An Interview with Peter Hook, Formerly of Joy Divison & New Order

All images courtesy of Peter Hook/Getty Images


By Andrew Daly
andrew@vinylwriter.com

For Peter Hook, the chance to celebrate the eternal legacy of quintessential acts Joy Division and New Order is the linchpin of the influential bassist’s legacy.

After years of on-again, off-again dysfunction, an ugly divorce from New Order in 2007 left Hook out in the cold, without a musical home. For three years, Hook ruminated until the resolute four-stringer acted, forming The Light in 2010, to celebrate the eternally classic music he aided in creating.

Feeling that he could serve the legacy of Joy Division and New Order better than his former bandmates and harboring a duty to keep what he had originated relevant, Hook began celebrating the long-discarded work of Joy Division, as well as very early New Order.

Initially, Hook played bits and pieces of both Unknown Pleasures (1979) and Closer (1980) before eventually deciding to pay tribute to New Order’s Movement (1981), playing the band’s powerful debut in full to increasingly growing and grateful audiences.

In the ensuing years, Hook has not only preserved the legacy of Joy Division and New Order but also reclaimed his own. In separating himself from a toxic situation and forging a path forward, Hook’s legacy with The Light has found him a commanding presence, touring year in and year out, now playing both Unknown Pleasures and Closer in full, with a smattering of New Order tracks to boot.

During a recent West Coast swing, Peter Hook recently chatted with me via phone regarding the decision to pay tribute to the music of Joy Division, his recollections of the band’s early days in the studio, the legacy of New Order, and more.

Andrew:
You’ve been playing Joy Divisions, Unknown Pleasures, and Closer in full. How did you decide to run through those albums again, Peter?

Peter:
Interestingly, when I began The Light in 2010, I didn’t want to mimic my past groups. I didn’t want to pretend; I’ll leave that sort of thing New Order. So, I was trying to find a way of being able to celebrate Joy Division’s music without being a tribute band; I suppose it was a very thin line to tread. But I was having a little trouble. I remember reading an article by Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream about how he had never played Screamadelica live but wished he could have played the album in full. And I thought, “Oh, that’s not a bad idea,” but the thing is that most people who have heard the music of Joy Division live have only ever heard it back in the band’s day or very recently with the few songs I play.

So, by playing the whole album, I thought that that would be a far better way of presenting the music. And don’t forget, I haven’t played it, either; I haven’t played it for 35 years, so it’s new for me too, and it was very much a celebration. I mean, The Light was actually formed to celebrate the music; that was the idea of it. But what’s happened is that we’ve gone through two stages; for the first year in 2010, we celebrated parts of Unknown Pleasures, and then in 2011, we added bits of Closer. And then, in 2013, I did Movement by New Order, all with the idea of celebrating how the band sounds on the record and playing it exactly that way.

Andrew:
As you run through these records in full for the first time in many years, what emotions are you experiencing while you’re on stage?

Peter:
Well, ironically, there was another interesting aspect to this in that I couldn’t find a singer. Originally, I just wanted to play bass, but all the singers I had were scared off by the potential internet criticism. They just couldn’t fathom even contemplating doing it, which was very sad. So, Rowetta from Happy Mondays is a great friend of mine, and she said, “Hooky, you’re gonna have to sing; otherwise, it ain’t gonna happen.” So, I realized, “She’s right. I am going to have to sing it,” but that left me short a bass player. But my son, Jack [Bates], who had played with us quite a few times, asked if he could do it. So, the ironic part was that Jack did it at exactly the same age as I was when Joy Division first started.

When I did it the second time around 35 years later, my son was the same age as me, which led to some very weird déjà vu-type moments. Watching him, It felt like I was looking at myself at age 19 when we wrote it originally, and it was quite strange. But playing these songs is the most evocative thing for me, and finding people to take those risks together with me is also a provocative thing, which gives me all the flashbacks; it’s the strangest thing. But I mean, the most wonderful aspect of it has to be that I’ve been able to play the album that Joy Division never got to play live. We never played any of the songs on Closer when it was finished, so to actually get that back was absolutely wonderful.

Andrew:
One of my observations is that with The Light, the tracks seem to take on more of a punk rock sound. Was that a conscious choice?

Peter:
No, it wasn’t a conscious choice. It’s just the fact that we’re rock ‘n’ roll musicians, so we tend to put a hell of a lot into anything by anyone to play. I think that that gives you an honest view that we’re not lying up there on stage. We’re trying to extract as much passion, as much heart, and as much soul out of the music as it had originally.

Andrew:
How did you initially develop your distinctive “lead bass” style?

Peter:
Purely by luck. [Laughs]. Early on, I had a shit amplifier, but Bernard [Sumner] had a really good amplifier, so all you could hear in practice was his guitar. So, the only way I could make the bass stand out was to play it high on the strings because then I could hear it, and it cut through. Now, when I did that, Ian [Curtis] said, “I’m a massive fan of when you play high. I love the sound.” And that encouragement from Ian early on was absolutely solid, so yeah, that’s where it came from. The riffs were all made up by me, and they were all written by me. It was a talent that I never knew I had for 19 years, and it was unbelievable when I found it. I don’t want to oversimplify it, but it is as simple as that, but I think the interesting part about Joy Division was that each member had a unique style. You know, it’s been said before when we talk about musicians, but there was chemistry, and it has to be said that Joy Division’s chemistry was perfect. Each of us managed to find our little piece of the jigsaw quite naturally, and I must say that I’ve never had that type of balance in a group before or after. The chemistry we had was perfect, and it was absolutely equal.

All images courtesy of Peter Hook/Getty Images

Andrew:
What was it specifically about Joy Division’s chemistry which made it perfect?

Peter:
If you had taken us all into a room and spoken to us, you probably would never have guessed that we were in a band together. It was just, I mean, I don’t know, how do you make the perfect cocktail? It’s a thing that sometimes just happens, and sometimes it doesn’t. Now, it wasn’t exactly a perfect cocktail because suddenly, Ian’s illness meant that the band was over more or less before it even began. So, what I’m absolutely over the moon proud about is the fact that I can stand here all these years later and realize that Joy Division’s legacy is still so important to so many people. It means that I get the chance to stand up and celebrate it. I never considered that it could possibly happen in the way that it has when I first celebrated it.

But what struck me more was when I realized that when we were together in New Order, we never celebrated anything to do with Joy Division. And we were okay with that while we were all in New Order, but when we split up, and I was outside of it, I was like, “Why did we never celebrate anything to do with Joy Division?” This music is amazing, still sounds fantastic, and we are still gathering a following every year as we go on, but we never did anything to celebrate it. So, I thought that after all those years, it was time. But it’s sad because as we celebrate, I have no relationship with the other members to be able to remember Joy Division with them. We’ve been at each other’s throats and have been since 2007; there’s shit to this day, and there’s no change.

So, the thing is, I knew I’d be doing it alone, but I was going to be damned if I was going to let it pass without some kind of celebration. The first celebration in 2010 was for 300 people in Manchester, and I really didn’t think we’d get a career out of it; I didn’t think I’d get my career back after New Order. But as we’ve gone on, we’ve proved to people that we’re doing it for the right reasons, and I think that people latch on to that. They latch on to the heart, soul, and passion with which you play.

Andrew:
Do you feel that New Order avoided celebrating Joy Division as a means to keep the band from living in the shadow of Joy Division and Ian Curtis?

Peter:
No. I mean, originally, we were basically hiding it by ignoring Joy Division and Ian. And New Order actually achieved its own identity and its own style quickly, which was quite different from Joy Division. We didn’t need to look back, and to be honest with you, it’s like snakes and ladders; you start at the bottom, you get to the top of the ladder, and then go to the bottom again. We had to start again to see, and I think we all felt that we still had something to say, apart from Joy Division. I look back now, though, and I think we got stuck in a rut quite early on. The clashing of our personalities began very early in Joy Division’s career and only worsened as time went on while we were in New Order.

Andrew:
What are some of the challenges that Joy Division faced while recording Unknown Pleasures?

Peter:
The challenges were unbelievable, considering we were absolute beginners and had no idea what we were doing. [Laughs]. We weren’t very demanding; we basically just wanted to sound like the Sex Pistols, so we fully expected Unknown Pleasures to be in that genre. But the producer Martin Hannett took things to another level because he saw something that we didn’t know, and we cannot thank him enough for that. The thing is, we thought we were making a punk album, but Martin knew something that we didn’t, and I didn’t recognize how amazing the album we made was until many years later. Martin somehow knew that we weren’t the punks that we thought we were when we were young. Of course, as I’ve matured and grown older, I’ve realized that he gave us a gift that is so precious; he gave us eternal life.

Andrew:
Some feel Unknown Pleasures is a perfect album. Would you agree?

I wouldn’t say that Unknown Pleasures was our perfect album. I don’t think we had the chance to make a perfect album. What struck me recently was the fact that we had “In a Lonely Place” and “Ceremony,” which ended up being recorded by New Order, but we had the makings of a fantastic third LP if Joy Division had been able to continue. And so, I suppose in a way; I can’t help but feel that what might have been our third record, that was going to be the perfect one. I mean, Unknown Pleasures was recorded and mixed in six days, and Closer was recorded and mixed in 14 days. Compare that to New Order’s Waiting for the Sirens’ Call, which took three and a half years. [Laughs].

Back in the Joy Division days, the pace that we were working at was much more highly charged, and that was the norm. So, I wouldn’t say it was perfect in any way; we were rushing to record it, and we were under immense pressure from a financial point of view to get it finished. If we hadn’t finished it in about six days – three weekends – it would have been over. It wasn’t an enjoyable process; we were very much finding our feet. And because of that, I don’t think that any of us in Joy Division realized what we had created, not even probably before Joy Division finished.

All images courtesy of Peter Hook/Getty Images

Andrew:
What are your recollections of your specific contributions?

Peter:
As I said before, all our contributions were incredibly important. I think Bernard might have had more of an impact from a production standpoint. So, two tracks, “Shadowplay” and “Transmission,” were written in the studio. It was an amazing amount of work, considering that we added those two tracks while we were in the studio for six days. So, we had to write those two tracks from scratch with just two or three of us in a room. With that pace of work, it was hard, but because we were young, time just seems to last forever. It’s only when you get older that you realize that time is flying by. It was hard work, and I remember that everyone contributed pretty equally, actually.

Andrew:
What lessons did Joy Division learn that you took into the Closer sessions?

Andrew:
I think it’s a different album. I want to say it’s better, but it’s better in a different way. The thing was, as we went in to do Closer, I think half the songs, if not more, were unfinished, so they were actually finished in the studio. It was very difficult because Ian’s illness was very acute by then, so we were having to keep an eye on Ian all the time and make sure he was okay. It was very much an uphill battle, and we were not at all relaxed about the album. Martin was with us again, and he was very useful in the studio, coming up with loads of ideas. He encouraged us to use keyboards; he encouraged us to experiment, and he himself was very experimental, and it was quite an eye-opener.

But again, we did nine tracks, finished them, and mixed them very quickly. The fact that we got it done the way we did, given the situation, was amazing. I did feel on that record; we were against the clock, which was just like it was with Unknown Pleasures, so we were used to that. I have to say that, in my experience, it’s a much better way of working than when somebody just gives you a blank check and goes, “Come out whenever you’re finished.” Looking back, New Order albums were roughly the same length as Joe Division’s, so taking three and a half years to make an album was just ludicrous. I know that a lot of groups do it, but it seems to me that at the rate I work at now and what we did as Joy Division, it just makes no sense to take that length of time.

Andrew:
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” What can you recall regarding its genesis?

Peter:
So, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was written in two sessions in our practice room. It was written in Windsor; it was cold, and we were fucking freezing, and we could only afford an hour. It was Wednesdays that we used to practice for an hour, and it cost three pounds to practice for an hour, so we split it four ways. We came up with the drums and the bass riff first, and while Stephen [Morris] and I were listening to it, we said, “Ian, you know what? You get some words. I’ll get some words, and the lyrics came together.” So, we came back on Sunday afternoon because we had another two-hour session because that was all we could afford. And Ian started singing levels over the verses Bernard came up with, which followed the bass riff for the chorus that I came up with. Bernard did the chord progression for the verse, and Stephen and I came up with the build-up. Overall, that song was finished in three hours, over two sessions, which I suppose is incredible to think about.

Andrew:
I suppose the band had no idea what it had on its hands at that time.

Peter:
No, and we didn’t care. Once we finished it, we literally went, “Right, that one’s finished. Let’s get on to the next one.” We were so prolific as Joy Division; we were writing between one and two tracks per week. Even though we were only practicing for three hours a week, the speed at which we wrote and the quality of those songs was incredible. Now the interesting thing is that as I’ve gotten older, there are fewer songs. Early on, when it’s easier to write, you accumulate more songs, but then it becomes harder later on. As a songwriter, you want each song you write to sound different, like they were at the beginning. So, it really becomes quite an odd anomaly where the more songs you write, the harder it then becomes to write distinctive, unique-sounding songs. Maybe that’s why bands have a golden period of writing, and then all of a sudden, it all sounds the same.

Andrew:
What might the future have held for Joy Division if Ian Curtis had lived?

Peter:
Well, I would hope that it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as fucking tragic as New Order has turned out to be. The wonderful thing about Joy Division is that there’s a purity to it because of the very short lifespan of the group. I mean, no one went off to do a solo LP. Nobody sued the others for publishing or trademark violation. So, there was a wonderful, young, naive purity to Joy Division that I know that I will never have again. Joy Division has an interesting history, but sadly, it’s not a unique story. If you look at bands like Nirvana and all these other groups that have had a tragic end, like Joy Division, you look at them and wonder where they could have gone. But looking at most bands, I have to say that it usually ends up being the typical amount of bickering, arguing, and illogical nonsense that most musicians go through. So, I’m delighted that I could look back on Joy Division in that way, even though we made a lot of mistakes. I mean, financially, when Joy Division was around, we never made any money from Joy Division. And Ian, he actually died penniless; he came into this world with nothing, and he went out of this world with nothing.

All images courtesy of Peter Hook/Image credit: Kevin Cummins

Andrew:
“Ceremony” will forever be a song that links together Joy Division and New Order. Can you recount its inception?

Peter:
After Ian died, we were desperately trying to figure out how the unit was going to work and if it was going to work. But the music for “Ceremony” was written by Steven, and he even put the vocals and the chorus together, probably with a bit of encouragement and help from us. It was just more or less recorded exactly as it was by Joy Division. We made an attempt to add Gillian Gilbert on it; I suppose to justify that she was joining the band, but to be honest with you, the version by New Order sounds more or less the same as the original, which was done by Joy Division. So, “Ceremony,” by default, is a Joy Division song, played by Joy Division but without Ian, so we had to figure out the vocals. But I mean, it’s such a great song, and just last night, we played it with friends of ours, a band called Cold Cave, and Wesley Eisold did the vocals for it. And watching the reaction of the people to that song every night, to me, it seems to have gathered as much love and meaning as any other song. It’s a great pop song and an unusual pop song to boot.

Andrew:
In retrospect, do you feel New Order reached its potential?

Peter:
New Order’s first gig was in 1980; looking back, I think it was all downhill from there, to be honest. It’s a very sad state of affairs in New Order. As much as I hate to say it, we are still at each other’s throats at this very moment, which has never leveled since the band split. I still think that they’re pretending to be something they aren’t, and I do not consider them to be New Order in any way, shape, or form. I think that they know it, and that’s why they have to be so antagonistic and violent towards me. That’s the deal. I mean, they have spent years trying to shut me up, and that’s not going to change. It is unfortunate, but it’s just life; we aren’t the first group that has fallen out about a trademark. We aren’t the first group that spent years and wasted thousands of dollars in court arguing because we failed to talk to each other. So, we’re pretty much a walking cliche, but it’s sad, it’s all ego, and it lacks common sense. There is no fairness and no moral obligation in any of the actions between us, which is terrible. We were a great group that actually was unique in its own way, and sadly, New Order has been reduced to what it is now.

Andrew:
As you look ahead, why is it important for you to carry out the legacy of Joy Division and New Order?

Peter:
Oh, well, I mean, I play it so that it’s easy for me. [Laughs]. For me, to play Movement, which is like a Joy Division album with New Order vocals, and then to then move into a very unique sounding Power, Corruption & Lies, it’s very special. That said, New Order was really stuck, and we were no longer taking chances. We became very boring in concert, and our song choices were limited. We were ignoring so many wonderful songs; looking back; it was heartbreaking. For what it’s worth, I think I am now interpreting the tracks better than New Order. That’s just my opinion. Now, that’s very naughty to say, but you don’t wait as long as I did and not go for it. But outdoing them, it’s not very difficult because I know how much work they used to put in, and believe me, it was heartbreaking to watch it burn.

So, literally, as soon as I started celebrating Joy Division and New Order again, it was breathtaking. When I looked at these songs that hadn’t been played live for over 30 or 40 years, I was like, “Wow, I never realized how much we were missing,” and I was flabbergasted. So now I’m free to celebrate the recorded versions of all my songs that I couldn’t touch before. While I was in New Order, I couldn’t play any Joy Division songs, I don’t know why, but there was no real appetite to do it. We couldn’t even play three-quarters of New Order’s recorded output because there was no appetite to play it. And that came down to certain members, and none of that was my choice. It was so frustrating, but now that I’m free, able to play them all, and celebrate the way that they were written and recorded, I will carry on doing it until they nail my box shut when I’m dead.

All images courtesy of Peter Hook/Getty Images

Andrew Daly (@vwmusicrocks) is the Editor-in-Chief for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at andrew@vinylwriter.com

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