by Sabine Clement & Cindy Kandolf
“Autumn, 1977. Vollen, Asker. I get off the bus, carrying a bass guitar. That is how I meet Magne and Paul for the first time. My oh my, what is this? Carnaval? Two long-haired boys – or were they girls? – dressed like Jimi Hendrix, silk flower shirts, bell-bottom pants, moccassins, long scarves, handkerchiefs. Is this possible? I was catapulted back to the sixties.”
“But there were two things which drove me to those fellas. Homework, and dreams.”
“The only homework we did during high school was what we assigned ourselves – or more accurately, what Magne and Pål assigned one another. A new song for every practice. The result was a huge number of songs: ‘True for Love’, ‘The Endless Brigade’, and so on. The list is incredibly long. Songs about dreams. Songs as musical building blocks for what would later become a-ha.”
“There was always a woman behind the band, [Magne’s mother] Lise. With four rehearsals every week for four years, three teenaged boys not only moved into her house; they moved into her refrigerator. (laughter) She also had four children of her own. We weren’t given many responsibilities, but at one of the first practices, we were sent out to the potato field, about a quarter hectare.”
“Lise is a teacher, but she never asked us if we had done our homework. It was as though she understood that something big was happening.”
“About Paul, I will say this. He is great songwriter. He’s happier in his music than most other places. Artists are happiest in their art. Therefore it should come as no surprise that Pål was terrible at picking potatoes.” (laughter)
“Our most important concert took place at Asker Gymnasium in 1979. Unaware that a-ha would later play live at the Royal Albert Hall many times, and would perform for 198.000 paying spectators at Rio’s Maracaña Stadium – as far as I know, still a world record.”
“On the way to the concert, Terje Nokleby, Magne’s stepfather, played a tape recording of the previous weekend’s jam session. It sounded dreadful. We were in shock. Were we really that bad? We could not live with that. It became one of our best concerts ever. True enough, Paul had his back to the audience almost all through the performance.” (laughter)
“But, more importantly, among the audience in the hall was Morten Harket. Later on, he would try to describe what he felt when he heard Bridges play live for the first time. It proved to be impossible.”
“Knuslabruk (*), February 1980. After having played for friends and family, acquaintances and visitors, Magne and Paul had come to the conclusion that a record was the logical next step. At the time, we were 17 or 18 years old – time flies, we had to branch out. Magne had released singles on his own record label, but none of us had released an LP. That weekend, we made the first recordings for what would become our first album.”
“Morten tried his hand at an audition. He came to me at home and in a very clumsy way said that he had heard us play at Asker Gymnasium and was interested in the band. He didn’t make much of an impression on me or any of the others in the band. You have to believe in yourself. I still remember I thought: ‘Who does he think he is?’”
“Sometimes Pål and Magne’s genius could get out of hand, such as when they decided that our first album should have three sides instead of two, with a stop-groove in the middle of one side. It’s a good thing there were no CDs in 1980, since that wouldn’t have worked. Very clever, but highly impractical. There are probably many, among the few who own the album, who have never heard the last two songs.”
“Dovrehallen, some club at Oslo’s Storgate, in the spring of 1980. Two bands on the program, a punk band called Kjøtt (“Meat”) and Bridges. The punkers waltzed to Bridges’ music. We did not take that as a compliment.”
“A few days later, we received a phonecall from Ole Sørli, who worked with Polydor and other record companies. We were in shock. This would mean a record contract! Or so we thought. Instead, he produced two black and white pictures of two teenage girls with huge sunglasses, Ingrid og Benedikte – Dolly DeLuxe had just recorded their first album, and he asked if we wanted to be their backing band.”
“We left his office, infuriated. We’d been given one of their records and once we were out on the street again, we found out that it performed really well as a frisbee.”
“About Morten, I will say this. He was a pop star long before anyone outside of the youth club at Askertun or Asker Gymnas knew who he was. People ask if he became ‘like that’ because of his success, and the answer is very simple: he was always ‘like that.’”
“London, autumn 1984. A music publishing company, Lionheart, has just bought the rights to a-ha’s songs. A photographer is needed to capture this triumph and the signing of the contract. I happened to be in London, with my camera. My money was tight, and Magne suggested that I would take the job, for 50 pounds. More importantly: they would pay me cash. We drank the money up that same night.”
“October 9, 1985. The phone rings in the middle of the night. It is Magne, on a terrible telephone connection from London. “Viggo, you have to call VG’s Tusentipps (**) right now! We just became no. 1 in the US….and it will be made public soon!”
“That struck me: first, he orders me to call VG, and only then he tells me they are number 1?!?”
“The money arrived 14 days later, but already the next day, “a-ha no.1 in USA” covered the entire front page.”
“But, there is something else I have to say: Dagbladet had the same story, and we never found out who received the thousand NOK there! Maybe it was one of you?”
“About Magne, I will say this. It is well-known that you are multi-talented in music and visual art. But, it is a well-kept secret that you are also a shining poet.”
“One Friday morning, in the eighties, I had to hand in an essay the next day, written in nynorsk (***). We had a band rehearsal. Panic, there was no essay. Magne said that he happened to have an essay lying around which I could perhaps use, already checked by his teacher. I copied it and handed it in. I – or rather, Magne – got a six, and my teacher’s comment was: “Are you a poet?” Yes, Magne, you are a poet!”
“What is one of the key factors in a-ha’s success and a-ha’s genius? It is the sum of three strong personalities; of Morten, Magne and Paul.”
“The rest is history.”
“[Manager] Sverre Flatby has said it like this: “a-ha will never come to make their best record. But a-ha… Well, I believe in fairy tales, and so I will say: a-ha have not yet made their best album.”
(*) “Knuslabruk” – that would translate as “tiny farm” – is the name or, more likely, the nickname of the house where Magne’s family lived. “Bruk” in this sense describes a small farm, and “knusla” is an old-fashioned word meaning very small, so this would mean a very small small farm.
(**) VG’s Tusentipps: VG is a national tabloid paper in Norway. ‘Tusentipps’ is the name of their hotline for news tips from the public: if your story is deemed worthy of an article, VG may pay you up to 1000 NOK.
Both VG and Dagbladet are national tabloid papers in Norway.
(***) “Nynorsk”, one of the two written standards for Norwegian. The people who live in the Oslo area use “bokmål”. So Viggo not only has to write a sensible essay, he has to write it following rules that he doesn’t normally use.
Tags: Awards, Norway