Interview: Peter Hook on revisiting history, the ghosts of Joy Division, and how New Order found a voice // Tuesday 09.10.13 @ the Paradise

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he origin of New Order has been well-documented in the 33 years since their inception. After Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis hanged himself on May 18, 1980, the eve of the Manchester post-punk band’s first United States tour, its remaining members vowed to go on, quickly reforming as a trio and playing their first live gig a few short months later. Three decades on, New Order are heralded as one of the most influential bands of all time, setting a template for electronic music and dominating the ’80s and ’90s with a remarkable string of success. But in the early-’80s, New Order were a band struggling to find their way and move on from the shadow cast by Curtis’ death.

New Order’s debut LP, Movement, was released in 1981 with the emotional weight of a mountain on its shoulders; it’s essentially a Joy Division record, musically, coming to terms with the ghosts of band’s past. Less than two years later, 1983’s Power, Corruption & Lies finds New Order claiming its own voice and slowly emerging out of the darkness.

TICKET GIVEAWAY: Peter Hook & the Light @ The Paradise Rock Club 09.10.13

Bassist Peter Hook, who over the past few years has revisited the two lone Joy Division records with his new band, the Light, now comes back to the States to perform the first two New Order records in their entirely — and in sequential order, with era-appropriate b-sides and other songs thrown in to nightly sets as well; no small note when considering non-album New Order tracks like “Blue Monday” and “Temptation.” Hook is still divorced from the rest of New Order, who parade around the globe offering “greatest hits” tours, but seems content to continue his personal journey of revisiting his entire musical catalog.

With this latest Peter Hook & The Light tour kicking off Tuesday night, September 10, at the Paradise Rock Club, Vanyaland caught up with Hooky to discuss the emotional weight of these first two New Order records, how that band found its voice, and the struggles associated with creating Movement out of the ashes of Joy Division.

Michael Marotta: You’ve just wrapped up a few years touring the Joy Division records, and last time we saw you in Boston was for the Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division book tour. Now that you’re playing live the first two New Order records, is this just the logical next chapter?

It is like a book! When I started playing the Joy Division stuff, to celebrate Ian’s 30th anniversary, I did sort of realize how wonderful it was to play this music that you’ve written, then whole-halfedly ignored for 30 years. And then what struck was that once I looked at an album like Movement in particular, which has been ignored by New Order for a long, long time, I thought “Oh shit, you know, it’s the same thing.” So it seemed natural to sit there and go “Right, OK, I started this at the start of my career, with the first Joy Division song which was “At A Later Date,” so hopefully I’ll be able to finish at the end of my career with the last New Order song.

The devil in me takes great delight in sort of – what shall we say, I don’t want to get in too much of a bitch fest here but – exposing the limited look that Bernard and Stephen have at New Order. There are great songs, those first singles as New Order: “Procession,” “Mesh,” “Cries & Whispers,” “Everything’s Gone Green” – fantastic, fantastic songs that other people seem to relish, dearly, the same way they relished hearing the Joy Division stuff. And if it’s had one effect which I thought was really interesting is that – I still have my ongoing battle I’m hoping will legally conclude with New Order – it has inspired them to play Joy Division as well now. And they play a few Joy Division songs! I think they’re trying to take it back off me. But it must be annoying for all the New Order fans because they’re still not playing that old New Order stuff.

So now I’m in the breach and our set consists of every song, from “Ceremony,” “In A Lonely Place” …right up to “Blue Monday.”

Does this tour give you a chance to appreciate these records more? After Joy Division, you really came right out of the gate without much rest.

We were in a very difficult situation, and it was quite unusual for a band just on the cusp of making it, as we were, then to bury not only Ian Curtis but the whole of a career. All the songs, we buried them all. We decided to move on which was exactly the right thing to do at that time. It allowed us to, maybe, in a wrong way, not grieve, but it certainly allowed us to put all our ambitions, our strengths and hopes into a new project, which was New Order. And it worked. You cannot contradict that it worked.

But yeah, coming back to songs that Martin Hannett produced, like “Procession,” “Everything’s Gone Green,” and then onto Movement, which he produced, has been fantastic. His touch is really apparent on Movement, the interplay between the musicians, between me, Barney, and Steve is fantastic. And I don’t think Movement has even been under-appreciated, but I think that Martin, who really suffered from losing Ian, really played down the vocal side of New Order on that record. I think now I got the strength and the confidence to belt it out. I think the songs are realizing their potential. You don’t have that problem with Power, Corruption, And Lies. To me, Movement played now sounds a hell of a lot stronger and a lot better.

Joy Division’s final record Closer is perceived to have this massive emotional weight attached to it, as Ian was dealing with all of his issues. But Closer was finished when he passed away. Movement is perceived as this new chapter, or new beginning, but that’s where I also think you can hear that emotional weight. It sounds like a band trying to make sense of things. Do you think people fully appreciate what it took to create Movement so soon after Ian’s death?

[pullquote align=”right”]Bernard’s right when he says that Movement isn’t a New Order album; it isn’t, it’s Joy Division music with New Order vocals.[/pullquote]It was very painful, period, I must admit. And to be honest I don’t think I’ve ever seen three people as lost as Bernard, Stephen and I were. Gillian came in after the songs were written so she didn’t have a great impact on it. But us three, we were pretty desperate, and Martin Hannett — as much as I hate to say it — really wasn’t much help. Ian’s death really affected him, it seemed to plunge him headlong into drug addiction, which was not conducive… not very helpful while we were recording. Even though Martin I think did a great job on Movement, his disdain, shall we say, for our vocals, is quite plain to hear and that was a sad aspect of that record but if you listen to the music on Movement it’s really strong — it’s still Joy Division music. Bernard’s right when he says that Movement isn’t a New Order album; it isn’t, it’s Joy Division music with New Order vocals.

And it’s a bridge to Power, Corruption, And Lies.

Power, Corruption, And Lies, that’s a New Order album with New Order vocals. There is a difference to Movement, it’s very much Joy Division musically, but to sing it and play it now, as opposed to before, with a bit of gusto, it really does stand up. And they way the musical pieces — the guitar the drums and the bass — go together is very tricky. And on songs like “Senses,” “Chosen Time,” there’s a great interplay between the three of us that is pure Joy Division.

There’s a real progression from the opening chords of Movement to the conclusion of Power, Corruption, And Lies. There’s a journey, so to speak, in style, sound, emotion. And you’re doing all this in one night–


Unknown Pleasures, was really a specific time and place, where with this tour you’re encompassing a few years, an evolution.

Starting with “Ceremony,” and “In A Lonely Place,” you really do feel, shall we say, the ghost of Joy Division moving into Movement, which was a very awkward record. I was going through the writing of movement, in my New Order book –- I know Bernard’s doing one as well -– and it was painful… I was thinking “shit, man.”

Because Martin Hannett was just so “anti” us singing, it was quite shaky at times, so you really did make Movement against all the odds. To be honest, the biggest antagonist in making Movment was Martin. He was difficult, and it was very undermining for us. And I love Martin, he gave us such a gift with his production, you can’t thank him enough, but my god he was miserable, very difficult.

Just like we were on that record — but the music is great and it does make you laugh. At the end of Movement, you’ve got “The Him,” which is a very down track, then you have “Doubts Even Here,” which is even more… what can we say? Sadder, and stronger, and very melancholy and very intense and then it finishes with “Denial,” which is a bit of a rocker. Which sets you up perfectly for the transition into Power, Corruption, And Lies. It’s quite at odds, that album.

You have “Temptation” in between records as well.

Yeah, “Temptation” was the first production that Bernard and I insisted on. We insisted on that record that we didn’t use Martin, and me and Bernard were very hands on, we made all our mistakes, production-wise, on that record; Steve took a backseat and just let Bernard and I railroad it and it was delightful to be able to do what we wanted to do. At that time Bernard and I were very much in tune with each other, so it was a very positive bonding process after Martin, but you did miss him. You had to be very, very smart to do what he did.

Was “Temptation” perhaps the first real step into modern New Order?

No no no, the first step into New Order to me was “Dreams Never End.” That was where it felt like something had been lifted and you felt like you were going forward. All those songs had been written at the same time -– “Procession,” “Cries & Whispers,” the whole of Movement. The first song that we wrote as a group when we got back together was “Dreams Never End.”

So it was a feeling right at the start.

We had the music a long time before we had the vocals. We only really did the vocals in the studio. So yeah for me it has always been that song. “In A Lonely Place” and “Ceremony” were a gift from Ian, which is a very generous gift, because it allowed us to carry on quickly and allowed us to play two great songs without going through the pain of writing. We have those two songs under our belt and then we could get into the pain. It was a great starting point for us, he really did is a favor, as mad as it sounds.

I found a video clip from New Order’s first US tour in 1980, from a Boston club called the Underground, in Allston, and you’re performing as a trio and you and Stephen traded off on vocals.

Bernard did too.

So you rotated all the way through — was this to feel a certain comfort or groove, or a trail and error to see who would become the singer?

I think it depended on how complicated your part was, for who wrote the tune. If you wrote the tune, but your part was too difficult to play, you’d delegate it out to someone else. Or the way Bernard did it was there were certain songs he liked, and certain songs he didn’t like, and he wouldn’t sing the songs he didn’t like, shall we say. That’s how we first did it. Then ironically, he got lumped with singing them all! When he took over the singing role -– I must admit the music took a form that suggested very, very strongly that he should be the singer -– Me and Steve would play, Gillian would play Bernard lines on the keyboards, then Bernard would sing and join in with the guitar when he stopped singing, and it gave you your style of new order. And lets face it — it gave you a rock and dance style that nearly everyone in the world emulates now.

Looking back 30 years and playing these albums now, you were very faithful to the Joy Division records–

Yes I was, yes. To me the important bit –- and I don’t want to get in a bitchfest again — is that as a group New Order had sort of lost the faithfulness to the songs. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. There was times when I was in the group when I thought ‘this doesn’t sound anything like the original!’ And now they’re actually taking further steps! Because of the new bass player, a lot of the songs sound less like New Order than they ever have. But they are a different group. They aren’t New Order in my opinion, they’re licensing the name, they’re pretending to be New Order.

I call them the Other Three.

[laughs] For my part, I’d have to say they are as much New Order as I am Joy Division. But I understand their need to survive and their need to carry on as New Order; they have to hit out and pretend they are New Order. It’s difficult.

I’m really happy translating the LPs. The art of the LP, long player, which I grew up with and was really important to me. Some of my fave pieces of music ever, that I listen to now and it makes me happy, are long players – from Kraftwerk to Ian Drury, to Iggy Pop & the Stooges, that collection of songs — 35 to 40 minutes — that I find enriches your life. I am adamant that it’s worth celebrating and showing people how important that was. Today, everybody listens to single tracks – even I do it. I go on iTunes, look at the one that’s most downloaded and listen to that one.

And then you’re done.

And it’s a really sad aspect of music.

Going back a bit, are you faithful to the two New Order records or do these allow some room for interpretation?

No, we have transcribed them, more or less completely. The interesting thing in the recording process back then is once you put a backing track down, you couldn’t change it. Technology on the 24 track didn’t allow you to change the backing track. So you had to make and meld and move the vocals and make it work against that backing track, so that gave you some really unusual happenings. Very interesting overlays and very interesting overlaps. Now with computers you don’t get that. If you end up with a backing track that has 6 bars you just whip it out, make it 8, 4, 12. All the rest. It’s very rare if you listen to the old New Order stuff, there are 12, 14, 13, 11, 7, it’s all really unusual orders that over the years we’ve got rid of because they take a lot of work to play. Because your mind is expecting everything to be in 2s, and there are loads of odd bars in “Blue Monday.” You really have to concentrate to get the song in the right order other wise you’re out with the backing track.

[pullquote align=”right”]After playing the Joy Division stuff for three years, free form, to go back to a backing track is wild.[/pullquote]After playing the Joy Division stuff for three years, free form, to go back to a backing track is wild. It’s very difficult to get used to, and its frustrating that you can’t jam, you can’t drop down, make it longer, shorter – it has to be what it is and it’s a completely different art form.

It’s almost like working with Martin Hannett again.

Well, as much as I hate to say it, Martin was an absolute tortured genius. Sequences and all that stuff are only as good as the person programming them, and Martin was a definitely one producer alone. Movement still sounds great. The only fault on Movement is that the vocals are too quiet. We had no confidence in them, and he had no confidence in them. It does give them a melancholy air that actually suited the music at that time.

At this stage in your career, do you prefer to play New Order songs or Joy Division songs?

Now, I must admit, we played the New Order stuff last [month], we did four gigs: I did a New Order electronic set, which was all New Order songs played together as a medley. We did that with the Pet Shop Boys in Greece, it was fucking great – “Bizarre Love Triangle,” “True Faith,” “Fine Time,” loaded dance tunes. Then we did a Joy Division gig in France, then did Movement and Power, Corruption, And Lies in England – every single one of them was great to play.

I never thought I’d be doing something so varied with all the stuff I had learned. And I must admit as a musician now I’m up to about 60 songs that I can play. And I’ve never known that many songs, it’s really really weird.

But I must admit, my favorite song to play is still my fave tune, which is “Leave Me Alone.” There’s something about that song in particular that really I find to be life affirming and joyous and to go through Movement and Power, Corruption, And Lies and finish as we do with “Leave Me Alone” is a fantastic moment for me. But we never played it in 25, 27 years.

That’s the thing, you’re playing a lot of these songs for the first time in decades.

I feel guilty about not doing new songs, but they feel like new stuff. I don’t think “Mesh” had ever been played since we recorded it. We played it as a three-piece, but it was one of the ones we dropped early.

A lot of people in these audiences, like myself, were too young to see these shows first time around.

It gives an attentiveness that appeals to my artistic side, to play the LPs. As in New Order — I hate to bring it back to them again — their greatest hits sets, to my mind, became very repetitive, and almost a dumbing-down of what you were doing. I’ve been delighted that they came back this year and are playing pretty much same set as when they reformed last year. It highlights one of your great frustrations with them is the lack of flexibility and lack of joy in what you do. It’s quite odd to witness. It’s like I’m lucky to have escaped.

VANYALAND PRESENTS: PETER HOOK & THE LIGHT + SLAVES OF VENUS + GANG OF ONE :: Tuesday, September 10 @ the Paradise Rock Club, 967 Commonwealth Ave., Boston :: 8pm, 18+, $20 :: advance tickets :: facebook event page