From songwriting to white dwarfs, choosing the live set-list to working with Universal, Paul answers some of our questions during a short respite from promotion and concerts. Many fans are curious and would like to know: how are live set lists chosen?  Is that a decision the band makes or does management and the label have some input as well?

Paul: We never spend too much time going over the set-list; ideally we’d like to change it on every show we do, but our light-designer and sound-guy wouldn’t be too thrilled I think….

And of course it would mean even more lyrics to memorize 🙂

We’re not looking for input from label or management in this particular area, but a comment from a crew-member or a complete stranger for that matter can rediscover a song for us and we’ll put it in. What are your favorite songs to perform live?

Paul: I like the songs where I can sense a shift going through the audience…the songs where you know the crowd’s going to come out feeling different at the other end.

A lot of those numbers have tricky or delicate passages and you never know if it’ll happen or not.  Other songs are just fun to play because you like the sound on your guitar or whatever.

I loved screaming my head off on “Sycamore Leaves.” Some concert reviews in recent years have stated that a-ha does not interact much with the audience, and that there is little ‘connection’ there.  How would you respond to that assessment, do you think it is accurate?  What do you think creates a strong connection between the band and the audience?

Paul: That audience-interaction thing always seems fake and a bit too ‘rock-school’ to us.  We started playing live after punk and new wave hit. One of the first concerts I went to was with Echo and the Bunnymen in Oslo, who played in complete darkness, didn’t say a peep, but it was intense.

Everybody in that club got into their head-space and the usual chit-chat probably would’ve let the tension and build-up escape.

Anyway, I think Mags on a good day does a great job saying what needs to be said. On the German leg of the ‘Analogue’ tour, there were meet and greets arranged by MLK after every show.  It’s clear what the fan participants would value in something like that, but from a band perspective what do you come away with?  Meaning, is the experience worthwhile on both sides?  Will a-ha do more of these in the future?

Paul: Meets & greets and after-show parties are usually a nice way of ‘coming down’ after a concert.

The ‘Analogue’ tour was really meant to be a new way for us to promote the album; to avoid the usual string of interviews and lip-sync TV-shows that we’ve done for 20 years now.  Don’t know if this plan was properly communicated to our record-company though 🙂 Promotion in the UK is in full swing, and more concert dates have been announced for summer.  Will there be more singles after ‘Cosy Prisons’?  Any hint for us about what song might follow to the airwaves?

Paul: I would prefer ‘Cosy Prisons’ to be the last single from this album.  We might do a track for Amnesty and/or an isolated single this fall, but I’m really hoping to have a new album out in the beginning of next year.

Having a Top 10 with ‘Analogue’ in the UK was a kick and it made me realize that it’s a big part of a-ha’s make-up to get our songs on the radio…it’s where we started. Do you already have material written for the next a-ha album?  Due to the success of ‘Analogue’ in the UK, do you think the next album will see a broader release?

Paul: I’m trying to be a little better in putting aside songs that I think will work well with a-ha,
so yes; I do have things that I’m keen to try out for the next album.

It was a weird and a bit exhausting experience to record the last two CD’s for me (apart for the song ‘Analogue’…which couldn’t have been easier), and I want to make sure that we find a producer this time that I feel we have a real connection with. What do you think of the level of support you’ve received from Polydor and Universal?  Are they as eager as you are to begin work on a new album?

Paul: It’s healthy for the group in this stage of our career to be on a new company, and I know we can do very well together with the right album. Pictures of your home studio show that you are not only a guitar collector, but have numerous other instruments and quite a lot of equipment.  Can you tell a bit about your work space and your most prized instruments?

Paul: You got me there.  I love old guitars or any unusual instrument really…the lucky ones
bring you songs and it’s a built-in excuse I use to justify yet another purchase…’But Lauren, think of the huge hit I can write on this…’

When I got my son Augie I decided I wanted to be as close as possible.  So we spent a lot of time and effort to set up studios in our homes.  Every microphone or piece of gear I have, comes with its own history and mystery and I love ’em.

My main mixing-board is the first Api Legacy ever made from a studio here in New York that went belly up.  It was called Greene St Recording (where we did some ‘Memorial Beach and Savoy sessions).

I’ve never been on tour without coming home with some little thing: the last London trip brought a mini synth Stylophone 350s; from Chile, a weirdo shaker; Senegal, stomache virus. How many instruments would you say are in your collection?  Are you self-taught with all of them or have you had formal instruction?  What is the most unique/rare instrument you have?

Paul: I don’t know how many instruments I’ve got.  Probably too many.  And I have no formal training on any of ’em; but that’s part of the deal.

We always enjoyed working in studios that had a selection of instruments that we were unfamiliar with ‘cos it just brings out different things.

Lately I’ve found a few really old things that are designed for people with three hands and two brains (or so it seems); one’s called a Ukelin (half violin, half ukelele), another’s a marxaphone (think Disney score),  zither (the third man theme). What is your creative process for songwriting?  In the early days, you were said to write lyric ideas in a notebook whenever and wherever inspiration struck; is there still such a lyric notebook, or has your process changed over time?

Paul: I still remember the first song I wrote.

It was a piece of nothing written on a recorder (flute) when I was ten or eleven, and I loved the feeling it left me with…carrying it around in my head, adding the words, working it over, imagining what it could sound like…’til the initial rush started to wear out; then I’d look for a new one to repeat the kick it gave me.

I still write the same way I guess – a new one comes out when I’m sick of the last one 🙂

As long as the songs are coming I never question why or where or how they arrive; there can be ways to get yourself going but the main thing is to stay with it ’til the moment hits you. By all accounts music has been central to all of your lives from an early age.  Morten has said that he was absolutely certain that a-ha would make it big one day – failure was not even a consideration.  Did you hold that same confidence from the beginning?

Paul: We were always very confident that something had to happen sooner or later, just not sure exactly what…

Our music was changing so quickly in those days that if we got rejected by someone, we put it down to the fact that they hadn’t heard the latest tapes we were working on, which of course were immensely improved in our ears. What have been the top three career highlights for you in the past five years?

Paul: 1999/2000 was amazing; Savoy released ‘Mountains of Time’ to such a positive reception and 6 months later a-ha was welcomed back from their seven year nap by everyone (or so it seemed at least).

Getting back in the UK charts with ‘analogue’ is another. There is a poll on the Minor Earth Forum about a very important question: ‘Which corner is the white dwarf in?’  [a reference to the lyrics in ‘White Dwarf’:  ‘and in the left hand corner / perhaps a small white dwarf’]  Can you settle the debate for us, and say whether it is in the top left or bottom left?

Paul: That depends on what you’re drinking. Who would be on your list of top guitarists of all time?

Paul: Robbie Krieger, Robbie Robertson, Neil Young, George Harrison, Jonny Greenwood, etc etc etc.  Hendrix, of course, is on his own list all by himself. We’ve just learned about the small acoustic session a-ha will be doing on April 3. Is there a chance of an acoustic album release from a-ha?  What about a couple of acoustic B-sides on future single releases?

Paul: The acoustic sessions so far have been really fun to do; especially the ones in front of a small audience.  I’m sure we’d love to put out something more intimate like that either on CD or DVD in the near future.

It takes the headache out of everything.  The songs play themselves Magne contributed some lead vocals on ‘Summers of our Youth’ and some have said that the song would have been even better with lead vocal sections from all three of you.  So far you have not done any lead vocals on an a-ha album, would you consider doing that in the future?  The audience response to your lead vocals on ‘Sycamore Leaves’ during the Lifelines tour was thunderous; will we see more of you singing lead at live shows?

Paul: There’s no rules.  Whatever works, you know…We all three enjoy singing, but Morten’s the singer.

If the song needs some ‘croaking’…Mags and myself are ready to burn, dude 🙂

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