a-ha singer Morten Harket: "I was always the outsider"
The Norwegian Morten Harket talks about soon 40 years of a-ha, the world fame in the 80s and the complicated relationship with his two band mates. Until today many things are unspoken among each other.
Mr. Harket , the documentary "a-ha – The Movie" traces the complete history of your band, from its beginnings in teenage days to the past year. You were still on tour as a band then, weren’t you??
Morten Harket : Yes, that’s right. On quite a big world tour even, which we of course had to interrupt when the whole world was gripped by the pandemic. Next year we will continue it.
Are you in contact with your bandmates Pål Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen in the long break that has now arisen ? The film shows very clearly that your relationship with each other has long been difficult and conflictual ..
Harket : No, we don’t really talk, if there is not something current to talk about. We have not spent private time together for a long time. But I don’t find that unusual for a band either. If you’ve known each other and worked together for almost 40 years, you don’t have to spend your free time together, do you?? Even before Corona there were always long phases in which we had distance from each other and little contact. Then everyone does his thing, everyone writes songs, and then at some point you get back together again. You don’t have to overdramatize it.
"Friendship is not our basis"
Other bands break up when you don’t get along privately!
Harket : But friendship is not the basis on which a-ha exists. This is the music. Always been like that.
So you don’t see each other as friends, but as colleagues?
Harket : In the end it does not matter. What matters is the fact that all three of us are proud of what we have achieved together. I know that with absolute certainty, and that has never been overshadowed by our disagreements. If tomorrow it would all be over, we would all look back with satisfaction and be happy that our names will be mentioned in the same breath forever. No matter what else was going on.
Have you always seen it that way? Or were there moments during the many long breaks in the band’s history when you thought that things had finally come to an end?
Harket : The interruptions were always important and necessary, not only because sometimes communication was impossible. But also because we all needed time and space to realize other dreams. Even when I was young, I never had the illusion that I would have forever in life to achieve everything I wanted to achieve. But I also realized that I couldn’t concentrate on anything else when a-ha commitments were always lurking around the corner. That’s why it took those periods of life where I knew that the band didn’t exist at the moment. But I never thought: Never again a-ha!
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Was it then always you who made the first move, or how did the band come together again?
Harket : There was no particular pattern. Sometimes Magne would call, sometimes Pål, mostly because new songs were finished. I wrote songs for myself rather than for the band and did my own thing. I was always a bit of an outsider with a-ha in this three-way dynamic.
Which sounds paradoxical, because you were the lead singer and the figurehead at the same time!
Harket : But the other two know each other already from prepubescent times. They were writing songs together for several years before they even met me. When we formed a-ha, I was no less a part of it than they were. But the dynamic between Pål and Magne was always different than between me and them. This made me sometimes the enemy, but sometimes also the mediator and peacemaker. Whereby the conflicts have also changed over the years.
In which sense?
Harket : At least concerning their main conflict as songwriters, Pål and Magne have matured. It’s still highly emotional, but they know how to handle it better, or at least keep it away from them. The relationship between the two is nowadays based on "emotional distancing", so to speak, which helps to keep it from getting irrational and out of hand.
Now the documentary makes no secret of the fact that much remains unspoken among themselves to this day. Why didn’t you three ever let it all out and work it through?
Harket : I think the only place where that would actually be possible is in a boxing ring. And that’s not our thing.
In your mid-20s, you were suddenly the focus of media attention, had hysterical fans – but that never really threw you off course?
Harket : It was quite a challenge. And one that hardly anyone can understand, because very few people have ever been in a comparable situation themselves. I found it enormously exhausting to have to function all the time. Having to go into the TV studio, even when you feel like crap. Even with fever still stand on stage. Delivering in the recording studio, even if you have hardly slept for days. And constantly these time shifts, because you just had an appointment in Germany and the next day there is one in Japan. At the same time, I’ve always known that it’s part of the game and I can’t let it get me down. After all, we didn’t want to be an amateur band, we wanted to be at the top of the game. But with the professionals you are judged by how well you perform in the worst moments. It wasn’t about me and my feelings, it was about the band.
"I never cared about being famous"
There are enough musician biographies in which precisely these experiences with fame and success led to drug addiction and other crashes. How did you manage to get through those years manifestly in one piece?
Harket : It probably helped that I didn’t really care about being famous. I was neither euphoric nor enthusiastic nor motivated by it. I always understood how it works with fame and the media, and I was able to handle it. But emotionally it has not driven me. It was the same with the mechanisms of the music industry: I knew how it worked, but that didn’t make me reverent. What interested me was always just individual encounters with exciting people. And as an artist, I was driven by the knowledge of the effect that music can have. What it ideally means, to myself as well as to others. These were the good reasons why I took part in all the circus and why I’m still part of it today.
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