Thanks to the efforts of convention guest Chris Fournier, we have a lot of videos to share from the a-ha fan convention. Below is a playlist including 11 short clips from Terry Slater’s Q&A on October 25, as well as a transcript. More material from the convention will follow!
Nicola: My question goes back to the early days. Given your tremendous experience in the music business and the number of acts you have worked with, you must have had loads of up and coming bands approaching you wanting you to help them.
So I am interested to know, what was it about a-ha that struck a chord with you that made you really want to work with them, what was the special thing? And what are your memories about that time with a-ha?
Terry: When one is in the music business, the most important thing is the music. When I first met Mags and Morten and Paul, they had some demos and they showed real promise. I was really excited and I thought that eventually they would write hit songs. When I met them, the songs were so-so [laughs], but they had promise. So that was very exciting for me. And I actually only met them just once and I said ‘Go away and write some more songs,’ which they did. I was doing some work in America at the time, going from England to America. I came back and they had some extra songs which they brought to me and immediately I just knew they were going to be successful. So what attracted me to a-ha was their songs, they were exceptionally good writers for such a young age. And that is the answer why I was attracted to them.
Thomas: I’ve heard, I don’t know if it is true, but I heard that the video for ‘Take On Me’ – that you gave your own money to produce it, because you believed that this would become a hit. Is this true?
Terry: That’s not true at all. The record company paid for the video, as they normally would. We happened to be extremely lucky to be working with the exceptional director Steve Barron, and other people. And the video turned out to be iconic, that happened and we were blessed with that. But no, it was just the normal amount of money that was spent.
Paula: I’m going back to the early days, and thinking about the image of a-ha at the time. They maybe had some difficulty shrugging off that dreaded ‘boy band’ tag that seemed to be attached to them. Did you feel that there was any other way you could have presented a-ha to the market, or was the music industry at the time really pushing for this poster boy image for a-ha?
Terry: I don’t like that term ‘boy band’ or whatever. They were just really cool guys with great music. Maybe you see it differently, that they pushed the boy band image, I never saw it like that. I just saw them as serious musicians, they happened to be nice looking guys, but then most pop groups or bands of that era – usually the guys were nice looking anyway. I don’t think they were promoted as a boy band, no.
Christina: Why did a-ha decide to split up after 1994, could you give us any information about why this break up happened?
Terry: It is interesting, given the history of rock and roll. In a way is what I term ‘a natural evolution’. Because it’s like a marriage. Some people are married for one year, two years, five years, and some for life. But usually in the music business, I mean you tell me, how many bands ever stay together without some break, at some time [...] There’s nothing wrong in that, it is a natural evolution.
The most important thing to me is that it is really nice that even when groups break up for a while and do solo projects, they may remain friends, and it is a natural evolution.
It’s important that you know this, for every group, for every artist, that when their career starts, there are enormous demands put on the artist. We see them on TV and hear the records and think ‘That’s it.’ But the life of an artist or a musical group is extremely difficult and very demanding. On the first point, they are human beings, they have families, they’re married, they have children, whatever. But when you sign with a record company, the record company makes enormous demands on you.
With a-ha, when their first record happened, it happened in 30-40 countries. So you have got to imagine that you’ve got 30-40 record companies – it’s the same record company but their offices are in these 40-50 countries – and they all want a-ha tomorrow morning at 9:00. It’s crazy. There is all this planning, where the boys have to be flown around the world. They get off the plane and there isn’t any just sitting around, when they arrive there are record company people there, and they grab you and pull you here and there. You have to go do interviews on the radio and television shows, and you do interviews, interviews, interviews. And this is before you start touring, this is called promotion – that can be just one morning, and then at 2:00 in the afternoon you’re on a plane to another city or another country, and you do the same thing again. And this builds up enormous tension.
At first there is a lot of adrenaline, because everybody is excited. But after a while it really drags you down. It’s really important to keep healthy and to be focused, and you need a lot of luck. It’s not an easy business, it’s very, very difficult.
With a-ha I think they did remarkably well, to have stayed together for so long.
Dave: I don’t know what a manager does for a band, so could you describe or be more specific about your job duties were with a-ha?
Terry: The role of the manager is quite important. The manager’s job is to have a vision for where this group is going to go. In this case, I was lucky to be working with some major bands, and I knew what to do.
The objective for a manager is to keep the group together as best as possible in terms of friendship, to hopefully make the right decisions for them in terms of: should they tour now or tour later. The manager would, with the record company and with the artist – you’ve gotta pick the right producers for the record you’re going to make, pick the right directors who are making your videos. And when it comes time to tour, it’s the manager’s job to get the most proficient promoter so everything goes safely and smoothly. And then when you are going to these 30-40 countries, you need – in my case I had done it before, so it was easier – but you have to make sure the group stays healthy, stays focused. The manager has to keep constant contact with the record companies because they are making enormous demands on us all the time. Sometimes you have to offend them and say no to certain requests, other times it’s ok.
It’s not easy being a manager. There is an old saying in the music business. When everything goes well, people say ‘Why do you need a manager?’ and when everything goes wrong, it’s the manager’s fault. It’s hard to win.
Helen: I’ve noticed that the band has dedicated two songs to you. Morten dedicated a song to you last night, and the band dedicated a song to you on the final tour. They see you as very much a part of the band, and they have a very special relationship with you. Could you talk a little bit about your special relationship with the band, and Morten in particular?
Terry: The relationship is born and grows along the lines of history we have been discussing. Now I have been with the boys for 30 years, that’s a long time. And you grow as a family. And you get to know each other, and you love each other – which we all do – we argue – which we all do. And you embrace the good times, which we all had. It’s a special relationship. I feel very privileged that after 30 years firstly that I am still alive [laughs]. But it is nice to know that with Magne and Paul and Morten, that they are there as people I love. I have a lot to thank them for.
You have to realize that for me that’s a big chunk of my life that I’ve been with a-ha. It wasn’t just being a manager. I have spent most of my adult life working with a-ha. We’ve grown up as a family. I know they love me as much as I love them, and that’s about it. There is no favoritism, there is nothing else, just four people that were brought together by various circumstances and we’ve enjoyed good health and success for the last 30 years.
Nicola: As you were saying, you have a very long relationship with a-ha. You must have some fantastic stories. I am just wondering if there is a particular standout moment that you could share with us?
Terry: To be honest, there are so many funny stories. When we all first started on the road together, just crazy things would happen. We’d miss flights, Paul would lose his passport, Magne would lose his wallet, Morten would arrive in the wrong country. Just crazy things. Many times I would sit at home with a glass of wine and think back on a lot of really funny things. I mean we have lost Morten for months sometimes. Mind you, he’s lost most of the time [laughs].
The great thing about a-ha is we are all individuals. Paul has his thinking and way of life and attitude, Magne has his thoughts and way of life, and Morten has his. We try to put all those differences aside when we are a group. When we are a-ha and Terry Slater, and we do things. But apart from that, yeah everybody’s got their own thing. They really are funny guys.
Terry: What makes a-ha special, what makes any group special, is their material. It’s their music. Because people listen to the radio, they buy records. The basic fact of the industry is it’s about music, songs, not how somebody looks. How long can that last, 3 minutes? It’s crazy. If you take a-ha, they had an enormous amount of hits. I don’t need to tell you that, that’s why you’re here today, because of your love and respect for the band and all the material they’ve written. Their songs are really, really brilliant. And I don’t need to say that because we wouldn’t be here today, they wouldn’t have had this 30 year career if they hadn’t written good songs.
Would you go see a band that wrote rubbish songs? You wouldn’t even know about them, and you certainly wouldn’t go and see them. But at least when you go to see a-ha, and you’re waiting for those records to come out, they are all great songs. People always say bands fade and break up sometimes. People ask me why. I say well a lot of the time it’s when you stop writing hits. If you stop writing hits, it ain’t gonna happen for a while. With a-ha they had hit after hit after hit. They were writing wonderful material, that was directed at their public, who had grown up with them, like yourselves. And now it’s academic because their music is all around the world, everybody knows it. I am personally very proud of the songs they have written.
Ildiko: My question to you would be related to the music. You have been so long together with a-ha and you know their style. I would like to ask you, what do you think about their individual music projects?
Terry: To be honest, I respect that they have done their own individual projects, but it’s not something I really get into all the time. I know what Magne is doing, I understand what he is doing and I respect it. I understand what Paul is doing, the same. And I understand what Morten is doing. But I can’t say any more than that. Because I have no larger opinion than you would have. I support them as human beings, if they are doing something that’s really productive and giving them happiness and hopefully giving happiness to other people.
I just respect them for carrying on, they didn’t just play for a while and fall asleep. They are very, very active. And that means that they are also very, very clever and very productive, very active. They are unique and special like that, they are moving forward all the time. That was the secret of their success with a-ha. They were always going forward, always climbing the tree. So then they have a little break and they are doing their own thing. Fantastic.
Heather: I grew up raised on the Everly Brothers, all these great acts, and my first rock concert ever when I was 11 years old was a-ha. I see these changes throughout the music industry over the years, and to me I see a decline in talent. And as other people are saying, there is nothing like a-ha, nothing like the Everly Brothers. What is your professional opinion on the state of the music industry, on whether you think the talent is maybe declining.
Terry: Very good comment, very good question. In the younger days, there was more space for people to be creative, for song writers to write and to experiment. Also, in the 50s, 60s and 70s, the record companies – when they signed an act that they believed in, they were quite happy – like take Prince, Prince made 5 or 6 albums before it happened. So the record companies would be supportive of developing the talent that they had bought.
Now the problem we have today in my opinion is it’s too fast. A group is signed to a record company, they don’t even get a chance to make an album on the whole. If the first single doesn’t make it, they’re gone. Next please, next please. I don’t like the way the business is today necessarily, because great talent is lost because they’re not given the opportunity to develop and grow. Record companies won’t give the time or the money.
What I will say, the tragedy that is really happening is because the way the world is today, the music business, the speed that things operate, there is fantastic talent out there that will never make it. And that breaks my heart. I travel the world quite a bit even today, I go to different countries during the year, and I see the most wonderful talent and I know it will never ever make it, they will never get into a record company and if they did, they wouldn’t understand. It’s very sad, but that is the world that we live in. But that is obvious to everybody here. It’s a shame. We must develop talent, if we don’t develop talent, it’s never gonna happen.
Ari: The last thing you said is like an introduction to my question. I am working as a musician, as a vocalist, and I have a-ha as one of my inspirations. I was wondering if you have any specific advice as a manager, is there anything that you can see in a specific artist that shows this person is going to make it?
Terry: For me, that is a very easy question. And I have a very simple answer. We have an expression in the business, it’s called ‘ears’. Have you got good ears? I was born with good ears. When I was a kid I would sit by the radio and listen to the songs and the structure, and it’s just a God given gift. I can usually and honestly say that I know when I hear a hit.
When I signed Queen to EMI, nobody liked them. They wore painted finger nails and makeup and whatever. Everybody thought they were rubbish, but I looked through that, I listened to the songs. Listened to Freddie Mercury when he was writing ‘Killer Queen’. I always knew, I always believed. When I first met Kate Bush who was 14 years old and she gave me a song called ‘A man with a child in his eyes,’ I was like ‘Wow!’ and I instinctively knew. And I gave her like 500 pounds, well she was 14 so I gave it to her father. And she became Kate Bush. For me, I don’t have a problem with it, it’s always easy for me. I make mistakes like everybody else, but I wouldn’t be sitting here today if I wasn’t right most of the time.