Magne Furuholmen: “Music is what holds a-ha together”

Magne Furuholmen: “Music is what holds a-ha together”

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Forty years later, the Norwegian trio still has a sense of melody, even if the harmony is no longer what it was. Interview with Magne Furuholmen before her concert this Friday.

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

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

A few hours before a-ha took the stage at Stravinsky, we met Magne. The future sexagenarian was the only one of the three to want to talk about his career. And that’s good, he’s always been our favorite.

You have already come to Montreux with a-ha, it was in 1986 during the Montreux Rock Festival. You remember?

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

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

The pandemic having made it impossible to travel, we wondered what to do. All tours were canceled and people couldn’t travel. So we thought it would be nice to send a kind 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 get older. It was therefore chosen as a kind 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 care for it. And it’s kind of a tribute 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 that’s where Pål lives. The other half was made in Norway. So it’s very different from what it was in the 80s, where we lived together, we recorded together, we ate together, we didn’t sleep together, well sort of yes, since it was in the same room . Today, we’re still trying to make beautiful music as best we can, but in very different situations. Things have changed, except everyone’s ambition to leave something beautiful behind.

Did you want to carry out a project as important and personal as “True North” because it may be your last all together?

I already thought that the previous album would be our last. So this one is kind of a bonus. It’s always the same with a-ha. I think music is what keeps us all together. It’s our legacy as a-ha. We all make music separately, individually, so we’re all different people today compared to forty years ago. But I think we always communicate better when we have music to play, which is why we keep doing it.

Do you still have a band with Coldplay bassist?

It’s not really a band. 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 company. It was like kind of a safe space to be childish and creative and, 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 is 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 followed 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 to have had the opportunity to do what we love for forty years. And this song played a crucial role in our career. It’s quite incredible.

Incredible also the fact that you created the melody of “Take On Me” on the synth at the age of 15 years.

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 different stages until it was recorded and became an a-ha single. So yes, the lifespan of this song and the way it was created is quite unique. But we’ve put out ten albums over the years, and every song you write feels like you’re bringing a child into the world, and you want that child to grow up to be happy and connected and to have hit. Sometimes you feel a little sad for the songs that didn’t get so much attention. But you’re obviously very proud of the fact that they’ve spoken to so many people in so many years.


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