March 13, 2023 Interview – Magne Furuholmen of a-ha
Nearly everyone, no matter their age, knows and loves the ’80s Pop hit “Take on Me.” One of the decade’s most beloved tracks that still permeates popular culture in film, television, as well as simple trips to the grocery store, everyone knows the song… but how keen are they on the band behind the track, a-ha? Out of Norway, a-ha is a far more in-depth band than the average listener might know. Attaining success with their 1985 debut album Hunting High and Low, beyond this, a-ha has consistently showcased a sound that is rather thoughtful, but also quite sophisticated.
Sustaining themselves, even amidst hiatuses, a-ha’s latest active stretch launched in 2014, and in late 2022 they offered fans their cinematic album True North. A beautiful collection of songs, True North is perhaps the band’s most ambitious effort to date; plus, it also includes a multidimensional film portraying life in the North, but also documents the band recording of music over two days in Bodø, Norway. Unique in many ways, co-founding member and key songwriter, Magne Furuholmen, recently sat down to chat about the history of a-ha, their progression as a band, the work behind True North, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – a-ha has sustained nearly four decades as a band. Achieving a mass of international success back in the ‘80s, the band has continued to grow and produce beautiful music since. First, tell us, how would you describe your and a-ha’s incredible journey in music?
Magne Furuholmen – Well, we started out very unified in the ’80s with concerted group effort producing the first 3-4 albums, and gradually became more individualized in the way we make music for a-ha. It has been an incredible journey with highs and lows, but throughout it all with a lot of support from dedicated fans. In the later years we have also experienced very touching support from a lot of artists who grew up with our music. It is really incredible to see that we have achieved the longevity that we ourselves hoped for, and which we were at some point afraid we would not.
Cryptic Rock – It is fantastic to see that all these decades later the band is still going and putting out new music. a-ha has gone through several hiatuses through the years. It is always a challenge to have all creative forces on the space page as time goes by. That said, when the band partook in the farewell tour in 2010, many thought that was the end. What inevitably led the band back together and continue like you have?
Magne Furuholmen – We decided to end it in 2010 as a kind of high-spirited farewell. Since then the majority in the band shifted to wanting to come back with more. This seems to have been a kind of a-ha model over the years; creative periods together followed by hiatuses, then more work together. I personally did not see a reunion on the horizon post 2010, but I do not regret changing my mind – as long as I feel the music made warrants a place in our legacy, I am happy to have done it.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, and a-ha’s return in 2014 came as a surprise to many. Since a-ha returned again in 2014, the band has released two studio albums and toured extensively. Which leads us to the band’s latest album, 2022’s True North. You have mentioned how this album was clearly inspired by the environment and nature. What was the writing and recording process like?
Magne Furuholmen – This album was made during the pandemic lockdown, and so it was happening in two very separate camps; Paul in LA, and Morten and myself in Norway. Half the album is written and produced by Paul, the other half written and produced by me, with very little communication between us in the process. As a result, the album is definitely a two-headed beast. It is not for me to speculate, but perhaps this creates an interesting contrast rather than a forced cohesiveness. In any case there really was no other viable way at this point in time.
Cryptic Rock – It is interesting how you worked separately and remotely that way. Either way, the contrast works and it is a very beautiful, pleasant record to listen to. One of the most distinctive aspects of this album is the subtle textures which sound really amazing. As a songwriter and recording artist, how important are these aspects to yourself and the rest of the band?
Magne Furuholmen – A lot of texture comes from the orchestral element, which was an early choice within the concept of making a film consisting of a performance of new material as opposed to a regular studio album. In addition, this is kind of the first album produced completely by us a-ha members; which means there is a direct line from demos to finished master. A self-produced album in the ’80s would of course have sounded different – we are all different people with different orientation today, but at least in my book there are clear elements of what constitutes an a-ha sound/record captured on the album.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, and again, regardless of the different ideas as individuals, the music is still quite cohesive within True North. a-ha has sustained a large international following. That in mind, you had mentioned to me that there were certain aspects that were out of the band’s character during the ‘80s; which inevitably may have muted the band’s further success in North America. Can you reflect on that?
Magne Furuholmen – It is difficult to say what could have been different, but we were eager to move on musically on the second album and to not be pigeonholed as pure Pop, so I would guess the move from “Take on Me” to “Scoundrel Days” was a bit of a shock to our record company in America. Add to that the fact that we were being ‘protected’ by a management who decided not to add a lot of promos and meet-and-greets with local radio-people, etc. on our extensive first tour of America. I think maybe this made us come across as not being very respectful towards the people who put us at number one. In truth, it was mostly about surviving a rather grueling world tour, and not knowing the impact these decisions would have.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting to hear. When a-ha did the farewell tour in 2010, you came to North America and there was amazing fanfare. Looking back on that over a decade later, how did that feel to see after all those years American fans still yearned for and loved a-ha?
Magne Furuholmen – We have always missed our American fans and have been frustrated to not include America in our tours. The same goes for some other places, most notably Italy, where fans have been lobbying for us to come back, thinking we were reluctant to. We personally have always wanted to include the countries often excluded – America and Italy in particular which are places we loved to perform in, but every time an agent sets up a proposal for a tour, there is a format for the tour that makes sense. As we moved on to arenas or stadiums, no agents in US or Italy would dare to book us, in fear of not selling enough tickets, and this is the real reason why we came so seldom.
Cryptic Rock – That is unfortunate, but regions like North America have fond memories of your visits through the years. With True North out now, can we expect more touring in support of the album? Moreover, can we expect some new North American dates?
Magne Furuholmen – It is a difficult time for us to make plans. Personally, I would have loved to tour True North, but this is of course not only up to me.
Cryptic Rock – Well, let us hope something does transpire as the album is still very new and deserves a proper tour. You come across as someone who simply loves music in general. What are some of your personal musical influences?
Magne Furuholmen – My musical influences span widely from the amazing 1960s stuff I listened to as a young man, like The Doors, Beatles, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Nick Drake. In fact, most of that entire period into the formative early ’80s of Soft Cell, Echo & the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, etc. And then to important influences discovered along the way, like Jeff Buckley, Beck (Sea Change from 2002), Radiohead, Damien Rice, and many more. Through my kids I have also discovered a great deal of contemporary music, and I’d have to throw Classical music in as a source of great inspiration along the way…so yeah, many forgotten here and too many to mention them all, but music is pretty much my favorite language.
Cryptic Rock – Music is the universal language of the world and what unites us. We are living in extremely odd times. So much can be said, but let’s talk about how music is being consumed. We have seen CDs all but disappear, and the only physical format we see released of music is on LP and cassette for the real dedicated listeners. This is honestly troubling because how can someone truly appreciate art without the tangible piece in their hands; the artwork is part of it all, etc. In our opinion, this detachment from understanding the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into creating with the advent of streaming, etc.… is a reflection of the modern world as a whole. As someone who obviously has devoted their life to art, what are your thoughts?
Magne Furuholmen – You try to move with the time. For me, the process itself has not changed much; I pick up a guitar, sit down by a piano, or get inspired by the atmosphere of a synth-sound, and then try to make something beautiful that was not there the day before. I miss the era of albums and vinyl artwork, but that is nostalgia talking. There are always pros and cons for different time periods. The digital availability of music has made more things accessible, but ironically and paradoxically made it harder to hide stuff; as the same things are pushed into everyone’s face all the time. Although, as an artist working both in music and visual art, I feel lucky to be able to try and make interstices of music and artwork in my own little way, so no complaints.
Jo skinnerPosted at 11:05h, 17 March
a-ha have been my go to band from the age of 13 going to see them live at the royal Albert hall 1986 new years eve saw the new year in with them. a memory that will stay with me forever. really good gig
john keenanPosted at 16:30h, 17 March
been a fan since aged 8, i loved all the singles from hunting high and low but the song that sealed my love affair and a lifelong fan the song “here I stand and face the rain” the song still does the same exact feeling to me as it did the first time i heard it all those years ago
D'arpa alexandrePosted at 11:08h, 22 March
i surely not the most talented, study and good singer and musician, but i think i am the one who posted the more covers of a-ha songs on youtube 🙂
if i had to answer which are the bands i like and inspired me, i would say exactly like Mags said, except i would ad a-ha 😀
Laurita RavenePosted at 12:02h, 22 March
I’m a huge fan of the band since the beginning. They created so much stuff through all the years, they deserve to be more known as artists. I will continue see them on stage here in France because that’s when the emotion is strongest in musical terms.
Alastair AndrewPosted at 13:54h, 22 March
My only band ! Been there from the start:)
Creative , musical and responsible !
Don’t stop boys !
Carina LongoPosted at 19:14h, 22 March
What a beautifull band. Love all the albums. We need a True North tour as soon as posible.