Since they hit the Manchester scene in the late ’70s, Joy Division has hardly left the spotlight. Two solid albums, an iconic story, and one tragic death may tell it all on paper, but over 30 years later, their energy and passion continues to bleed into other forms of art. Having trekked on with New Order, which formed following frontman Ian Curtis’ suicide in 1980, surviving members Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris refused to let the scene turn their heads, carving out some of the most iconic music of the past three decades.
In 2007, after recording eight studio albums together, the group disbanded. Sumner and Morris, alongside fellow New Order latecomer Phil Cunningham, formed Bad Lieutenant in 2008, while Hook focused on opening nightclub FAC 251 – The Factory, and issuing material on his own label, Hacienda Records. For the past year, he’s been touring with The Light, performing Joy Division albums Unknown Pleasures and Closer in full. Last November, when Consequence of Sound last spoke with Hook, he left us with these words: “I love the group. I love the music. I love what we had and created. So, Im happy.”
Recently, there’s been some bitter news. New Order has announced a reunion, only Hook’s not on the lineup. And although he’s about to embark on another short U.S. tour, in which he’ll dust off Closer, Hook recently sat down with Consequence of Sound to discuss the recent reunion, his reasons for leaving the band, and his relationship with his former band mates. He also digressed further on his passion for his past accomplishments, specifically his time in Joy Division.
With your tour around the United States, Canada, and Mexico — what did the decision process look like when deciding what album to be played (Unknown Pleasures or Closer) at each venue?
[laughs] Well, the idea in our pretty little heads was, if it was the first time we were there it was Unknown Pleasures. If it was the second time…Closer. So its chronological. Its quite an odd thing doing the albums, its even odder doing more than one. Yet, when you play an album, it sounds okay yet when you play a set after years of playing sets…you get used to it. Playing Unknown Pleasures is great from start to finish as well as Closer but the only trouble with Closer is that its a lot more downbeat, mellow, and vulnerable than Unknown Pleasures. Still they’re both pleasures of mine.
Which album do you connect with most? Why? What song?
I connect with Unknown Pleasures. It was our first, we were intensely involved, and I remember the awful disappointment when I listened to it. It didnt sound the way I wanted it to. I wanted it to sound much like Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. That was what Joy Division sounded like to me…in my head. [Producer] Martin Hannett gave it a fantastic production influence that took me 30 years to appreciate. He made it sound like a wonderful record made by wonderful people and I wanted the record to be made by angry young men. Looking back, I am really glad I didnt get my way.
With Closer, because of Ian [Curtis]s illness, the difficulties we were facing…there was a bit of a detachment from it. When Ian died, the detachment towards it…it was total. I didnt particularly listen to Joy Division and I took no interest in anything that was written. We just moved right onto New Order. Funny enough, thats enabled me to listen to Closer and not connect with it. When I say that I can enjoy it I mean I can enjoy it just as if I listen to an album by Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Editors, or…you know, Snow Patrol, Arcade Fire — that level of really weird detachment, because of the grief involved, enables me to enjoy it in a different way and more traditional way.
Where did the infuence come with your other projects, like say Ad Infinitum, Monaco, Revenge, The Light, Freebass, and Man Ray?
Its where you are at the time, its like looking at old aews articles and saying, Well I cant connect with that one. I mean Im sure I can look at them (the different musical projects) as a thread and say, I can see that Im getting better and I can see that Im enjoying it more because its becoming easier…” The biggest influence I have ever had, was the influence to start [musically] and that was given to me by the Sex Pistols. The true inspiration, something Bernard Sumner was experienced in, he would hear something and be able to emulate it and not sound like it. Thats a true art.
In regards to sound…what direction was to be seen after Closer from Joy Division?
It would definitely have been what youve experienced with New Order because Bernard and Steve [Morris] in particular were getting really interested in technology — which we aptly demonstrated in Joy Division. As the technology got better you were introducing them more and more so I definitely believe that Ian would be singing Blue Monday without a shadow of a doubt.
How does a band like Joy Division, and New Order (with songs such as Disorder and Bizarre Love Triangle) stay relevant in sound to the 21st century?
Well I have to say it was skill. I have a feeling it was a lot of luck…maybe mixed with some talent. [laughs] I think its that thing when you go into the studio you want to satisfy yourself; you begin to get demanding, you start to push barriers and your get right to the edge. I thought we were quite extreme when we went into the studio, yet when I met other people like Arthur Baker…you realize youre not very extreme. [laughs] The thing is its just about pleasing your ear and I always think Joy Division and New Order were the best they could ever be when they didnt listen to anybody. You start to lose your edge when you listen to other people.
If Unknown Pleasures and Closer were to have themes what would they be, specifically to you?
The theme within Unknown Pleasures would be raw and controlled excitement and anger in the sense that you wanted to succeed and we were all going in the same direction, speed, and road; it was a fantastic feeling. To do that record was fantastic as well as the most solid I have ever felt within a group in my career; that was with Joy Division while writing Unknown Pleasures. When we got to Closer, you were a little bit confused with Ians illness as well as a little weary of what was going to happen. You were worried about his future as well as the group’s future. Closer is a beautiful album but it sounds…worried, twisted, and melodramatic…yet in a wonderful…wonderful way.
With remixes and covers being a huge part in the music industry right now, what are some of your favorite interpretations of Joy Division/New Orders songs? Why?
You know, weve had so many…I think the most unsettling one was when we got an award for the most played track on American Radio in 1996 when Orgy covered Blue Monday. That was wild. Its very difficult getting your head around something like that. I mean there have been some wonderful covers that I liked which were acoustic like an acoustic Blue Monday or Love Will Tear Us Apart”. The one I will remember most was with Paul Young, who was a smoothy singer in the 80s, who paid 5,000 pounds to us to allow him to cover Love Will Tear Us Apart. We had never seen the like of money like that and it was…it absolutely blew us away. Then we heard the cover and it was dreadful. Oh man! It was that bad, if you could have given the money back you would have. It was unbelievable. Everyday I get a new cover or interpretation of one of our songs. In fact, yesterday I got a wonderful one of Bizarre Love Triangle by this DJ…it was absolutely awful but since I had such a bad day, with the New Order news, it made me laugh out loud with the ridiculousness of the situation.
Discuss your new book, Inside Joy Division.
When I did the Hacienda book [2009’s Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club], I was convinced it was everyone’s fault but my own. I spent my whole 10-15 years bemoaning other people’s mistakes. But I did the Hacienda book to realize it was my mistake. I was as much responsible as everybody involved and it actually gave me peace in regards to that situation in my life. The reason why Im doing the Joy Division book is because Im sick of everyone reading books about Joy Division by people who werent there and werent even close to us at all. There were a lot of things that were wrong, in those books, as well as annoying. In a funny way– Im hoping that the Joy Division book will maybe give me an understanding of why Ian…killed himself. Its very unsettling actually, because its a very intense amount of time. Joy Division only lasted for about three and a half years. We were only professional for about 18 months. Its a very short period of time…yet one of the most intense of my life.
As Im looking into the situation Im thinking, Oh my God…this might have been your fault Hooky you should have laid off. I could see that we were so young, desperate, and so full of wanting the group to be successful. Im starting to think, Did I push him too hard? (All of us, not just me). Its a bit of a strange position because guilt is the last thing you want when you get to this. Ian was such a people pleaser that when you asked him how well he was or how he was he would reply, Fantastic. He always told you what you wanted to hear. He made you hungry for it. He wanted to give it to you…to let you off the hook, no pun intended. [laughs]
If Ian were here today what would his impact be on the music industry?
The weird thing is that Ian might have just become an old tosser like me or Bernard. I mean, its very difficult to gauge that. Ian burned so brightly with his lyrics…which I took for granted until I came to sing them on my tour with The Light, where I realized how wonderful they were. His song smith, or smithery as we call it in England, and tricks that he did with words were just fantastic. They were very, very impressive. I never noticed them before and thats what’s weird for me. Its weird for me to concentrate on Joy Division after 30 something years and find so much in it. Its so nice to get it back. Everything’s worth it to get those songs back in Closer…it sends me into raptures.
Your relationship with New Order – most specifically Bernard Sumner – and what should we expect in the future? Without you?
Its odd, after five years apart…them using the New Order name doesnt actually bother me because I feel people are intelligent enough to know that its not New Order. Its like me calling The Light Joy Division. You know, were not fucking Joy Division are we? Were just rocking with a few mates. I dont mind them using the name but what really hurt was the way in which they went about all this. They didnt tell me they were going to do this. They just sprang it on me. [pause] It was a part of a board room coup to take the trademark off me and reduce my share in the group. Thats what hurt. I dont mind them using the name, to be honest with you, whats in a name?
You have to perform when on stage as well as prove yourself. Thats the important thing and the people have to decide. The people will decide whether they like New Order without me or whether they don’t. Its their prerogative. They have 75% of the name, I only have 25% of the name as of now. They have more right to use the name than me. You know? Im not bothered by that. Im bothered that we split up. Im not bothered about it now. I dont want to play with Bernard again, certainty dont want to play with Gillian [Gilbert] or Stephen [Morris]. Its just not the right time for me to play with them. Still, I would never stop them from playing and if they came to me and said, “Were going to play all the New Order stuff,” Id say, “Fucking great! Those songs are fantastic! Fucking get out and do it. If you enjoy it as much as I do doing the Joy Division stuff your going to have a great time.” Thats what I would have said
If you were to take something from this experience what would it be?
You see the problem that I had when the band split up was that I was an alcoholic. Because I was an alcoholic, I had no confidence. I was severely wounded in myself. I had no strength of character and wasnt able to stand up to Bernard. I wasnt able to stand up to Steve. I just couldnt explain myself. It took me a long time to just…find myself. As corny as that sounds. However, when New Order split up I couldnt explain to anybody why or what the problem was—now I can. Its just too late isn’t it? But Im happy now. The only thing that makes me unhappy is when they act in the deplorable fashion that they do now. Its sad. Its like children fighting in the playground. I must say that I am guilty as anybody. If I could change one thing I would change our relationship so that we could say to each other, “Im going to do this… is that ok? because if you have a discourse or a relationship… everything is much easier that way. If you just go about screaming at each other…its just going to lead to destruction. You begin to enjoy nothing. Im happy New Order is playing because I always wanted New Order to play. It was me who protested Lets play! Lets play! for years and years…until I got fed up in saying it. So I wont be unhappy I just wish it was done in a more honorable fashion. Thats the painful bit. I would even pay to go see them play…because I love New Order.
What would bring that relationship back in New Order?
The thing is, I have the utmost respect for Bernard and Steve as musicians and I always have had. Gillian came in and she helped New Order but it was truly the three of us – Bernard, Steve, and myself – who were New Order. The thing is I respect their musicianship so much and the songs we created are the things that should break down any barriers. But, you cant get through because there are a lot of people who have ulterior motives. You have a lot of management and agents who just can’t seem to handle it. Musicians are supposed to act like children, aren’t they? Its in our breed to act like idiots. You know what I mean? So we need mature people, adults, to say Stop that, sit down, and shut up…this is more important.” I wish we had a couple of adults who could look after us. A nice teacher with a big cane.
Where do you find yourself most comfortable? As a DJ or a bassist? Why?
You know getting to play your own music is fantastic but getting paid to play somebody else’s music is pretty damn good. When I first started to DJ, I thought all DJs were idiots and egotistical tossers. I thought I would fit in perfectly. But the thing was after awhile, I wanted to do it. My mate said to me the cheapest way to get pissed in the world is to DJ. So I did just that and got pissed for six straight months, completely off my head, and probably had a freak show. Strangely enough, as soon as I got sober, it gave me an extreme love for music again. I was starting to think in a completely different way. I asked myself, What New Order song would sound good on the Dance Floor? What Joy Division song? What will sound best in a club? What would sound best at a Festival? My mind started working like that and low and behold, two and three years later, I started to really enjoy it. Its great. Its the second best job in the world.
What influenced you to get behind the Turntables?
The catalyst was Mani [Gary Mounfield] out of Primal Scream. He said you could get pissed enough and have a weekend in Barcelona. We did a gig in Barcelona and were both off our fucking trolleys! At one point during the gig the crowd began to throw bottles at us and Mani began to throw records. I thought to myself, Fuck…I could do that. That was it. It was as simple as that. You do get into the music, though. I feel now that I have a duty…to make sure everyone has a great fucking night. Whats bad about DJing is that when you go out and have a great night, a lot of people dont even notice the DJ. Yet you still have a great night. As corny as it sounds, youll recognize a bad DJ. Yet a good DJ just blends in to the atmosphere.
Peter Hook and The Light performs at The Metro on Friday, September 23rd. Get your tickets now!