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Wednesday 21 February 2024

Fan Q&A with Paul Waaktaar-Savoy - Part 2

As promised, we have the second part of Paul's fan Q&A to share with you. There are so many great questions here, thank you to all who sent one in! Without further ado, here is the rest of the Q&A.


Q: Savoy is a band based on bass, guitars and drums - a rich rhytmic section - but songs are very" orchestrated" with strings and winds, too. Do you mean to remain a studio band or in a future live and concert perspective do we have to expect to listen to a more acoustic and naked sound of your songs? (Annalisa Maurantonio)

A: Hi Annalisa
We have been a studio band from the get-go...even though the first album was easier to represent in a live setting.
Since there are only three of us, we can’t really try out different arrangements in a rehearsal setting so the songs are usually thought out in advance and put together bit by bit., one layer at a time.
Often we have to do a few different versions to get close.


Q: There’s a question I’ve been asking myself for years.
It’s about the song Minor Earth Major Sky.
It says in the booklet that you wrote the song together with Magne.
And I’d like to know which of you wrote the lyrics and who composed the music, also which of you has composed which part of the song? (Melvin Beck)

A: Hi Melvin
I wrote the lyrics but Magne had that cool title which I loved.
The chorus is mine and the verse is based on something Magne had cooking.


Q: How did living in Oslo, New York or L.A. Influence your compositions/lyrics?(Carlos Macia)

A: Hi Carlos
When we first came to London I thought everything sounded like fabulous lyrics :-) The first a-ha version of Take On Me was called Two Teas Please for crissakes ….overheard buying a sandwich in a greasy spoon cafe…so it wasn’t all gold haha.
But it was great to have that ‘outsider looking in’ perspective.
Everything felt new.
Same thing again when we moved to New York.
Our loft was part of a coop with some seriously colorful characters just had to try to soak it all in, ..the whole city too for that matter.
Venice, CA has its own flavor. 10 million people but a lot of empty streets…cars, but no people, …at least in this neighborhood.
I’m still looking in from the outside.


Q: I'm very excited about your solo album, I've been looking forward to it all my life. How do you feel? (Maria from Argentina)

A: Hi Maria
I’m excited about my solo album too. I’ve also considered writing a bigger a song cycle or rock opera without the jazz-hands.
What do you think it should be?


Q: We, fans following your career for decades, know your song writing style (or think we do 😂) and obviously each have our favorite songs, but I would like to hear from Pål, in your own words, how you feel your song writing has evolved over the years. (Rita Johnson)

A: Hi Rita
Everyone in Norway is massively proud of the painter Edward Munch who set out to paint all the facets and stages of his life.
He lived to be close to 100 so that’s a heck of a lot of pictures. One better than the next.
Anyway, that always seemed to make a lot sense to me. Incorporate as much as you can from whatever’s going on around you and within you.


Q: Why the decision to give Digital River to Savoy, despite its first appearance in a-ha's setlist 2019-2020? Did it not qualify for True North? (Sven Maertens)

A: A-ha had the first go at playing Digital River and I think we did it on most of the shows during that tour.
I made plans with Morten to make a studio recording of this version directly after the tour finished but someone talked him out of it.
I won’t mention names but it was Magne.
A-ha might have had a hit with it...…BBC was even requesting the single which was a ‘first’ based off a concert version...but I’m not upset because the lyrics is obviously purposely naive and a bit tongue in cheek and I think Lauren got that message...and projected it in a natural way.
I know it’s confusing though to hear it way one way, and then get it served up differently.


Q: You are long-term based in the US, but there is a song that sounds London-ish from its title: Camden Palace Chronicles. What it is about? (Sven Maertens)

A: Camden Palace was a super cool scruffy-trying-to-look-glam club in London. A-ha was unsigned at the time, and with limited funds for entertainment, we would often end up at this club because if you looked crazy enough they’d pick you out of the line and you could walk in for free. That always happened to us.

I had just met Lauren and somehow bought her a Laura Ashley dress with all the trimmings and then some...A little house on the prairie comes to mind, style wise...Anyway, I thought she looked amazing and managed to talk her into wearing it to the club. She could not have stood out more from this uber-hip crowd, a mix of punks and New Romantics and not in a way she appreciated. I couldn’t even fathom it when some shitheads dished out snippy remarks :-)
Thinking: 'What, you don’t like THIS?!'
I was sold.


Q: Any chance for a Mary is Coming deluxe edition with demos, unreleased songs and live versions? And for a vinyl? (Sven Maertens)

A: Yes, that’s a good idea if I can locate the mix-tapes.


Q: You explained in your book why a-ha's music is usually not political. What about Savoy? Do current developments like wars, the climate crisis or Trump 2.0 play a role when you write songs? (Sven Maertens)

A: It’s in there.
Just look at the title track.
Whether you’re trapped under the oak tree that fell in the storm, or the renegotiated contracts holding you wide pandemic or years of Trump bringing out the worst of human’s all coming at you seven days a week.

'Forest For The Trees' is another attempt at writing something with a political overtone.
I just have to do it with a personal slant to make it work for myself as a lyric writer.
Like they say in film writing: show it, don’t say it.


Q: What happened to the 'True North' campaign? You brought Unplugged on tour, why not True North? (Sven Maertens)

A: Covid happened. We ran out the time.


Q: Any chance of playing East of the Sun and Memorial Beach in full? (Sven Maertens)

A: I have suggested that myself at various times.
Those two albums belong together.


Q: Looking back over 40 years, what were a-ha's best and worst decisions, be it at the band members or management levels? (Sven Maertens)

A: In the 90’s when a-ha fell apart and we started doing our other projects, we ended up losing contact with Terry Slater in the process: He was our first manager and the biggest stabilizing influence.

He had worked for years as a song man (A&R) for EMI. Had played bass with Everly Bros in the 60’s and had even written solid hits like 'Bowling Green' for them. You could trust his opinion about any song that you showed him and he would protect it...guard it against unwanted outside influence. We never had to deal with the endless requests and opinions from the record company...not too much anyway.

And no one would ever dare go behind our backs and mess around with our music with him in charge.
He was in OUR corner
And we could never replace him.


Q: Which a-ha song would you have loved to get a single release, and which single was a mistake? (Sven Maertens)

A: From our last album I would’ve liked to have had 'Bumblebee' out as a single, and 'As If' too.
'Hunter in the Hills' is another.
The singles that we did release were a mistake in my opinion.


Q: The Danish a-ha ranking guys see 'Foot of the Mountain' as a-ha's worst album. Would you agree? (Sven Maertens)

A: I was happy enough with the songs presented for that album.
But I’m unsure how much of it survived. So listen past the facade: seek out the core of the song.
One day I will re-record 'Nothing Is Keeping You Here'. Reclaim it.


Q: Why is the album called 'Under'? And could you tell us something about the cover art? (Charissa van der Vlies)

A: Hello.
With the last album having such a big mouthful for a title ('See the beauty in your drab hometown'), we definitely were looking for something snappier.
‘Under’ was Lauren’s favorite song, and from a design point of view I liked the fact it contained the same amount of letters as Savoy.
Album artwork designer Tom Korsvold had the neat idea of turning the title upside down.

I took the picture in Hawaii.
First time back since the photo shoot for 'Scoundrel Days'.
The colors came out like that. No filters or post production added to it.


Q: As an Savoy and A-ha listener and fan, I find it quite impossible to summarize your music as just one musical current or universe, we can see all the way of your career a never ending evolution, with new influences every time, sometimes even coming back to the very sources, with sounds that may sound nostalgic, but with more careful listening, are subtly modernized, this way we can discover Paul Waaktaar Savoy musician with multiple influences, synthpop, rock, romantic, indy, precursor of grunge, electro, with recently some slight jazz elements added and also some classical symphonic yet again in the 'True North' album...One of the last single 'Life and times of wannabe' is very modern.

I won’t mention them all but I cannot put aside that your interest in other musical cultures, either old or recent, is apart of your identity as an artist...I might as well go back to my question, by taking a recent and obvious exemple.

When you’re listening to the last album of Justice "Hyperdrama", which more or less came out 5 days ago, in the song "One Night/All Night" we have a collaboration with Tame Impala, and surprisingly I thought: "Oh my! This might as well have been a composition of Pål Waaktaar Savoy!!! Or at least he clearly could have contributed!!" We see many similarities, (besides maybe a funky bass line) the way percussion is placed, the melody, the treatment of both the synthesizer and the guitar could be from Waaktaar Savoy but it’s Justice, a disco-electro band which seems to have nothing to do with Savoy and still...

So I’ve been wondering, with your time and improvements, if we ever proposed to you the experience, would you still accept to collaborate with other musical disco-electro artists like Justice, Daft Punk, or maybe a '2023’s Thomas Bangalter'? Or some others from the same musical universe? (Martine Cristofari)

A: Hi Martine
Yes, it’s all about trying to put a different spin on things as you go along. It doesn’t get easier...half of the time I just become my own critic and discard stuff before they’re given a chance.

You can’t escape yourself in the end, but one thing I find helpful is my tendency to completely obsess over a specific thing or music style or an instrument or a recording concept or whatever...for an intense period of time.
You can almost become something else until it wears off.
I could see myself working with other people if it felt like a good thing to do. Tons of talented people out there for sure.


Q: In a previous Q&A, when asked about the songs that did not make the cut on 'Cast in Steel', you replied: "Those extra songs will end up somewhere. They always do." We already knew about "Open Face" on World of Trouble, and now came "Digital River". Any other song from those sessions that has eventually been released, either with Zoë, Savoy or a-ha? Will any of them appear on your upcoming solo effort? (Sylvain Courtoux)

A: I’m sure there are but on the top of my head I can’t recall.
Zoe sang a lot of those songs before they ended up with a-ha.
She did a version of 'Under The Makeup' that was something else!!
'Door Ajar' too.
She always called 'Cast In Steel' the scary one coz it pushed her voice pretty far.


Q: In a-ha The movie, you mention having worked around 94-95 on what would have been the follow-up to 'Memorial Beach'. Did any of those songs end up on Savoy's or a-ha's records? (Sylvain Courtoux)

A: Hi Sylvian
It’s impossible to say. Were they just waiting to be written around that time?
Or...often once you start writing for an album, one song inspires the next.
The first song we did was called 'Tears From A Stone' and that opened up a lot of doors, leading to things like 'Foolish' and 'Daylights Wasting'. 'Velvet' was the first song Lauren I wrote together. One thing leads to another.


Q: So my question for Paul is, since he's a full-time hat-wearer now, what's his favourite one and why? I would have imagined the beany gets a bit itchy on stage. (Graham)

A: Hi Graham
A full Daft Punk type sized helmet is next for me I reckon.


Q: When were these songs written? How long did it take to make this album start to finish? Who produced the new album? (Tommy LeBoeuf)

A: Hi Tommy
We produced this album ourselves, like our previous ones.
But there are always other helpful people involved.
Guest musicians, mixers and engineers...all listed on the album artwork.


Q: AI vocal modeling has come a long way recently. What are your thoughts? Would you ever use a vocal model on one of your recordings? (Peter)

A: It’s coming and it’s going to be a mess.
I actually don’t use any ‘modeled’ instruments or amps or effects in the recording of this music.
It’s all hardware instruments and effects. No plugins.


Q: A fan wins the opportunity to do a meet and greet in a coffee shop with their idol, Pal Waaktaar-Savoy. They go up to the shop-keeper to buy him a warm drink. What is his drink of choice? (Peter)

A: Ye olde caffe latte.


Q: The version of “There’s a Reason for it” that uses the “break in a cloud” chorus is clearly superior to the one used on Lifelines. Why was this amazing chorus dropped/replaced for the Lifelines album? (Peter)

A: Because I felt the contour of the melody path suffered. Whenever that chorus kicked in it felt like a whole new song, not building upon the verse in any way. Both the verse and the chorus have to come out winners.
The lyric also became a bit vague and meandering in this setting.


Q: You consistently use obscure sets of chords on most of your songs. Do you ever think to just say, “Fuck it. Let’s go with D, G, and C.”? (Peter)

A: Hi Peter
All the time. And it does it happen.
Pure as driven snow, Digital River are just a few simple chords.
I think :-)


Q: I just finished relistening to Zoe Gnecco's live rendition of Under the Make Up with Savoy and still... the hairs on the back of my neck stick up (in a good way); it's so good. The trailing vibrato on the end of the vocal lines... have mercy! Someone in the crowd even yells, "Better than Morten's version" and very reluctantly, I have to agree. Zoe stole the show. Would you ever consider releasing a digital EP of Zoe's versions of the Cast in Steel songs that did not end up on the Zoe/Waaktaar album? (Peter)

A: Hi Peter
Yes, I would love to revisit those and give them a proper mix and release.


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