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Peter Hook Reflects On Joy Division & New Order
Editor’s Note: This interview from 2013 was conducted by Rock Cellar regular features writer Paul Gleason. Sadly, Paul died in 2018 of congestive heart failure. We miss Paul and the joyful work he did for us.
As bassist for Joy Division and New Order – perhaps the 2 most important bands of the post-punk movement in England – Peter Hook is responsible for creating some of the most memorable music of the past 35 years.
Joy Division’s albums Unknown Pleasures and Closer are all-time classics, as are their non-album singles Transmission, Love Will Tear Us Apart, Dead Souls, and Atmosphere.
New Order never made a bad album, with Power, Corruption & Lies perhaps being their finest, while Blue Monday, Bizarre Love Triangle, Perfect Kiss, True Faith, and Regret are some of the catchiest singles ever released.
Rock Cellar Magazine caught up with Peter Hook on his tour promoting his endlessly entertaining new book Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. Hook delved into the inner workings of Joy Division and New Order, shenanigans with the Duke and Duchess of York, Hook’s recent split with his former New Order bandmates, and his take on Manchester bands The Stone Roses, The Smiths, and Oasis.
Rock Cellar Magazine: How for you does being on tour with a book compare to being on tour with a band?
Peter Hook: This is my 2nd book in England, but my 1st book here, so I have done the usual rigamarole. All of this is sort of expected. The oddest thing is that you find talking a lot harder work than playing. It’s weird – you get the build up at a gig, and then you go out and you play and you sweat and get your rocks off, but really, talking, you don’t get your rocks off. I think you’re missing the physicality of it. I can’t get used to the talking bit as being the main attraction. I mean, after 30-odd years, I’m used to the gig being the main attraction or at least something musical being the main attraction, be it dj-ing or whatever, so it’s hard to get used to it, I must admit.
RCM: Plus everyone’s sitting down?
PH: You know, I can still get my rocks off at a seated gig. It never used to be like that. A lot of fans are young; a bit surprising how many are young. A lot of them are older, though, and they prefer to sit! And if you want to get up and have a dance, you can do that.
RCM: What do you consider young?
PH: Anyone younger than me – which is probably about 95% of the population of England! No, I mean the thing is, when I first started doing the Joy Division stuff again, I did think the audience would be a lot of old duffers like me. But they weren’t: they were very young, from 16 upwards.
RCM: Does it feel different now playing Joy Division to a much younger crowd?
PH: Because I don’t consider myself to be old, it just feels the same as when I started! But when you’re playing to young people, you’re aware that they’re younger, but it doesn’t become an issue.
RCM: One of the great things about your book Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division that is that the band has this dark, goth image, yet you reveal a bunch of playful rock and roll guys.
PH: I was a little bit worried when I wrote the book about debunking all the myths. Because, to be honest with you, the wonderful mystification, the deification, has helped. That whole thing: live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse, being the gothic innovators, coming from the darkness in the ’70s in England and all that lot does actually help your reputation.
But the thing I thought was lacking was the human side, the humanity involved. I didn’t think anything that was written about Joy Division actually brought out the human side of any of us. The wonderful thing was for the 4 of you to be happy and very focused at that time – very enthusiastic and very driven – was literally the best time you’ve had. It wasn’t sullied by business, or celebrity, or money.
RCM: You talk about how every song you wrote was great.
PH: Yeah! When we started – and this was one of the reasons why Bernard [Sumner, Joy Division guitarist and keyboardist; and New Order singer, guitarist, and keyboardist] and I hated Unknown Pleasures – was that when we started at 21, we were just writing really shit punk songs, but we loved the aggression and the attitude. And then within 6 months – if that – you were writing very mature, adult songs that actually belied your age. You know, if somebody said, “Who’d you think wrote that song? A 21 year-old punk or a 30-odd year experienced musician?” Most people would go, “It must be the experienced musician because of the style and the way the songs were shaping up.”
But Bernard and I were still punks, and we still wanted the aggression. And live we actually had that. And the thing was that Martin [Hannett, Joy Division and New Order producer]—thank God!—recognized that the songs that you were writing were very mature beyond your years and had the ability to be fantastic songs forever, whereas Bernard and I just wanted a quick fix.
RCM: You hated Unknown Pleasures?
PH: I thought Unknown Pleasures was terrible. I couldn’t really fully appreciate it until I came to do the music again in 2010. Because I just never listened to it!
Musicians are allowed to do whatever they fucking want basically. They can be indulgent, selfish, arrogant, stupid – they’re encouraged to be like that. It was only when I sat down to transcribe the lyrics – because I found that nearly all the lyrics on the internet were wrong – that I thought, “Ian wouldn’t sing that. That doesn’t make sense.” And I thought, “I’ll put the record on to listen to the lyrics.” And when I was listening to the lyrics, I thought, “Fuck me, it sounds magnificent!” I thought, “You idiot.” I never said that about Closer. I’ve always loved Closer – it’s one of my favorite records. But Unknown Pleasures, I just never got it. And now whenever I drive past Martin’s cemetery, I always go, “Sorry, Martin!” It was actually quite embarrassing.
RCM: Bernard thought the same thing?
PH: We do agree on some things, and that was one of them. Martin, thank God, had the foresight to realize that we were stupid. It was quite weird actually because it was the first time you’d not gotten your own way. And I remember me and Bernard saying, “We don’t like it. There’s not enough guitar. It’s not aggressive enough. It’s not fast enough. It has to be fast and aggressive.” And everyone disagreed. and it was like, oh fuck, it was the first time it happened. Tony disagreed, Rob [Gretton, Joy Division and New Order manager]disagreed, Ian disagreed, Steve [Morris, Joy Division and New Order drummer] disagreed, but me and Bernard would be like, “Oh, fuck.”
RCM: The Joy Division band itself was collaborative, though, correct?
PH: It was very, very balanced. The whole thing was very fairly done. Steve was amazing at doing his own riffs, and his riffs were fantastic drum riffs in Joy Division and also New Order. He was quite unique in his addition; you’d be unique in yours; and Bernard was unique in his. But they were all quite divorced from each other. They were all very separate riffs. But when you put them together, there was a massive strength in them. And Ian must have gone, “Oh fuck, this is great!”
RCM: Was Ian in the room when you guys were working?
PH: Yeah, yeah! He used to orchestrate the music. He was fantastic.
RCM: Your producer Martin Hannett helped to create sort of a beautiful sonic collage. All those drum pieces. How did that gel with your Sex Pistols-like attitude in the studio?
PH: What Martin used to do was put you in the studio and record the song. The song would be 4-minutes long, and it would be done live. And then he would split the instruments and record them all separately. And by “all,” I mean the high hat, the snare, the tom-toms, everything. Everything would be separately recorded, and then the bass, and then the guitar on top, and the vocals.
Martin did come across as a complete madman – and he was the boss. We were there to do his bidding, and he was a bit like a mysterious wizard. We were very inexperienced, and we just didn’t know what we were talking about. So you were really happy in a way to let him tell you what to do.
RCM: Did he play back things as he was working on them?
PH: No! He hated musicians. He just wanted you out of the fucking studio, basically. And he was right! He just wanted you to do your bit and then get the fuck out. But me and Bernard didn’t like being spoken to like that – because we were the ambitious ones. We were the ego-driven ones. And we wanted to be the ones that stayed there and told him what to do.
And as we got more experienced, it became more of a clash. And the big clash happened very gradually up to Closer. Then the big clash came in New Order because Martin was very upset about Ian. He was devastated when Ian died, and he didn’t know what to do with the group. He sort of knew what to do with the music, but he didn’t know what to do with the vocals. So when we came to do the vocals, we felt he was almost deliberately obstreperous. He was difficult, and I thought he was particularly hard on Bernard while he was doing it – because we needed a lot of help, and he was being the opposite.
RCM: How did Bernard take over as singer?
PH: It was funny, really. It happened quite oddly. We did Ceremony, and Martin thought we were all shit.
RCM: Seems like he’s trying to sound like Ian on that track. He sings in a low register.
PH: Right. A lot of the early New Order stuff was in a low register. He didn’t really find his voice until probably about halfway through Power, Corruption & Lies. That’s when he found how to write for his own voice. It was John Robie, actually, who taught him how to write in his own register, and I thought, in a funny way, it changed our music forever when he did that.
RCM: Was Gillian [Gilbert, New Order keyboardist] involved at that point?
PH: No, I’m afraid to say that Gillian doesn’t have a lot to do with the music. Gillian used to help, but she was never a huge part of the writing. The writing was always done by the 3 of us. Bernard did most of the keyboards.
RCM: So back to how Bernard became the singer…
PH: So, Martin Hannett couldn’t get over the loss of Ian. But me and Barney (Sumner) were tussling for who was going to be lead singer. When we were recording Ceremony, Martin was using a mix of all 3 of us – which I thought was actually pretty good – but that he hated. And he just made no bones about saying it, and really it’s not what you want to hear when you’re struggling to replace your lead singer. My memory of it is we had the mix of the 3 vocals, and just as we were about to mix it, Bernard said, “Let me have 1 more go!” And for him to have one more go, we had to go over the other tracks.
But the funny thing was regardless of the ego of doing it, Bernard singing actually gave New Order a completely new way of working. The fact that he’d sing and then play guitar gave you your style. New Order’s musical style of me and Steve – and Gillian playing Bernard’s keyboard lines – through the song, and then him coming in with the guitar on the breaks works perfectly. If I would have sang, you wouldn’t have got that style – that cross between rock and dance. It wouldn’t have happened if Steve would have sung or if I would have sung.
RCM: Do you believe Ian’s lyrics could have worked with New Order and the dance music?
PH: Yeah, he would have made it work. The thing is that Barney was obsessed with technology. He loved it, and he devoured it as it came in, and he was very, very good at it. That wouldn’t have changed. He’s a fucking genius. He’s a maestro. Steve was into the drum machines and the drum synths and all that lot. So that would have happened. Rob encouraged it completely. The music would have happened exactly the same way.
RCM: Was Bernard the one to introduce synths into Joy Division?
PH: Yeah, he built his own. It was called the Transcendent 2000, which he built from a kit. (laughs) He got a part every month!
RCM: You’re also a big fan of Bernard’s guitar playing, correct?
PH: It amused me that he teamed up with Johnny Marr [in the alt-dance band Electronic] and he let Johnny Marr play guitar. I think he’s better than Johnny Marr!
RCM: You think he’s better than Johnny Marr?
PH: He is because he writes more memorable guitar lines. If you listen to Joy Division, and you listen to New Dawn Fades, Shadowplay – you hear fantastic, monumental guitar. Name me a great riff of Johnny Marr’s apart from How Soon Is Now? New Dawn Fades, Insight, Twenty Four Hours – now that’s fucking great guitar work.
RCM: The vocal parts and lyrics you would work on together?
PH: Bernard became the main vocal writer, but Steve and I would help him very much finish everything up. Barney would get a rough idea and then we’d all do the words together. And that never changed except for the odd song where he’d do it on his own, like Love Vigilantes. That was one he did alone. Most of them were written by the 3 of us, together.
RCM: In a room?
PH: In the studio. I mean, they were 5:00 in the morning lyrics! You were working your butt off to do them.
RCM: Talk about Bernard as a lyricist…
PH: He’s actually quite a good lyricist, and I do like and admire what he does very, very much, I do. I can’t deny him. I mean, if you look at songs like 1963, The Perfect Kiss, Love Vigilantes, you have to admit the guy’s a fucking genius. He’s really very, very good at what he does.
RCM: Can we take you back to 1993?
PH: (laughs)I wish you fucking could.
RCM: New Order’s Republic.
PH: Funnily enough, that was the only album that aged me.
RCM: One specific track – Regret. Your bass work and your bass solo in the middle – how did you came up with that?
PH: The interesting thing about Regret – as much as I hate to say it – is that it was probably the last true New Order song because it was done by the 4 of us together, even though we were doing it with the producer. We did that track at Steve and Gillian’s farm, and it was the only one that we did together. Bernard came and put the guitar on in the farm, and it was finished in the farm. All the others were written in Real World in Bath with Stephen Hague.
RCM: So you’re saying the recording experience on Republic wasn’t a good one?
PH: Republic was a very interesting LP because we had split up, and Bernard had gone off to work with Johnny Marr in Electronic, and we had to be brought back together again because Factory [New Order’s record company] was on the verge of bankruptcy, as was the Hacienda [New Order’s Manchester club]. So the only way we could stave off the bankruptcy was to do the album.
RCM: So you didn’t want to regroup at that point?
PH: No. We’d split up. Because of the personal guarantees the band had in the business, we stood to lose our houses if we didn’t to the LP to refinance. As it happened, it didn’t really make a difference – both companies went bankrupt – and we could have saved ourselves the agony of doing the LP.
Bernard in particular hated doing it because he couldn’t fucking stand the Hacienda – he thought that it had destroyed everything. And he didn’t want to do it to save Factory because he thought Factory had made too many fuckups of their own. His opinion was why should we be at their beck and call? Now Rob did have a vested interest because he had a 3rd of Factory Records. So there was a huge conflict of interest in doing it.
It started off quite well with Regret, which is quite ironic, because after that, it went completely fucking downhill. Me, Gillian, and Stephen had done a lot of work on our own. By the time we got to Bath, Bernard was very unhappy about doing the whole bleeding thing. We were actually really close – the 3 of us – on that particular record, but when we got back to recording, Bernard started changing everything.
RCM: The songs? By “everything” you mean…?
PH: (laughs) All of them! He changed all of them! What he did was, because there were no vocals done, you were in one studio doing the music, and then he’d take the music off to another studio and do the vocals with Owen Morris from Oasis fame. We’d go in and listen and go, “Oh, this sounds different!” And he’d say, “Oh, I had to get rid of that because I couldn’t get a vocal line or it wasn’t inspiring.” And then it was every track! And I was like, “Oh, fuck!” Really all the music that us 3 had done was gone for all intents and purposes.
RCM: Producer Stephen Hague wasn’t in control, then?
PH: It was the first time we had used a producer, and the idea for using a producer, Bernard felt, was to stop us from arguing. I always said to him the same thing, you know: “We make better music when we argue.” So you’re in a funny position, and what happened then was that basically Steve and Gillian got written out. And in the end, we were all like, “Oh, fuck, we don’t care what happens, just get me out of here!” And then Stephen Hague says to me, “Hooky, we need to put you back on!” And I was like, “Oh, fucking great!” So I had to do it all again!
RCM: Re-do all of your bass parts?
PH: What he got me to do was 47 tracks of bass on 2 24-track machines. Playing over and over again for days and days, and then he’d collate the riffs and have the best riffs. But the trouble was, it wasn’t like a computer pasting where you could alter everything.
RCM: So you basically had to learn then, what he pasted together?
PH: Yeah, to play it live. The strange thing was, when you came to hear it, you’d done it, but you hadn’t done it. So you were hearing it, and it sounded really good. There is actually a lot of bass on Republic. Even though I say that it sounds a lot more like Electronic to me than it does New Order – apart from Regret. That’s my opinion.
It was such an unhappy period for all of us. I mean, there were a lot of grievances that were aired while we did it, but at least got to put my bit back on at the end. Poor Steve and Gillian!
RCM: Would you ever consider writing a book on New Order? Or does the dust have to settle before you can do that?
PH: I was thinking that I wouldn’t have written the Joy Division book had we been together. If I sat down with Bernard, it would’ve gone, “You know that story about the sleeping bag, mate? Do you mind if I put it in? He probably would’ve gone, “No, I don’t want you to do that.” So the thing is, probably if you were together, you wouldn’t have done the book the way it is.
RCM: For you, when was the last good period with New Order?
PH: (laughs) Just before Ian died. Relationships go up and down. The thing, it’s a very difficult thing to talk about because of what has happened in the past year; it’s the pinnacle of our divorce. This is like cutting the sleeves off your suit and sawing the dog in half.
I mean, what happened with us is that over the years, your tastes have changed. And I think that like with any group, you start off being completely together, and then as time goes on – like in any relationship – they start to diverge. And you have things keeping you together: the kids, the dog, the house, the mortgage. Then, all of the sudden, it becomes too much for you, and you have to split.
I felt in 2006 that we were too far apart to carry on – and, in my opinion, Bernard didn’t seem to give a shit about New Order, whether it lived or died—that was the impression I had. And I thought it was time to split the band. I thought, “This band is over.”
I must admit that when Lost Sirens actually came out, and I listened to it, it actually made me very happy because after the year that I had had – that I’m still having – hearing the music, that was really good music, I thought, well fuck, that was good!
It actually made you feel a hell of a lot better. Because what you do is that when you have any problems, like in any relationship, you focus on the bad bits, and that made you realize that you have some great times, and did do some really great stuff.
RCM: There’s a crazy story that’s circulated involving New Order and Fergie and Andrew. Can you tell us about it?
PH: It was fantastic. It was our get-back-together moment. We got back together because this guy had offered us a shitload of money to play at this club in L.A. called The Stock Exchange. It was London Fashion Week. Fergie and Andrew had come over to meet the English designers, and this lunatic who was running the club – because he had a huge budget – he thought he’d bring his favorite band over to play for English Royalty!
RCM: Which was you.
PH: We came over not knowing what the fuck was going on. We did the sound check and everything, but then when we came to play, we were so loud that the Secret Service pulled all the leads out of the PA, and the whole fucking thing blew up. We were off our fucking heads! Mounted! And someone says to us [in a nasally American accent], “Are you the English guys?” And we were, “Yeah, we’re the English guys.” So they took us out, and put us in a lineup. So we met Fergie and Andrew – who thought we were the English designers. But we were actually the fucking band, off our tits! And grinning!
RCM: Sounds like you’ll have to write a New Order book now and put that story in it.
PH: It was fucking unbelievable. It was the maddest night. In a funny way, yeah, that’s why you’ve got to do a New Order book, because those happenings we used to have were absolutely insane. My mother phoned me up the next day and said, “You were on the 10:00 news last night!” -which is the biggest news program in England – “meeting the Duke and Duchess of York!”
RCM: You also have worked with The Stone Roses? What was that like?
PH: I produced Elephant Stone . It was great. They were fantastic to work with. Their manager was a lunatic – an old friend of mine.
The only problem they had was that Reni was convinced that he was a better vocalist than Ian Brown. And I suppose in a kind of proficient, X Factor kind of way, you would say that Reni was. But Ian had such a unique way of doing his vocal lines and singing that it left Reni in the shade. So Reni was technically better, but Ian had bags more personality, bags more individuality.
Reni’s a fucking great drummer. He doesn’t need to sing. I think Reni is one of the best rock drummers there ever was. He’s definitely on a par with Steve Morris. I tried to get Reni for Freebass, but he wouldn’t come out of retirement, which was a great shame.
RCM: What other Manchester bands do you appreciate?
PH: Funnily enough, I appreciate them all now – even The Smiths.
RCM: In your mind, are there any comparisons that can be drawn between Joy Division and The Smiths? Who’s better?!
PH: (laughs) They both make great music! To my mind, I found Joy Division’s music – not vocals – to be better than The Smiths’ music. But vocally, we’re on a par. Morrissey’s on a par with Ian, but in a completely different style and a completely different fashion.
We were in competition with The Smiths. There was a great rivalry between us, and once you get old enough to realize – it’s like jealousy. Jealousy is a very powerful emotion when you’re a kid, and it leads to a competitive attitude. But as you get older, you realize, who gives a fuck? And all groups are in competition with each other.
RCM: Morrissey sort of kept a feud going?
PH: There was a lot of competition in the early days. Morrissey was very outspoken about Joy Division – which [manager] Rob Gretton hated. He really did fucking hate Morrissey going on about Ian. And they had a wonderful, wonderful upset in the Hacienda, when Morrissey was mouthing off about Joy Division…
Rob Gretton said to him, “Fucking trouble with you Morrissey is that you don’t have the guts to kill yourself, like Ian!” Morrissey went fucking mad! Morrissey went mad and stormed off! But, yeah, I’d just put it down to competition—and jealousy, probably.
RCM: All of this seems kind of ridiculous now, huh?
PH: Who cares? When you get to 56, you think, “Who gives a fuck?” Really, does anybody give a fuck? They’re both fantastic groups; they both put Manchester on the map; they’re both full of wonderful, wonderful musicians who have created a niche in the world.
If The Smiths came back now, they would fucking cream the world! New Order came back; they’ve done really, really well. But it wouldn’t be like The Smiths coming back.
In Manchester, New Order played 2 nights at the Apollo for 6,000 people. The Stone Roses come back and do 225,000 people in Manchester? That doesn’t seem fair to me. I mean, for the Roses to come back and be as big as they are, when they only really did 1½ records, that’s fucking amazing! Isn’t it?
RCM: What do you attribute it to?
PH: I don’t know. Do you?
RCM: Maybe there’s some connection between their popularity and Oasis’ popularity. Maybe Oasis ripped them off?
PH: To me Oasis ripped The Beatles off, But Noel’s a great songwriter. I mean Manchester has got some fucking great groups, come on! It’s fucking ridiculous!
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