Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order)
by Interviews

Peter Hook, the bassist of Joy Division and New Order, is about to start one hell of a gambit. On his Fall tour of the states, Hook, along with his band The Light, are going to play the entirety of New Order’s Low-Life and Brotherhood albums in addition to a Joy Division set.

It’s a particularly daring maneuver because while Joy Division’s catalog is some of the world’s most heralded music, and New Order’s Power, Corruption, and Lies was where the band hit it big, both Low-Life and Brotherhood are trickier releases. Those LPs found Hook merging his trademark low, rumbling, dread-bass with lighter, gossamer sounds. The result is some of New Order’s most cherished, and most obscure, songs. After years in suspension, the tunes are finally getting a live workout.

To learn about the new tour, features editor John Gentile spoke to Hook about the LPs, hanging out with Quincy Jones and the ever-brittle band member relations of New Order.

Power, Corruption, and Lies and its associated singles really broke New Order for the masses. Low-Life was the follow up to the band’s first big success. Where was the band at creatively during the writing and recording sessions?
We were very driven by [New Order manager] Rob Gretton and [Factory Records owner] Tony Wilson. They didn’t really plan the releases, but they wanted to have new releases in mind. Record companies plan releases years and years in advance. But, Factory Records and New Order was that as soon as we finished one, we put it out and Rob said, “Right, let’s do another one.” Regardless of how well or badly it did, we immediately started to work on the next one. Rob used to say, “The best song that you’re ever going to write is your next one… so get on with it!” It was as simple as that, really. It’s what kept us going. Nothing was planned. As soon as we finished Power, Corruption and Lies, we started Low-Life.

I particularly like how Low-Life seems to be caught between this sense of dread and sense wonder, often on the same tracks. I think your bass plays a large part of that. This is the release where you really started to experiment with your famously low rumble as well as the higher, lighter style.
Well, thank you! Low-Life is a great collection of songs, from my perspective. It’s amazing how evocative Low-Life and Brotherhood are of the 80s. It’s like that film "Hot Tub Time Machine." Have you seen it?

I have! Great film! I have a few "Hot Tub Time Machine" moments on this tour. It takes you back. Especially having my son Jack with me, who is exactly the same age as I was when I did these records, that was the freaky bit. I was 26 or 27 during these records. He is that age now. It’s a really weird synchronicity.

See, I find that fascinating. New Order seems to have a very timeless, mature feel to it… but you were only 26 then. I’m curious, when you hear these songs, do you hear this ageless expression, or do you hear young guys doing what young guys do?
No, let’s face it. We were a complete bunch of idiots then. We were a complete bunch of idiots when we did the Joy Division stuff. That’s the amazing thing about groups. With chemistry, you can write great music that transcends youth, or age. If you listen to a lot of dance music these days, a lot of the great tracks are written by what are consider old people. It’s ageless. I don’t think age matters as much as I made it out to be when I started out as a young punk. “Get rid of all the old farts!” Thank God that didn’t work. I do think that someone like Martin Hannett was able to look at Joy Division and New Order and say these are great songs. He took them away from us and made them timeless. Luckily, Bernard [Sumner, New Order vocalist] and I learned enough from him to take over for Power, Corruption, and Lies and then to carry on honing our craft.

You’re playing two full albums on this tour. New Order was always notoriously picky about keeping the albums and singles distinct. Do you feel that in the iTunes age, the concept of the album is being eroded?
It’s nice to feature the LP because it is an art. It’s an art that’s being devalued by the Internet. This is a celebration of something from my life. As you play the albums, it’s wonderful to see people agreeing with you. Playing an album does require more concentration. The tracks that wouldn’t feature in a normal band performance, I like the way that it makes the gig a little bit awkward and edgy. I like how it makes the band a little bit awkward and edgy. We’re playing songs that were never played live. I find it amazing that New Order never bothered to play these songs.

The weird thing about New Order is that before we broke up in 2006, we got bored with a lot of the songs. Bernard and Stephen [Morris, New Order drummer] were very conservative in their choices. Bernard in particular didn’t like any of the old stuff, which I found very sad. I was very frustrated by that attitude, I have to say. they played it very safe. I must admit that I was delighted when they came back in 2011, they were still playing it very safe as they did then.

I guess that leaves me to take it the other way. I was looking at a song like “Way of Life” and New Order last played it like 25 year ago. I don’t think we ever played “Angel Dust.” I was like “Oh my God! This is ridiculous.” In the same way that I lost the Joy Division music, I lost the New Order stuff without even realizing it.

I’m a man of my word. We will play every track that we ever wrote and recorded, at least once, before I go off to join the band in the sky. And it looks like I might get my wish.

Speaking of the “band in the sky,” Joy Division and New Order have songs that contemplate mortality. Do you believe in an afterlife?
I’m an alcoholic, so I believe in a higher power. I think the wonderful thing about being free in this world is that you can choose the higher power. I’m spiritual, and yeah, I believe. I think it’s a wonderful option, shall we say, which makes it sound rather business like. I go to church with my wife, who is an avid churchgoer. I go occasionally. I’ve never met a nasty churchgoer. I think it’s a great idea. Heaven is a wonderful idea and I hope it happens to all of us. I think it’s such a nice concept that you can to a place to celebrate life as is. I’m a believer, man.

When you were younger you lived in Jamaica, which is famous for its bass sound. Did any of that influence you by osmosis?
No, not at all! Jamaica was like a wonderful adventure playground for a kid. I was six through ten there. It was a great place for a kid. I didn’t really get the culture then. It was very dangerous at that time, politically. It was changing a lot with the government. There were a lot of protests. It was a pretty hairy time to be in Jamaica.

That’s why my mother brought us back to England. Maybe if I stayed there for a few more years, I would have been dreadlocked and backing Ziggy Marley. But actually, I was introduced to reggae by [Joy Division vocalist]Ian Curtis. Ian was a huge reggae fan. It was always Ian who was giving me these Augustus Pablo records. Ian’s favorite track was “Turn the Heater On” by Keith Hudson. He loved reggae music and the reason he got melodica and started using them on Joy Division tracks was because he saw all the reggae guys doing it. Then, it sort of became our “gimmick” in Joy Division and New Order, using the melodica.

Low-Life was on Qwest, which was Quincy Jones’ label. Did you ever get to meet him?
Yeah, we met Quincy many times. I must say was that one of the greatest compliments that I was ever paid was by Quincy. When he signed us, and when we went to meet him when we were on the Qwest label, which was basically people that he just liked, Bernard and I said to him, “Well, we guess you’ll be remixing the LP.” And he went, “Why would I do that?” We said, “Why, you are Quincy Jones, the world’s greatest record producer!” He said, “You’ve done a great job with this record. I’m not going to change it.” Bernard and I floated out of the office. He knew how we operated and was happy to go along with it. He was happy to not put the singles on the albums. He was happy to not look at it as a commercial thing -- because it was commercial suicide -- and do it for the sake of the art. Do you know that I still get a Christmas and birthday card from him every year? He’s a lovely guy.

When you worked on “The Perfect Kiss,” you stayed up for 43 hours straight to finish it. What is it like around hour 41 or 42? Are you just completely out of your mind?
I was completely delirious. What happened was Mike Johnson and I were engineering it. The others would come in and I think they slept three times. The others would come in and say do this, do that, turn this up, which was what most musicians do. But, I stayed there the whole time. The insane part was then, after it was done, I got in the car and drove to Manchester and them lot slept all the way home in the car!

Well, that’s admirable… and dangerous!
Well, I was younger and I was ”invulnerable.” When you’re that young you think that you’re invulnerable.

You recently did a book review of Bernard Sumner’s book. Was that an attack, a defensive of yourself, or just some fun punk rock mischievousness?
It was a defense of myself. I think that Bernard in my opinion has manufactured his whole book to take the New Order name in 2011. I think he’s doing a desperate job to convince the fans that I’m such a bastard that I deserve to be treated like that. I don’t think that there are many people in the world that would like to be treated like that.

I think he’s doing a terrible, despicable job that he did in his book. This is my opinion, don’t forget. One thing that I was very proud of in my two books is that I never lied.

I wonder if it sort of backfired. I loved Keith Richards’ book, but every time he said something bad about Mick Jagger, it just made him look petty.
Well, you see, the thing is, with Bernard's book, he makes it seem like he never fell out or fought with Rob. Bur, he fought constantly with Rob, and Tony Wilson and Stephen and Gillian. He was very critical over the year about Stephen and Gillian. But now he needs them, so he’s shifted all the focus onto me and made me bloody Charles Manson! I was reading it and I was, “Barney!” I don’t understand it. The sad thing is that the guy is an ultra-talented musician that has created two genres that have lasted the test of time. Joy Division is 40 years and New Order we’re up to 34 years, and he never mentioned how he did the music, or his drive behind the music. He just seemed completely misguided. I just though that this was terrible. I don’t think that he’s done himself any favors and I think that’s the saddest thing of all.

It would be a shame to let these live performances disappear. Do you have any live albums of any of these shows planned?
It’s not something that I usually think about these days. The expense for a group as small as we are outweighs the amount you could sell. I was approached by the group that throws unique events. We’re playing all six albums in Los Angeles and again in England. They approached us to see of we could record all six albums. So, we’re going to record the albums in England so the answer is yes! It’s weird because when I hear the previous live album, the Melbourne one, we had only done Joy Division seven times. We were very young as a group. When I listen to it now, it seems different. It has a wonderful energy. I was very scared at that point, but eventually I relaxed. I admit that Bernard’s shoes are easier to fill than Ian. I tried to do Ian justice.