“To be in one band that changed the world musically is pretty good, but to be in two bands that changed the world musically, that’s amazing.” That’s Peter Hook— who performs with his new group, Peter Hook and the Light, at Royale in Boston on Saturday Nov. 8—and he’s talking about the two British bands for which he played bass and wrote songs, Joy Division and New Order.
If it’s true, it’s not bragging.
Hook spoke about all three bands in an extensive interview (below) conducted via email while he and his current band were touring South America in late October.
Joy Division—identified by its agitated and turbulent sound, with bass-driven melodies and shimmering guitar lines—ended when singer Ian Curtis, suffering from epilepsy and depression, hanged himself on the eve of the band’s first US tour in May 1980. One of their biggest fans was Bono, and U2 penned “A Day Without Me” about Curtis on their debut album, “Boy.” Numerous bands picked up on what Joy Division started—the Cure, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, the Editors, Rapture, Interpol and Foals, to name but a few.
New Order had the same personnel as Joy Division (plus keyboardist Gillian Gilbert) and conveyed some of Joy Division’s angst, but added synths and cast an eye toward the dance floor. They reigned through the ‘80s and ‘90s with hits like “Temptation” and “Bizarre Love Triangle.”
New Order went away in 2007. But they came back in 2011, with bassist Tom Chapman filling Hook’s spot. Two years ago New Order's Bernard Sumner told Billboard, “New Order has kind of healed itself in a strange way. Peter Hook was not happy within the band's framework—and he was particularly unhappy with me for some reason. He just seemed quite negative about everyone, including the management. When we came back from South America, he went on a radio station and announced that New Order had split up, without discussing it with the band. … He had no right to say that the band had split up. So, we issued a statement a few days later saying ‘No, we haven't split up.’ We decided …let's carry on with New Order. We had to go and sit down with a lot of lawyers and make sure that we could do it legally without being challenged. We were told that we could, and that was it.”
Last year, Hook told me: “They reformed without my knowledge and consent, I thought ‘[Expletive] ‘em. I’ll do it.’”
So over the past four years, Hook has helmed a group of younger musicians (including his son, Jack) called Peter Hook and the Light. On tour, they played Joy Division’s two studio albums (plus singles), with Hook, as singer, making a surprisingly strong Curtis replacement. And the band perfectly recreated the crystalline sound producer Martin Hannett achieved on “Unknown Pleasures” and “Closer.”
Last year, Hook and the band toured playing the first two New Order albums, “Movement” and “Power, Corruption and Lies.” This year, they’re back, performing the third and fourth albums, “Low-life” and “Brotherhood,” representing New Order 1983 to 1987. As was the case last year, they will open with a short Joy Division set.
Jim Sullivan: Music is, of course, made in the moment and is often of the moment. A slice of the zeitgeist, true for both Joy Division and New Order. When you look back on the best moments of each what do you see? And, I suppose, the worst moments of each?
Peter Hook: I look back on Joy Division very fondly indeed. I know that, of course, the band came to a tragic end, but that does not change the fact that Joy Division was a great band to be a part of. Everybody was just really focused on the music; there were no distractions at all. We were all completely focused on making it the best we could. It was a very pure atmosphere which I will always remember fondly. We had our issues of course – Ian’s illness, riots after the gigs, difficulties in the studio—but overall it was a great time. With New Order, things like drugs, girls and money had become more of a factor and had definitely started to pollute the atmosphere. That is not to say we didn’t create some wonderful music still and that New Order is not something I am completely proud of, but the atmosphere was very different indeed when compared to that of Joy Division, and of course towards the end of New Order myself and Bernard fell out spectacularly, a feud which still continues today, only exacerbated further by their alleged “reformation” without me.
I’m always curious, too, about what musicians feel when they’re playing live. What you play is pretty emotional stuff. Are you feeling those emotions while playing or is that for the audience—your job being to put the notes in the right place and let the emotion wash over them?
I experience a wide range of emotions when I play this set–pride, love, hatred, anger, feelings of humor, being reminded of great memories, being reminded of some that are maybe not so great. … I get the whole range! That’s the great thing about this set–it really takes both the band and the audience on an amazing journey. When we play as the Light, we try to find a good balance between trying to recreate the unique sounds of the records whilst also translating the songs into the live format for 2014, over 30 years after they were written.
There are those certainly who question the credibility of a Peter Hook and the Light Tour playing New Order material while there is still, at least in some form, an actual “New Order.” But that material is yours as well. How do you stake your claim to it if detractors get up your nose about it?
I suppose what I would say is you can hear them lot do it, then you can come and hear us lot do it properly! Ha ha. Only joking of course, or am I? At the end of the day, I helped to write this material so I will continue to play it for as long as people want to hear me do it, anywhere we are invited to do so. There are those that question our credibility, but I know for a fact that there are also many people who question theirs–just because they are using the New Order name does not make them New Order, far from it!
You wrote a terrific, eloquent book about Joy Division, “Unknown Pleasures,” which captured the ups and downs of the band, and cast blame all around for not perceiving the severity of Ian’s depression. And you said it is, of course, one man’s take on it all. When we talked last year, you said you were in the process of writing the New Order bio. How is it coming along?
Great, thank you! It should be out early next year and it will be titled “Power, Corruption and Lies—Inside New Order.” Bernard brought his book out recently, of course, so now I will get to have the final say. I am glad that I decided to do my books in three installments as Bernard’s proved that one book is not enough to fit everything in. [Hook wrote a first book about the notorious Manchester club, the Hacienda, which they all owned and figuratively went down in flames.] I was frankly amazed by some of the things that did not even warrant a mention in his. I mean to not even mention some of your biggest works such as “Power, Corruption and Lies” or “Brotherhood,” that seemed crazy to me. Mine will have a lot more attention to detail and will of course be factually correct which Bernard’s book seems to be lacking.
In the Joy Division book, one thing that impressed me is that while you took shots at other band members, you very much included yourself in the critique. It wasn’t by any means an “I was right/they were wrong” scenario. I’m assuming that attitude will continue with the New Order book.
Of course, yeah, I am man enough to be able to admit my own mistakes. I think that is an important trait to have. I am also man enough to be able to separate my view of the others because while I am their bitter enemy now it seems, that does not change the fact that Bernard and Steve [Morris, drummer] are fantastic musicians and I will continue that in the New Order book.
Have you any interaction with your old New Order mates since you and the Light have been doing this? And do you care what they think?
Unfortunately, the only interaction I have these days with the others is through my lawyers. I do not agree with the business side of their supposed “reformation” and so I am fighting it with my legal team at the moment. It looks like it will come to a head soon. The others refuse to negotiate and will not sort anything out, so it is very frustrating but you have to fight for what you believe in.
Is it difficult to retain your respect, or love, for the music with all the bad blood that later went down between you and Bernard?
Like I mentioned earlier, I think it is very important that you do not let current issues cloud your view of the others as musicians or to cloud your view on what you achieved in the band. I have always tried to be measured in my outlook, and have tried to be as even-handed and equivocal in my books. I am sure that the fans are just as sick of us arguing as I am.
How did the songwriting generally work in New Order? Who did what?
At first, the reality is that it was very much a collaborative process—all of us chipped in musically and lyrically. Over the years however this changed a lot. Bernard wanted more and more control and so began to take on all of the lyrics on his own. Steve’s input also diminished over the years—“Get Ready” for example was mainly done by me and Bernard.
Bernard was the primary singer in New Order. He got the job, if I’m not mistaken, by default. You and Stephen both had a go, and Bernard was the best of the bunch. In retrospect, was it a good call?
I think so, yeah. We all had a go at first and he was the best at it. It also allowed us to develop one of our early trademark styles, as because at that time he could not sing and play together, a lot of our songs were very sparse guitar-wise while he was singing, then it would all come crashing in for these big instrumental choruses, “Truth” from the “Movement” record would be a good example of that.
You’ve said that the change from a guitar orientation to a guitar/synth mix in New Order, although it perhaps appeared radical to Joy Division fans, was, really, where Joy Division was headed—and would have headed had Ian not killed himself. Do you ever think about what “New Order with Ian”—which of course still would have been Joy Division—might have sounded like?
I think about it now and again, yeah. I can see Ian singing “Blue Monday,” honestly. The band was heading in a more electronic direction because Steve and Bernard in particular were becoming more and more interested in synths, etc., so it was a natural path to go down and Ian always loved electronic music like Kraftwerk so I can definitely see that we would have gone more electronic if he had not passed away.
You’ve been candid about your own drugging and drinking years, leading to a personal and professional crisis. Away from that for some time now, how do you look back? Can you have regrets or do you simply say, “That was me, then and this is me now?”
I lived to excess, but I am now proud to say that I have been sober for 10 years. I realized that it was a problem and thankfully was able to sort myself out with the love and support of my friends and family. I don’t shy away from it as maybe others will then be able to learn from my mistakes.
Do you foresee yourself making new music with the Light—or making new music in general in another context or band format?
I do, yes. We have started. It’s only early days, but we do plan to release new music from this group. It’s quite difficult to find the time to go into the studio and do it simply because we tour so much, but eventually I want to go in and do it at some point next year, I have had the itch for new material for a while now so I am going to scratch it soon. The lads have already put together some really interesting ideas so I am looking forward to developing it all.
Be warned: This video includes some strong language: