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Alive [Live]
by Pearl Jam
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A-Ha
Feb 2003

"Comebacks from the 80's, including our own, are the last thing anybody needs", says a dead serious Magne Furuholmen. "And nonetheless I'm happy that our comeback was so successful", he laughs a moment later. "When the idea of recording MINOR EARTH MAJOR SKY (2000) came up, I hesitated at first. I just couldn't imagine that I would enjoy being a pop musician again." While Pal Waaktaar-Savoy with his band Savoy and singer Morten Harket with his solo albums kept on the ball in the music scene after A-HA split up, the keyboarder of one of the most successful bands of the '80's had already withdrawn in 1993 - right after the concerts for the MEMORIAL BEACH album (1993). Instead he dedicated himself almost exclusively to painting. However the artist never completely let his musical talent whither away by composing and releasing several soundtracks under the pseudonym Timbersound.

The overwhelming success of the 2000 album, and especially the triumphant comeback tour for enthusiastic fans, gave the initially only carefully optimistic trio so much impetus that even Furuholmen again succumbed to the spell of pop music. "When we left the stage at the Sporthalle in Hamburg after our first big performance in over six years, it was an unbelievable feeling. For the first time since A-HA existed, we did not just feel like the means to an end of giving our fans a good time, but finally we had a great time ourselves," Magne remembers and is still enthusiastic. "The rest of the tour was euphoria. The venues were sold out almost every night, the audience loved us, our old and most of all our new songs. We enjoyed it immensely. All of a sudden I could hardly wait to finally start writing genuine pop songs and arrived home more inspired than I ever had before."

"Another great thing about our reunion is that as a songwriter I have discovered new talents and sides of myself. This way I not only had more self-confidence in writing lyrics, but also found a new writing partner during our work on LIFELINES (2002). We've been together a long time and still this was the first time that I collaborated with Morten on composing. It was great to see that after all of this time we could really still surprise each other and that our different influences and preferences, that had developed during the years we were apart, complemented each other."

The trio took a new path for recording the album. "We used to have a problem finding the right producer," recalls Waaktaar-Savoy, who has lived in Manhattan for years now. "The people who wanted to work with us were only interested because they liked what we had done in the past. The ones that were our favorites and with whom we would have liked to try out new things thought our old albums were awful." Magne laughs:"There actually was a time in which it really wasn't hip to like A-HA and it was even less cool to work with us. That was a dilemma from which we could fortunately free ourselves."

On the other hand, the band had to deal with a new, and very pleasant, problem. "Lots of the producers that we had taken under consideration were very keen about the idea of working with us," adds Paul happily. "Also there was the one or other sound person that approached us on their own and whose previous work impressed us. We sent demos of some songs to these people and got unbelievable feedback. We heard so many interesting ideas for our material that at some point we thought: why don't we try them all out?"

Thus the album originated not only in New York and Oslo, but equally in Stockholm and London. It was produced by established names like the team of Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley (Madness, Elvis Costello, Morrissey) or Stephen Hague (New Order, Blur, Pet Shop Boys), as well as up-and-coming new names like the Swede Naid, whom Magne brought in. He is considered to be the legitimate successor of William Orbit as far as his reputation as one of the hottest club producers goes. Furthermore Paul's personal choice, the Tindersticks sound engineer Ian Caple, as well as the Cardigans producer Tore Johansson, were at the board to make the CD what it is: the perfect and integral synthesis of well-known A-HA elements with modern sounds and state-of-the-art studio technique.

It is obvious when hearing the compositions on LIFELINES (2002) in all of their diversity that the newly-found enthusiasm, together with the band's current mania for work, has yielded ripe fruits. The energy-loaded "Did Anyone Approach You" or "You Wanted More", as well as the extremely catchy and nonetheless sensitive single "Forever Not Yours" show the group's more danceable side, while the epic-like arrangement of the title track is new proof of Morten's absolutely exceptional talent. One can simply not get down to work with more emotion than this. Whether it is the majestic "Time And Again", "Afternoon High", influenced by their idols The Beatles, the intensive ballad "Solace" with its strings, the powerful rock track "Cannot Hide" or "Turn The Lights Down" (Harket's wonderful duet with Anneli Drecker): in the 21st year of their existence A-HA are at the pinnacle of their creativity.

"All three of us did composing and this time we had enough songs for at least two good records," reports Paul. "Each of us of course wanted to have his own compositions on the CD and so we had to discuss it with each other for a long time and really fought". In the end, nearly 20 tracks were chosen, many of these in turn with very different producers. "That was expensive and strenuous, " the blond musician admits. "But this way we really have created a very multi-faceted album. We surely will not work like this again, the procedure was just too stressful. But for this time around it was precisely the right way. And through this experience we have been able to learn a lot for our next album."

"We really wrestled with each other about the songs and the various versions," adds Magne. "Sure I'm sad that a couple of my tracks and ideas did not make their way onto LIFELINES, but the other two guys feel the same way. At the end of the day I'm extremely happy with the album and realize that we made the right decisions. There just isn't an easy way to go in this band: it's a constant struggle. That partially drives us crazy and sometimes leads to tension, but it always makes us give our best." LIFELINES is the best example of this thesis.

A-Ha - History

With their very first single "Take On Me" they wrote rock history and shaped the charts like scarcely any other band of the 80's. After an unprecedented comeback two years ago, not only the fans from way-back-when, but also a whole generation of new fans are now eagerly awaiting the new album. The Norwegian trio A-HA is indisputably one of the biggest phenomena in pop music.

At the ages of 10 and 12 respectively, Magne Furuholmen and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, in their hometown of Asker (near Oslo), dreamed of following in the footsteps of their idols, The Beatles. A little later they actually did start making music, formed their first school bands and together and separately accumulated a lot of experience. Just as they were coming of age, they met again in their first semi-professional band. With Bridges, as the project was called, they even released an album with their own compositions. But Magne and Paul wanted more than just playing in pubs and schools. So they asked the local vocal talent Morten Harket to come to London with them to try his luck at becoming a pop star. But he wasn't interested...

After half-a-year full of setbacks and sacrifices in the British capital, the duo returned home - disappointed, but not defeated. Back in Oslo they tried everything to convince Harket to join them. Due to their insistence - and not least because of the duo's promising songs - he gave in. As a complete group they moved back to England at last and found a label there and their first fans. For the next twelve years A-HA lived in London and their wildest dreams came true.

After hearing it once, every radio listener at the time recognized A-HA's first single within seconds. The melody wasn't easy to whistle, but bored its way deep into their ears. In the USA the TV stations flipped out when they saw the revolutionary video clip. MTV played the clip around the clock until the nice band from Norway reached the "pole position" of the Billboard charts. Following this success "Take On Me" went on to become an international hit in a very short time and A-HA's debut album HUNTING HIGH AND LOW developed into a global mega-seller. Only in their new home England, of all places, the single didn't reach the top position and peaked in November 1985 at #2. It was only with the next release, "The Sun Always Shines On TV", with its epic arrangement and record-breaking video, which the British Isles laid at their feet.

The trio's overwhelming success was continued with the next album SCOUNDREL DAYS, which was already released in October 1986. Musically and in regards to compositions the band took a considerable step forward. New tracks like "Cry Wolf", "Manhattan Skyline" and "I've Been Losing You", which were less heavy on synthesizers and mainly recorded with live musicians, had even those critics singing their praise, who had had mixed reactions to the first album.

Following the colossal success of their first world tour, the producer of the James Bond films invited A-HA to perform the theme song, composed by Paul and the legendary soundtrack genius John Barry, in the latest 007 adventure "The Living Daylight". In 1988 STAY ON THESE ROADS was released, presenting a more mature, but still hit-making act. "The Blood That Moves The Body" and "Touchy" effortlessly joined the parade of songs written by Waaktaar-Savoy & Co, that would still be popular years later.

With the grand Everly Brothers track "Crying In The Rain", the band opened a new album with a cover version for the first time. EAST OF THE SUN, WEST OF THE MOON was another international success in 1990 and advanced the band to new heights, especially in South America. Shortly after the release of the second single, "I Call Your Name", the Norwegians played for over 200,000 ecstatic fans as headliner for the "Rock In Rio" festival.

In 1991 with HEADLINES AND DEADLINES the band released a collection of their biggest hits to date. This included the brand-new track "Move To Memphis" that re-appeared two years later on the critically acclaimed MEMORIAL BEACH. Major changes in the pop market, hot new sounds on radio and TV like alternative rock, hip-hop and the worldwide dance explosion lead to the album not achieving the usual results, although it had lots of atmosphere and included the beautiful singles "Dark Is The Night For All" and "Angel In The Snow". Harket, Waaktaar-Savoy and Furuholmen decided to put A-HA on ice for the time being. They dedicated their time to their families and their individual projects. While Magne and Morten moved back to Norway, Paul settled in New York.

At the Nobel Prize Award Presentation on December 11, 1998, the musicians performed in Oslo for the first time in over four years. They got along very well with each other and, meeting in Paul's new home, they decided to get together again. In 2000, seven years after MEMORIAL BEACH, A-HA was finally back with new songs. With MINOR EARTH MAJOR SKY the band delivered a 13-track stroke of genius. As if the years of absence had never been, gold and platinum certifications and charts positions showered on the singles "Summer Moved On", "Minor Earth Major Sky" and "Velvet", as well as for the album. Sold-out tours of Germany and Japan were followed by triumphant headline slots at various European festivals (e.g. the gigantic "Rock am Ring"/"Rock am Park" shows in Germany) in the summer of 2001. Their comeback was not only a success, A-HA were back on top in one blow.

Inspired by this success the Norwegians went even further with LIFELINES (2002). The advance single "Forever Not Yours", with a modern production by Stephen Hague (New Order, Blur, among others) and a characteristically melancholy melody is just a little taste of the freshest, and yet most mature and multifaceted A-HA ever.



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