A-HA IN THEIR COUNTRY, AND THAT IS TO ASK ABOUT YOUR ONGOING TOUR PLANS…

MF – Well one of the kind of problematic aspects of being in a-Ha is that we are people who have the luxury to be able to do other things in between, like solo projects and even families. We don’t have this totally full-on attitude that a-Ha means everything and that means that we are touring less than we would like, or that some of us would have liked… we are however looking at embellishing our schedule in 2010 and visiting as many places as we can so hopefully we will reach lots of those places!I am kind of ashamed that on this tour we’re not going to Scotland or Ireland because we have great experiences of going there, and in Europe we’re not even touching on France and we’re not going to Spain so it’s kind of bugging me. We set aside times to do a-Ha and there is always only so much you can do…

MH – We’ve also been looking at how we have been doing things lately – in the past five, six, seven years – and there are things that we are about to change about ourselves which I think is rejuvanating you know? We’re in a mode of change at the moment which I think is all for the good…

MF – And a-Ha is almost twenty-five years old…

THAT’S NEXT YEAR ISN’T IT? CAN I SLIP IN A LAST QUESTION TO ASK IF YOU’VE GOT ANY PLANS ABOUT HOW YOU’LL MARK THE ANNIVERSARY?

MF – We do have plans, we just have to agree internally on exactly what it is that we’re celebrating. I would like to make that celebration a real embrace of our achievements together and not just some doctored thing trying to make us look cooler than we were!But it has been an amazing ride, it has had its ups and downs, it’s had its corny moments, and it’s had its glorious moments and we just have to embrace it all and be thankful that we’ve come through it so well, and I think we both feel like that, but we have to get that feeling to be a communal feeling amongst all of us otherwise I’d rather do new stuff.

MH – That’s the dilema, because there are a lot of other things to look at that would be blocked off by doing something for the anniversary… so we’ll see!

JULY 2009

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