Written by: Alex Green
There’s a simple formula that we at Stereo Embers Magazine hold to be true: Peter Hook + bass guitar = innovation, songwriting mastery, and excitement.
A founding member of the foundational post-punk bands Joy Division and New Order, Hook has the most appropriate name in rock and roll. His bass lines are instantly memorable and catchy, veritable hooks on which a songs hang.
With Joy Division, Hooky cowrote and played bass on the band’s two seminal albums: 1979’s Unknown Pleasures and 1980’s Closer. He did the same for all nine New Order studio albums, from 1981’s Movement through this year’s Lost Sirens. Hooky’s imaginative bass work can also be heard on crucial non-album classic singles such as “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “Dead Souls,” and “Atmosphere” by Joy Division, as well as on immortal New Order non-album singles such as “Ceremony,” “True Faith,” and “Temptation.”
Hooky now fronts Peter Hook & The Light, a band that has already released one of this year’s best records: Live at Manchester Cathedral (which features performances of the New Order albums Movement, 1983’s Power, Corruption & Lies, and period non-album singles in their entirety). And on September 2, Hooky and his mates will release another: Live at Christ Church in Macclesfield (which finds the guys performing Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, Closer, and non-album singles in their entirety).
And what’s more, Peter Hook & The Light will be performing at this year’s Riot Fest in Chicago as a part of their US tour. The Riot Fest gig will feature the only performances of the two Joy Division albums.
Stereo Embers‘ Alex Green sat down with Hooky to discuss revisiting his back catalog, The Stone Roses and his relationship with Bernard Sumner…
SE: You’re doing Joy Division and New Order sets these days–can you talk a bit about that decision?
Peter Hook: The interesting thing about moving from Joy Division to New Order is that I did sort of have the feeling that I would stop doing Joy Division and concentrate on New Order—that seemed logical. But a lot of people had been asking about the different sets, and to be honest with you, seems one of my complaints about New Order—before they reformed as New Odor—is that we didn’t play enough songs, different songs. So I thought I couldn’t contradict myself and do the same things, so really what happens now at Riot Fest, we can do either. We also do now an electronic set of just dance songs. So yeah, I’m getting quite a few arrows in my quiver.
SE: When you’re playing those songs are new elements of the compositions always being revealed to you?
PH: Well the thing is that I enjoy them so much and I am aware of the differences now. You can actually hear and feel the difference. Movement is very much Joy Division music with New Order vocals, and you get to Power, Corruption & Lies you get New Order music with New Order vocals. There is this stylish change you can feel, a difference as well. It’s good to do both–I’m really enjoying it. Last week, we played a New Order electronic set which included some Joy Division songs. Tomorrow we’re doing the New Order albums and then the day after that I’m doing a Joy Division gig in France. So I’m getting to revel in all the different styles…it’s fantastic. It’s exactly what I wanted to do before New Order split.
SE: What I love so much about these sets is the musical intensity every second packs. I imagine by the end of it all you must be exhausted!
PH: Well, yeah. You know what, the other thing is that I find the Joy Divison music much more exhausting than the New Order music. Especially when you get to Power, Corruption & Lies, you actually do get quite a lot of time off on the sequences taking the burden—so we say. And there’s plenty of drinking time, sitting time, smoking time, so it’s quite weird. Joy Division is quite more intense, without a doubt. It’s interesting to be able see and feel the differences, and it’s actually great to realize what a fantastic record it is. The vocals are very tentative, but they have a charm nonetheless. The biggest problem we had on Movement is that Martin had hated our three voices—he really didn’t like it. In that way, more than any of us, he was just beside himself that he had this fantastic musical group that lost a fantastic lyricist. And instead here are these three dudes—as he puts it—warbling away in the background. But playing live, the vocals are good! All you need is the confidence and experience—of 30 years—to pull it off. That’s what I finally got. I’m really enjoying playing Movement.
SE: What was Martin’s solution when he said he didn’t like your voices? To bring in someone else?
PH: No, his solution was to get himself an even bigger drug habit. He couldn’t offer a solution. He didn’t offer solutions. He wasn’t like that, really. I think he hated the fact that Ian was gone, and I think he took it out on us because we were trying to carry on without him. I don’t have the luxury to ask him myself, now do I? He most certainly wasn’t much help. The reason we got rid of Martin when we came to do “Temptation” was for that reason. He just wasn’t making life that easier for us; he was making life much more difficult.
SE: Your vocal performance on the live record is really strong–I love the way you occupy those songs now.
PH: Thank you. I won’t say it was easy. It took me at least six months—at least—before I had the grip of it and the confidence in myself really to actually feel that I was doing it justice. And I had a few very shaky, shaky moments on stage. It’s just about getting used to it. I’ve not sang on my own for so long—since Monaco. I must admit that when I do start to sing I do get a little—what’s the word…well, I do understand why singers are so difficult, shall I say. Because I’m a bass player by trade, and I had to become a singer. When I started Joy Division stuff nobody was singing. I couldn’t get anyone to sing it. Nobody had the balls….We were all too worried about the internet criticism, that they would detract from trying to take over from Ian Curtis. The Happy Mondays said to me, “Okay, quit messing about, you’d be nice to do it.” From there the obvious, quite natural progression was to go into New Order stuff and now my actual hope is to play every song I’ve ever written before I retire.
SE: I hope you never retire, Peter.
PH: Some mornings I hope it never happens, and other mornings I can’t wait for it to happen.
SE: Your bands have touched people of all decades and generations. So when you look out into the audience is it cool to see that there are 17 or 18 year old kids out there?
PH: To be honest, they’re actually younger. I’ve got nine, 10 ,11 year olds coming to see me—mostly with their parents—who got into the music through them. I must admit I thought that when we started playing the Joy Division stuff that the audience would be full of fat, old blokes like me but that was not true. There’s a helluva a lot of youngsters that are hearing it for the first time—that are happy to hear it for the first time. That was what gave me the idea about playing the record, you see. Most young people come to listen to your music they only listen to your record and now we’re actually giving them a much more polished version. New Order back in 1980, ’81, and ’82–my god, we were so shaky. You wouldn’t even say that three of them were in Joy Division. Joy Division were a much stronger band, and it’s fairly obvious really how much we were shaken to the core by Ian’s death You wouldn’t look at those three players in New Order and say, “Oh my god, they were in Joy Division.” No, we were so shaky live…
SE: Was that something that you guys realized at the time?
PH: No, I think that we were all desperate to carry on, without a shadow of a doubt. The thing was to just get on with it, get going. And we did. We ignored all things Joy Division for a long, long time and I think that was what was the oddest thing about when we all split up in 2006–I kept thinking to myself, “Why haven’t we celebrated more Joy Division?” And also the thought struck me—because the way Bernard and Steven did have a reluctance to playing the older songs—“Why aren’t we playing any of the older songs?” You know, you got so many to choose from. It seemed such a shame to me. It was one of the problems I had with New Order. I felt we were very safe, we were very mimicy, we changed very little. It was becoming a bit of a bore, to be honest. It was such a contrast of how we used to be when we began because we were changing the set every night and it was quite exciting.
SE: As a listener, you always impose your own understanding on how bands are. I always thought that everybody in bands must love each other forever.
PH: That’s the image, and it’s quite interesting. Now with New Odor they are trying to portray it as they’re all happy families and it was me that was the problem. And it reminds me as those actresses from the Soap Opera and they sit on the couch when they do their interview: “Hello, yes, we’re all getting along so well. We’re all so fond of each other on the set!” And you know it’s all bollocks. The thing is the chemistry in a group is usually those little, rough edges where people do have to bump along together to give groups their energy. The Smiths did have a fantastic energy and a fantastic edge between Marr and Morrissey. And the thing is that when you take that away, Morrissey’s band did whatever he said. It’s obvious that in The Smiths, Johnny Marr didn’t do what Morrisey said and that gave them their edge, didn’t it? It’s like in New Order I wouldn’t do what Bernard wanted, he wouldn’t do what I wanted. It made the music interesting and sparking. As now in New Odor he’s got exactly what he wanted all along which is a bass player who does as he’s told—and they are a little bit boring for that.
SE: And there’s no tension.
PH: No tension at all. The tension I have in my band is with my son. Because he is my son, he won’t do what I say.
SE: So now you have the tension again.
PH: I’ve unwittingly got myself the tension back.
SE: What is it like to play with him? It’s pretty cool to have him in the band, right?
PH: Well, I mean it is…it is wonderful to know every minute of the day where your 24 year old son is. But you know it’s great for him to be there because, in all honesty, he is the nearest thing to me playing bass than anyone’s ever going to get. And I must admit he is fitting in very well. He plays very much like me—he even plays a 6-string bass like me. Even if I say it myself, one of the special things about New Order was the relationship with the guitar and the bass. And what surprised me about the new bass player in New Odor is that he usually doesn’t like guitars, so he doesn’t get the right sound. So it’s an interpretation of what we used to do–it doesn’t sound like New Order; it sounds a bit odd.
SE: You know I was talking to Paul Gleason—from our magazine—who spoke to you last time and he was telling me that you told him that Bernard is really quite an excellent guitar player.
PH: He’s a fantastic guitarist.
SE: That really surprised me to hear…is he stronger than Marr?
PH: To my mind and to my taste, I prefer Bernard’s guitar playing to Johnny Marr’s. He plays much differently than Johnny Marr and I like it. I used to say to Bernard, “I still think Electronic would be better if you’d play guitar.” Just because I like his style. He is a fantastic guitarist and always has been. And it’s wonderful to know and realize how great the guitar is on it, and to do Power, Corruption & Lies. It’s fantastic guitar, and it’s wonderful to be reminded of that. I’m reminded of why I used to love him. Now I just hate him, but I still respect his playing. In the same way I still respect Stephen’s playing. Stephen is a wonderful drummer. Fantastic. The drums that he played on Joy Division and early New Order stuff was amazing. He really is a master of his art.
SE: Is Bernard technically a more refined guitar player than Marr or is it something different than that?
PH: No I don’t think it’s that. Bernard just has a gift of doing something that’s not as obvious. Bernard learned with me, punk at 21. Johnny Marr is different; he learned to play the guitar very early—seven or eight years old or something. He’s what you call a technical guitarist—he’s very good technically—where I think Bernard is more melodic and his style is quite unusual. His playing did get fantastic. If you listen to the middle of the New Order stuff where you get “Shame of the Nation” and songs like that, his guitar is absolutely amazing. The lead parts are wonderful.
SE: How about somebody like John Squire? Does he fit in there or is he not as accomplished as some of those guys?
PH: John Squire is a fantastic guitarist, but to me his solos are too long. He’s inspired obviously by Led Zeppelin. I prefer his simpler stuff. The first Roses LP was great–fantastic guitar and his second was…what’s the word? Self indulgent?
SE: Yeah, a little bit.
PH: And I find that a little bit of a turn off. I’ve not seen The Roses yet. I’ve supposed to see them about four times, and I’ve always missed them—always a flight delay or something happened at home. Then someone was saying that they did a 15-minute version of “Fools Gold,” and I was like, “What? That’s absolutely mental.” It’s obviously the most melodic of songs, and it’s quite groovy; but it’s just a groove that goes on and on. How did they get away with that?
SE: I’m wondering is there a sound of the city in those Joy Division and New Order records? Can you hear the murk of late ’70s Manchester or is that something too abstract?
PH: Yeah, I mean definitely subconsciously there is the feel and the sound of the city. I mean Bernard and I had grown up there 21 years and were forever knocking around town. You watched the whole place come up and get torn down and get rebuilt—it had to have an effect on you. It was quite a grim place in the 70’s, Manchester. It was coming to the end of its manufacturing heyday and it was very polluted, very dark, and very grey and very old fashioned. So there was a lot of rebuilding at the end of the 70’s going into the 80’s. You did really have a rebirth of Manchester and I think that is really reflected in the music. There’s a heaviness and an intensity in Joy Division that suits the 70’s. The 80’s were lighter and more melodic, more forward looking—certainly more interesting—and quite innovative as well. I think New Order sort of mirrored that as well in a way.
SE: People talk about the Joy Division lyrics being so dark, but the music is also dark. And I think the bleakness of the city does come across sonically.
PH: Considering we were just coming out of our teens, we were still struggling to find out what we wanted to do. You went into punk which was very nihilistic–it was very angry and very basic, and it was about getting rid of everything round and just “me, me, me” punk. And I think you did get drawn into that anger. Everybody feels, I think if they’re in their teens, struggling to find out what to do next, you know what’s my life going to be like? I think it does have an effect on you and it did have an effect on us. And that coupled with the grey and the blackness of Manchester, it created the perfect soundtrack for the city without a doubt. The Stone Roses are Manchester, but they came from Madchester, which was a coming together of acid house and rock with The Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, The Farm–a combination of dancing rhythms, brightness, and traditional rock formats, so The Roses were in quite a bright time in the 90’s in England’s History—while Joy Division was quite dark.
SE: And Ian’s scowl was really the leftover remnants of that time–but you guys earned yours, right?
PH: You have to bear in mind with Joy Division that we never got beyond being a very small group. The biggest audiences we were going to play to would probably be American, which would be 2-300 or 400 people. We were a very small group and it was a struggle, it was difficult. You had no money. You were supporting a lot bands and you were treated very badly. The scowls were there for a reason.
SE: Isn’t it sad that someone like Bernard, who you’ve known for so long, is no longer a musical comrade?
PH: Yeah, it is because especially when you’re fighting over the use of the New Order name, you get a lot of miscommunication—everything’s gone through managers and lawyers. Really, everybody says, “If the two of you could sit down you could probably sort it out.” And we probably could. It’s the miscommunication that causes much more problems. The fact that we’re not together actually causes a hell of a lot more problems. I mean it was a simple differing of opinion, really. This whole thing stems from me saying we split and him saying I left; that’s where this whole huge mountain erected out of that simple thing. He won’t accept that the group split. I understand that Bad Lieutenant was a bit of a flop. This tension from just taking a knock…I wouldn’t have minded them going out as New Order if they’d asked me. To be not asked or notified, and have the business side taken away from it without your knowledge or consent I think is pretty low.
SE: Yeah, and hard to forgive.
PH: I’m not too sure people like their musicians to be that low. And they managed to stick to that lack of communication. They won’t talk to me about it; they’ve just gone off and done it and pretended to be New Order in my eyes.
SE: You know, Peter, when I saw The Stone Roses hold that press conference I have to confess that I cried because I was so moved to have those guys back together again after all that time. But the odds of you or Sumner having such a reunion doesn’t seem likely right now.
PH: Well, unfortunately you have to have an amicable split before you can wish them well. How could I wish them well when they’ve taken something from me that they have no right to take? And again done without your knowledge or consent is lower than low, it’s snide. They’ve taken it away from you without consulting you. It’s the worst possible thing you could do to anybody. It’s like somebody locking you out of your house and pushing a tent through the letter box and then going, “I know you paid for this, but here’s somewhere for you to live.” What do you think about that? You’re not going to shout through the letterbox, “Well, I hope you you’re happy in my house!” You’re going to go “You fuckers! You fucking snidy bastards” is what you’re going to shout through the letterbox. You know this is wrong. You need to sort things out. For any split to amicable, everybody has to be happy and then you can go, “We had a great time, good luck.” You don’t agree, you’re not going to be together, but at least we can wish each other luck. That to me is the only way.
SE: That’s heartbreaking.
PH: Well and many other things breaking. I’m still seeking a legal remedy to it which I hope will come to fruition very soon.
SE: Bernard has said the new New Order will be like Sgt. Pepper’s. I’m guessing you’re dubious.
PH: I’m very dubious. But it does amuse me.
SE: When was the last time you were close?
PH: Bernard and I were the closest we were on Get Ready—we really were the closest we’d ever been since we started. What happened then was we had to get ready for touring. All the work he put into making the LP he felt vocally frustrated, A) because it didn’t sell because of the internet and B) you weren’t able to play it. It was quite frustrating. Then when we did Waiting for the Sirens’ Call, it was very much me and him again. Phil Cunningham was some help I must admit. Steve Morris was reluctant to play. He would only play with the producer which was right at the end when all the songs were written. So it was an odd atmosphere on that record. So for him to go on writing now, he’s going to need somebody else to write with. But it won’t be New Order. I don’t know what Bernard counts New Order as. Because to me New Order was always me—we started it. It was three of us in New Order—me, Steve, and Bernard.
SE: Do these arguments end up coloring the music?
PH: The arguments do color the music and that’s sad. I must admit that it has made me very happy just to play New Order music just to get it back. I was watching them play “Temptation” and going “Aw, you fuckers! Fuck!” Even though I was playing Joy Division stuff and really enjoying it, I felt like somebody had stolen me lighter and I was watching them light their cigarettes with it. You know what I mean? So to play it again was great to get it back. It’s like getting the kids for the weekend.