It’s been an interesting year for Peter Hook. After publishing last year’s expose, The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club, the former Joy Division/New Order bassist opened up a new club in Manchester this past February, titled FAC 251 – The Factory, which operates, rather fittingly, in the old offices of Factory Records. Taking a note from late icon and friend Tony Wilson, Hook also put together Hacienda Records UK, which distributes his own personal projects as well as music from new talent.
But his return to roots wouldn’t be truly authentic without some controversy and drama, and that’s just what Hook’s received this year. Musically, it’s been a smorgasbord of ups and downs. While his supergroup Freebass – featuring Andy Rourke (The Smiths), Gary Mounfield (The Stone Roses), and Gary Briggs (Haven) – released a handful of EPs and a forthcoming debut LP, Rourke departed on ill terms and Mounfield published some disparaging remarks about Hook via Twitter. That’s not all. More recently, Hook’s stirred up some controversy by embarking on a world tour, focusing primarily on performing Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures in its entirety alongside his side project, The Light. Let’s just say, Rourke’s not the only one that’s been critical of this.
However, regardless of all the backlash, the English legend remains proud and committed to his projects. When we chatted in early October, he was just finishing up a series of shows around Spain, where he sounded overjoyed at the crowd’s reactions. Tomorrow, he’s kicking off his American tour at Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club, which he’ll follow through to Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Chicago, and then onward to the West coast. Some might argue he’s living in the past – what with releasing a new Joy Division EP, as well – but we found out he’s not the only one taking pleasure in this.
You’ve been pretty busy lately. You published a book last year, you opened up a nightclub, you recorded some tunes with Freebass, and now you’re hitting the road with The Light? When do you have time to breathe?
[laughs] I can breathe when I’m dead. It’s a funny thing. In New Order, we did very little. We didn’t do a lot at all. I always found that very frustrating. I think that, after New Order split up, now I have a difficult time saying no to anything. So, basically that’s what happens, you see. I get inundated with work. But then, I’ve also got the Hacienda as well, which I bought and I do DJ nights and bring acts from all across the world. I find it quite rewarding, really. It’s quite stressful, but ultimately, thinking this straight… Manchester, The Factory, The Hacienda, Joy Division, New Order, now Freebass, etc… it’s actually quite enjoyable still. It’s a handful, but I gotta do it.
Let’s go back to the beginning and focus on Unknown Pleasures… you’re looking back 30 years now. Does it feel like it’s been that long? Maybe longer?
No. Recently I thought, “Where did 30 years go?” You know, we put it out, and since then our job’s been fairly repetitious. We put out an LP, we tour. We put out an LP, we tour. It doesn’t really change much and it has a habit of swallowing up your time. So, in some ways it seems like yesterday, where in other ways it feels like a hell of a long time. But no, the great thing is that I’ve ignored Joy Division’s music for so long, so to put yourself in a position where you can revel in it, it’s wonderful. The reaction is what counts. Like last night, we played in Barcelona, and we had 800 people all going bananas to Unknown Pleasures. And I looked around and out toward the back and literally everyone was singing along. It wasn’t all Unknown Pleasures, either. Songs like “Glass”, “No Love Lost”, and songs like that. It was fucking great. And they are the people that matter. You know, internet forums and New Order Online can slag you off from now until the bomb drops, but the truth is, when you have the balls to go out there and play it to an audience, that’s when you find out if you’ve made the right decision or not. So far – touch wood – it feels like it’s been exactly the right decision, and people are really enjoying it, and that’s what has changed.
The album’s one of the most iconic to date. Why do you feel its influence still carries on today?
The songwriting. The songs on it are great. They’re just great songs and always will be. Nobody can take that away from them. The other thing you have to bear in mind is Martin Hannett gave us such fantastic production. He made the LP so timeless and wonderfully poppy. It’s very ethereal. It’s the exact opposite of what Bernard [Sumner] and I were going to do. He gave it the ability to last 30 years and I think it has the ability to last 50 years, 100. In fact, it’s the perfect marriage of production and songwriting, whether it was by chance or purely by skill. Unfortunately, something I don’t know. [laughs]
When I spoke to Bernard Sumner, earlier this year, he said, “In a strange way, the music sort of wrote itself rather than us write it.” Would you agree?
Yeah. I mean…You were right at the start of your career. It was really, literally, flooding out of you. It was a very easy process. Writing songs with Joy Division was very easy because it was very equal. It was a very equal process between the four of us. By the time we got to New Order, we were very aware we lost that very important part of the songwriting process, which made it much more difficult. So I would agree with him, but I don’t often do that. [laughs] But yes, the songwriting process in Joy Division was the easiest I’ve ever known.
How has the songwriting evolved since New Order?
I enjoy writing music, but it’s never easy. Sometimes the start can be easy, but the end can be very difficult. I did a track a couple of weeks ago with a friend of mine, Phil Murphy. We did a track together with a group called Man Ray to give away with Jack Daniels in Japan, and it came together pretty easily. There was a bit of a kicking around on the ol’ computer, but we came out with a wonderful track, which is wonderful. So, you know, you still get that buzz and that excitement about being creative. I’m very lucky. Freebass has a new album out, and I’ve also indulged myself in a 30-year-old album, and I’m enjoying both equally. So it’s actually quite nice. No one can say to you, “Oh, he’s dwelling on the past,” or whatever, because I’ve just put out an album, and I do work all the time, in the same way Bernard [Sumner] does.
When I was on Factory, Tony Wilson used to always say to us, “The most important song you’re ever going to write is your next one.” You know, that’s the drive that you have. You do get a lot of detractors that are saying, “Oh god, why does he bother writing new material? Why doesn’t he just play the old stuff?” But as a creative musician, that’s what you live for…writing new stuff. It’s always great playing old material, but you still need the drive, and luckily the ability, to pull off the new stuff, as well.
It’s a horrible tug of war with the fanbase.
It’s a problem. As a musician, you have to know making new music is more time consuming than when you did it in your youth, because every song you write makes the next one ever more difficult. The thing is, it’s difficult to get the rewards. It’s not particularly the financial rewards, either. The funny thing about it is the time. Meaning, if I look back at the last New Order record…We spent three years writing that record, and it hardly sold any because of illegal downloading. It really affected us. It makes you think, “Oh god, why did we spend so much time?” And you realize, as you get older, the most precious thing you have in your life is time. The thing that used to make you enjoy spending that time was the financial aspect, as well as the creative aspect. You were able to live, you were able to support your family, and you were able to carry on as a musician. The thing is, now as a musician, writing new music, you reach a point where you can’t put the time in because you don’t get anything back for it. Then people just want to hear the hits anyway. So you’re stuck in an awful quandary.
It doesn’t stop you. You just address it differently. For myself, I’m much more time conscious now. If something’s not working, you get rid of it. If something is working, then, fantastic. In New Order, we were allowed to be very, very, very indulgent in the amount of time we spent on things, and now it’s like, fuck man, I want those three years back.
It’s a different market today. Do you feel that Tony Wilson’s mission with Factory Records – in other words, keeping the artist’s independence at top priority – is more prevalent today than it was 25-30 years ago?
Well… [laughs] Most record companies are run by accountants now, and accountants don’t want you to be a hold of your copyright, and they don’t want you to be on short term deals. That’s how they survive in this world. The thing is, as a musician, you do have to be careful. At 19, you just sign everything, and then you spend the rest of your life regretting those deals you did when you were a kid. So hungry for success that you would have signed a deal with the devil. In many times, you did sign a pact with the devil, only the devil sat in the record company’s offices, chewing on a fat cigar. The ethics of Factory were fantastic. The fact that you were in control, or thought you were in control, of what you were doing…Although, The Hacienda probably sticks out there as something you weren’t really in control of. [laughs] But, for the most part, you were in control of what you were doing. What I loved about Tony was that we’d literally come to him and say, “Oh, we wrote a song on Friday, do you want to hear it?” and he’d come down to listen and say, “Oh that’s great love, we’ll record it and put it out next Monday. What’s it called?” That’s what I loved about Factory, that it wasn’t planned six months in advance. It was done very much in the spur of the moment, which made things much more rewarding and very exciting.
You’ve set up shop – Factory 251 – in the old Factory Records headquarters. Did that open up any memories? Any wounds?
[laughs] The book got rid of all the wounds. Going over The Hacienda, the history, writing the book made me come to terms with it. It also made me realize that I’m as much to blame for The Hacienda’s bills, the estates, and everyone else, which is a great lesson to learn, actually. I needed to learn those things. But no, the club is run by a businessman. So, it’s a wonderful blend of idealism and realism. The only reason the Hacienda lasted as long as it did was because it lived entirely off of Joy Division and New Order’s money. Now, I don’t have that luxury anymore, so we didn’t do that. We sat down, corrected and developed the business model. It taught me a lot, actually. It’s a wonderful mix.
It’s also nice, as a musician, to have a place to play and that you can still keep an interesting culture, a club culture. Because at 54, that’s quite difficult. Now, I know what the kids are listening to, which helps me, actually, in making music. It’s quite enjoyable. The amount of respect you get shown by the youngsters, the amount of respect they have for your heritage, what you’ve achieved as a musician in the past…it’s wonderful. When I became a punk rocker, it was all about telling those old farts to fuck off. You know what I mean, right? Now, these young kids are not telling me to fuck off. They’re actually very respectful and very nice to you and they seem to enjoy what you did and what you’re doing. The ageism in rock ‘n’ roll nowadays seems to be dead. People, or youngsters, seem to appreciate old musicians just as much as they appreciate young musicians.
Most of those fans would probably say Unknown Pleasures, Closer, or even Movement are their favorite albums. The same goes for the artists themselves.
It always puts a smile on my face when some youngster will come over and say, “Oh my dad wanted me to say hello.” It’s such a wonderful privilege and so flattering that you do have the responsibility that their kids are in your club. That was one of the points of the Hacienda that’d break your heart. That you couldn’t look after people. Nowadays, in this day and age, people come to my club and the whole thing’s different. The whole scene’s different. You can look out for them, you can make sure that they’re safe, and that’s the nicest thing about owning the club in 2010. I know that all of those people going into my club are going to go home happy at the end of the night. With the Hacienda, you couldn’t guarantee that.
But is there a part of that chaos you miss?
Well, that wasn’t a question that was at the top of my head at that point. I was so anesthetized to everything that was going on and the shit that was changing. Now I don’t. I’m clean now and I’ve been clean for many years. The thing is, I can enjoy it just as much now as I did in those days. I come home with a terrible hangover, but at least I can remember it now. You know, a lot of those “golden years” that we spent in that house in Manchester and the Hacienda, I can’t bloody remember. So, I can’t answer your question if it was worth it. [laughs] Somebody told me I had a great time, so…
Then there’s all the films to revisit. 24-Hour Party People, Control…
24-Hour Party People told the story of Factory Records, Joy Division, and New Order in a completely different way than Control. Then there’s the Joy Division documentary that we did. You know, all three films are so vastly different to each other, yet compliment each other quite well. So, I can look at them and have all aspects. You know, it’s quite a compliment to have three films made about your bloody life, to say the least.
You could argue Control brought Joy Division to a new audience.
Anton [Corbijn] did a fantastic job with that film. It was actually wonderful to watch him do it, because he was so passionate and so driven to do it, because he felt close to the story of Joy Division, and he knew it so well. He really did feel it needed to be told as well as possible, and I felt he did a fantastic job. Considering he put everything on the line for that film – he remodeled his house – it really was his whole life hanging at the balance. And it was quite a compliment that he believed in your story that much. It was funny though, because people are always critical, and I was reading a review of Control and it said that Ian Curtis was too good looking. [laughs] That sort of made me laugh, really. There’s always room for another interpretation.
Still, it must have been surreal watching the movie.
The weirdest thing was, I had seen it once, but I hadn’t seen the finished film. So by the time I had a chance to see the finished film, it was in a sold out cinema with 2,000 people. And, you know at the end, where Debbie screams and then “Atmosphere” starts, I nearly crawled on the floor. That was hard to do because it was so public. So, it was difficult.
But now you’re back to Joy Division…
I love the group. I love the music. I love what we had and created. So, I’m happy. The great thing about doing Unknown Pleasures now is that you get these songs back. To be able to play them after 30 years of not playing them… it’s absolutely wonderful. It’s like being given a gift, like an old toy you’ve thrown away, and someone’s given it you back and you go, “Oh my…this is wonderful…this is fantastic.”
Don’t miss Peter Hook when he unwraps Unknown Pleasures at Chicago’s Double Door on Monday, December 6th. Get your tickets now!