1An easy one to begin with: which boyband topped the UK charts with a cover version of A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’ in 2000?
“You think that’s easy?! It takes an interest first – and I would fail miserably, or splendidly, in that I never paid attention to the charts. But maybe it would be A1?”
“That’ll be the only one I get! [Laughs]”
Did you like their version?
“It’s well done. If anything, it’s a little similar – just doing it in the same way, but with different guys. But it’s another testament to the public’s love of that song. There’s a tremendous amount of covers of it, and some are unexpected.”
“I would need to hear them all here and now and then I could comment on it, because it doesn’t even interest me.”
“Not really. I’m not interested in the culture of the music business.”
For a bonus half-point: which Hollywood actor performed a demented version of ‘Take On Me’ on Late Night with David Letterman in 2010?
“The guy with the rubber face? Jim Carrey?”
“I saw that one, but none of this matters to me. That song lives a life completely on its own. It departed from us right away and has been much better at being a pop star than we ever were.”
2A-ha recorded ‘The Living Daylights’ as the title track for the 1987 James Bond film of the same name. Which synth duo also wrote a (rejected) theme for the movie that eventually turned up on a 1990 album of theirs?
“You keep going, don’t you? You’re not going to get anything out of me. I have no interest in these things at all. It’s for stamp-collectors or trainspotters.”
“Hmm… I did have a feeling it would be them.”
When you worked together on ‘The Living Daylights’, veteran James Bond composer John Barry branded A-ha the most difficult artists he’d ever worked with and nicknamed you ‘The Hitler Youth’. What went wrong?
“It was down to a clash in mentalities. His mentality was the way it was and it surfaced in various ways. None of us agreed with his worldview and the way he spoke about other human beings. We couldn’t speak a common language between each other. But his input in the song was essentially just making a few changes to the verse melody: the rest was already there.”
On a cheerier note, you also collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys on the track ‘Listening’ from your 2013 solo album ‘Out of My Hands’. What was that like?
“I don’t think I did it well. Their original [demo] of the song was better, and I prefer it to what I did. I feel Neil Tennant’s singing was more in keeping with the spirit of the song. I just sang it – I didn’t get inside of it. But it’s a good song.”
3At a 2004 gig in Norway, which musician introduced himself as ‘Morten’ before singing his own, lyrically-altered snippet of A-ha’s ‘The Sun Always Shines on T.V.’?
WRONG. It’s Morrissey.
“[Laughs] That would have been a treat to hear. I met Morrissey in New Orleans briefly in the ‘80s. He’s a brilliant musician and writer, and I’d have a coffee with him any time if the chance happens!”
“Yeah. And that’s fine. Those things are natural. Whatever part in ‘Beautiful Day’ has a resemblance to ‘The Sun Always Shines…’, it doesn’t make ‘Beautiful Day’ a lesser song in any way or take away from the characteristics of what makes that song work.”
“People have assumed that would be a copyright issue, but it clearly isn’t. It’s more taking the spirit of ‘Take On Me’ and consciously taking elements of the feel, the beat and the vibe of it. But we’ve heard that comparison a lot.”
4With A-ha’s 2000 single ‘Summer Moved On’, you achieved the then-UK record for the longest note held in a Top 40 pop song. How long do you sustain the note for?
[Laughs] “I didn’t count! I’ve held it for longer because it turned into a thing live, then it became too much and, in the end, I got fed up with it.”
WRONG. You sustain the chest voice note for 20.2 seconds (eight measures). Impressive!
“I have beaten that record several times since!”
5Can you name any celebrity the judges mistook you for when you appeared on The Masked Singer as the character Viking in 2021?
“Ugh! [Laughs] I wish I did! Was one Brian Cox?”
WRONG. Among many others you could have had: Kaiser Chief Ricky Wilson, Taron Egerton, Rick Astley, cyclist Lance Armstrong, DJ Pat Sharp, Bros and, bizarrely, Ben Adams of aforementioned ‘Take On Me’-covering boyband A1. Why did you decide to do the show?
“My reason for doing it was I thought it would be a really shitty thing to do, and I thought that would be good for me. And I got what I asked for! [Laughs] My in-ear system didn’t work, so I couldn’t show what I’m capable of. I couldn’t be playful or mess with people the way I wanted. Which is why I suggested singing ‘Take On Me’ to producers – to be able to take things one step further by doing my own song. Singing on that show felt like driving with the windscreen completely smeared.”
Aside from reality TV, what’s been the most surreal offer you’ve turned down?
“In the late ‘80s, I was offered the role of Spider-Man in a Spider-Man film they were making, but that wasn’t important to me.”
6Which sitcom title was inspired by the creator listening to an A-ha song at the gym?
“You tell me.”
WRONG. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Actor, writer, and producer, Glenn Howerton – known for his portrayal of Dennis Reynolds in the show – was at the gym when ‘The Sun Always Shines on T.V.’ came on, leading him to the title the sitcom It’s Always Sunny on TV, which mutated into It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
“I didn’t know that. Like I said, you could draw a line through all these questions and cross me out!”
7Which Oscar-nominated actor appears in the video to A-ha’s 1990 single ‘Crying in the Rain’?
“That’s interesting – I don’t know that.”
WRONG. John Hawkes, who received an Academy Award nomination for his role in the 2012 film The Sessions, has a small role as a robber in the video.
“I’ll look it up! ‘Crying in the Rain’ was a cover of an The Everly Brothers song. We knew them and we got given a guitar each from them after that song came out. That’s been my main songwriting tool ever since.”
8What was Smash Hits magazine’s famous nickname for you?
“I’ve had many. One funny one was Horten Market.”
WRONG. Whenever they’d refer to your name, they’d call you Morten ‘Snorten Forten Horten’ Harket – because that’s how they thought Norwegian people speak.
“I see! But according to someone else, I was the only pop star who had taken his name from a market, which was Horten Market! [Laughs]”
Unusually, you did end up playing a farmer’s market trader, selling ‘Morten’s Mustard’ in a 2010 Armstrong & Miller Show comedy sketch…
“I vaguely remember that. But it was something I just did then immediately forgot about.”
9Your new album, ‘True North’, was recorded in Bodø. How many kilometres is the Norwegian city located above the Arctic Circle?
“No idea! I’m not planning to walk it anyway.”
WRONG. It’s 90km. Your 11th studio album is ambitious in that arrives with a film capturing A-ha recording the tracks, and is described as a poem to your home-country, with a “narrative arc embodying the spirit of the new songs, showing how all of us are connected to the environment”…
“The idea came from Magne [Furuholme, A-ha’s keyboardist]. I think this approach was his way of tricking the band into going back into the making of another album. We’d decided not to do another studio album again, but this was a different angle. It was down to the songs: he came up with a string of inspired songs that asked to be recorded. There were new types of challenges, like how do you record it live with an orchestra whilst filming it to the director’s satisfaction as well? Can we make all these things work at the same time? It was difficult.”
10A-ha appeared on the Saturday morning children’s TV show Going Live! in 1988, offering fans the chance to win a cardboard cut-out of the band if they answered a question you set. In the days before Google, the band asked the bafflingly hard question of: ‘When was Oslo founded?’ So, Morten: when was Oslo founded?
“Is it founded, really?”
Erm… According to A-ha’s question in 1988, it was…
“Oslo is actually a very old place. It was called Kristiania 100 years ago or so, but I don’t know what year it was founded.”
WRONG. According to the Norse sagas – and Wikipedia! – Oslo was founded around 1049 by Harald Hardrada. There are some wonderfully awkward ’80s media appearances with A-ha on YouTube, including one on Saturday morning TV show where you’re asked to speak Norwegian and reply – face poker-straight in your native language – with: “This is the most boring show”. What did that aspect of fame feel like?
“In my life, it’s made it impossible for me to entertain small-talk because we spent so long talking about nothing. I’m a curious soul about all aspects of life. Human culture is not always that interesting to me. I’m more interested in how we have detached ourselves from the nature part of who we are and what that has led to. We think way too highly of ourselves. There’s nothing we have ever produced or made that is more complex than nature. We clear an area and put a parking space there or a building and we call it development, but it’s the opposite if you look at the complexity it’s replaced. We need to find our way back to nature, for sure. Whether we will… that’s a different matter.”
The verdict: 1.5/10
“I got 10 out of 10 in my book – which is worth more. For me, I would be worried if I knew the answers to those things!”
– A-ha’s film ‘True North’, accompanying their new studio album of the same title. The movie True North will be released on 15 September, with the record following on October 21