A-ha Talk Forthcoming Album ‘True North,’ Songwriting, and Revisiting 1985 Debut ‘Hunting High and Low’ with Worldwide Tour

A-ha (l to r) Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, Morten Harket, and Magne Furuholmen (Photo: Stian Andersen)

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“Hello New York, remember us?” asked A-ha keyboardist Magne Furuholmen to the sold-out crowd at Radio City Music Hall on April 12, 2022. “We started the tour two years ago before the world went to shit.” In 2020, the band kicked off a worldwide tour celebrating the 35th anniversary of their debut Hunting High and Low, before live performance and everything around the pandemic shut down. Playing Radio City again was a particular full-circle moment for A-ha since it was the second time the band performed at the New York City venue since Oct. 11, 1986, then amid the flurry around the first album and their still-detonating mega-hit “Take On Me.”

“Thirty-six years,” said singer Morten Harket during the show, reflecting on the last time the band played the venue and their return to the sold-out hall. “How does it make me feel? Appreciated.”

Guitarist Paul (Pål) Waaktaar-Savoy, admits that the memory of that 1986 show is a bit of a fog. “My memory is pretty blurry,” laughs Waaktaar-Savoy, “but I do recall the chaotic and electric atmosphere.” He adds, “They had closed off the side street, and it was jam-packed with fans. Coming from Norway, we couldn’t believe we were playing such an iconic venue on our very first tour.”

Though, the mostly sold-out tour, which kicked off again in South America in March 2022 and the U.S. in April and will continue on through Europe and Brazil before closing at The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on July 31, is a celebration of the first album, A-ha’s extensive catalog was also incorporated in the 18-song set. Opening on the bluesier “Sycamore Leaves,” off the band’s 1990 album East of the Sun, West of the Moon and an elevating “Swing of Things” (Scoundrel Days), the entirety of Hunting, from “Train of Thought,” and “Living a Boy’s Adventure Tale,” to “The Sun Always Shines on T.V.,” and the encore “Take on Me“—the latter rotoscoped video, directed by Steve Barron, famously reaching a record-breaking one billion (now nearly 1.5 billion) views on YouTube around its 35th anniversary in 2020—was sprinkled in (in no particular order) between the brooding ”Scoundrel Days,” the band’s cover of Carole King’s “Crying in the Rain,” and their 1987 007 theme song “The Living Daylights,” prompting Furuholmen to conduct the nearly 6,000-capacity audience into singing the chorus.

A-ha backstage in Sydney, Hunting High and Low Tour (Photo: Stian Andersen)

“We’ve re-scheduled these shows two or three times already, so it’s been great to finally get to go,” adds Waaktaar-Savoy, who now lives in Los Angeles after moving from New York City, of the tour. “The reception has been wonderful. You can really sense that we have a long-standing relationship with the people that come out to see us play.”

Earlier in the show, the band was eager to introduce two new songs, “Forest For The Trees” and “You Have What It Takes,” off their upcoming 11th album True North, due out fall of 2022. “With so many older songs on the setlist,” says Waaktaar-Savoy, “it felt pressing to introduce some new ones as well.”

Recorded in the small town of Bodø in northern Norway, the band cut the 12 tracks for True North at the end of 2021, in addition to a film to accompany the album—some scenes set as the backdrop on the current tour. Adding more orchestration to the arrangements of the songs on True North, a follow-up to A-ha’s 2015 release Cast in Steel, the band also enlisted The Arctic Philharmonic, on the album, partly following suit with the band’s 2017 MTV Unplugged gig.

“The concept was to capture as much as we could in a live performance and we gave ourselves two weeks to get it all on tape,” says Waaktaar-Savoy. “We had a 35-piece orchestra to fill out the sound and that became a big part of the production as many of the hooks and lines we’d usually play with a synth or a guitar would now be placed with the orchestra.”

A-ha on the second of three nights at The Wiltern in Los Angeles, April 8, 2022 (Photo: Stian Andersen)

Constantly writing, Waaktaar-Savoy, who has always been the principal songwriter within A-ha, said the songs of True North, which also include another half Furuholmen pulled from his solo catalog, including “You Have What It Takes,” are all new.

“I continuously work on new material but often without knowing exactly where each song will end up,” jokes Waaktaar-Savoy. “When this album opportunity came around I looked for stuff that would first of all suit Morten’s voice, and also something that he would be into singing.”

Balanced by a mix of other themes, the natural landscape of Bodø, just north of the Arctic Circle, did impart some majestic elements around the visuals and songs of True North with lyrics I don’t live in a time / Where the truth prevails / Things just seem to happen / On an escalating scale / They play you for a fool / To weaken your resolve / Drowning you in details / To make you miss the whole on the penetrating “Forest For The Trees.”

“Bodø, is a stunningly beautiful place with amazing surroundings, but in spite of having written my share of nature-driven songs through the years, none of my songs here has this as a topic or inspiration,” says Waaktaar-Savoy. “They poke their heads in other directions.”

Photo: Stian Andersen

Starting to write in his teens, along with Furuholmen and their band Bridges beginning in the late ’70s, and outside of A-ha with his wife Lauren in the band Savoy, songwriting still borders on an obsession for Waaktaar-Savoy. “I’m still addicted to that great feeling you get when you can sense a new tune coming through,” he says. “To unravel the mystery of what the lyrics should be about, what type of arrangement would be cool… that rush is still the main driving force.”

He adds “I have tried numerous times to invent new ways to go about the way I write, to shake things up, and that can be good for a while but I tend to drift back to where I started, with just an acoustic guitar or a piano. It’s easier to see the different places it can go when it’s that open and neutral.”

The one thing Waaktaar-Savoy tries not to be when writing: a critic. It’s a blueprint that has worked for him for more than three decades, and one that helped him complete A-ha’s 1985 hit “The Sun Always Shines on T.V..”

“I’ve seen so many times that a great bit can come out of a so-so piece,” he says. “The chorus on ‘The Sun Always Shines On T.V.’ was written as a last-minute middle-8 on a song I was working on called ‘Never Never.’ Putting bits of songs together that come from different places often provides a great lift or adds a dimension you wouldn’t have stumbled upon otherwise.”

A-ha in Oslo, Hunting High and Low Tour (Photo: Stian Andersen)

Continuing on the worldwide tour, Waaktaar-Savoy, Harket, and Furuholmen are absorbing this chapter of A-ha, while always revisiting their past, now 40 years since the band first formed in 1982, some of which is chronicled in the 2021 documentary, a-ha: The Movie, directed by Thomas Robsahm. The film offers a glimpse into the band’s history, from growing up in Norway and moving to the U.K. in 1983 to life after Hunting High and Low.

“It feels good to play the old songs,” says Waaktaar-Savoy. “They don’t feel that old to us, actually—most of them, anyway. They have a certain mood to them, and that’s apparent from the first chord you hit, and you just go along with that. All our best music has that atmospheric side to it.”

Once the tour closes, True North will begin to open, but there’s no clear directive for A-ha beyond releasing the new music. “For now we’ll just try to enjoy the heck out of this tour while looking forward to releasing new music,” says Waaktaar-Savoy, “and then take it from there.”

Working on a solo debut for release later this year, Waaktaar-Savoy is always welcoming something new. “Writing for other artists could also be tempting as well as doing music for films,” he says. “Time will tell, as it always does.”

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A-ha Hunting High and Low 2022 Tour Dates

10 June: Over Oslo Festivalen, Oslo, Norway
11 June: Over Oslo Festivalen, Oslo, Norway
15 June: Bergenfest, Bergen, Norway
17 June: Idyllfestivalen, Fredrikstad, Norway
18 June: Bryggebyen, Arendal, Norway
25 June: Rock in Rio Lisboa Festival, Lisbon, Portugal
27 June: Festival Jardins Pedralbes, Barcelona, Spain
29 June: Théâtre de Verdure, Nice, France
1 July: Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland
3 July: Scarborough Open Air Theatre, Scarborough, UK
5 July: Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, UK
8 July: Stavernfestivalen, Larvik, Norway
13 July: Classic Hall, Recife, Brazil
15 July: Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, Brazil
18 July: Espaço das Americas, São Paulo, Brazil
19 July: Espaço das Americas, São Paulo, Brazil
21 July: QualiStage, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
22 July: Expominas Arena, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
25 July: Athletico Paranaense, Curitiba, Brazil
29 July: Oxbow RiverStage, Napa, CA
31 July: The Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles

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