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By Gigantic Tickets
Posted on Friday 24th November 2017 at 12:00
One of the defining bands of the 1980’s, multi-Platinum selling trio a-ha combined the talents of lead vocalist Morten Harket, guitarist Pal Waaktaar-Savoy and keyboardist Magne Furuholmen whose pioneering talent fused their keen song writing skill with cutting edge video technology to produce such ubiquitous hits as ‘The Sun Always Shines On T.V’, ‘The Living Daylights’ and their seminal single ‘Take On Me’.
First formed in Oslo during 1982, the band soon made their way to the UK to embark upon a highly successful career which has seen them put out ten studio albums plus a further three live albums including the recently released ‘MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice’ which saw the band pursue an acoustic direction, re-imagining their classic material in a stripped-down fashion to reveal the songs tender heart.
Next year sees the Norwegian trio head out from their Electric Summer tour across the UK during June. In contrast to their latest record, these massive shows will see them play all your favourite hits with full band accompaniment at a selection of unique and exciting venues.
“We do feel a close affinity to the UK and our fans there. We have also always seen fans travel to our shows to and within the UK and welcome all. It’s exciting to play outdoors and take our music to locations which are not traditional Arena touring places. As ever we always want to do things in a new way, to keep things exciting for our fans.” - Morten Harket
We were lucky enough to speak to Magne Furuholmen who was very excited about the upcoming shows and talked about their recent ‘MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice’ acoustic album, their early influences and how their music is being rediscovered by a younger audience.
Hello Magne, how are you doing today?
I’m good. I’m good. I’m looking out over the Thames.
So how is it looking in London? Is it as rainy as it is here in Nottingham?
No. Not raining. It’s a bit cloudy. Y’know - good weather, that’s what they used to call it when I lived here.
Hopefully the weather will be a lot better for your summer tour which sees you play in front of some huge crowds!
Well that’s up to you guys. You supply the weather and we’ll supply the rest.
Hah. We’ll try our best. Unfortunately, British summertime weather tends to be a bit extreme, one way or the other. Even if it is a bit rainy though, how are you going to take all your energy and convey the excitement to such big crowds?
Well, we’ve done tours over the years with big crowds so I don’t think we approach it much different other than the production which obviously has to be tailored.
But ultimately, for us, it’s about connecting with the audience on a musical level and giving a healthy blend of a-ha history with some surprises thrown in. You know there is always, obviously, people want to hear songs that they know and love but not necessary always in the version they’ve grown accustomed to.
There’s going to be some new material, some choices from the back catalogue over thirty years of songs that we are excited about, showcasing songs we haven’t played before. Its going to be a mixture of the well-known, the lesser known and the new.
Fantastic. Well that sounds like a winning combination. Can you tell us a little about any of the surprises you have hinted at? I guess they wouldn’t be surprises if you did though.
(Laughs) Yeah. I think that a-ha shows are not really a song and dance routine. Its more about creating an atmosphere and a mood that connects with people and we have an ever-growing list of material to choose from. So, it’s just about making it worthwhile for people to come and spend an evening with us.
Absolutely. Can you tell us a bit more about what you and the band have been up to in the run up to the Electric Summer tour?
Well, we have an ongoing project now with this MTV Acoustic unplugged album that has resulted in a tour around Europe in January and February. So, I would be very surprised if not elements of that is going to carry on into the next set for summer. It has been a really healthy project for us to do and one of the benefits of a long period (is) that you can take a retrospective look at it and re-look at the songs in a different format.
What we’re doing now is wildly different than what we’ve done before. We’re travelling with eleven people on stage in total and we have a very different take on quite a few of the songs. So, I think some of that will become part of the new show that we’re planning for the summer as well. But. obviously, it’s a summer event and its outdoors so we’ll probably have to get our training shoes on and prepare a little.
The ‘Summer Solstice’ album really is brilliant and it’s interesting that you did take an acoustic and more stripped down, organic approach. Why did you want to do this project?
I think it’s just a healthy thing to do. To take songs from the early 80’s that were produced a certain way, with the zeitgeist of drum machines and synthesizers, and strip it right back down to how its original written whether it be on the acoustic guitar or a piano and then build from there.
This acoustic thing, it’s not all about just bringing it back down to its original form but it’s also about recreating something new from it and that’s been a really healthy process for the band. Like, when you take a song like ‘Take On Me’, that’s probably one of the most upbeat and uplifting songs we have in our catalogue, and you perform it as a kind of melancholic ballad I think it sort of showcases the fact that all of these songs had a common denominator through them that ultimately is what a-ha is all about.
It also gives us a chance to reclaim the songs as our own. After thirty years, it feels more like it belongs more to the public in effect; performing their songs back to them.
‘Take On Me’ perfectly matched the zeitgeist at the time of release, a definite classic example of what we think of as the 80’s sound. What I find fascinating is the way you have changed it from bombastic to something more tender and intimate.
Having said that though, there’s nothing wrong with bombastic. So, I think it will be a mix. It’s not going to be an acoustic tour for the summer, its going to be a mixture of things. But it is interesting to have people come up and say for the first time, that they have always loved ‘Take On Me’ but now they were really touched by it or moved by it. That’s an added bonus of being able to do this project this way.
Also on ‘Summer Solstice’, you had a number of quite impressive names working with you including Lissie and Alison Moyet. One name that really stood out for me was Ian McCulloch as I’m a massive fan of Echo & The Bunnymen.
So were we. When we came to Britain Echo & The Bunnymen were one of the bands, for us, proved the validity of using drum machines. Obviously, they ended up different – in more of a band format but they were a huge influential to us early on.
We came to Britain as three young lads from Norway and threw ourselves right into the middle of this whole synth era of Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Soft Cell and kind of discovered our own sound and in part, I guess, we were part of defining the 80’s in that way.
But then to be able to bring in some really influence guests – I remember one of the first big Number 1’s that was in the charts when we were here in the early days was ‘Only You’ by Yazoo. So, the idea was to bring in some people from around the time that was formative for us and then also bring in some new and lesser known artists, perhaps, and give a span of generations in that project. Influential artists from the 80’s that were personally influence to us and also new artists who are bringing in a new take on music today.
Again, going back to what you said about the zeitgeist of the 80’s, it does have parallels with the sound of music today as contemporary pop music is once again largely centred around drum machines, synths and programming. You have consistently dominated the charts throughout your career, but given the current music climate it seems like a really exciting time for a-ha.
Yes. I think there has been a reappraisal what the 80’s had on offer. I think it was a very new and exciting time for pop music and a lot of great bands and great artists did a lot of amazing things. That’s how the pop music business rolls; it sort of reinvents itself and references in different ways to the eras gone by.
And we moved with the times as well. We’ve gone full circle. We went through the 80’s as part of that music scene and as that broke off into 90’s we were also evolving and changing, and came back in the year 2000. Pretty much stuck to our guns but all the time looking for new ways of expanding our repertoire.
I think it’s a bit like; anyone who says its Five To Twelve is right twice a day. But I think the fact these young artists that are appropriating sounds from the 80’s, they’re not doing it exactly the same way as before, they’re just referencing it in different ways and that’s how pop music reinvents itself.
We didn’t invent pop music either in the 80’s. It was new sonic possibilities through technology that everybody embraced in different ways but it was still referencing a lot of our old heroes form the 60’s on our part.
I think it is being too modest saying that you just happened to have the right sound and its come back around. It does take an amount of talent and skill to write songs that continue to connect to so many people.
You started talking your influences from the 60’s. Who was it that you took ideas from and brought it to the end of the 20th century and beyond?
When we grew up in the 70’s, there was a huge division between what was going on in the charts and what we loved as musicians. We lived in a country at a time when there was one hour a day of pop music on the radio, there was one radio station and one hour a day of pop. So, the way you discovered artists was to go to record stores and stand around and listen with the headphones and buy the records that you fell in love with.
Obviously, growing up, huge influences on a-ha, it’s hard not to name The Beatles and The Doors as formative influences. And I think that there is something in the whole spectrum of how The Beatles came from being a predominantly idolised pop band to hugely influential artists of experimentation and at the forefront of the development of pop music. That was quite inspirational to us and kind of what we model ourselves on – We just need big hits and then we can experiment!
Certainly with The Beatles; ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ you could argue was the first ever drum and bass song.
Yeah exactly! Absolutely. And there’s a rich history that in a way, thankfully, young people are unaware of. A new band will come up and if you know your music history you can tell exactly where their inspirations are coming from. But the fans may not know it. They might discover it later.
Given that you were exploring electronic music, had you been listening to what was started in Germany during the ‘70’s? Were you listening to Kraftwerk and bands like that?
No, we were aware of it. But Kraftwerk’s aesthetic was much more about embracing the sort of non-human element of it. I think what we were inspired by were bands like Soft Cell and the various bands around the time that proved to us that you could make emotionally engaging music also with electronic instruments – that it wasn’t all about blibs and blobs.
Kraftwerk is conceptually extremely interesting as an art project. But the real change in us was, because we came from a band with a bass player, a drummer, a guitarist and a keyboard player, and when we came; just the three of us, to England we didn’t have that. So, we had to reinvent ourselves in the studio with the LinnDrums and arpeggios. The early part of the digital revolution.
I guess this is a clear example of necessity being the mother of invention. If you have limitations, it can actually help spur you on.
Yeah, exactly! I think that we were definitely aware of the early pioneers of electronic music but the breakthrough was the coming to London in ‘82/’83 and just being immersed in the British music scene and discovering artists that would have influence on how we looked at a-ha and how we shaped a-ha going forward.
What is it like returning to London thirty-five years later then? Do you feel happy in a certain sense of accomplishment or is there still more to do?
It’s still the most exciting the moment for us, I think, is when a new song is on the table and you get excited about the potential of that. I think making moments glow, whether it’s from the studio, from a live stage – its still what it’s all about and that’s always been the case.
We ever really got into it for the lifestyle. It wasn’t really an escape from working class roots. In a sense it was an escape from the restrictions that we felt growing up in Norway, that it was a well ordered middle class based society with academic parents. (We wanted) this feeling of immersing yourself in a place where music was more central to people’s identity. So, we escaped to London for that reason, but it was never about making the money or owning a private jet. That was not really part of the ambition. I think to a certain degree, the fans have stuck with us because the music we make has some sort of meaning to their lives.
I have to ask now; do you own a private jet?
No. I have friends who do. (Laughs)
Oh really? Friends that just happen to be in a band you are in?
(Laughs) No comment.
And so, what can we expect from a-ha in the future? You say you are always excited for the next project, are we getting a new studio album any time soon?
I wouldn’t hold my breath for that. We’ve made a lot of albums over the years and its always quite an arduous process but we look at it from a project to project basis. We wrote a couple of new songs for this MTV Unplugged album and that shows us that there is a faithful bond between us – that when we put on our a-ha hats we immediately start to think a certain way. It’s nice to be able to walk in and out of that room and not have it define you completely. I think there is definitely a common history that we share that is hugely important to all of us and the music that we make together that has had the great fortune of touching millions of people around the world. Its given us this opportunity to do what we love.
That is really good to hear. I really appreciate your time so thank you for speaking to me today.
Well thank you very much. I really look forward to coming and playing!
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