Written by: Paul Gleason
Photo by Geoff Tischman
Boundless in his energy, moving in his creativity, and genuine in his generosity, Peter Hook is at it again.
Hooky and his excellent band, The Light, are back in the USA – this time for a November jaunt, on which they’re performing two classic New Order albums in their entirety, along with a set of equally classic New Order period singles and a batch of Joy Division songs. See the tour dates HERE.
The Joy Division and New Order bassist and songwriter was kind enough to talk to SEM about the writing of some of the crucial tracks on Low-Life (1985) and Brotherhood (1986) – the two New Order albums that he and The Light are playing on the tour. Along the way, Hook delves into what it’s like to play New Order songs live with The Light, his developing confidence as a lead singer, and what future projects he has in the works.
SEM: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us again, Hooky. Two nights ago in Austin, you and The Light embarked on another tour of the States. How many times have you and the band come here?
PH: This is our fourth full North American tour since we started doing this in 2010 – which is amazing, really. To be able to come back every year is amazing, and I must thank our American fans first and foremost for supporting us all the way and enabling this to happen. I feel like each tour gets better than the last one, so I am really looking forward to this one.
SEM: How does touring with The Light differ from touring with New Order?
PH: Well, for starters, the tours with The Light are enjoyable..! New Order was not a very happy place to be for many years – and especially towards the end. Some tours felt a bit hollow; you would be playing these massive gigs but be distracted by all the problems you were having off stage. When we tour as The Light, everyone in the band and crew really do get on with each other so well, and it makes the touring environment so much better and such a nicer atmosphere to be involved in. I guess it also differs because I am currently playing the longest sets of my career: three hours a night! It can be hard work at times, but I am really enjoying it. And another difference would be that I now have the freedom to change the set list, which is something the other members of New Order would not allow.
SEM: When you came here last year, you played Movement (1981) and Power, Corruption & Lies (1983) in their entirety, as well as the key period singles. Now, you’ve moved on to Low-Life (1985) and Brotherhood (1986) and their period singles. What – in terms of the approach to songwriting and recording – separates PC&L from Low-Life?
PH: I think Low-Life shows an increasing maturity and showcases the elevated songwriting capabilities of New Order as a band. Songs like “The Perfect Kiss,” for example, are so layered and complex – there is nothing as complicated as that on PC&L. It does carry on in the same vein as PC&L, though, in terms of fusing the dance tracks and the rock tracks to create a very fresh sound. Of course, with Brotherhood, we split the LP into two halves, with the acoustic tracks first and then the electronic songs on the flip side. This was interesting because nobody else had really done that before. It makes it really interesting when you play it live.
SEM: You mentioned to me once that you consider “Love Vigilantes” – the opening track on Low-Life – to be one of Bernard’s finest lyrics. What do you like about the lyrics and how do you approach singing them with The Light?
PH: I like the lyrics of “Love Vigilantes” because it really tells a story and takes the listener on a journey as the song goes on; you feel like you are emotionally involved in the track. Then, of course, there is a big twist at the end, when it is revealed that the protagonist died at war. I don’t know – there’s just something about that track and that story that strikes a chord with me. Singing that one was quite easy because it is more in my range than some of the others, so that was nice!
SEM: Please tell me about the writing of “Love Vigilantes.” It has one of your strongest and most melodic basslines. Did you have the bassline and the rest of the track recorded before Bernard came up with the melody and lyrics?
PH: “Love Vigilantes” is a very strong track, which is why it ended up as track one on the album. It was a collaborative effort musically, and then Bernard had this idea for the lyrics that he placed over the top. It worked really well, and then we added the extra frills, like the melodica and the scratchy guitar solo.
SEM: You’ve also told me that “Sunrise” has “the bassline that every bass player would love to have.” What do you think makes this bassline so successful and why is it your favorite?
PH: “Sunrise” is a really powerful track, especially when played live. The bassline is a killer if I say so myself; it really drives the track and pushes the drummer to try and keep up! The bassline to “Sunrise” is a great riff and definitely one of my best. I think it showcases all the aspects of my playing.
SEM: I’d like to ask about “The Perfect Kiss.” The track has so many electronic elements. Were songs that have so many electronics and sequencers originally written as more traditional “guitar-bass-drum” tunes and then “redone”?
PH: It depends really. On some tracks like that, you start off with the sequencers and then play over the top; whereas, sometimes, you already had the main riffs and melodies in place before you began to even think about sequencers or electronics. “The Perfect Kiss” is a very complex song, with so many layers, even to the extent of having the sound of the frogs right in the middle! It’s quite whacky, really, but it’s one of my favorite New Order tracks.
SEM: Let’s talk about some of the tracks on Brotherhood. Why did New Order feature more guitar on this album?
PH: Well, like I mentioned earlier, the idea with Brotherhood was to have an album of two completely different sides. The first five tracks are acoustic and very guitar heavy. Songs like “Broken Promise” and “Way of Life” feature, in my opinion, some of Bernard’s finest guitar playing. “Weirdo” is another one in which the guitar features very heavily. Having said that, the last four tracks on the album feature a lot less guitar because the focus switches to the keyboards and the synthesizers.
SEM: If I’m hearing “Weirdo” correctly, I’m hearing bass chords. Are you strumming the bass? And, if so, why didn’t you visit this well more often. The bass playing is awesome, especially in the instrumental section with which the song closes.
PH: There are two basses playing continuously on “Weirdo” – the high bassline, which drives the song and is the main lead riff, and then a very low, subby bass running underneath it, which comes up in volume during the chorus as the track ascends and keeps on building until the outro. It was always a very difficult song to pull off live because of this. Now that in The Light, of course, we have two bass players, me and my son [Jack Bates], which means we can make a much better go of it than we could as New Order.
SEM: Why did you and the band decide to conclude so many of the songs from this time period with melodic bass solos in the outros?
PH: It wasn’t a decision really; we didn’t all sit round and decide that that was something we were consciously going to do! It sort of just happened. I could feel it in the studio when a track needed that style of bass, and so I would go in and do it. Whereas there are some tracks that would probably have been ruined had I tried to do it all-the-time. Again, it is all about finding the right balance.
SEM: How did you guys get the guitar have such a terrific percussive sound on “Way of Life”?
PH: All five of the first five tracks on Brotherhood have many, many layers of different guitars all playing together. It has been quite difficult at times for Pottsy, our guitarist in The Light, to decide which bits to play and which bits to leave out because there are so many different bits on the go, especially on a track like “Way of Life.” There is an acoustic running as well as two or three separate lead lines on the electric. Bernard was very creative with his tone and his sound, so we came out of the Brotherhood sessions with some of his best playing.
SEM: Another great part of “Way of Life” is the counter melody that you provide on the bass. What came first the vocal line or the bassline?
PH: The bassline came first with that one. The bassline for “Way of Life,” actually, came about by me messing around in the studio playing “Age of Consent” backwards. I ended up coming out with this new, great riff! Talk about luck. Bernard would often use the basslines to get the vocal melody, which is fine, but then towards the later years of the band, he would get his vocal melody from the bass but then turn the bass right down, which of course I did not like. This was one of the many issues that started to come between us.
SEM: How did “Bizarre Love Triangle” originate?
PH: “BLT,” as we call it, was written pretty quickly. It is the first electronic track on Brotherhood and really kicks off that side of the album. Live, it is a very powerful and uplifting track that everybody loves. It originated with the sequencers as some of our most famous tracks did, and then we added bits and pieces over the top. I really like the bass on that; it’s great to play.
SEM: What can you tell me about the bass solo with which the song concludes? Is it up an octave from what you play in the rest of the song?
PH: Yes, it’s an octave up from the verse. I use that technique a lot because it allows me to stay in the same key but gives a whole new dynamic to the track.
SEM: What do you think makes “True Faith” such a memorable song?
PH: “True Faith” has some of Bernard’s best lyrics, and I find it to be very uplifting, especially the chorus. It is a sing-along track that everybody loves, and it always goes down a storm live.
SEM: You and The Light are opening each show with a short Joy Division set.
PH: The opening Joy Division sets before we play the New Order albums will be completely different every night. We are aiming to play every single Joy Division song live over the course of the tour, with these support sets. I let Jack decide which seven or eight Joy Division tracks that we will play that night, and the band are flexible enough to be able to play them all at the drop of a hat, which is brilliant.
SEM: What do you feel when you’re on stage singing Joy Division songs like “The Eternal” and “Twenty Four Hours”? They’re so introspective, so naked…
PH: Singing all of the Joy Division songs is a very strange. Ian’s shoes are very, very hard to even attempt to fill, and I know I will never do it. I just try and do the best job that I possibly can. Some of the words in certain songs are very dark, which can be difficult at times as they conjure up all sorts of memories and feelings, but overall I would say I am getting used to them all now.
SEM: Finally, I just want to thank you – again! – for working so hard with The Light and in your books to keep the legacy of Joy Division and New Order alive. When we talked in Chicago before you read from your Joy Division book, I told you that the bass playing on “Regret” brings tears to my eyes. You bring out so much emotion from a single instrument… I hope that Technique and Republic tours are in the works, as well as a New Order book.
PH: Thank you mate! That means a lot to hear you say that. I really enjoy working with The Light, so hopefully long may it continue. We just announced our return to Australia and New Zealand for February of next year, so everything is still going strong. My next book is in the pipeline; it will be called Power, Corruption & Lies: Inside New Order and will tell the story of my time in the band and what really happened with the fallout towards the end. As for Technique and Republic…. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves! Let’s see how the Low-Life and Brotherhood dates go first. But we must also remember that in-between Brotherhood and Technique came [the singles collection] Substance, New Order’s biggest selling release of all time. I would love to play that, maybe even alongside the Joy Division Substance – play them both back to back. Who knows what will happen? But you can guarantee that we will give it our all!
(Photograph of Peter Hook by Mark L. Hill)