Peter Hook on conflict, Substance, and long lost songs
by Interviews

Peter Hook has survived. After years and years of legal battles with his former New Order bandmates, everything is settled and finished. When he first started touring behind Joy Divison and New Order's music, there was some boo-hoo-hooing on the Internet. But you know what? No one's making sour faces now. Why? It's because Hook and his band the light have proven themselves time and time again by touring non-stop, kicking out incendiary, raw, explosive versions of the entire JD catalogue and most of the ND discs. That is to say, the Hook and the Light versions of these songs are punk as hell- even the dance stuff! Hook has persevered and it's a damn good thing he did.

In fact, right now, he's crossing the USA and playing the entirety of both Substance releases- that's right, all of the JD tracks AND all of the NO tracks. So, to see how Hook's victory march is going, Punknews' John Gentile rang him up to talk about the Substance albums, his mental space these days, and the concept of never not finishing a song, even if you don't like it. check out the interview below.

To me, the Substance tour is a sort of validation. You were in conflict with New Order for a while, and that’s over. When you first started doing tours playing Joy Division and New Order tunes, there were some journalists that were critical of the concept. But now that you’ve toured this material, and now that you’ve shown people what you can do, you don’t really see any negative pieces because, at least in my opinion, you’ve proven how vibrant and combustible you and your band are when playing this material live. Does this feel like a victory to you? Does it feel like a victory…? That’s an interesting question. To be honest with you, every gig that you get to play feels like a victory. I will never forget how difficult it was when the only person that believe din your group and the other members. So, every time you got a support gig or managed to get a gig on your own and people came, it felt like a victory. That feeling never goes away.

I will say, during the conflict, which was on going, which was awful, every time you played a gig, that wonderful feeling that you get from doing a job you love really did give you heart and stamina to carry on. I think the same thing goes for life. Life is tough these days. In general, it’s great to be appreciated. I’m sure the same thing is in your job, mate, isn’t it?

It sure is! So the thing was, we did have a lot, of shall we say, internet criticism at first, and there were two bands drawing from the same pool of music which may have been a little odd, but what I do, is completely different than what the others do. So, I personally think that there’s room for all of us. If I was a fan, I’d be delighted to hear the others do their versions of the songs, and with me, whether you compare to me or not, you can just enjoy both. It has to be a good thing.

My ambition and aim was to play every song that I’ve ever recorded. I think we’ve done well. I’ve got Technique and Republic scheduled for September this year. So, to play Substance again in America was a great second bite at the cherry. We had such a great time doing it and it was so well received the last time. The promoters said, “you should do this again and save Technique for next year!” To be honest with you, It was a bonus because we have such a great time doing it and we are so well received by you lot. We have been since 1980. To be appreciated anywhere is great, but we have a wonderful time in America. I love the country beyond compare. To be able to come back and play Substance and a few of the b-sides, which I’m really looking forward, to is great.

When I hear you play the Joy Division and New Order material, it comes off as very explosive, very raw, very punk rock, if you will. Was that a tactical choice, or is that just how it came out when you started playing? No, what it is, the thing that drives me on, by being a musician, is playing with other people I love the ups, the downs, the finishes, the quiet parts, the emotion. It really is quite a weird thing. When the four of us, of the five of us in the Light stand there, there is no noise, yeah? Then you put your hands on the guitar, the keyboard, the drumsticks, and you make a wonderful noise, and I think that is magical. It’s magical when I see it.

I went to watch John Cale last week who is a hero of mine. He did a wonderful set of songs spanning 40 odd years. To watch him playing is magical, so if I can have that effect, it is just great. It’s a drive that I had very early on in my life, To watch it connects with people, culturally, physically, is a great ting to be able to do. It blows me away to watch the effect music can have on people, and to see the effect people can have on me. So, whilst I’m very much a musician, I get the same buzz from my heroes… and maybe heroes is the wrong word… people who do a job well. I’m in awe of people who do their job well. I’m in awe of the guy who fixes my car. It’s nice to do your job well and to be appreciated with whatever you’re doing.

Not to get too abstract, but I’d argue that there are different “types” of intelligence. that is, your mechanic is very smart at being a mechanic. You’re very smart at being a musician. That is, there isn’t a single linear route that is “intelligence.” Do you know what’s the interesting thing about making music? Whilst there are million of music schools where you can go to learn to play music, and there are a lot in England right now, there aren’t that many people that can write great songs. It is an art and it’s a very underestimated art.

When you think about it, how many days listen to great songs and there aren’t that many people that write them. There are billions of people and very few of them can write great songs. To be a part of that fleet… even I don’t know how we did it. When I listen to songs, I was listening to “something must break,” today, “Atmosphere,” “Subculture,” and I listened to them and thought, “Wow! How did we do that!” It’s like a magic and in a funny way it still gives you a thrill.

Substance Joy Division and Substance New Order are very contrasting albums. They shouldn’t go together, but it works. It’s a magic I don’t understand and I love it.

Joy Division and New Order songs have a very heavy emotional component. Do those songs still cause you to feel the same way, or have they changed how they strike you at this point? What do those songs stir within you in 2018? Well, you know, the thing is that there is a nostalgia attached, but the nostalgia is only there while your working the song out. It’s a very funny thing. Once you’ve got the song together the excitement of it coming together is gone, and you’ve just got the song. It’s a different feeling. It’s wonderful thing to play songs that the fans have never heard. I don’t have a choice. I have to play every song. Some of them are really difficult, or maybe they are see to be not as good as the others. But., I have to play them because that’s my deal. But, to see people’s faces when we play a song that we haven’t played for 30 years, that makes every bit of difficulty worth it.

Ian Curtis used to say that you should finish every song that you come up with, because someone will love it. I love the idea that someone like Ian Curtis was worried, not about 50,000 people, not about 20,000 people, but on one person missing out on a song they would love. I love that thought of his that he was looking after everybody. It was an amazing thought. We’d have a song and go, “let’s dump it,” and he’d go, “No! No! Let’s finish it!” That’s why I did “pictures in my mind” and finished it off. I knew he would have been happier with it being finished than it not being finished.

It’s quite surreal. Playing for just one person. It’s quite surreal- traveling, making music, but it beats working for a living, know what I mean?

Joy Division and New Order both crossed genre boundaries by incorporating electronics into the rock element, with significant overlap between the two. Today, if we look at the charts, it’s nearly all electronic based music- Hip Hop, pop, dance are all built off electronic beats in 2018. Is this the Joy Division/New Order vision seen to its fullest scope… or is the loss of the rock element an unfortunate casualty? Woooo! Well, every song is different. What happened was Joy Division was getting into dance music, but we were doing it the old way- which is playing the rhythms. Then, with the technological revolution in 1980, you could have machines play the rhythms and didn’t have to play them yourself. You went from disco to dance with a backing track. New Order really set the template for that kind of music- half electronic and half acoustic. All music these days is a mix of that. Some electronics and some acoustic. You don’t know how much of each is there unless if you’re there during recording. In my opinion, that marriage of rock and dance is what virtually every group in world plays now… unless they make a point by saying it otherwise. Look at Kraftwerk, it’s all electronic with vocal. It’s interesting that we stumbled into that coming from a rock band like Joy Division.

Peter, one of the things that I really admire about you is that, throughout your career, you stood your ground. You’ve made it a point to say, “here’s what I think is right and proper and I’m not backing down!” How does one stay strong like that, without turning into a bore… like a certain president…? Woooo hooo hooo! Well, you have to believe that you’re right. I was very lucky, you see. I came from punk. Punk was about smashing the mold, it was about anarchy, it was about believing yourself against all odds. It’s like the film 300! Ha ha ha! It’s about standing your ground and doing what you think is right. Nowadays, with the music talent shows, it’s all about what other people think of you. I side with great artists like Neil Young on this- you don’t pander to people. Neil Young has an audience because they like him, not because he likes them. So he does what he wants to do. He tells the what he’s like.

From that point of view and education and experience, I’m, you have to say, a bit hard headed, a bit hot headed, and a bit impulsive, but you believe in yourself. Some days you wake up in the morning, and you might not feel like it, I go to the gym, I punch the bag around, throw a few weights around, and come back, and I’m ready again. It’s about finding a way to find a way to cope. In the old days I coped with drink and drugs and nowadays I cope a lot better, I must admit. But, it was built in me from the very first minute I saw the Sex Pistols, who didn’t care about their audience, they only cared about themselves.

I’ve been told many, many times how shit Joy Division were. People wouldn’t give them a gig, they wouldn’t give them a recording deal. I fought against that and we had a great stable of people that fought against that- Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Rob Gretton, Tony Wilson. It’s about likeminded people who believed in you. I was very lucky because we wrote great songs. It does come down to the music and whether it has the power to last. And I suppose the thing is, if you are writing great music, maybe it rubs off on you and gives you the power to last.