Magne Furuholmen: “Music holds a-ha together”

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Forty years later, the Norwegian trio still have a sense of melody, even if the harmony isn’t what it used to be. Interview with Magne Furuholmen before her concert this Friday.

Interview: Laurent Flückiger Shooting and editing: Dimitri Mahon and Valentin Albertini

Norwegians a-ha are associated with the ’80s – their synthesized pop hit ‘Take On Me’ might even be the perfect soundtrack for that decade. At that time Morten Harket, Pål Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen were touring around the world. The past? No way. The trio has released ten albums and to this day enjoys a good reputation as magicians of melody. His fascinating story was even told in a film that was released in 2021. A-ha wanted to be pop stars and they succeeded. The unity in the group, on the other hand, is only cordial, and has been for a long time. This does not prevent him from giving concerts of consistently recognized quality.

A few hours before a-ha took the stage at Stravinsky, we met Magne. The later sixty-year-old was the only one of the three who wanted to talk about his career. And that’s a good thing, he’s always been our favorite.

You came to Montreux with a-ha, that was in 1986 during the Montreux Rock Festival. You remember?

Yes, that was the first time I saw Terence Trent D’Arby. He was also at this festival. I remember well, we were in the middle of our first success and we had a wonderful time here. We were able to ski on a slope that was closed for the season but opened for three Norwegians who wanted to go. Jazz Festival has always been a super exciting event to follow as a music lover. Coming back now and playing at this festival is a wonderful thing.

In autumn you will release a project called “True North”, which was created north of the Arctic Circle. Why there?

With the pandemic making travel impossible, we wondered what to do. All tours were canceled and people were unable to travel. So we thought it would be nice to send some sort of musical letter from home. And the northern part of Norway is amazing in terms of nature and people. It’s a part of the country that I’ve come to love more and more as I’ve gotten older. It was therefore chosen as a sort of backdrop for new songs and new music. Many of the songs I contributed to this album revolve around our relationship with nature and how we need to improve to nurture it. And it’s a kind of homage to the country that shaped us as musicians and artists.

Did you compose the three pieces together?

Half of the album was made in Los Angeles because Pål lives there. The other half was made in Norway. So it’s very different from the 80’s where we lived together, we recorded together, we ate together, we didn’t sleep together, well, kind of yes since it was in the same room. Today we still try to make beautiful music as best we can, but in completely different situations. Things have changed, except everyone’s ambition to leave something beautiful behind.

Did you want to do a project as important and personal as True North because it might be your last together?

I thought the previous album would be our last. So that’s kind of a bonus. It’s always the same at a-ha. I think music keeps us all together. It’s our legacy as a-ha. We all make music separately, individually, so we’re all different people today than we were forty years ago. But I think we always communicate better when we have music to play, which is why we continue to do so.

Do you still have a band with Coldplay bassists?

It’s not really a group. It’s a project that started with friends from the music world who wanted to do things differently. We called it Apparatjik. Sometimes it’s nice to have projects that aren’t career projects. There is no management, there is no record label. It was like a safe place to be childish and creative and remember what it was like when you were young and not trying to sell what you were doing. We just did it because we liked it.

Even today, it’s impossible not to play Take On Me at a party if you want it to be successful. It’s a classic. It should make you proud.

You know, this song has lived its own life and touched different generations of people. To be honest I don’t spend it at my parties. But maybe my parties are more boring than yours! (Laughs.) But of course we are proud that we were able to do what we love for forty years. And that song played a crucial role in our career. It’s pretty incredible.

Also unbelievable that you created the melody of “Take On Me” on the synthesizer at the age of 15.

I didn’t know what I was doing. But I did. The truth is that “Take On Me” has contributions from everyone, but it went through various stages before it was recorded and became an a-ha single. So yeah, the lifespan of this song and the way it came to be is pretty unique. But we’ve put out ten albums over the years and every song you write feels like you’re giving birth to a child and you want that child to grow up happy and connected and have hits. Sometimes you feel a bit sad because of the songs that didn’t get that much attention. But you’re obviously very proud that you’ve spoken to so many people over so many years.


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