It’s January 2012. From the balcony of his hotel room, Morten Harket watches Avenida Atlantica in Rio de Janeiro. A warm breeze is blowing from the Copacabana. Traffic noise and the bustle of the beach merge into a multifaceted rhythm. Life is pulsating in all its intensity.
For a moment, Harket lets the beats of the city fill his senses. It is a shimmering blend that seems to give wings to his optimistic pioneer spirit. “My visit here is the first step out of the cave,” he says with his unique smile. He has returned to the city where he once played in front of an audience of 200,000. A crowd with which his band a-ha set a busting world record back in 1991. Twenty-one years later, he is at the brink of starting over again.
“The studio work is finished and I am glad to once again step out into the light of day.” His schedule is packed tightly, and Harket meets his Brazilian fans during a moderated question time. On this occasion, he presents his new solo album, Out of My Hands, for the first time. Certainly an emotional situation; after all, this inevitably starts the next chapter of his career. A camera team working on a documentary about his eventful life accompanies him.
“The spirit of a-ha is deep inside me,” says Morten Harket. “I feel a great respect for what has happened over all the years. But the idea of this band has not yet been told to the end. On the contrary: It was a grand finale which has left all options open.” These memories are linked to December 4, 2010, when a final, nine-month a-ha world tour concluded with a triumphant farewell concert at the Spectrum Arena in Oslo.
“The accounts were balanced. In any case, I didn’t want to make a half-hearted attempt. But I also felt that it could go on.” Thus, Harket is taking up the torch of one of the most successful bands in pop history. Following the legendary debut single, “Take On Me,” (1985) a-ha released nine studio albums that have to this day sold about 40 million copies worldwide.
Songs like “The Sun Always Shines on TV,” “The Living Daylights,” “Manhattan Skyline,” “Hunting High and Low” or “Summer Moved On” have become modern classics. No other band from the post-New Wave era of the mid-eighties was able to continually develop their fusion of rock and electronic music so successfully over the course of 25 years. This outstanding position has been significantly defined by Morten Harket - as a singer, songwriter, band leader, environmental activist and world citizen.
His previous solo albums, Poetenes Evangelium (1993) and Vogts Villa (1996), were devoted to thematic concepts, or were designed as a collection of songs from various artistic phases, such as Letters from Egypt (2008). Out of My Hands, on the other hand, came into being as a compact pop production. No forays into specific genres, but hooks and hymns, which carry the big moments of a-ha over into the present.
“There is even a real point zero in March 2011,” remembers Harket. “Some songs originated directly in my house at the Oslo fjord, when in the middle of the night, some chords were buzzing through my head. The next morning, I immediately phoned Erik and we recorded the first outlines on a piano. Within 30 minutes, we had a structure.” In a “network of inspiration”, he assembled a team of well-tried and new colleagues around himself.
Norwegian poet Ole Sverre Olsen, a long-time friend of Harket, assisted with the lyrics. The tour keyboardist and bassist Erik Ljunggren counts among the co-producers, alongside Peter Kvint from Sweden and Englishman Steve Osborne (who has already contributed to the a-ha album Foot of The Mountain). Together with Ole Sverre Olsen and Peter Kvint, Harket has written the striking one-liners for the uptempo hymn “I’m The One.”
It is a poetic all-or-nothing game between love song and the big questions of life. “Overall, it was a reciprocal process that evolved into a close interaction of different minds and inspirations,” Harket describes the creative process of Out of My Hands. He was working on the arrangements as director and artisan simultaneously, continuing his great tradition of sound with freshness and power.
On the single “Scared of Heights,” Harket’s unique voice is floating through a feathery uptempo arrangement by Norwegian songwriter Espen Lind, who was also involved in the 2009 hit “Hey Soul Sister” by Train. And the driving rhythm promptly evokes that very special a-ha magic, making one thing clear: It’s going on!
The range covers melancholy ballads such as “Quiet” with its finely spun dialogue of semi acoustic guitar and warm synth tones as well as the lively marching “Lightning,” in which the sound wall continually rises up to the chorus. “When I Reach The Moon” on the other hand combines a distinctive guitar riff with Harket’s unmistakable falsetto. The powerful hymn “Burn Money Burn” harkens back to the song “Karleken Vantar” by Swedish band Kent.
The lyrics are a free English interpretation of the original lyrics by songwriter Joakim Berg, which, in contrast to previous political statements by Harket (e.g. in the song “East Timor” on the album Wild Seed), expresses no explicit messages. “The current crisis of capitalism is probably a bit too complex for the pop stage and I don’t see myself as a preacher,” Harket says. “That does not mean that I am not committed anymore, however – I am, just in different ways.”
Morten Harket has found a new balance. His energetic solo presentation in Rio de Janeiro is representative for the atmosphere of Out of My Hands. It is an impressive avowal to the great pop song which will be presented during an extensive live tour as soon as mid-April 2012. This traveling marathon will take him from Russia through Europe and later to South America.
“We are right now starting to rehearse the new songs for the live performances,” he reports. “This is going to develop modular and after the new material stands, we can think about how earlier songs can be integrated into the dramaturgy. The fans will be able to enter their own favorites into the mix via an online voting. It is an open field.”